Curt Pringle and James Moore Debate HSR

Apr 26th, 2011 | Posted by

One of the best radio shows in California is Warren Olney’s Which Way, L.A.? I’ve had the pleasure to be a guest on a few occasions, but today was Curt Pringle’s turn to debate the high speed rail project with James Moore, author of the absurd anti-HSR op-ed that we debunked yesterday.

You can listen to the show here. I thought Pringle did a great job defending the project against Moore’s absurd criticisms. Whether you agree or not, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

  1. political_incorrectness
    Apr 26th, 2011 at 21:50

    One major flaw.

    Comparison to Amtrak that they have to ask for funds from Congress saying that “look at Europe’s high-speed trains”.

    NO! Amtrak only has the NEC which makes a profit! They have the capital subsidized but they make an operational profit! I’m getting suck of the FUD. “Trains need to go faster than before” Um, what about China? The main issue would be power efficiency. The crap continues to go around and I’m getting very sick of it. The same repeated crap and I might just write an opinion to somewhere to point out that the opposition has posted the same claims yet the evidence disproves their views.

    VBobier Reply:

    What Amtrak needs is a couple more profitable NEC type areas, One in the Midwest, the West and the Southeast, where Amtrak can own the rails & ROW outright.

    Joey Reply:

    Until Amtrak can wake up and realize it’s not 1895 anymore, we’re better off with our high-speed corridors having other operators.

    synonymouse Reply:

    You mean like BART management and the TWU? Ms. Dugger is available for GM, if you have a spare million as a signing bonus.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Even if all business models were equally likely, that would be a 1/6 chance at best. Since several other business models make present much more direct prima facie cases of no subsidy, it would seem substantially less likely than 1/6.

    So, something more like VirginRail or SNCF management.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The margins on the NEC are absurdly low by the standards of what the track’s capable of. And anyone proposing to spend $200 million per kilometer of new track on conventional HSR needs to be removed from any position of responsibility for other people’s money.

    VBobier Reply:

    Sure the NEC isn’t perfect & It can stand to be made faster & efforts here & there are underway like in CT to do just that, In any case What I stated didn’t go far enough, It should have been NEC+HSR trackage that Amtrak owns with the CHSRA in a Partnership in CA, Plus partnerships in other areas if possible, One has the power and some money and the other also has some power and money, Amtrak hasn’t done that bad a job, Otherwise no one would ride It no matter what, Amtrak just lacks construction money to bring most of the rest of their system into the black.

    @ Joey: I think Amtrak knows It’s not 1895, Remember Amtrak has enough money from revenue to operate mostly On It’s own, Only the NEC is in the black cause It can compete with the airlines since Amtrak owns the ROW and the tracks there, This is why previous to Amtrak Passenger Rail was dying, Cause there was no real investment, Sure there were minor experiments, But nothing major, No dedicated rail for passenger service where It could compete and at high speed. Amtrak would if It had the construction money do a lot better than It does now, It could build a line over the tehachapies just like the CHSRA wants to do and build improved trackage in CA and other nearby states and this could be done elsewhere too, Like in the Upper-Midwest or In the Southeast…

    If You want to see airliners drop from sky, You partner Amtrak with the CHSRA in CA and with whomever in other areas You can find to get the job done, Sure airlines won’t drop on medium to long distance routes, But this is only cause of a limitation of the technology that is available currently and/or of physics.

    Sounds kind of like an Impossible Dream doesn’t It?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The problem isn’t that the NEC could be made faster. It’s that Amtrak has ideas about what to do that come from the 1930s, and since GDP and urban sprawl have risen since then, those ideas are unaffordable. That’s why they’re proposing conventional HSR for the same cost as the Chuo Shinkansen. Such people frankly don’t deserve a shot at CAHSR, not until they get their own house in order.

    Joey Reply:

    Amtrak has consistently failed to show any modernization in the way it handles its trains and passengers. This has nothing to do with cost recovery.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    There is a fundamental goal conflict, however ~ is Amtrak a public utility rail operator or a for profit rail operator? There’s already goal conflict between the skeleton national network and the regional corridors and the NEC ~ adding another set of conflicts to the mix does not promise much good.

    And for Express HSR in California, there’s no clear benefit to having the track in California owned by an entity with most of the rest of their track in the East Coast, while there is risk in being tied to an entity that depends on Congress for operating subsidies for its public utility functions.

    VBobier Reply:

    There’s nothing wrong with running a profit, The money can be banked for improvements to weaker
    areas like I’ve already mentioned to strengthen Amtrak as a whole, To make the Interstates work investment had to be done for their construction, airlines didn’t like that at all. I would like to see what private company could do that scale of investment, But then there aren’t any? The US Government is the ultimate investor, Who else has the size, Short Of China to do mega projects. No one private company does, Some in the past have tried and gone bankrupt trying, Then sometimes a vulture would come in and pick up the ball and run with It after the construction debt had been discharged already(Northern Pacific RR, I think).

    Amtrak only needs a subsidy currently, Cause most of the rest of It’s system is all dependent on Freight Railroads and is kept at slow speeds and given a low priority, Those are the facts, Make Amtrak in areas outside the NEC much faster and independent of the Slow Freight RR’s and Amtrak will not need subsidies from Congress anymore, It could then go private and go It alone. Amtrak does have the potential to do just that. Given the resources I do believe Amtrak could.

    VBobier Reply:

    “Amtrak only needs a subsidy currently, Cause most of the rest of It’s system is all dependent on Freight Railroads and is kept at slow speeds and given a low priority over Freight operation” I should have said.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    It also would need a subsidy if it was running a skeleton national network on dedicated track and paying access fees to keep the nationwide dedicate track network in good working order.

    Indeed, put in place a nationwide network of Express HSR corridors, and the legs in the population gaps in the Mountain West will need an operating subsidy.

    There will for the forseeable future be opportunities to establish operating surplus services in all three grades of “HTCR” ~ Higher Than Conventional Rail ~ provided that capital funding can be cobbled together somehow to provide the infrastructure.

    There will also be for the foreeable future the need to provide conventional rail services on the general rail network.

    There’s clear and obvious problems with trying to do the two quite different types of activities with the same authority. And from where we are now, the first can be franchised out to private operators, while the second has to be done by Amtrak or it will just go undone.

    Joey Reply:

    Amtrak’s long slow routes are unlikely to turn a profit under any circumstances.

    joe Reply:


    The only profitable infrastructure are highways, ports and airports. Except for the fact they’re not.

    So your homework is to tell us how many billions of taxpayer money did the US give the for profit airlines after 9/11?

    My homework is here:
    Follow Us

    2011 MEDIA KIT

    Digital Edition

    Digital Edition

    California gets grant for U.S.-made rail cars E-mail
    Wednesday, April 27, 2011

    The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) will receive a $100 million grant from the Federal Railroad Administration to purchase domestically manufactured rail passenger cars and locomotives for the Pacific Surfliner and San Joaquin routes, used by state-assisted Amtrak trains, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Wednesday.

    “Pacific Surfliner service has generated a 65% increase in ridership growth in the past decade, while San Joaquin service experienced a 45% rise in that period. The new equipment will accommodate the ridership growth with additional cars and locomotives available for improved service, LaHood said. “

    Joey Reply:

    Okay, HANG ON A MINUTE. WHERE exactly did I say anything about any other infrastructure. WHERE exactly did I extend my statement about loosing money to rail beyond Amtrak’s long-distance slow trains. WHERE did I even extend it to Amtrak in general? If you’re assuming that just because I critique the CHSRA and Amtrak I am against rail, you are severely mistaken, and if I might say, a little narrow-minded. If you need it spelled out, I am STRONGLY in favor of rail development, even if I disagree with the way in which those in charge are handling it. Anyway, angry time over, and on to content:

    What I was referring to was Amtrak’s national routes which run on legacy freight lines between states and typically take days from one end to the other. These are likely to always loose money, simply because they’re slow, they’re infrequent (some don’t even operate once per day), and the distances involved are simply too long for rail of any type to be competitive on. Note, however, that I’m not necessarily saying that they should not exist – they loose money, but the overall costs for these routes are pretty low to begin with.

    The Surfliner and San Joaquín don’t fall under this category. Note, however, regardless of ridership growth (how is that even relevant?), both of these routes are subsidized as well. IIRC, the Surfliner’s farebox recovery ratio (the better of the two) is around 75%. Perhaps it could break even with massive upgrades to the route.

    thatbruce Reply:

    Ridership growth is relevant in so far as its an indicator as to when the route will stop losing money and begins turning a profit, thus providing a subsidy to other routes.

    Joey Reply:

    Ridership may eventually lead to an operating surplus under certain conditions. Ridership must continue to grow substantially, and in order to facilitate that, the quality, frequency, and ideally speed of the service provided must increase as well. Otherwise ridership will just flatten out over time. This can take a lot of time though, and given the incredibly small modal shares that we are dealing with here, combined with low investment in rail corridors, I don’t see it happening any time soon.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    OTOH, if they did, then unlike HSR, it would actually be a profit, not just an operating surplus.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Yes, always point out that the Acela runs an operating surplus and the Regional service on the NEC breaks even Indeed, it turns the investment by the anti-rail folks into the caricature of Amtrak on its head, “even Amtrak runs an operating surplus on the Northeast Corridor. When you can get enough people along a three hour trip, trains make money ~ so there is no worry about the Bay and LA making money, especially since the same corridor offers the Valley two hour trips to both.”

    egk Reply:

    Right. And an effective riposte to “Only two HSR lines in the world make a profit” is to point out that what “profit” means in that context is that those systems have paid for their entire construction costs – as well as ongoing maintenance and upkeep – out of operating profits, something no other intercity transportation system has ever done [segue to the high costs of highways and airport infrastructure].

    Derek Reply:

    I thought it was funny how Moore refused to try to understand the difference between construction and operating costs.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.
    Upton Sinclair

    VBobier Reply:

    That’s cause in His mind, He can’t grasp the fact that they aren’t the same, Good thing He’s not a computer or He’d have a BSOD event…

    BSOD(Computer term for Blue Screen Of Death)

    BruceMcF Reply:

    But his main income source comes from the fact that construction project costs include doing seismic risk analyses and since his income depends upon it, road construction costs do not count.

    And since his income also depends upon the hidden and cross subsidies to driving, those hidden and cross subsidies don’t count either.

  2. Alan F
    Apr 27th, 2011 at 14:35

    Meanwhile, came across this press release on the US DOT web site today with selected excerpts:
    “U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) will receive a $100 million grant to purchase domestically manufactured rail passenger cars and locomotives for the Pacific Surfliner and San Joaquin corridors.”
    “This money will allow Caltrans to purchase 27 bi-level intercity rail passenger cars and two diesel-electric intercity locomotives that comply with uniform standards that create a level playing field allowing U.S.-based manufacturers to more effectively compete. ”

    This is NOT new funding or a new grant award or has anything to do with the returned Florida funds. This is the obligation (looks like it to me) of the $100 million FY2010 HSIPR grant that was announced last fall for California to buy new rolling stock. Question is whether the order is ready to be placed or the money has been obligated so Caltrans & Amtrak can put out a bid request.

    datacruncher Reply:

    I did a search and dug up some additional details.

    The 27 new bi-level passenger cars are adding capacity and replacing a few older cars:
    **8 will be used to add an additional car to all San Joaquins runs
    **9 will replace older Pacific Surfliner single-level cars
    **The rest will be used to add additional cars to Pacific Surfliner runs

    The two locomotives are replacing older equipment used on the San Joaquins and Capitol Corridor.

    The Fresno Bee says summer season San Joaquins will increase from 4 passenger cars to 5 cars, with the rest of the year increasing from 3 passenger cars to 4 cars. Nice to see the additional passenger capacity being added, shows the on-going growth of current services.

    Alan F Reply:

    Should point out that “older Pacific Surfliner single-level cars” are the single level Amtrak owned Amfleet and Horizon cars. These presumably would be released for use on mid-West Chicago hub routes or in the east on NEC and related corridors. Which will help a little with fleet capacity problems in those corridors.

    Wonder if they have reached a purchase agreement with a manufacturer or whether they still have to go through the whole bid process? The specific number of 27 cars makes me think they have either signed or are close to signing a purchase contract.

  3. Richard A
    Apr 27th, 2011 at 15:21

    What kills faster passenger rail transport in the USA is having so many “at grade” crossings”. Because railways pre-dated modern roads in the United kingdom, most roads go over or under railway lines on bridges. Irvine, California just spent $30,000,000 on transforming Jeffrey Road from an “at-grade” crossing to a grade separation. This helps the Pacific Surfliner but how many more of these crossings are between LA and San Diego? You can’t have passenger trains doing 100+ mph if some idiot can drive his pick-up around a flimsy barrier and park on the tracks.

    You need dedicated tracks with grade separation to make HSR work.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Under both FRA and competent rules, trains can go 100+ mph at level crossings, depending on the level of protection provided. The FRA requires quad gates, good at up to 110 mph. With such a top speed, average speeds comparable to the Acela are doable. Several countries that have chosen to invest in legacy rail instead of build HSR – including Britain, Sweden, and Finland – have 125 mph legacy lines averaging north of 90 including stops. And Israel’s much-derided 87 mph (140 km/h) diesel trains average 75 on the express Tel Aviv-Haifa run, including level crossings.

    jim Reply:

    FRA will not approve an increase to 110 mph MAS unless there has been a good faith (documented) effort to eliminate at-grade crossings — close redundant crossings, separate heavily trafficked crossings. Every at-grade crossing is a collision waiting to happen. Every speed increment approaching an at-grade crossing makes it more difficult to avoid that collision. It isn’t just the passenger cars driven by idiots that one worries about. There was a collision in North Carolina recently where a low-loader got stuck on the tracks. The locomotive that collided with it was totalled.

    aw Reply:

    Truck drivers that get high-centered on the tracks are a separate class of idiot. They should know better.

    aw Reply:

    To be fair, car driving idiots that drive around gates, or follow their GPS directions to turn onto the tracks, or get stuck in a queue when the gates come down should know better too.

    VBobier Reply:

    There’s nothing like using ones brain, But then I’ve never needed GPS, Just a street address, the nearest cross street, a recent map and I’m all set. Old fashioned? Sure, But It works…

    Alon Levy Reply:

    GPS can be weird sometimes. My parents’ GPS routinely sends them onto the Nice tram ROW, since the database hasn’t updated the resulting lane closures and one-way conversions.

  4. njudah
    Apr 27th, 2011 at 16:25

    This really isn’t related to the topic at hand (yet another debate with NIMBYs etc) but I saw this and I thought those that are pro HSR might dig it. Also, read the story behind the story!

  5. Reality Check
    Apr 27th, 2011 at 18:34

    WSJ story focuses on PAMPA HSR opposition: Fast Train Hits Snags in Silicon Valley

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Story behind the story, “Hello, Rupert Murdoch’s office? Yes, I’ve got David Koch ready to come on the line”.

    There used to be a distinction between the WSJ reporting ~ which was often excellent ~ and the WSJ editorial page, which was always neoliberal fantasies. But then Rupert bought the WSJ, and now the distinction is fading.

    StevieB Reply:

    The story is about small wealthy areas holding up progress. The cities come off as elitist.

    Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto this week filed new legal briefs in their lawsuit that seeks to challenge the proposed bullet train’s route through the peninsula. They claim the elevated track structure proposed for their communities would be unsightly and threaten property values in some of the wealthiest enclaves in the country.

    “We have many houses close to the railroad in the multiple millions in value,” said Atherton Mayor Jim Dobbie. “We just hope the project dies.”

    The article is the first I have seen that shows support from a local group.

    Such strenuous opposition to a high-tech rail line from the capital of high technology strikes some proponents of the system as ironic. “The success of Silicon Valley and California as a whole has been an ability to embrace innovation,” said Scott Klemmer, a Stanford University assistant professor who is a member of the group All Aboard Palo Alto. “It’s a real shame that we’re seeing a baseless fear of change in our own backyard.”

    It includes a quote by Diridon on the minority of opponents on the peninsula.

    “The vast majority of people in those communities are staunchly in favor of building high-speed rail,” said Rod Diridon Sr., who served on the High-Speed Rail Authority’s board of directors for a decade until January.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    …yes the horror, it’s going to turn PAMPA into the slums of Greenwich and Stamford. It might even get as bad as it is in Cos Cob.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Hey, I wouldn’t want to find myself in those cities. That part of Connecticut is almost as bad as Jersey.

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