Awareness Grows That Cost of Doing Nothing Is Not Zero

Aug 18th, 2011 | Posted by

High speed rail critics’ most consistent line of attack on the project is that of cost. “It’s too expensive, costs are rising too far and too fast,” they tend to say. (See Kevin Drum’s recent post for a good example of this thinking.) And that argument rests on the assumption that we have just two choices before us – either we spend $40-$60 billion on high speed rail, or we don’t build it and spend $0.

This claim has always been utterly false. The cost of doing nothing is not zero. Californians are going to have to get around their state somehow, and as population grows and gas prices rise, the cost does too. The cost of expanding freeways and airports to meet the travel demand HSR will meet is estimated at $100 billion. Compared to that, HSR is a bargain.

Or you could not spend any of that money at all, do nothing to invest in our infrastructure, and lose at least that much money in destroyed economic activity. A 2010 US Conference of Mayors report suggested Los Angeles alone could see an annual green dividend of $10 billion.

This blog has been making that point for years. It’s starting to get more widely discussed. This week’s Sacramento News & Review has a good op-ed on this subject titled Rail debate’s on the wrong track:

If the choice was between spending $60 billion or $80 billion on high-speed rail and spending nothing, that would be one thing. We could just weigh that price tag against the other supposed benefits of high-speed rail and make a decision.

And if you want to make an argument for spending absolutely nothing on transportation infrastructure for the next 20 years, Bites is all ears (and teeth). Let’s not pretend that spending nothing is a real choice. The alternative to building high-speed rail may cost $100 billion. It may cost more or less, but it will cost a lot. Let’s at least have an honest comparison of those costs before we pull the plug on high-speed rail.

So why do HSR critics refuse to have that honest comparison?

It’s because there are two kinds of HSR critics, and both have strong reasons to not want to admit that the project has financial as well as environmental benefits. The first kind are NIMBYs who simply don’t want the trains near their homes. But because NIMBYism isn’t really seen as a legitimate basis for criticism, they tend to couch their arguments by attacking the project on the basis of cost and ridership. You see a lot of this on the Peninsula.

That brings in the second kind of critic, people like Kevin Drum who tend to not really believe anyone will ride trains, despite the evidence to the contrary from around the state, country, and globe. Their minds could be changed, but because there’s no true HSR system on the West Coast – and because California’s own successful intercity passenger trains have a low media profile – it’s going to be difficult to change that perception until HSR is up and running from SF to LA.

Still, for those who are genuinely concerned about costs, there needs to be a full accounting that includes both sides of the equation. The cost of doing nothing isn’t zero. It is probably around $100 billion. I have no idea why we would consider spending $100 billion just so we don’t have to spend $40-$60 billion. And more people are wondering the same thing.

  1. peninsula
    Aug 18th, 2011 at 22:05

    Hey Robert – way to fail to have a fricken clue. Again. Now see you do this so often (bald face lie? deliberately obtuse? Or just clueless?) one has to eventually begin to believe you put forth this crap knowing its nonsense, on purpose. So here’s the actual choice:

    Lets say for the sake of argument that the $100B number is correct for road building…

    So the choice is either spend $100B in roads
    Spend 100B on roads AND spend $100B+ on HIgh speed rail.

    High speed rail is a long distance travel mode that doesn’t allow people to eliminate their cars. The daily use of cars is not helped by HSR. In fact in the bay area – the local freeways are made worse – way worse, by introducing huge out of scale HSR stations along the Caltrain row -inducing much more daily auto traffic into the narrow corridor. Long distance travel – infrequent travel – doesn’t give anyone enough daily utility to get their cars off the roads, and in fact HSR probably creates NEW trip demand by making it easier (albeit way more expensive) to get between CV and either Bay Area or LA. A significant amount of the HSR travel will not be replacement for roads – it will be new travel, generating more new local auto usage on either end (because as we all know, people for the most part don’t live and work in train stations -right? They actually ahve to get where they’re really going, once they get off the fucking train. and they have to do that on roads.)

    So the bottom line – if we build HSR, the $100B in roads will be built – and they’ll be used by travelers, commuters, businesses, service providers, agriculture, freight haulers, etc – providing transportation capacity to all manner of economically productive vehicle traffic, because it will be needed anyway – AND, we’ll drop an addition $100B+ on High Speed Rail so relatively small number of wealthy can foam about fast trains.

    So the cost of doing nothing is $100B. The cost of doing both is double the cost of doing nothing.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The roads and airport capacity in question are specifically for intercity purposes. It’s above and beyond the various urban freeway boondoggles in both LA and SF ($6 billion for a bridge, $1 billion for ten lane-miles of freeway, etc.).

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    Highway 99, 101, I580, I680 (just to name a few) are all planned for huge expansion, with large amounts of money already in the pipeline. Unless those funding sources re-programmed to HSR, it is naive to think HSR will have any impact on highway expansion.

    Some fun facts to ponder:
    1. Sonoma and Marin county are expanding highway 101, in direct competition to the ‘SMART’ commuter rail project
    2. San Mateo and Santa Clara counties have funded numerous highway 101 improvements, in direct competition with Caltrain
    3. Alameda county is funding huge expansions of I580, in direct competition with a proposed BART-Livermore extension
    4. Contra Costa county converted highway-4 into a full freeway, in direct competition with eBART
    5. Fremont and Milpitas are widening roads as part of the BART-SJ project.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Sadly Drunk Engineer is quite correct; there is nary a politician in California who will lift a finger to vote against any road project. other than an utter environmental nightmare. In reality in many areas public transport will for the foreseeable future be buses.

    Passenger rail is good but it is expensive. Planners and pols cannot see their way to hark to simple, practical and lo-ball. So in the case of SMART you end up with $6mil “Bugatti” doodlebugs instead of loco-hauled as advocated by many in the communities. Now you have a repeal movement. Sound familiar.

    So Jerry Brown is taking a personal interest in hsr and wants to be hands-on. What’s his tack on Tejon or Altamont then? Let’s hear his opinion and then we’ll know whether he is for real hands-on or hand-fed.

    Joey Reply:

    Passenger rail is good but it is expensive.

    Only here.

    So in the case of SMART you end up with $6mil “Bugatti” doodlebugs instead of loco-hauled as advocated by many in the communities

    The correct choice for SMART was non-compliant DMUs. The MXPress+Bilevel locomotive hauled consists used in most most of our “commuter rail” projects are ill suited to the SMART corridor, or, for that matter, most of the corridors they’re used on.

    William Reply:

    SMART’s order is ~$2.9Million per car, more expensive than Metro North M8 at ~$2.5Million for 408 cars, but cheaper than BART’s ~$3Million per car for 750 cars.

    They may be more expensive than foreign orders, but in line with other US agency orders. Don’t know why people keep saying SMART cars is more expensive.

    Toronto’s Metrolinx also ordered 12 of the same cars. In any case, the SMART cars is better than the previous “compliant” design by Colorado Railcars.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    They may be more expensive than foreign orders, but in line with other US agency orders.

    Special Olympics.

    Don’t know why people keep saying SMART cars is more expensive.

    Because they’re 50% overpriced and FORTY YEARS OUT OF DATE.

    America’s Finest Transportation Planning Professionals (ie rent-seeking, trade protected, ignorant, unqualified, unemployable anywhere else gross incompetents) at LTK Engineering (the same people doing Caltrain’s “capacity analysis”!) were the ones specifying these Unique Special Trains for Unique (Special Olympics!) American Conditions.

    Peter Reply:

    SMART’s order is so “expensive” because it is so small, in comparison to some of the large fleet orders. It would have been a lot more expensive if SCOA hadn’t come up with such a low offer. Even established designs by Stadler and Siemens that would have been off-the-shelf were a lot more expensive than SCOA. No idea why.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    No idea why.

    Because that’s the way the consultants wrote the RFQ. Make-work. Especially for them and their special, special pals.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Because SCOA is going to inevitably raise their prices now that they have the contract.

    joe Reply:

    Maybe it’s a trap and they’ll jack up prices. Maybe it’s a low bid to get a foothol din the US and a price hike would be counterproductive.

    IMHO Sumitomo is following the old fashion Japanese business strategy of deferring profits to get into a new market, the US.

    Sumitomo hopes the design will become the standard for the next generation of commuter rail cars in the U.S. and abroad. It expects to sell 100 to 200 cars in the U.S. alone over the next five years, according to one industry expert familiar with the company’s strategy.

    I don’t know in SMART’s case but I’ve seen this strategy before with Toyota and Honda.

    William Reply:

    SCOA is a joint venture between Sumitomo (the bank) and Nippon Sharyo (the builder).

    Nippon Sharyo already produce many passenger cars for North American public agencies, so it already has a “foothold” in the NA rolling stock market.

    The Caltrain, Metra, and VRE Gallery Cars are made by Nippon Sharyo, also the new Metra and NICTD Gallery Car based EMU, so Nippon Sharyo already makes FRA compliant trains.

    joe Reply:

    I stand corrected on the legacy but the strategy still doesn’t seem to be bid low and jack-up the prices as much as it is establish a new product line in the US and make profit on building mor units. That would explain their “low” bid.

    William Reply:

    Yeah, that’s what I think too. No other company, other than the not-well-executed Colorado Railcar, tried FRA compliant DMU in US. Even though DMU is a new product SCOA is selling in US, it is not a big leap from NICTD single level EMU.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Slight changes to the order, maybe. And Stadler and Siemens thought they could get away with it because of high local costs, most likely.

    Best practice for very small order is to piggyback. Ottawa Transit piggybacked on a DB order for Bombardier Talents in order to get low-cost vehicles.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Oh sure, local politicans won’t fight road expansion…but what if there’s simply less money to build them? If the Feds cut back, (which it appears they have to) then what do you think gets prioritized?

    Joey Reply:

    Sadly, it appears that congress is willing to cut rail long before it cuts roads.

    flowmotion Reply:

    Blaming politicians as if they come up this stuff randomly in the smoke-filled-room is pretty silly.

    For example, Fresno is the largest city in the country without an Interstate highway connection. Can you find any major economic group in Fresno that does not want 99 upgrade to an Interstate? Farmers, truckers, industry, etc etc etc.

    Oh sure, they want HSR too. If it is coming, why not? There’s a small number of interests which would benefit from a central transit hub. Everyone else wants the Interstate.

    Steve S. Reply:

    It’s not so much the roads as the airports that are the true competition. I can easily imagine costs to provide the same amount of capacity HSR can to both airports to rapidly exceed $50b apiece.

    joe Reply:

    Peninsula; ready, fire, aim.

    …it will be new travel, generating more new local auto usage on either end (because as we all know, people for the most part don’t live and work in train stations -right? They actually ahve [sic] to get where they’re really going, once they get off the fucking train. and they have to do that on roads.

    Airports, where people who fucking fly live and work.

    Joey Reply:

    Peninsula seemed to be talking about roads specifically.

    Joey Reply:

    So what you’re saying is that we should drop HSR in favor of better local and regional transit which would serve daily commutes rather than occasional interregional travel?

    VBobier Reply:

    In the LA area I don’t see why, as Los Angeles County was/is the best at getting somewhere without a car, as It says Here. There is some room for improvement, but that is and will happen when more tracks are built.

    Of all major metropolitan areas in the country, Los Angeles does the best job of giving people without cars access to public transportation, according to the study. 99.1 percent of no-car households in the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana area have access to public transit, a figure bested only by much smaller Honolulu, where 99.3 percent of carless residents have transit access.

    That means that in those California cities, nearly 355,457 carless households most of them low-income, rely on transit to get around. In the New York region, including suburban parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, more than 2 million households without cars use the subway or a bus. Yet given the higher population, the overall rate of access there is slightly lower, at 98.7 percent.

    Adie Tomer, the author of the report, said he wasn’t surprised by the findings, despite “that classic archetype L.A. residents have to deal with all the time — that L.A. is the capital of car culture.”

    “The reality is, it’s also really good transit culture too when it comes to the ability to get on a bus,” Tomer said.

    Joey Reply:

    There is A LOT of room for improvement, and not much money to improve with.

  2. MrEricSir
    Aug 18th, 2011 at 22:33

    If we’re talking raw construction costs incurred by the state, roads are always going to be cheaper than rail.

    But in terms of fuel, environmental costs (how much did we spend cleaning up leaking gas stations?) and wasted commute time (can you work while driving?) I would imagine the numbers look different.

    Eric M Reply:

    “If we’re talking raw construction costs incurred by the state, roads are always going to be cheaper than rail.”

    In the case of High Speed rail lines, yes. But with regular Class I rail lines, No.

    Joey Reply:

    A two track railway can carry as many passengers per hour as an 8 lane freeway, and almost certainly costs less to build.

  3. Stephen Smith
    Aug 18th, 2011 at 23:25

    I’m confused about why the “cost of doing nothing” is necessarily more roads. Couldn’t it just be tolling the ones California already has, and if they’re already tolled, just raising the price? Wouldn’t that cost less than nothing?

    Arthur Dent Reply:

    The object is to increase mobility, not make it a rich man’s sport.

    Steve S. Reply:

    Distinction between mobility and automobility you’re ignoring. Europeans are more mobile. Americans are just automobile.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    In what sense is the distinction between mobility and automobility being ignored? The question at hand is what is the cost of providing the same transport capacity by other means. Those other means are either air or road, and given the limits of air, either road, or a mix of road and air.

    If you “solve” the problem by rationing access to intercity transport by price, you’ve cut down the cost of the alternative roadwork, and at the same time have increased the operating surpluses of the HSR and reduced the net capital subsidy it requires.

    Taking the cost of the HSR under the existing political constraints against tolling all intercity roads between northern and southern California … and comparing it to the cost of roads to meet transport demand after assuming those constraints away … is not an apples to apples comparison.

    Derek Reply:

    Arthur Dent, if you are truly concerned about the poor, then you would be in favor of tolls, because “As a group low-income residents, on average, pay more out-of-pocket with sales taxes” for freeways than with tolls.

    Meanwhile, the SR-91 express lanes “generate net social benefits of at least $12 million per year, com­pared with a scenario in which the lanes had been built but drivers did not pay to use them.”

    So there’s really no good reason NOT to convert the existing lanes to toll lanes.

    SantaTeresaHills Reply:

    California is projecting 60% more people in California by 2050. If you make the assumption that people will do the same type of travel 40 years from now, the existing transportation infrastructure needs to handle 60% more traffic.

    As an example in they Bay Area, can San Jose and Oakland airports handle 60% more traffic without expansion. Probably yes. How about San Francisco Airport? No way. Can San Francisco be expanded to handle 60% more traffic (i.e another runway)? I see very little chance of that happening. Can the other airports increase in 60% plus additional flights that normally would want to go to SFO but can’t? Maybe but probably not. Some airport expansion will probably be required with the most expensive be SFO which most people want to use.

    Do the same for the freeways. Which freeways into the Bay Area are used to travel to Southern California? 580 and 152. Can they handle 60% more traffic? No they can’t. They will both need to be expanded. 580 would be really costly because increasing the lanes 50% would require all of the overpasses to be rebuilt. Even if you expanded 152 from 5 to 101 and 580 from 5 to 680, what would happen then? 101 would have a hard time handling 60% more traffic especially during work days. The same would would be true for the freeways that intersect with 580.

    How about the cost of an entirely new freeway between 5 and 880 so you don’t have to expand the other freeways? The freeways through the mountains would be costly. What happens once you get to the cities in the Bay Area. You would have to take large parts of built up cities (HSR would be minimal compared to a new freeway) to build a new freeway and interchanges. Building 85 and 87 in Santa Clara was only possible because they reserved the land from being built upon. If they had to purchase the entire route by condemning existing houses and business, it would have been cost prohibitive. Some people have suggested double-decking freeways. Doing that would require all interchanges to be rebuilt.

    Interstate 5 between the Bay Area and Southern California wouldn’t be too bad. Adding another lane in both directions probably wouldn’t be too costly relatively speaking. The costs though in both areas are the bottleneck points into the areas. Once you increase the capacity through the bottleneck points, the bottleneck points will just occur in different areas.

    VBobier Reply:

    And double decking has proven to be quite fatal during Earthquakes, Like on the 880, I rather not be crushed into a red pasty mess thanks. I’ve seen It happen, So if someone says Its safe, their a Liar and a SOB…

    yoyo Reply:

    Keep in mind that the San Jose airport expansion cost $1.3B, with phase 2 costing $400million. The expansion allows the airport to double its capacity from ~8million to 17million annual passenger served. Imagine multiplying that cost to the other airports in northern and southern California, it’ll probably be in the ten billion range.

    probably much cheaper to divert the regional jet traffic (all the flights between NorCal, central Valley, and SoCal) to rail, and use existing capacity for long journey flight.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Sj Airport expansion had nothing to do with anything except spending money uselessly.
    Big Important World Class City = Direct Firehose of Public Cash at Vanity International Airport.

    If anybody at SJ were serious about all this urban development and TOD crap they parp on about, they’d close the airport, get serious about this “high speed rail” sideshow (that of course is really just a reason to spend money uselessly) and the “Valley Transportation Authority” and “BART” transit sideshows (spending money uselessly, in spades), build the dismal hollowed-up nowhere of “downtown” SJ upwards in a way that is prevented by the airport flightpath, and redevelop the ideally-located airfield site with a mixture of dense housing and parkland. As a bonus, you might be able to hear yourself think when you’re outside in salubrious “downtown” San José (the Capital of Silicon Valley!) without 737s blasting by a couple hundred feet overhead. Imagine!

    Mineta Not-quite-yet-dead Memorial International CyberAirport “expansion” is a monument to public agencies and private contractors run amok, not to anything related to transportation. In other words, same house, same call as CHSRA.

    joe Reply:

    SJ Airport expansion had nothing to do with anything except spending money uselessly.
    Big Important World Class City = Direct Firehose of Public Cash at Vanity International Airport.

    Mineta Not-quite-yet-dead Memorial International CyberAirport “expansion” is a monument to public agencies and private contractors run amok, not to anything related to transportation. In other words, same house, same call as CHSRA.

    Hysterical, over the top and border line paranoid.

    Joey Reply:

    Hysterical, over the top and border line paranoid.

    But not altogether false.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yes, it would be cheaper. And it won’t happen. California has a problem with corruption, unwillingness to get tough with contractors, total lack of knowledge of best industry practices, and a politicized public works process. The consequences include high construction costs for HSR, high construction costs for roads, and a complete impossibility of tolling the freeways.

    joe Reply:

    “California has a problem with corruption, ”

    How so?

    synonymouse Reply:

    All you have to do is look at the history of Bechtel, which had 2 family members sitting of the SP Board of Directors. Let there be broad gauge, a curse we will suffer forever.

    Bell, Bell, Bell, we hardly knew ye. But still can’t touch the UC Chancellors for bloated compensation.

    The sun-drenched terminal naivete of the California faceless masses. It is summed up for posterity in John Huston’s quintessential line in “Chinatown”:

    “You think you know what you are dealing with here, Mr. Geddes. But you don’t.”

    And don’t forget Craig Ferguson’s remark: “LA is just Fresno with bigger boobs.”

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    There’s a difference between cronyism and corruption. Your examples are far more crony than corrupt. Sure, California has cronyism. But what do you expect from a State that was literally built by people trying to make money off it? The Spaniards, the Southern Pacific, the Chandlers, the Hearsts, the Resniks…

    The key here is that previously, Leland Stanford made money off population growth because the economy and country were expanding. William Mulholland made money off water because people could actually move across the country for the first time the years proceeding. Even the “Pelosi-Burton machine” you harp about was possible because population growth allowed them to displace the existing political apparatus. Now, that is no longer possible, and the chickens are coming home to roost. But does that make our institutions corrupt, I would lean against it.

    synonymouse Reply:

    By and large the average California, tho a little pollyanna, is the sweetest. But Californians demean themselves by winking at dumb****s. You know, they’all talk about Willie Brown with a cute line like “He’s a crook, but he’s our crook.” Naah, he’s a pimp who was instrumental in stabbing Caltrain in the back on BART’s orders. These guys are leeches we cannot afford anymore. Like the Camorra in Naples that rips off the government funds intended to keep Pompeii and Herculaneum from falling down.

    So, if Jerry Brown wants to demonstrate he is a practical, no-nonsense, engaged kinda guy let him weigh in on the important hsr controversies, ie Altamont and Tejon, with some real serious reasoning pro or con. Otherwise it’s just all spin. And he’s end up an orphaned governor like Schwarzie, alienated from both parties.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    But I guarantee you Brown won’t flip the switch on either Tejon or Altamont. And it’s not because of corruption.

    The reason is that he wants HSR to serve Fresno and Palmdale and Stockton and San Jose. He knows the alternative is kept building freeways to nowhere. If you build a train system, you anchor the population in ways roads can’t. And while Los Angeles and San Francisco want to anchor the population (and their money as well) within their regions…Brown wants to anchor the populations of the High Desert and Fresno so that we don’t pave over the whole state and build houses and infrastructure that we can’t afford. He wants to create an incentive to have Fresno not become another Los Angeles. That incentive is HSR.

    synonymouse Reply:

    So if they build hsr in Detroit that will “anchor” them in? Jeez, I guess then they can stop tearing down all those houses.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Detroit is the reverse problem of a Palmdale. Detroit was an urban city with a working population that heavily slated toward manufacturing. The Big 3 automakers all practiced lots of groupthink in the 1990s and when the party ended and gas prices went back to their hundred year averages or higher… it all fell apart like a house of cards.

    Palmdale meanwhile, that is a case of people betting purely on the come as they say in craps. But the problem is that there’s always a perverse incentive for local governments to chase growth because it allows them to get more revenue, usually at the expense of their competition. “Fresno”, in this case, starts with a set population, service area, and city limits. Once the city expands however, it gets to charge home impact fees, service hook up fees, plan review fees, and then it gets the new residents as customers with no competition and it gets to zone for commercial spaces which help the bottom line with sales tax. It’s a brilliant plan, and the only weakness is … the automobile.

    Put in a high speed rail station in City X, meanwhile, and you just gave expanding city a huge increase in revenue from raising the price of real estate around the station. Hotels, restaurants, office space…everything that the Dulles Toll Road might have today. And you plop right in the city’s heart. Then, magically people start working in downtown again…and then…there’s a pretty strong barrier to building way the hell out there because all the [white collar] jobs are downtown. Suburbs and surrounding cities also get into the game, and pretty soon there is light rail, commuter rail or even BART….

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    … Brown wants to anchor the populations of the High Desert and Fresno … He wants to create an incentive to have Fresno not become another Los Angeles. …

    Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Sadly, I don’t have a newsletter.

    But in case you wonder where I extrapolated my opinion from…hint not a body part:

  4. morris brown
    Aug 19th, 2011 at 09:53

    CalTrain to dump Amtrak as operator.

    The following article was printed in today’s (8-19-2011) Daily Post, which in not on the internet.

    At least to me it is not clear why this is taking place. There have been plenty of grumblings about the high cost for operating the commuter line, but this article certainly doesn’t claim that this is the reason for the change.

    Note that “Friends of CalTrain” is a Palo Alto based group, seeking to put a tax measure to subsidize CalTrain on the ballot. Led by Kishimoto and with strong support from Palo Alto Mayor Pat Burt, they continue their efforts, in spite of CalTrain’s indifference to the needs of the Peninsula and CalTrain’s continued support of HSR on the corridor.

    (copy of article from Daily Post page 7, 8-19-2011)

    Caltrain poised to dump Amtrak as train operator

    Caltrain is poised to part ways with Amtrak and hand over rail operations to a new contractor, putting an end to a nearly 20-year relationship, the commuter rail an­nounced yesterday.
    The current contract with Am­trak, which cost Caltrain $62.3 million last fiscal year, expired in June. But Caltrain officials have been shopping around for more than 15 months to find a replace­ment After an extensive bidding process and five proposals, Caltrain officials have selected Missouri- based TransitAmerica Service Inc. to take over from Amtrak.

    Caltrain’s board will vote on the five-year contract Sept. 1.
    Why the change?

    A statement from CalTain didn’t say why it began shopping around for a new Contractor. But Caltrain CEO Mike Scanlon said in the statement “This is, a contractor with the experience, the know-how and the vision to assist Caltrain in operating a system that provides opportunities for improvements, expansion, cost and operational efficiencies and to continue and enhance the lOng-established Cal- train culture of safety first.”

    It will cost Caltrain $62.5 mil­lion to have Transit America run the trains in the first full year of the contract starting in 2013.

    Amtrak not only currently runs the railroad, but also pays the conductors and engineers. Mark Simon, head of Caltrain’s public affairs office, told the Post in Sep­tember that those employees would likely get jobs with a new operator due to federal regulations.
    The payroll for those workers rose by 40% from 2006 to 2008 when the rest of the-Country was in turmoil. In 2008, there were 58 employees who made $100,000 or more.
    In 2008, the most recent year for which figures were available, average salary for a conductor was $68,016. For an engineer, the aver­age was $73,081.
    Once the contract is executed, there will be a five-month transi­tion period, during which Amtrak will continue operating the trains as TransitAmerica settles in.

    Change. anticipated

    Foriner Palo Alto mayor Yoriko Kishimoto, who spearheads the Friends of Caltrain, said she’ll be curious to see what changes there will be. She told the Post that she hopes the new operator and Cal- train work to bring new services to riders, such as Wi-Fi on the trains. She also said she hopes that there will be savings for the cash-

    Arthur Dent Reply:

    Progressive Railroading covered the new 5-year Caltrain operator contract with Herzog.

    joe Reply:

    Led by Kishimoto and with strong support from Palo Alto Mayor Pat Burt, they continue their efforts, in spite of CalTrain’s indifference to the needs of the Peninsula and CalTrain’s continued support of HSR on the corridor. spite of Caltrain’s support of HSR.

    It’s a tough choice, co-tow to HSR or kiss the ring of Palo Alto’s Mayor.

    Palo Alto Mayor Pat Burt vs

    The Senate Majority Leader
    The House Minority Leader
    The CA Governor
    The US Trans Sec La Hood.

    It’s like Booster Gold vs The Justice League.

    VBobier Reply:

    More like Lex Luthor vs the Justice League.

    joe Reply:

    The Mayor of Palo Alto is Lex Luthor? Hilarious to suggest PA has that clout.

    A: Mr. Secretary, The Mayor of Palo Alto on Line One –
    S: Hold all my calls!!!,, Yes Mr Mayror.

    He’s Gorilla Grodd at best – wanting to turn us all into NIMBY Gorillas.

    Joey Reply:

    CalTrain’s continued support of HSR on the corridor.

    Yes, CalTrain’s “support” of HSR. Which is why they’re developing a completely new signaling system with zero consideration given to HSR compatibility. Or why they have yet to even consider unifying platform heights. Or why they’re building an 80mph curve permanently into the system at San Bruno, which only allows one track configuration anyway.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    The only thing most “public” agencies in the US (including SamTrans and the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board in this case) is that bigger budgets are the only goal. Service delivery is entirely beside the point.

    So “supporting” HSR on the SF Peninsula by utterly fucking up all the infrastructure, completely screwing their own customers and taxpayers, funnelling hundreds of millions of wasted dollars into the pockets of consultant buddies, and driving up costs by a factor of three or more while delivering an unusably shoddy result decades late is the best possible outcome for staffers and contractors. Wallowing in cash, lucrative review-free competition-free lifetime employment for everybody. Score!

    Death is too kind a fate for any of those involved.

    joe Reply:

    Rail Hysteria

    Hysteria, in its colloquial use, describes unmanageable emotional excesses. People who are “hysterical” often lose self-control due to an overwhelming fear that may be caused by multiple events in one’s past that involved some sort of severe conflict; the fear can be centered on rail transportation, or, most commonly, on an imagined problem with rail transportation.

    jim Reply:

    Mark Simon, head of Caltrain’s public affairs office, told the Post in Sep­tember that those employees would likely get jobs with a new operator due to federal regulations.

    When VRE switched from Amtrak to IIRC Keolis, there was the same assumption that the existing Amtrak employees would simply migrate to Keolis. It didn’t happen. Amtrak offered retention bonuses to those employees who chose to stay with Amtrak. Keolis was unable to recruit enough people to actually assume operations on the contract start date. VRE had to pay Amtrak to stay on for a while. It will be interesting to see if the same game plays out on the Peninsula. True, Amtrak could absorb the VRE contract employees into NEC operations, while there isn’t the same size operation in the Bay Area. But it will still be worth watching.

  5. trentbridge
    Aug 19th, 2011 at 11:01

    It’s never a solution to think that adding lanes to a freeway eases congestion. It just moves it to the next bottleneck. The increase in speed increases overall use and eventually you end up back where you started. You can’t seriously believe that a metropolis should build roadways to handle rush hours demands because that would mean twenty-one hours of under-utilized investment. Do you build airport terminals or runways to handle the Thanksgiving rush or normal non-holiday volumes? The solution adopted by London was to create congestion pricing. If you want to drive into the city center you pay a toll. If you don’t want to pay extra, you use public transportation.

    As a Democrat I believe in fairness but if the wealthy want to fly first class or pay extra to drive everywhere then I’m happy to have them subsidize alternative forms of transportation.

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    “if the wealthy want to fly first class or pay extra to drive everywhere then I’m happy to have them subsidize alternative forms of transportation”
    The French didn’t understand it that way. The mere mention of the London example created such an uproar in Paris that the mayor had to deny publicly having ever thought of imitating London. The French interpreted it as selection by wealth.
    I think the best way to encourage people to use public transport is not to punish them if they don’t, but to make transit so attractive that choosing it becomes a no-brainer.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Both are required really. The way many East Asian cities got their transit mode share so high is by enacting traffic restraint (gas taxes, car taxes, congestion pricing, etc.) when they had 100-200 cars per 1,000 people, often before they were rich enough to build rapid transit. The traffic restraint policies improved bus transit by themselves, but the main goal was to prevent cars from overrunning the entire city, and this made it easier to migrate to rapid transit later on in the cities’ development history.

    flowmotion Reply:

    It’s not that freeways generate traffic, but instead that freeways can generate sprawl growth patterns.

    However this tired old urbanist meme simply does not apply in areas which are already developed, especially in California where highway construction is 20-30 years behind the state of the art. Adding lanes to 101 on the Peninsula does not suddenly generate 10,000 new office jobs or a new regional shopping center. It does get people where they need to go more quickly however.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    and people who would have stayed home because the traffic was bad go out and use it.

    Derek Reply:

    “However this tired old urbanist meme simply does not apply in areas which are already developed…”

    Which areas will never experience infill development and will never have buildings torn down and replaced with new buildings? Are you willing to put money on that?

    flowmotion Reply:

    All of them. Question for you: In which areas did this occur because CalTrans added an auxiliary lane 20 years after it was needed? Specific examples please.

    Of course, the real point is not many of these 101 commuters would be riding the HSR Fresno Express instead.

  6. morris brown
    Aug 19th, 2011 at 11:37

    CalTrain’s official announcement regarding the change in operators from Amtrak is at:

    The pubic should have been invited to be a part of the behind the scenes negotiations.

    Peter Reply:

    No, not everything requires your personal supervision. Do you seriously think that anyone has any interest in your complaining about Caltrain being in league with HSR, especially when dealing with an issue completely separate from HSR?

  7. Matt in SF
    Aug 19th, 2011 at 17:09

    I might have missed it if someone had already mentioned the news, but Gov. Brown has appointed Dan Richard (former BART Director and former member of Brown’s previous administration) to replace Curt Pringle on the CHSRA Board.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    A BART director? Well, that’s rather less than encouraging.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Dan Richard (former (current?) PG&E exec from Orinda) did nothing during his long BART term but shill for PB/Bechtel promoted extensions, most particularly the disastrous Millbrae extension. Big profits for PB/Bechtel/Tutor-Saliba, a total catastrophe for SamTrans/Caltrain/the public.

    He was pure unadulterated evil and always, without exception, put corporate interests ahead of riders’.

    joe Reply:

    He was pure unadulterated evil and always, without exception, put corporate interests ahead of riders’.

    Jeeze, Jerry Brown blew his chance to appoint Richard “smartest guy on the room” Mlynarik to CAHSR Board. Amazing that of all the people Richard would approve, the Gov happens to pick….a man made of pure unadulterated evil!

    Or maybe “He was managing partner and co-founder of Heritage Oak Capital Partners, an infrastructure finance firm, from 2007 to 2009 .” And is familiar with the Bay Area politics and Peninsula.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    “a man made of pure unadulterated evil!”–Joe

    Followed the link, and ho, ho. ho, ho!!

    synonymouse Reply:

    BART is putting its pawns in place.

    Some clowns spent time and money on a study of space aliens arriving here and decided it could be a bad thing.

    The aliens would not stand a chance. If they were to try the pod people brain snatcher treatment on Bechtel “experts” they would be reverse contaminated with such a level of retardation their advanced civilization would be instantly set back thousands of years. It wasn’t microbes that got the Martians in “War of the Worlds”, just infectious stupidity, perfected in corporate boardrooms.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Good grief, you don’t have to go to Bechtel for that. You just have to come to America.

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    You know, it’s always amusing to see Richard and the Synonymouse in action. Here Brown appoints an East Bay guy who *might* have some musing on Altamont…etc…etc…and we all get is…he’s a BART guy…so he must be EVIL. It’s fun to watch both of you snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and find the dark cloud around the silver lining…Can we break ground in Fres-Angeles already?

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Dear Jesus-has-come-oh-my-God:

    It would be great if being from Piedmont meant that Mr Richards had the interests of the Greater Oakland Co-Propsperity Sphere at heart.

    But — hate to break it to you, and I’ll try to be gentle! –, that doesn’t seem to the way the world works.

    My impression of Mr Richards are based solely on his public track record of 14 years at BARTD, during which IMMENSE and long-lasting harm was done to the Bay Area’s transportation system.

    I’m sure he’s a charming fellow otherwise, and would make a splendid camp-mate or dinner guest. And I’m sure he’ll continue to look after the interests of his constituency in the manner to which they’ve long been accustomed.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Dan Richard “familiar with the Bay Area politics and Peninsula”? Yeah, his company just blew
    up the Peninsula and then claimed non-responsibility. That’s going to go over really well. Jerry B. needs to get some new handlers.

    Pumping recent events into my murky crystal ball I come with this prediction. Ring-the-Bay and bye-bye hsr altogether. BART has enormous needs for government funding and hsr is competition.

    BART(not PB now, which always benefits no matter what scenario) obviously can’t kill off hsr on its own. It doesn’t have to – the CHSRA is in self-destruct mode.

    Joey Reply:

    By this logic it makes sense to have Monsanto execs in the USDA (which we do, unfortunately).

    joe Reply:

    I’m not interested in the USDA or Monsanto.

    We have an executive who has helped finance infrastructure investments appointed to the board of a public project seeking to finance HSR infrastructure.

    “He was managing partner and co-founder of Heritage Oak Capital Partners, an infrastructure finance firm, from 2007 to 2009 .”

    I see no regulator-regulated conflict,if that’s the implication.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    “He was managing partner and co-founder of Heritage Oak Capital Partners, an infrastructure finance firm, from 2007 to 2009”

    THis long “career” in transportation financing had nothing whatsoever to do with his very lengthy “public service” career in opening the floodgates of public to private wealth transfers at BART from 1992 to 2004.

    A period during which PBQD/Bechtek/Tutor-Saliba defrauded the public of $2 billion (Millbrae extension) and in which PBQD instigated the Santa Clara extension. via the San José (Capital of Silicon Valley!) Flea Market.

    He never once voted against staff (= contractor’s) interests and never once in the public’s. (He o course was in a 7-2 majority doing so generally. His unbroken legacy is continued by present BARTD member James Fang.) That’s simply a matter of public record.

    The correct terms for his “service” to BART and his “extensive” transportation capital funding experience are “insider job” and “revolving door”.

  8. D. P. Lubic
    Aug 19th, 2011 at 18:49

    Off topic, but thought this might be of interest; vintage trolley enters service in San Diego:

    Sadly, there are negative comments following the stories, with the same tired comments about money, and some that are borderline racist–and this for a group that is volunteer, raised its own money, and is essentially making a gift of the use of the car to San Diego.

    I am continually disappointed in my fellow citizens, but at the same time, am glad some can overcome the collection of dunces that seem to be out there.

    Of course, there is at least one neat exchange in here:

    James Andrews:

    “Nothing better to do with our tax dollars than spend $36.000 operating the line and an extra $126.000 in vintage parts so people can see why we replaced these cars with modern ones. Why does someone’s desire to relive their past have to require taking money from others to fulfill their wants???”


    “Do you really think all the tourists (our second biggest industry) come to see the new buildings and the cars? Why is the Gaslamp Quarter not in Eastlake?
    Is funny actually. You are fine with a 2000 year old Bible, a 200 year old Constitution, a 50 year old haircut and a 20 year old suit, but an old streetcar just is too much to handle!”

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    While on the subject of San Diego, some info on some new cars that are supposed to be coming:

    I concur with the commentors in San Diego, the older cars are more stylish than the new ones.

    There is also this doodle from the paper, featuring HSR around California (cartoon illustration):

  9. Justin H
    Aug 22nd, 2011 at 20:47

    Testing – ignore

    HTML Help

  10. Justin H
    Aug 22nd, 2011 at 20:48

    Testing – ignore


Comments are closed.