Draft EIR for Central Valley Segment Now Available

Aug 9th, 2011 | Posted by

A big milestone was reached today when the California High Speed Rail Authority released the Draft Environmental Impact Reports for the Merced to Fresno and Fresno to Bakersfield sections of the project, the first ones that will be built with the combined state and federal funding. The Authority’s website has the full documents, and they’ve helpfully put out a series of links to each:

Merced to Fresno:
Draft EIR
Submit a Comment

Fresno to Bakersfield
Draft EIR
Submit a Comment

As the planning process advances, more information is gathered, and specific alternatives are proposed, it’s no surprise that cost estimates can change. And so they have with the Draft EIR. Given that the US news media is trained to believe that all megaprojects are bad and that changing cost estimates – which are normal as a project goes from an idea to a hard, solid, detailed plan – is somehow a huge story, it should be no surprise that the news outlets are all over this.

The main story is the AP’s “exclusive” which claims the HSR cost “soars”:

Building tracks for the first section of California’s proposed high-speed rail line will cost $2.9 billion to $6.8 billion more than originally estimated, raising questions about the affordability of the nation’s most ambitious rail project at a time when its planning and finances are under fire.

Notice the way this is framed. In and of itself, getting a more accurate cost estimate is not inherently bad. You learn what your options are, get a better idea of the costs, and make choices based on that. But the AP report implies that the new numbers are a bad thing and that it could “question the affordability” of the project – yet, as usual, you will not find anywhere in the AP article a discussion of the cost of doing nothing. Why oh why can’t we have a better press corps?

A 2009 business plan developed for the California High-Speed Authority, the entity overseeing the project, estimated costs at about $7.1 billion for the equivalent stretch of tracks. Officials say those estimates were made before detailed engineering work and feedback from communities along the proposed route.

Which is correct. Feedback from communities is particularly important. Some in Fresno want a viaduct. Chowchilla wants a bypass. Wasco and Shafter would like one too. Those are not free and have cost implications.

The rail authority’s chief executive, Roelof van Ark, said planners anticipated the higher costs as more information about land acquisition and other details related to actual construction became known.

“We’ve had cost increases, but I believe the costs are now realistic and fair,” he said.

Van Ark also said he expects the estimated total cost of the project, originally pegged at $43 billion, to rise.

I have always said the same thing. Van Ark believes this is an accurate cost estimate. We’ll discuss that in more detail in a moment, but it’s good to have a solid idea of what the costs are so decisions can be made about project design.

The documents being released Tuesday lay out specific route alternatives for the 178 miles of planned tracks between Merced and Bakersfield, with an estimated total cost of $10 billion to $13.9 billion, depending on which route is selected. The first portion to be built covers most of that area.

Those estimates come out to a range of $56 million per mile to $78 million per mile. If you extrapolated that to the entire first phase of the project, which is 465 miles from San Francisco to Anaheim, you get an overall cost of $26 billion to $36 billion. Of course, building tunnels and building in urban areas will be more expensive than the Central Valley, but there’s as of yet no reason to believe that the figures of $80 billion, $100 billion, or $200 billion that are routinely thrown around by HSR critics have any merit.

Those costs are a lot higher than in other countries, such as Spain. Then again, Spain has quite low labor costs. And the cost estimates are “year of expenditure” estimates, which factor in inflation that might not materialize. Actual projects costs could be higher, but there’s just as good a chance they can be lower.

Still, as the Authority has $6.3 billion in hand, that leaves anywhere from $4 to $7 billion left to raise to build out the Central Valley segment. There are plenty of places that money could come from, such as federal loans or from the private sector (or some combination of the two).

The usual suspects will crow about this being yet another reason to not build the HSR project. But they will just be repeating their claims that new spending is bad, that the status quo is just fine – a statewide 12% unemployment rate and $4 gas is great, according to them – and that we’d be crazy to want to do anything about our economic crisis. If we want to build high speed rail and provide the basis of sustainable 21st century prosperity, we need to figure out how to get this built, and not make excuses for doing nothing.

As to the cost estimates themselves, these are not the product of a general increase, but of the specifics of the various alternatives still under study. For example, about $3.8 billion of the cost increase is due to proposals to build over 40 miles of viaducts through Fresno and other locations, especially if a Union Pacific/Highway 99 route is used. No wonder the Authority began looking at an at-grade option earlier this year.

You can see the impact of different alignments, for example, on page 6 of the Merced-Fresno highlights document. The cheapest option, a West Chowchilla version of the “hybrid” alternative that uses both BNSF and UPRR corridors, is $3.83 billion. The most expensive option, the East Chowchilla version of the UPRR/99 corridor, is $6.94 billion. However, there is significantly less variation in the Fresno-Bakersfield section, where the lower end estimate is $6.19 billion for a version bypassing Corcoran, Allenworth, Wasco and Shafter (which would likely cause farmers in Kern County to howl) and the most expensive, at $7.19 billion, is for a version following the BNSF route with an elevated through Corcoran. The other 22 options all fall within that narrow range.

There’s a lot to pore over here and discuss. One common theme is that if farmers all got their way and the project hewed closely to the Highway 99 corridor north of Fresno and the BNSF corridor south of Fresno, then the cost will be close to $14 billion for the segment. If farmers didn’t get their way and some land was taken for bypasses, the cost would be around $10 billion. In short, viaducts and aerials are expensive, and at-grade is cheap.

We know that HSR critics will jump all over this and claim it’s more evidence the project is a bad idea, we can’t afford it, blah blah blah. HSR advocates should respond by pushing the Authority to choose the segments that provide the best operational capacity for the most affordable price. That doesn’t mean we should automatically embrace the cheapest option everywhere, but if we can meet operational needs without long viaducts, we might as well do so. And if we need the viaducts, then we should go out and find funding. Each alternative should be assessed on its merits.

Overall, it’s worth keeping in mind that HSR will not rise or fall on cost estimates or the details of project design. Like virtually everything else in America, from schools to health care to roads to police and fire, it is caught up in the great battle over the nation’s future. American politics is dominated right now by a group of older, privileged people who are dead-set against spending money on anything, from health care to high speed rail, to help address the economic crisis and build a better future. HSR is coming along just fine, without any major problems. Its misfortune is to be coming along during a moment of right-wing political extremism so fierce that it threatens to destroy the country’s basic economic foundations.

If we believe HSR is a good idea, we will be motivated to solve the funding questions. If we believe HSR is a bad idea, then we’ll be motivated to use this report as an excuse to kill a project we didn’t really like. For those of us who believe it’s a good idea, the Draft EIR is a key milestone toward getting construction under way and showing us what issues need to be addressed, what choices need to be made, and what the options – and costs – really are.

  1. JJJ
    Aug 9th, 2011 at 23:30

    Even a penny over estimates was certain to cause hysteria. A few billion? That’s a problem.

    I’m sure all the pre-written press releases the people like the Heritage had written up have already been fired off to every news room. As soon as the EIR was written, they just had to give it a 30 second glance to confirm higher numbers and all their prepared documents were ready to go.

    The Washington Post should be doing a lovely negative op-ed/article before Friday, making the issue once again national.

    joe Reply:

    If the over runs are due to poorly managed risks, it’s a problem. IMHO, none of the added costs are due to unseen risks or bad planning.

    If you have a project and add requirements, i.e. more elevated structures, then you will need more budget. That is not a sign the project has a problem.

    JJJ Reply:

    Im not saying the money is being incorrectly budgeted or spent or anything.

    The problem is saying “40 billion” and then “60 billion”. Doesn’t matter if the NIMBYs forced the change…it’s fuel for the fire.

    As I said, even a few “pennies” above the original number would be enough for the negative press.

    political_incorrectness Reply:

    Exactly my concern, this might just add fuel to the vocal minorities and then the project gets closer to shut down due to costs going out of control. Apparently, the Authority has a conflicat of interest policy it is drafting. This could be a great time to address issues.

    joe Reply:

    So we close HSR down, now what?

    Give back the ARRA billions.
    Lose the prop 1A bonds.
    Extend middle finger to the CV.

    That’s a awesome political move for the State, contact spending by deleting allocated Federal dollars and Bonds. Tell a section of the state with 16%+ unemployment to stick it.

    That will appease the vocal minority that wants to stop HSR. it’s a recipe for political failure.

    There were vocal minorities opposing the golden gate bridge, but we built it.

    Derek Reply:

    Then the worst thing cities along the line could do is pay for expensive upgrades (tunneling, etc.), because that would drive the total reported price up.

    joe Reply:

    A car’s price is for a specific model has a MSRP. If you elect the sun roof, the car’s MSRP price didn’t change, you added a sun-roof requirement, paid for it and got the benefit.

    Derek Reply:

    Tell that to the voters.

    flowmotion Reply:

    > IMHO, none of the added costs are due to unseen risks or bad planning.

    Really? I’ve been expecting these ‘surprise’ increases since the cost estimates first came out.

    Go back and look at the original maps — they designated numerous “at grade” sections which ran through urban areas and clearly could not be constructed at grade. If you believe the planners really didn’t expect to build viaducts and bypass towns, I have to say you’re quite naive.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Original plan was for a lot of minor road bridges and underpasses. This is a common way of handling things and can be done relatively cheaply; there was an estimate in there for some giant bulk purchase of short bridges.

    jim Reply:

    If you have a project and add requirements, i.e. more elevated structures, then you will need more budget. That is not a sign the project has a problem.

    Well it is if the money to cover the increase isn’t there.

    When the whole project was to be $30B, a state contribution of $10B seemed more than adequate. If the whole project is north of $60B, then a state contribution of $10B isn’t enough. Once it goes over $50B, then $10B from the state with a 80/20 Fed/State split doesn’t cover the cost (and the split so far hasn’t even been 80/20). And there hasn’t been a convincing PPP story.

    Now is when van Ark is going to earn his salary (or not earn it). Scope has increased unaffordably. He needs to decrease it (or defer elements, if that’s politically easier). Elizabeth suggests that the bulk of the scope increases happened before 2009, so well before his watch. No matter. He’s on the hook to cut them back. Maybe he has to go back into the System Requirements document.

  2. Paul H.
    Aug 10th, 2011 at 01:52

    Here are my preferred alternatives for both the Merced-to-Fresno and Fresno-to-Bakersfield sections. Enjoy.

    Merced-to-Fresno Alternatives

    Top 3
    1. Hybrid w/ Ave 21 Wye Cost: $4.83 Billion
    2. Hybrid w/ Ave 24 Wye Cost: $3.82 Billion
    3. BNSF w/ Ave 21 Wye Cost: $4.38 Billion

    UPRR/99 Alignments costs are prohibitive because of too many elevated structures, therefore not considered for my preferred alternatives.

    Fresno-to-Bakersfield Alternatives

    Top 3
    1. Option 15 Corcoran Bypass and Wasco Shafter Bypass Cost: $6.48 Billion
    2. Option 5 Wasco Shafter Bypass Cost: $6.64 Billion
    3. Option 3 Corcoran Bypass Cost: $6.85 Billion

    Only other alternative I would consider in Fresno-to-Bakersfield Section is Option 1, BNSF Only.
    Corcoran Elevated Structure is an unnecessary cost for this project.
    Bakersfield South is less desirable than the North (BNSF) option because of no connectivity (pedestrian walkway) with current Amtrak Station.

    Lowest Costs Alternative for Merced-to-Bakersfield (within my choices above)
    Hybrid w/ Ave 24 + Corcoran Bypass and Wasco Shafter Bypass Cost: $10.3 Billion

    My Preferred Alternative
    Hybrid w/ Ave 21 + Corcoran Bypass and Wasco Shafter Bypass Cost: $11.3 Billion

    Paul H. Reply:

    Also, my reason for not picking an Allensworth bypass alignment option is because I rather the line stay next to the BNSF corridor than go through farmland. Wasco Shafter bypass makes sense because of savings of 6 less miles of track (no track miles savings for allensworth bypass) and because it avoids going through two separate towns with one alignment option.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Nah, I say option #17….it’s actually the exact amount of money the Authority has. It’s also not that expensive per mile.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    Don’t forget to choose a maintenance station.

    Paul H. Reply:

    Fresno Works. I sit on the committee for the county, that should speak for itself I think.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Good plans. In fact it looks like the wye location decision is being deferred. So. There you go, you have a plan which builds a working railway.

  3. Elizabeth
    Aug 10th, 2011 at 08:03


    There is no excuse for the 2009 forecasts, which ignored very expensive changes that had been made to the project since the original 2005 EIR.

    You try and pin it on “bypasses” and blame local authorities. First of all, look at the actual numbers. The bypasses are without exception cheaper than the original through town solutions. Second, in some cases the cities favor bypasses and in some they don’t. The bypasses avoid the noise through town but the cities don’t get anticipated benefits of getting some grade separations for the existing freight line and it has impacts on their agricultural communities.

    In summary:
    1) The bypasses are the Authority’s idea.

    2) The 2009 numbers were low even when they were made. They were issued in December 2009. By that time, the board had already approved the alternatives analysis, which only featured aerial structures.

    3) Every other section on the route (with possible exception of LA_ Anaheim) has similar cost adjustments coming. There is a reason that the Grapevine is back on the table and that the Authority only spent $1 million last year planning the Bakersfield – Palmdale segment.

    4) It is much worse to have a continual dribble of information. We have implored the Authority to speak candidly about the cost levels. This avoids the dribble, treats everyone as adults and can lead to real conversations about where to go from here. If you are doing a house remodel, you want your contractor to tell you upfront that the costs are way above your budget BEFORE you break ground. You either adjust the scope or go back to bank to see if you can get bigger loan.

    5) The Authority has now put the legislature in a very bad position. It is now very late in the game. It is getting very close to a point where the state will only have two options: sign off on the $60 billion plus version or kill the project.

    6) The best option is to be candid with the costs and figure out if there is a better way forward before it is too late.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    They ARE speaking candidly about the cost levels. You are opposed to the project and want to paint the Authority in a bad light, which is your right, but that doesn’t mean you get to misrepresent the Authority’s approach here.

    Elizabeth Reply:


    I don’t know how many times we have to say this. We don’t have a stance on “the” project. Our primary objective is to have open, fact based planning.

    First, you want to blame the CV cities for the higher than budgeted costs.
    Now, it is somehow us.

    Tony D. Reply:

    “Our primary objective is to have open, fact based planning.” YEAH RIGHT!
    Kind of like the Tea Party agenda is to create jobs and a strong economy.

    Peter Reply:

    “We don’t have a stance on “the” project.”

    Ummm, if I recall correctly, one of your other group members actually stated a few months back that your group is in fact against the project.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    Who? What? When?

    There are a lot of groups now, many with similar names.

    Peter Reply:

    I know it was someone from CARRD, and I know it was on this blog.

    I can keep the names of the groups well separate, but not necessarily all of the group members’ names. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to run a search for comments, and I’m not interested in spending hours looking through old threads for it.

    Peter Reply:

    I’ll retract the portion of my earlier comment that your group member stated your organization was against the project. The statement by Sara Armstrong was that CARRD is not neutral.

    Clem Reply:

    Are you the same Peter who says below “Still winning, still winning, making shit up, making shit up…” ?

    Peter Reply:

    Yes, and the same one who actually did in fact look it up and retracted his incorrect statement and corrected it.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    Thank you.

    Peter Reply:

    You’re welcome. I did not mean to misquote, and didn’t originally think it would be as easy to find as it was. My apologies.

    Clem Reply:

    Sorry I missed your retraction. Seems our posts crossed within a few minutes of each other.

    Peter Reply:


    Nadia Reply:


    As you know when we discussed at least a year and a half ago, we have been advocating for transparency because if EVERYONE has access to the information, we can work on planning appropriately. This was, you may remember, the way CSS was supposed to work. And, we advocated for this process to be used statewide.

    The numbers are big and scary, but we need to make decisions on those numbers and hiding them until the last minute doesn’t help. Six months ago we were able to deduce from their own documents where these numbers were headed. They knew in 2009 that their business plan didn’t accurately reflect where they were in the EIR process – this is the tactic they chose.

    I understand the fear in having a public dialogue because you think it is a tactic for “painting them in a bad light” but the reality is that this will be a very long term project and you will need sustained public support. Withholding the information from the public doesn’t create a sense of trust, it decreases it significantly.

    From our webpage on CSS:

    “Rather than approaching stakeholders at the tail end of the design process in an attempt to gain approval, CSS emphasizes the need to incorporate their early, continuous and meaningful involvement from the very outset of the planning and design development processes. This involvement also continues during all subsequent stages of construction, operations and maintenance.”

    That is what we have been asking for since the beginning. The DAD model (Decide Announce Defend) doesn’t work and this project keeps learning this the hard way.

    again from our CSS page:

    The CSS Process: Characteristics of the Process That Yield Excellence

    “The Characteristics of the Process that will Yield Excellence in Transportation Design” are:

    * Communication with all stakeholders is open, honest, early, and continuous.
    * A multidisciplinary team is established early, with disciplines based on the needs of the specific project, and with the inclusion of the public.
    * A full range of stakeholders is involved with transportation officials in the scoping phase (the period before design is begun when the scope of the project is agreed upon). The purposes of the project are clearly defined, and consensus on the scope is forged before proceeding.
    * The highway development process is tailored to meet the circumstances. This process should examine multiple alternatives that will result in a consensus of approach methods.
    * A commitment to the process from top agency officials and local leaders is secured.
    * The public involvement process, which includes informal meetings, is tailored to the project.
    * The landscape, the community, and valued resources are understood before engineering design is started. A full range of tools for communication about project alternatives is used (e.g., visualization).

    – As agreed upon by participants of the Thinking Beyond the Pavement Conference, 1998

    It might sound like “pie in the sky” but this is the actual basis for CalTrans’ policy adopted in 2004 and how all Federal Highway Administration projects are built since around 2000.

    Nathanael Reply:

    In fact, I’ve never seen an FHA project actually built this way, and I’ve seen several built since 2000. This is not to disagree with the idea that CSS is good, but merely to disagree with the idea that the FHA has actually implemented it administration-wide. It hasn’t implemented it.

    Nadia Reply:

    You can see them all at: http://contextsensitivesolutions.org/

    Walter Reply:

    You claim to like the project (done “responsibly”). You go on tirades like this. Does not compute.

    Michael Reply:

    If Altamont was chosen and costed with the same methodology as the rest of the system, it would probably be subject to the same growth in price once more fully engineered. What then?

    Nathanael Reply:

    Worse, actually. More UP track to cross over (multiple times), more rich NIMBYs, intractable problems crossing the Bay….

    Jack Reply:

    I think we are also ignoring the fact that during the initial planning phases the authority was operating on less than a shoe-string budget. Mistakes were bound to happen. Now that the authority has the resources to be more accurate in it’s costs were getting the information we need.

    What we need to avoid is the knee jerk, omg they said it would be this much and now it’s this much they lied KILL IT WITH FIRE!! And replace that with the more sensible how much is this project worth to the state. Is it still worth it at 45, 65, or 80 Billion.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    By the time of december 2009 budget, they were not on a shoestring budget and they have had plenty of time since then to set the record straight.

    Our issue with the cost is that many decisions were made, assuming one cost structure. The true cost structure is very different, which may mean that you want to make different decisions. The later you wait, the less room you have to make those changes.

    We are just frustrated because it has taken almost two years for the Authority to acknowledge cost changes. In the meantime, you now have Palmdale suing and they still have not been told the cost estimates for the Palmdale alignment. If Palmdale had been shown the costs earlier, they would not be happy but you would probably not be in court.

    Nathanael Reply:

    You’re now misattributing causes of problems. Again. The cost escalation in the Palmdale-San Fernando Valley area was only identified after substantial detailed engineering, and really was quite obviously a surprise, and a *recent* surprise, and not a predictable surprise (I was following lots of amateurs, and *none* of them guessed that that segment would become severely problematic).

    That situation simply couldn’t have been avoided, unless you gave the CHSRA a few tens or hundreds of millions to start detailed engineering and negotiation with property owners and agencies much earlier, long before 2009, back when they WERE on a shoestring budget.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    5) The Authority has now put the legislature in a very bad position. It is now very late in the game. It is getting very close to a point where the state will only have two options: sign off on the $60 billion plus version or kill the project.

    Actually, this EIR is good news. The Authority now has enough money to complete Fresno to Bakersfield (or at least…according to the est-i-mate…).

    Again, Elizabeth is extrapolating that because costs on this segment went up…that means costs are going to rise on all segments. This demonstrates a bit of bias against the fact that right now, farmland prices are going for a lot more than house prices nationwide. Hence, van Ark is right to argue that if the state is going to pay a fair price, it has to concede that economically, agricultural land is more valuable these days than subdivisions. But even then, all agricultural land is not the same…water rights vary and so does crop usage.

    For example, guys like Stew Resnik is going to scream if he loses an acre of his pistachio operation (which is really just a front for elaborate water banking to serve Los Angeles) because of the value per acre of crop. But the fact is, the state is probably overplanted for pistachios anyway and Arnold’s heavy lobbying to the Chinese about it confirms this.

    Other farmers, meanwhile, will likely do the same…argue that they grow some exotic crop that is really expensive right on the land the Authority wants to seize, knowing full well what subsidies and profit margins really keep them in business.

    The problem is, we haven’t seized farmland by force in this country for a long time because most of our suburban growth was voluntary…maybe it’s time to hire the Texas Transportation Institute???

    datacruncher Reply:

    Resnick owns Paramount Farms which wants to donate land near Shafter for a HMF. I think Resnick has development plans in his eyes for his adjacent land.

    mike Reply:


    I don’t particularly care what CARRD’s “stance” is or is not, but I’m curious to hear what changes you would suggest to the CV segment to reduce costs. I think we’re all concerned about costs in one form or another, so what would you suggest doing to reduce them?

    synonymouse Reply:

    It seems to me Elizabeth always tries to be rational even-tempered, consensus-seeking.

    Not me. **** the CV. Go I-5 to save money and time.

    Spokker Reply:

    Oh, you know how to rile me up. Come on, synonymouse, kiss me on the lips.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Spokker, you really do add that “je ne sais quoi” to the discussion. Keep it up.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Isn’t that interesting. Apparently Elizabeth has no actual suggestions. Whee.

  4. morris brown
    Aug 10th, 2011 at 08:09

    High-speed rail price tag soars again, this time on pace to surpass $60 billion


    The San Jose Mercury and other Bay area papers giving this kind of coverage
    Robert wrote above:

    “Overall, it’s worth keeping in mind that HSR will not rise or fall on cost estimates or the details of project design.”

    Well. Robert, those who have the vote, don’t seem to be be of that view at all!

    Lowenthal (from the article):

    “It could be well into $60 billion, and who knows where it ends. This is really very serious and needs to stop in its tracks,” said state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, chairman of the Senate committee overseeing the project. “We can’t just be acting as if someone’s out there giving us wheelbarrows full of money, and it’s just coming. This is not the way we should be operating.”

    In fact one really should conclude quite the opposite. Costs, as well as ability to fund, will determine whether this project proceeds.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Lowenthal is an HSR opponent. His comments are unsurprising.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Morris, go away and stop reprinting whatever attacks on HSR, baseless or not, you can find.

    Robert, folks like Elizabeth can be talked to and provide useful information sometimes. Morris… well, basically he doesn’t.

  5. joe
    Aug 10th, 2011 at 08:32

    4) It is much worse to have a continual dribble of information. We have implored the Authority to speak candidly about the cost levels.

    a). Consider how CARRD over reacted to the ridership study model and went to the press conflating a typographical error in a parameter value with a scandal that the ridership study was wrong, the Peer review did not backup CARRD’s allegations.
    b). “candid”, free from bias, prejudice, or malice. That’s a very serious allegation. There’s no evidence they HSR hasn’t been “candid”. There’s no example showing CARRD’s been denied any data that has been shared with advocacy groups or any other public organization. No expample in the EIR where the HSR mislead or acted in malice.

    PDATE: Elizabeth Alexis writes to us here at SFist HQ.

    My name is Elizabeth Alexis and you referenced my work in your article that was posted today on sfist.com about high speed rail. You state that I have a “clear agenda of keeping the train out of her backyard.”

    I would state for the record I have no such agenda. It seems difficult for people to believe but we would just like to see a much better policy process, in terms of transparency and the use of facts, in place.

    Indeed, we submitted comments to the California High Speed Rail Authority as part of the environmental review process suggesting a route through Palo Alto as the obvious route they should study. (see page 2 “Study an Altamont Alignment that would serve San Francisco and San Jose on one route” available on our website http://www.calhsr.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/CARRD-Ridership-comments-for-Program-Level-EIR.pdf )

    I would be very interested to here on what basis you made the statement in the posting. We have found that people’s presumption that any criticism must be self-motivated is part of the problem. It allows project promoters to dismiss anything negative as “NIMBYISM”. This eliminates checks and balances and all those things that lead to well though out projects.

    Yes, let’s be candid.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    “I’m not a NIMBY. I don’t want these trains in my backyard and I have done more than almost anyone else in this state to undermine the project, but no, I’m not a NIMBY.”

    Of course, Elizabeth isn’t alone here. Let’s take a look at Alan Lowenthal:

    “I don’t oppose high speed rail. I have constantly talked down the basic need for intercity rail and have done more than almost anyone else in the state legislature to undermine the project, but no, I’m not an HSR opponent.”

    What people do is more important than how people describe themselves.

    Elizabeth Reply:


    In my normal daily existence, I’m an advocate for more and better transit.

    You can shoot the messengers all you want. In fact, my experience has been that messenger shooting is a serious issue in US transit. It has allowed the standards for performance to be very, very low.

    We think there is a lot of room between the “whatever it costs” project and no project at all. The us vs them, you are with us or against us mentality might seem like the best path forward, but it does not work when the numbers are this big.

    Jack Reply:

    It’s just unfortunate the work that you do is used by HSR opponents to kick the Authority in the teeth.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    So Elizabeth,

    If a conscious decision was made to eliminate Cal Train (or to require a parcel tax in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties to fund it to continue subsequently failed) would you want Palo Alto to have service from BART or VTA?

    joe Reply:


    The way PAMPA NIMBY’s control growth (stop it) is to choke public transportation options and use EIR/traffic projections to sue and halt the project.

    Caltrain is next. They’ll try to kill it and barricade more PAMPA streets. The hell with everyone else.

    Elizabeth Reply:


    Tom McNamara Reply:

    But if Caltrain fails, who would want to serve Palo Alto, BART or VTA?

    joe Reply:

    You can shoot the messengers all you want. In fact, my experience has been that messenger shooting is a serious issue in US transit. It has allowed the standards for performance to be very, very low.

    CARRD chastizes that HSR management needs to be “candid” before it is too late. CARRD members openly question the very integrity of the project’s management.

    Yet it is also rude and counter productive to hold any CARRD member/representative to any standard whatsoever. The more questions we ask, the lower the her performance standards. We’re shooting at her. Oh my. We have a victim.

    Donk Reply:

    I don’t get it. Are these actual quotes from Elizabeth and Alan Lowenthal? They use the same wording.

    Clem Reply:

    the Peer review did not backup CARRD’s allegations.

    Did you read section 4.4 of the report? It raises the exact same issue with the headway coefficient that CARRD initially pointed out. The ridership peer review report concluded that the ridership model was not yet ready for the panel to “be in a position to make a more definitive determination about the model and forecasts derived from it.”

    joe Reply:

    I’m sorry, did you misunderstand or forget CARRD’s accusations?

    Clem Reply:

    Perhaps you might point me to a specific reference on CARRD’s website, and we can see if we agree or not.

    Spokker Reply:

    Damn, joe, you are like the pro-HSR version of synonymouse.

  6. Alon Levy
    Aug 10th, 2011 at 09:52

    “Those costs are a lot higher than in other countries, such as Spain. Then again, Spain has quite low labor costs.”

    Labor costs have nothing to do with it. China has even lower labor costs than Spain, by several notches, but the construction cost of Beijing-Shanghai HSR was about $40 million per km.

    joe Reply:

    Thank goodness, labor has nothing to do with Spain and CA cost differences. What is it then?

    Joey Reply:

    You tell me. I’m informed on a need-to-know basis.

    Beta Magellan Reply:

    I’d suspect that Spanish projects aren’t designed by the same people who end up pouring the concrete.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Spain is abnormally good at contractor oversight. And, yes, keeping design and construction separate is one of the methods used, since independent builders won’t hesitate to make small changes to the design that are warranted by unexpected circumstances as much as builders who are invested in the original design.

    Clem Reply:

    The other difference is that the Spanish government has in-house expertise that keeps contractors out of the planning loop. They just build what they’re told, rather than write their own paycheck as here in the U.S.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    I think the irony is PB might be coming to the conclusion that they aren’t going to be writing their own paychecks on this and other projects in the future and is adjusting their strategy accordingly….

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Also, you there’s this weird idea that bad contractors can get FIRED if they fuck up. Do good work and there will be plenty more where that came from, because people actually will get fired up about having new HS train lines and metros and freeways and airports and houses built. Do bad work and there’s somebody else who can take your place.

    But there’s another model for getting more work, one that does away with this whole tiresome merit and success in delivery business.

    Here, the bigger the fraud, and the worse you screw the public, the bigger the next job awarded to you in a “competitive” “bidding” process.

    So PB/Bechtel’s Kopp-fronted BART to Millbrae scam “only” defrauded the taxpayers of $2 billion and “only” set back public transportation in Northern California by 20 years.

    That was “qualification” for PB to commit systematic fraud in promoting BARt to San Jose: “only” $8 billion straight from your and my pockets into theirs, and “only” another few decades of regression. And after all, what’s a single digit number of billions of dollars between friend — very very <a href="http://www.mtc.ca.gov/about_mtc/Key_Staff/&quot;very special friends — anyway?

    Rich “qualifications” for “winning” a “bid” to “design” HSR for California, indeed. But with “unexpected” (unexpected every time! surprise!) CHSRA cost overrun heading into the eleven digit territory, it’s possible they’ve bitten off a little more than they could get away with … perhaps, for the time being. I wouldn’t bet against them.

    Nathanael Reply:

    *eyeroll*. In the Milbrae/SFO case, I seem to remember PB (a) being told by its political bosses, Kopp & company, that Milbrae and SFO must both be served by the plan, whether it made sense or not, (b) actually telling Kopp & company that a wye was not a great design operationally, but that it would be cheaper than a through-run through SFO. Which is true.

    Smelled like political interference into design to me.

    Realist Reply:

    I’ve often wondered if the US could just hire some Spanish firms to manage big construction projects here. It’s really irksome to me how much more transportation projects cost here. For $60 million a mile you could buy the land and build a new fancy house from Fresno to Bakersfield.

    trentbridge Reply:

    Or you can make the bridge in China and save money that way. Oops – when you said big construction projects I thought about the new East Bay Bridge (made in China). You see, Arnold was way ahead of you.

    “The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, an American icon, will be sporting a “Made in China” sticker—figuratively speaking, at least. China’s biggest heavy machinery maker has put the final touches on sections of the new East Span of the Bay Bridge— the biggest project so far for state-run Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries, a unit of China Communications Construction Co.
    California outsourced manufacturing of the main parts of the bridge to Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries to save $400 million on labor and materials.

    “State-owned???) Isn’tthat another word for socialist?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It could, but I doubt it’s going to do any good. Construction firms shortchange countries that can’t or won’t supervise them properly, while doing good work in countries that can and will. The example I keep coming back to is Marmaray, which has PB as a construction consultant just like Second Avenue Subway and the BART extensions but is reasonably cheap for the amount of sheer pain involved.

    Nathanael Reply:

    I’m beginning to suspect it’s worse than merely lack of supervision. Politicians are very prone to change project scope in deeply undesirable ways, and it seems to happen less often in (for instance) Spain, which did not significantly alter its plans to tunnel next to the Sagrada Familia despite what can only be called a massive NIMBY reaction. Most of the worst, most overpriced and underperforming projects in the US have clearly failed well before the consultants were brought on, due to political decisions: the Central Subway and the “We don’t believe in sharing between agencies” ARC deep-cavern-station plan both have those marks all over them.

    Meanwhile, projects with politicians and agency leaders who are open-minded and willing to consider alternatives which upset their institutional arrangements or power-brokering deals, but also who are not willing to give into NIMBY pressure to spend vast fortunes for tiny returns — seem to go reasonably well comparatively.

  7. flowmotion
    Aug 10th, 2011 at 10:20

    Can anyone explain why they’re building the Merced leg as part of the initial construction?

    It doesn’t seem to be useful until they start building out “Phase 2” to Sacramento, which now look like it may be at least a decade in the future. Without funding sources for the key SF-LA connections identified, it seems excessively extravagant to build a complex wye and a dead-end stub. It also poses operational issues when they start running trains, assuming the private operator even bothers servicing Merced at all.

    And yes, I know about the maintenance base proposal; however this is valuable piece of pork they could build anywhere else on the initial line.

    Someone convince me they are not going way over budget just for the sake of pouring extra concrete.

    synonymouse Reply:

    If no one has noticed state tax receipts have been falling and the current stock market perturbation is likely to stem sales tax revenues even further. With deeper budget cuts triggered automatically there certainly be a call to tax the rich and corporations. Meg certainly and Wunderman in short order will oppose these moves and the grand labor-business elite coalition will break down. I cannot see how infrastructure spending will win out over education and welfare.

    Ergo Brown will have to deal with the hsr issue. The more opposition to hsr, the more likely Brown will be forced to make changes. I do not know if LaMalfa has enough financial support to to engineer a repeal of Prop 1A initiative. But the opposition clearly has the momentum.

    Some obvious points need to be highlighted:

    PB-Bechtel-dba’s fully intend to milk this for all it is worth – pour as much concrete as possible. This is non-negotiable – any thinking they will do value engineering unless they are utterly compelled to is hopelessly naive.

    LA-Palmdale-Villaraigosa et al will have to decide whether they can get “happy clappy” about Tejon as they were with Tehachapi. In a reasonable world this would be a win-win no brainer, but who knows what can transpire with monumental egos in play.

    Never “misunderestimate” the BART Empire. The appearance of MTC in the picture can only mean BART is serious about displacing Caltrain. Like LA, San Jose will have to make some choices for the future.

    Peter Reply:

    Still winning, still winning, making shit up, making shit up…

    synonymouse Reply:

    PB’s winning.

    BART’s winning.

    Pretty much the rest of us are losing.

    StevieB Reply:

    Decision made by Los Angeles Metro chaired by Mayor Villaraigosa on Aug 4, 2011: Palmdale is best.

    The Metropolitan Transportation Authority board voted unanimously Thursday to endorse a high-speed rail route between Los Angeles and Bakersfield that would go through the Antelope Valley.

    synonymouse Reply:

    You don’t expect any self-respecting politician worth his salt to just roll over and play dead, especially when no has yet made a convincing case that they are not going to get away with bloody murder. When the case for Tejon becomes compelling subtle signs of drift away from the hard line will be forthcoming. There will always be a good cover story. I am reminded of the Vatican, which is unexcelled in the area of casuistry. A while back the Pope announced a change in doctrine, which if I remember right had babies going straight to heaven instead of purgatory. The rationale was “We have some made some new discoveries.” Pretty sure that is about verbatim. I guess they went in to the catacombs and found some older documents. Memorable line anyway.

    I wonder if some one with inside knowledgeable had tipped off the honchos in LA about just how difficult and expensive the Palmdale corridor would be to upgrade. Why not dump the money pit into the State’s lap? Just following the new definition of “progressive” values: whatever the hell you can get away with.

    Clem Reply:

    They’ve already said that the wye will be transferred to the SJ – Merced segment. They are not proposing to build the wye or any track towards Los Banos at this time.

    Peter Reply:

    They are not planning on building out to Merced yet. They have to obtain environmental clearance for the entire segment, though, because of the way they broke down the planning. That’s what the EIR/EIS process is about right now.

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    I don’t know of any legal requirement to include Merced in the EIR/EIS. The most likely explanation is that they are stringing along Congressman Cardoza.

    Peter Reply:

    The legal requirement arises from the way they have segmented environmental planning. In order to be able to begin construction along a segment, you have to have environmental clearance for the entire segment. They could have avoided the problem by further segmenting it, such as from Fresno to the Wye, and the Wye to San Jose and the Wye to Merced.

    jim Reply:

    But that would require they fix the position of the wye. Merced is a well-known location.

    Peter Reply:

    True. Didn’t think about that. So the current segmentation is the best approach, then.

    flowmotion Reply:

    Thanks Peter, that makes perfect sense.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Given the fact that wye location decision is being put off, I strongly expect actual construction will start with Bakersfield to just-south-of-the-wye.

  8. James Hanson
    Aug 10th, 2011 at 11:37

    I believe rail should be exempted from Envronmental Impact Reports. They cost to much and rail is far more friendly to the environment. This project will never get built because of money.

    Joey Reply:

    Because what the Authority needs right now is even less oversight…

  9. Reality Check
    Aug 10th, 2011 at 11:50

    High-speed rail price tag soars again, this time on pace to surpass $60 billion

    “It could be well into $60 billion, and who knows where it ends. This is really very serious and needs to stop in its tracks,” said state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, chairman of the Senate committee overseeing the project. “We can’t just be acting as if someone’s out there giving us wheelbarrows full of money, and it’s just coming. This is not the way we should be operating.”
    Elizabeth Alexis, co-founder of Palo Alto-based Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design, tore through the rail authority’s detailed engineering figures months ago and predicted the cost increase almost perfectly. The independent group, which has been following the project closely, expects the final tab to climb tens of billions of dollars once the detailed engineering is done, echoing projections from the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office and the Legislature’s transportation experts.

    “Whether its ridership numbers, cost estimates, what have you, every time (the rail authority) comes up with a new number, they say now it’s going to be a credible number,” Alexis said. “It’s getting a bit old. We’re quite frankly quite disturbed that they wouldn’t let anyone else in on the joke.”

    Nathanael Reply:

    Two HSR opponents who make up whatever they like and sling mud, dug up whatever they like and sling mud. Not news.

  10. J. Wong
    Aug 10th, 2011 at 12:23

    Sen. Harry Reid urges California not to abandon high speed rail

    He nails it: Nobody talks about the cost of doing nothing.

    synonymouse Reply:

    What credibility or “standing” does Reid have? He works for the casino moguls. No friends of California. Or of Barack – Steve Wynn called him a “wet blanket”.

    It is high time for the hsr foamers to get real and start thinking revision. I know, heresy. Stock market fell another 500 today, unions lost in Wisconsin, and some pundits are saying the only tactic left to economists is to cut taxes, as dumb an idea as raising them.

    The hsr scheme is in dire straits. Wrench it away from the likes of Palmdale, SJ, the legacy of Kopp and Diridon. Rationalize it, de-politicize it – make it faster and more direct. And go incremental, with the priority on the missing section and bottlenecks in the existing passenger rail network. Think costs and lowest possible operating deficits.

    J. Wong Reply:

    Hmm, Steve Wynn called him a “wet blanket” and Steve Wynn is a casino mogul. So how is it he works for the casino moguls? A bit of a contradiction there.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Wynn called Obama a wet blanket.

    It has been reported many times over in numerous publications that Reid is the casino industry’s point man in Congress.

    Nevada’s interests have conflicted often with California’s interests. California has something like 40% of US welfare cases and can no longer afford to allow gambling revenues to be siphoned ff by Nevada. Over the years the latter has lobbied extensively to stop gambling in California. The best thing about Nevada is that gerbils are legal, unlike dumbkopf Calif.

    trentbridge Reply:


    I do believe that Nevada’s biggest industry is gambling.
    In as much as Harry Reid “works for casino moguls” – I would suggest that you deliberately used a pejorative term here when you could have said that Harry represents the 322,100 people employed in Leisure and Hospitality jobs. (JUNE 11) It is the largest job category in Nevada.
    Perhaps you’d post better arguments when you steer clear of rubbing your nasty right-wing personal insults into your arguments.

  11. Spokker
    Aug 10th, 2011 at 14:16

    What would it take to divert Prop 1A bonds to a more useful rail project anyway?

    VBobier Reply:

    Probably several million dollars and a successful ballot initiative, otherwise, fat chance. HSR is very useful and proven very profitable for ticket sales worldwide, only a fool would say no.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Quite a lot, actually. Methinks if the bonds were diverted that BART and the Alameda Corridor people would fight to the death for the $9 billion. They might even do it in a steel cage.

    synonymouse Reply:

    You can take it to the bank that BART would be there ready to rumble.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It’s impossible. There are a couple projects statewide that are bigger priorities, such as the Geary subway, but they’re local and won’t make a statewide ballot.

    CAHSR is actually a pretty good project. I’m not even going to qualify this with “by US standards”; the construction cost per km is high, but there are lines that cost more and not just in the UK, and the benefits are also high. It’s the high-speed rail equivalent of a subway in a dense city – for example, the Subway to the Sea, or the unfortunately not proposed Geary subway. It’s expensive, but the benefits are enough to make up for it. (Or even Second Avenue Subway, but that line’s cost multiplier over comparable first-world projects is far higher.)

    Spokker Reply:

    We have a statewide rail system though. Divide it among the three state routes and it would also provide benefits for the commuter rail services that operate on certain segments.

    Yes, high speed rail is very important, but if we don’t have a commitment to get the entire system built, I don’t think it would serve us well to have an orphan segment in the Central Valley.

    Nathanael Reply:

    It won’t be an orphan segment. There is enough pressure from LA and the CV that the Bakersfield-LA gap is going to be closed one way or another. The mood at THAT end of California is clear.

    In contrast, the “what, us worry? we can always drive” attitude in the Bay Area means that that end may get delayed a lot.

    Beta Magellan Reply:

    At this point it’s not even a question of more useful but just getting the major alingments done. CHSRA’s charged not with connecting San Diego, LA, SF and Sacramento, but with making sure its alignments pass through the likes of San Jose and Palmdale with no legislative release valves in the event of a cost overrun. Maybe they’ll be able to get by with waivers or something similar, but to me it looks like the fact that the particulars of routing were incorporated into Prop. 1A might end up being the project’s undoing. They’re overconstrained and without enough wiggle room to descope.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    I wonder JUST WHO might have written those oh-so-onerous requirements and slipped them into the legislative language at the opportune last minute? Oh no! Don’t throw us into that briar patch!

    Nathanael Reply:

    State elected officials. Representing the areas who wanted to guarantee themselves stations. The legislative history is clear.

    Nathanael Reply:

    It would be impossible, since there is no more useful rail project in California which has come even close to reaching environmental approvals, let alone construction.

    Diverting the bond funding to LESS useful rail projects might be quite easy, except that Governor Jerry Brown isn’t tolerating that sort of behavior.

  12. mike
    Aug 10th, 2011 at 15:54

    Can anyone figure out how these costs compare with previous estimates? There seem to be a lot of questionable claims being thrown around. As best I can tell, here are the previous estimates. All dollar figures are normalized to $2010, assuming an inflation rate of 3% per year.

    2008 Business Plan: $7.3 billion @ $42 million/mile (no YOE figures)
    2009 Business Plan: $7 billion @ $40 million/mile ($8.1 billion YOE)
    2011 CARRD Estimates: $13.7 billion @ $69.9 million/mile ($15.7 billion YOE)
    2011 Draft EIR “Baseline” Option: $10.1 billion @ $53.2 million/mile (no YOE figures)
    2011 Draft EIR “Gold Plated” Option: $13.9 billion @ $67.8 million/mile (no YOE figures)


    Eric M Reply:

    Don’t forget, these are still just estimates. No work has gone out to bid and the chances of it coming under estimates are high with the economy and state of affairs.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    A couple of additional items:

    **You have to add in the HMF ($600 million) which was included in Fresno- Merced in previous cost estimates (we had it in Fresno-Bakersfield)
    **The project now truncates in the middle of Bakersfield. This is a change from previous versions where it included trackage all the way to east of Bakersfield. This is about 6-7 miles of what was show previously as aerial alignment through low income residential area. $600 mm?

    Nathanael Reply:

    As Eric M says, these new estimates are going to be high, because they explicitly haven’t accounted for the effect of the Great Recession on bids. Cut 10%-20%. I expect van Ark to go with the baseline option. So yes, there’s a slight escalation in costs.

  13. Diane
    Aug 13th, 2011 at 16:01

    Do you know where the initial phase 1 will end in Bakersfield? Downtown? I have read the the initial funding took the tracks to Corcoran and now there are enough funds to take it to Bakerfield. Some people are saying North of Bakersfield. Elizabeth is sharing that the project now truncates in the middle of Bakersfield. Where can I get an accurate map? Thanks!

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