Dianne Feinstein Helps Restore $100 Million in Federal HSR Funding

Sep 21st, 2011 | Posted by

Yesterday a Senate appropriation subcommittee zeroed out high speed rail funding for FY 2012. Seeing this, Senators Dianne Feinstein, Dick Durbin and Frank Lautenberg moved to secure $100 million – “enough to keep the lights on” – for HSR funding:

Three Democrats have assembled a proposal to direct $100 million to President Barack Obama’s high-speed rail program next year after a Senate subcommittee approved legislation without funding for it, said two people familiar with the plan….

The money would “be very helpful to keep things on life support until Congress comes to its senses,” Phineas Baxandall, a senior analyst for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group who said he was familiar with the proposal, said in a telephone interview. U.S. PIRG is a Washington-based consumer advocacy group that supports federal spending on high-speed rail service.

HSR advocates across the country, including Californians For High Speed Rail, quickly mobilized to get this funding approved. The funding was approved by the committee on a voice vote this afternoon.

Obviously $100 million is a pretty small amount given the overall need for HSR, both in California and across the country. So does this really help?

I believe that it does – because California HSR has been here before. In 2004 and 2006, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger convinced the legislature to postpone the $10 billion high speed rail bond vote. In 2007, Arnold did worse. He proposed to slash HSR funding to $1 million and wanted to postpone the bond vote to 2010. HSR advocates, including myself and Californians For High Speed Rail, fought to preserve funding and keep the bond vote on schedule. Schwarzenegger the legislature agreed that year to fund the California High Speed Rail Authority with $20 million, and to keep the bond on the 2008 ballot, where it passed.

The moral of the story is clear: HSR funding has its peaks and valleys. It’s a constant struggle to get it and keep it in order to build it. Sometimes we win, as we did in 2008 and 2009. Sometimes we lose, as has happened in Congress in 2011. But if we persist, organize, and never quit, we’ll get HSR funded and built.

So yeah, $100 million isn’t very much. But it’s a political victory nonetheless, showing that support for HSR remains in Congress, and that HSR supporters and advocates haven’t given up in the face of Republican opposition. As long as that fighting spirit remains, we can be confident that when HSR opponents lose control of the House, which may well happen in 2012, federal funding for HSR will flow again.

  1. D. P. Lubic
    Sep 21st, 2011 at 21:42
    #1

    I hope this chance comes, and soon; the time is short, who knows when we’ll get another oil shock. Goodness knows this should have been started decades ago.

    I also hope a new Congress will recognize that this is something to kick start when the window of opportunity opens; there’s no telling what can happen in another turn of the cycle, as we found out in 2010.

    I repeat, our time is short, shorter than it should be. . .

    Nathanael Reply:

    Well, if the work of “the people I know” manages to get commercialized, we may have masses of cheap energy and ways to store it… But it will be electrical energy, not chemical sludge.

    Think people will want their HSR then? I think so. Even if you make electric cars (and I’m buying one because I expect gas shocks sooner rather than later), what are you gonna *drive* them on? Eventually as oil scarcity hits, *asphalt* is gonna get expensive. Yes, carbon-negative concrete has been invented (yay) but the great masses of paved roads in this country are possible due to cheap asphalt.

  2. morris brown
    Sep 21st, 2011 at 22:09
    #2

    This article give a better perspective on HSR funding:

    http://www.seattlepi.com/news/article/Senate-panel-OKs-limited-funds-for-high-speed-rail-2182090.php

    “High-speed rail now faces a dismal future in Congress, at least in the short term. A subcommittee in the Republican-run House has approved legislation denying any money for the project next year.”

    This $100 million still needs approval in the full Senate and then on to a House/Senate conference committee, where it will be interesting to see if it will remain.

    The big pitch was made not by Feinstein by by Durbin (Illinois), who stated that LaHood had found these unspent funds and that the deficit would not be affected with the appropriation. It was indeed interesting that the approval was by voice vote; apparently nobody wanted to know just how they voted.

    Still money is money, regardless of the way the government keeps its books.

    Just be sure to recall that the project needs 3.5 to 4 billion every year from the Feds for 10 t0 15 years or longer to be viable. This $100 million, of which California will only get a piece if any, is a drop in the bucket.

    While Robert keeps talking about the House majority changing after the 2012 election, he really should worry about the very real possibility that the Republicans will win majority control of the Senate in Nov. 2012.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Stop making shit up, Morris. The CAHSR project needs to actually build the funded segment, and then it needs to get enough billions from some source, most likely federal (but others are possible) to build one of the mountain crossings.

    Not “3.5 to 4 billion every year from the Feds for 10 to 15 years or longer”, that’s your usual exaggeration.

    After the first connection to the LA basin, it won’t need any federal money. It will be such a spectacularly obvious success that state, local, and private sources will pour the money in for the rest if the Feds don’t.

  3. Tony D.
    Sep 21st, 2011 at 22:18
    #3

    “..at least in the short term.” Didn’t think anyone would catch that did you. While I don’t see how the GOP will win the majority in the Senate, just remember that the Senate is more moderate, centrist than the Teahadists in the House. GOP control of the Senate wouldn’t necessarily mean no progress for national infrastructure.

    Tony D. Reply:

    Originally meant for Morris’ post at 2209.

    Matt in SF Reply:

    Actually the Senate is very much in danger of flipping to a Republican majority in the 2012 elections. Democrats are defending close to twice the seats as Republicans are, so it’s simple mathematics.

    Mark Reply:

    The Dems have 23 seats to protect in the Senate while the Repugs only have to protect 10–11. The liklihood the Repugs take the senate, add to their majority in the house and possibly take the oval office are unfortunately, growing each day. There were two congressional special elections last week and the Rebugs won both. What was especially telling is that one was in a district in New York that had voted Dem for basically forever…

    morris brown Reply:

    @Mark:

    On this issue at least, you are a voice of reality. Thanks for putting out the facts.

    Nathanael Reply:

    No, he’s not. The most likely scenario is actually Republicans winning the Senate and simultaneously losing the House. House Republicans are *spectacularly* unpopular right now.

    I know the NYC special and it’s a case of anti-incumbency and a hated political “machine” which pushed the grassroots candidates out of the primary. Not a sign of actual support for Republicans.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    The Democrats losing the White House and losing the Senate is far more likely than both of those happening and at the same time the Republicans building their majority in the House. An anti-incumbent wave is nowhere near as selective are you are imagining.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    There were two major issues in the New York election. One was was same sex marriage. The Democrat had voted for it in the Assembly. It’s not an issue in Congress. The Democrat they nominate next year won’t be someone who was in the Assembly to vote for it. By next year it’s going to be a great big yawn of an issue. The other issue was Israel. Since the election was for Congress and not the Knesset or the New York State Assembly, I’m not sure what conclusions you can draw from the election in NY.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It’s New York, in a district that’s full of right-wing Orthodox Jews. The only issues that are relevant in the Knesset but not in that district are some of Israel’s more social questions. (Housing, firefighting budgets, etc.)

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Almost anything a member of the House has to say about Israel ( or any other country ) is highly irrelevant. The House doesn’t have much to say about foreign policy.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I’m well-aware. The point isn’t about what the candidates thought about Israel. It’s that Obama‘s perceived hostility to Israel made the Democratic Party less popular in the district.

    Nathanael Reply:

    I wish those idiot right-wingers who think they’re “pro-Israel” would realize that Israel’s biggest, most dangerous enemy is the Netenyahu government. But anyway…

  4. Paulus Magnus
    Sep 21st, 2011 at 22:42
    #4

    I really wish they’d gone for 125-160mph LOSSAN upgrading as the first HSR segment. Costs would be in the range of current funding, it would be far more useful, and it would have been one heck of a bit of PR.

    Mike Brennan Reply:

    I couldn’t agree more Paulus. Connect two heavily traveled and closer cities first. It just seems more tangible doesn’t it?

    synonymouse Reply:

    But LA is obsessed with Palmdale.

    The route plan was concocted by a clutch of insiders and does not at all reflect majority opinion in California. This is the root of the CHSRA’s pr problems.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    does not at all reflect majority opinion in California.

    There was this election where 10 billion in bond money was authorized by the voters, with the route going through Palmdale.

    synonymouse Reply:

    It takes a while for faceless masses to play catch up. There’s a long learning curve. This is a big project – 3 BART’s connected by the weakest links. And the biggest players every day are adjusting their strategies to optimized the interests of #1. BART, in particular, is clearly laying the groundwork for a major power play.

    How long did it take to recognize broad gauge was a stupid idea?

    Peter Reply:

    That’s a pretty BAD argument. The masses LOVE BART. It’s seen as the best thing since sliced bread.

    How many members of the “faceless masses” even know what “broad gauge” is, much less that BART has it? Maybe 1% of 1%?

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Palmdale has nothing to do with LOSSAN, I’m talking about Los Angeles to San Diego via Orange County, along the coastal route. That routing, as best I can find, never even got studied; only 125mph diesel (with change of train in LA for through passengers) and 160mph dedicated lines. If my idle napkining is correct, $8 billion gets you electrified 125mph, sufficient capacity (via double tracking in San Diego County; tunnels through Miramar, Del Mar, San Clemente, and San Juan Capistrano; and a third track from LA to Fullerton), and rolling stock to run the current LA-San Diego “express” (limited really) trains in 90 minutes. As an added bonus, you get vastly increased commuter service for OC Metrolink and Coaster.

    Peter Reply:

    “Palmdale has nothing to do with LOSSAN”

    Don’t take it personally, he will take any comment and twist it to his own ends.

    I agree that upgrading LOSSAN would be one of the best things we could do for Southern CA transportation.

    thatbruce Reply:

    My understanding is that the current CAHSRA looked at the studies from the 80s, saw the reactions of nimbys along the route to projects proposed by Metrolink and Coaster, and decided to go inland instead.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    That’s what I thought too, but such upgrades are still under planning in the latest California state rail plan and LOSSAN planning. Here’s a link to the CAHSRA study I mentioned, at that time the California High Speed Train Program. I suspect that fetishizing the idea of dedicated lines (rather than sharing lines with other traffic) led to the decision to go via the IE.

    jim Reply:

    “fetishizing the idea of dedicated lines (rather than sharing lines with other traffic)”

    Otherwise known as FRA-proofing.

    With the notion of “blended service” now becoming acceptable, maybe LOSSAN will get reconsidered.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Legally it can’t, required to go via Riverside

    thatbruce Reply:

    The section of LOSSAN between Irvine and University City can’t be covered directly by AB3034 funding or the CAHSRA, that’s a given. This doesn’t rule out the current owners of that section (SCRRA/Metrolink and NCTD/Coaster) using their own funding to bring that section (or portions of it) up to CAHSR standards, or the Caltrans Department of Rail doing something similar and operating the subsidized Surfliner using CAHSR-compatible trains.

    Nathanael Reply:

    The reason the Irvine-University City section can’t be upgraded to CAHSR standards is that it’s impossible.

    See my comment below. They studied this. There are some nasty sections which simply cannot be upgraded much — mainly sections which are sitting on crumbling bluffs or on sand. They will always have low speed limits, at least until they completely fall into the sea, at which point we had better have built the inland route.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    It’s not a “fetish”.

    FRA compatibility = guaranteed failure. No question. A fiscal black hole with zero chance of any return.

    Not that non-FRA means success, as our rent-seeking PBQD overlords demonstrate daily. But there is at least an epsilonic non-zero possibility of not failing, under some alternate managerial regime, which there never can be under a policy of throwing cash at UPRR/BNSF/Amtrak Olde Tyme Railroading.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Pushing for regulatory reform is a far preferential option.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    It’s not just regulation. It’s also ROW and track ownership.

    US freight operations (which aren’t going to change any decade soon) are fundamentally incompatible with reliable, frequent, time-competitive or attractive passenger rail service on the same tracks, regardless of whether the passenger trains use non-FRA rolling stock.

    US freight track owners hold all the economic cards. Any negotiations (always portrayed as “win-win synergies” by sad US foamer cases) for passenger access consist of the private RR naming its price, dictating the terms, and the public agency bending over and forking over hundreds of millions and getting essentially nothing in return but the right to haemorrhage further cash.

    There are some cases when what some counter-factually portray as “redundant duplication” is in fact the correct answer. Meaningful (ie non-Amtrak, non-”commuter rail”) passenger rail service in the US of A is one of them, for better or worse.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Except for the segment from LAUS to Fullerton which is owned by BNSF and getting dedicated passenger tracks anyhow iirc (it’s just that Metrolink and CAHSR will share them instead of up to six tracks to separate everyone from everyone else), LOSSAN is owned by Orange and San Diego counties with a fairly low level of freight traffic (9 tpd iirc). I don’t think freight issues are going to be a major problem with such a notional upgrade (although if I’m wrong, I do welcome correction).

    Nathanael Reply:

    Paulus, you might appreciate more detailed information from someone who’s followed the various studies.

    The original plan was to use the LOSSAN corridor for the HSR route. They can’t do that as I mentioned elsewhere. The backup plan is to upgrade LOSSAN as much as *is* possible *and* build the HSR corridor. LOSSAN will probably have a pretty fast route from LA to north of San Clemente, and from south of Del Mar to San Diego, and as for the section from San Clemente to Del Mar? Physical constraints. It’s actually a *bad* alignment, too close to the ocean.

    Nathanael Reply:

    LOSSAN got studied repeatedly. The sections of track on crumbling bluffs and sand, adjacent to extremely expensive properties and/or sensitive-for-wildlife estuaries, are a PROBLEM. There was an entire study to see whether LOSSAN could actually be made into the high-speed route from LA to San Diego, and the answer was “no”. There are sections which are easy enough to upgrade, but there are sections which are pretty hard even to maintain in their current condition.

    Hence the inland route planned for LA-SD in the high speed rail plan.

    As for why the LA-SD route is in “phase two” rather than phase one of the HSR project? Bay Area politicians didn’t want to wait while Southern CA got all the goodies. Understandable.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    As I understand it the plans called for dealing with the crumbling bluffs by digging a tunnel more inland (one option being underneath the I-5). I’m not aware of any inherent problems with that and it seems to still be a going concern.

  5. Howard
    Sep 21st, 2011 at 23:17
    #5

    What will CHSRA do with $100 million or $50 million? Will they spend it on segment EIR & EIS studies or on slightly lengthening the initial construction segment?

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Hookers and coke!

    peninsula Reply:

    Oh come on now- I’m sure they’ll be able to find a few people to eminent domain out of their homes and businesses with this ‘jobs’ money.

    Arthur Dent Reply:

    It funds PB’s $700K/day burn rate for 143 days. That’s enough to keep their lights on for over half a year.

    jim Reply:

    CHSRA won’t get any of it. It’ll all go to upgrading existing passenger routes, where a small amount will make a noticeable difference. VT and ME may see some of it. The Surfliner would be CA’s best hope.

    Peter Reply:

    I can see CHSRA getting some scraps for some studies, but the rest will go to shovel-ready projects that have been standing by. Maybe some money for Amtrak Cascades, too?

  6. JJJ
    Sep 21st, 2011 at 23:27
    #6

    The fact that “$100 million” also known as “one hundred freaking million” is “not very much” worries me.

    I worry that as numbers grow bigger, the “pennies” become to big. Instead of losing 22 cents in the couch, projects drop and gain millions like they mean nothing.

    And that’s a problem.

    Like the whole $40b, no $60b, no $100b cost thing that has been going out. People are content to jump around 20 billion because 20 is a small numbers.

    Shouldn’t we be concerned about costs going from $42b to 42b and 1 million? Thats 1 million freaking dollars.

    mrcawfee Reply:

    because 100 million is 0.0003% of the federal budget… and 1 million is the salary of maybe 8 engineers, not all that much to a country of 300,000,000.

    Matt in SF Reply:

    No we should not be worried.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Also known as “33 freaking cents per person”, in a country that spends over $2,000 per person on the military, over twice as much as any other large country on earth.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Construction is expensive.

    $200,000 sounds like a HUGE amount if you’re going out to dinner. If you’re buying a house, it probably sounds small. If you’re building an airport, it’s a drop in the bucket.

    No, we should not be concerned about cost increases which are tiny relative to the *size of the project* or *the number of years it will last*. Much of railroad construction is depreciated over a 100 year time horizon, FYI.

  7. Alon Levy
    Sep 21st, 2011 at 23:34
    #7

    The Hebrew expression for this is “The mountain begat a mouse.”

    VBobier Reply:

    Sounds about right, but If CA got half, It’s better than nothing, although I don’t know what it’ll be used for, more land acquisition maybe?

    Andy M. Reply:

    I guess the ongoing planning process and staffing costs will eat most of it.
    Don’t expect much steel and concrete.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Yes, exactly, it keeps planning and environmental clearance processes going, so that the shelves of plans are not bare when the next round of construction funding becomes available.

    AFAIU, Washington is an example of a state that ought to be restocking its shelves of plans, because so much of the plans on the shelf got funded for construction.

  8. Andre Peretti
    Sep 22nd, 2011 at 03:57
    #8

    In 2008, a young trader employed by French bank Société Générale gambled with the $70 billion he had at his disposal. More than CHSR’s total construction costs. In a few hours, he lost his bank 1/10 of that sum.
    An isolated example? No. Last week, a 25-years-old trader lost UBS $2 billion.
    It’s indirectly our money, because banks have no other money than ours.
    I can’t help contrasting how easy it is for these young men to freely manipulate tens of billions of dollars with all the voting, planning, budgeting and hard work it takes to secure a few billions for a public interest project.
    Something is rotten in the kingdom of finance.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Pension fund investors in particular are demanding high yield thus high risk, shall we say, “instruments”. This sets up a very lax tone enabling your young, aggressive and unscrupulous rogue traders.

    The 401k concept is a disaster and will only get worse as the biggest companies with the deepest pockets and accordingly the best computers and the best general IT will systematically game the stock markets. Who wants to play in a rigged casino? Financing will go private. Perry has relinquished the nomination to Romney with this privatization of social security nonsense.

    VBobier Reply:

    On Perry We agree, that’s nonsense alright, but then I’d rather stick with the current Devil(He’s pliable and reasonable), than a New and unknown Devil(mostly crazy to one extent or another), so Repugs need not apply. Remove the cap on payroll taxes(FICA, capped at $106,800 max income, any income beyond that is not taxed at all) and social security will be solvent forever.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Something is rotten in the kingdom of finance? Oh yes. Have you been reading Naked Capitalism? If you haven’t, I suggest it.

  9. morris brown
    Sep 22nd, 2011 at 14:05
    #9

    Here is an example of why private equity won’t be coming to the HSR project here, although the CHSRA keeps saying it will and they have tons on interest. They have been sending this same message for 3 years now, and its is getting old. As they say “Show us the money — not the hype”

    Private Investors Shun Brazil High Speed Rail Bid

    http://www.newgeography.com/content/002455-private-investors-shun-brazil-high-speed-rail-bid

    “Apparently believing the claims that high-speed rail is “profitable,” the Brazilian government set about planning a line stipulating that private investors would build the infrastructure and operate a line, at their own risk.

    Matt in SF Reply:

    Private equity will be invested at a later stage of the project. Complaining about it now is like complaining that the train schedule hasn’t been finalized yet or that you want to see the policy about bringing drinks and food on the trains.

    J. Wong Reply:

    Hmm, the line would be hard to construct over mountainous terrain (no Central Valley), and the vendor was expected to shoulder a significant proportion of the construction costs. How does that compare to California, Morris, where most construction funding is supposed to come from the bonds and the Fed’s (admittedly that last is an open question).

    Once track is built in the Central Valley, vendors in return for the operating concession will, I’m guessing, fund the electrification, signaling, equipment to begin testing, as well as the same as other segments are completed.

    Travis D Reply:

    Does Enron prove that energy companies are always money losers as well?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    So, no more Korean government money, either?

    ericmarseille Reply:

    Example of private investment in HSR :

    VINCI, French construction giant, has won the bid to build the Tours-Bordeaux line (€7bn).

    http://www.lefigaro.fr/societes/2010/03/30/04015-20100330ARTFIG00343-vinci-pressenti-pour-le-mega-projet-lgv-tours-bordeaux-.php

    Note that the article states that the stock has soared after the announcement.

    But what’s even the more remarkable is that RFF (the owner of all rail infrastructure in France) doesn’t play the middleman in the deal, so there are NO POSSIBLE SUBSIDIES FROM THE FRENCH STATE ; VINCI’s profits will come entirely from the fees paid by the rail companies using the line, during 50 years” :

    “Le lauréat assurera la conception, le financement, la construction et l’entretien pendant 50 ans de cette concession. En contrepartie, il sera rémunéré par les recettes versées par les compagnies ferroviaires utilisant la ligne. ”

    So you see Morris, private investment isn’t only possible, it is the (new) norm now in France.

    Why doesn’t it workd properly elsewhere? Because in a deal you have two parties and that both must be winning in the process ; raise the bar too high in your favor and nobody wants to do business with you.

  10. Joe
    Sep 22nd, 2011 at 16:35
    #10

    Build and operate at full risk? That is not what CA HSR is asking from private investors.

    synonymouse Reply:

    This article is way off base. I dispute that Brazil is poorer than California. What do we have – an agricultural base that is being eaten up by sprawl and exists essentially in a desert that may be getting even drier. Natural resources – some oil and gas in Kern County and offshore at Santa Barbara. Certainly no Venezuela.

    So what’s left – some really rich people who hang about here because the weather is better. For every Steve Jobs there are ten burnt out low-lifes like Hugh Hefner or Phil Spector. Silicon Valley, like Hollywood, is just tradition. The new powerhouses of the East will have their own versions. We are living off the past, rolling on fumes.

    As to not being poor, pure bs. We have our own favelas. LIke Oakland, Richmond, Vallejo, Compton.

    And Brazil. Plenty of natural resources. Cheap, plentiful labor. Lots of potential riders. So how come no bidders? The answer is simple – the era of passenger rail profitability ended with the appearance of the automobile and the airplane. All over the world.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I dispute that Brazil is poorer than California.

    I dispute that you know anything about Brazil.

    thatbruce Reply:

    Lot of coffee there though.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Brazil is much poorer than California. (Mississippi, on the other hand, may be poorer than Brazil.) Syn is a nutter as usual.

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