WSJ: Obama’s HSR Plan “Foundering”

Oct 16th, 2011 | Posted by

One of the problems with political reporting in America today is the assumption that certain things are permanent when in fact they are transitory. A lot can happen in two years. In 2009 the stimulus had gotten through and Congress, controlled by Democrats, was poised to pass a major health insurance overhaul. Here in 2011 the House is controlled by one of the most radical, extreme group of politicians the USA has ever seen. Polls show Democrats may retake the House in 2012, perhaps bringing a quick and merciful end to the teabagger junta currently ruling the House.

If that were to happen, many of the political imperatives being driven by House Republicans today would likely vanish. That includes their war on passenger rail. An article in the Wall Street Journal provides a pretty good discussion of the problem:

The Obama administration’s push for high-speed trains is foundering, as Congress moves to clamp down on funding and a showcase California project encounters new hurdles.

California is set to update its plans for a San Francisco-to-Los Angeles high-speed line by Nov. 1. Officials say the state is looking at shortening the initial route and relying more heavily on existing lines….

The California troubles reflect the difficulty of shifting a country that mainly relies on the automobile and airplane. The federal government and states have for decades built and maintained roads using a dedicated revenue stream, the federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents per gallon. There is no such source of cash for high-speed rail, putting rail proponents at the mercy of political winds.

That’s essentially correct. We spent hundreds of billions of dollars on the Interstates, funded by a gas tax approved in 1956 when America still believed in building for the future. House Republicans supported that at the time. Today, however, they refuse to support any new investments in our transportation needs, especially if doing so undermines the oil companies who are now bankrolling the Republican Party.

The federal funding issues are serious. But just two years ago we were looking at $8 billion in the stimulus and proposals from House Democrats for up to $50 billion in HSR funding in the new transportation bill. Last year the Tea Party was riding high, dominating the national conversation and ultimately the 2010 elections. Now Occupy Wall Street has dramatically shifted the national conversation back toward the left, and as Americans turn against the Tea Party movement Democrats and President Obama have a new opening to push not only more stimulus, but high speed rail funding.

HSR has other issues to face, as we know. NIMBYs and opponents are now well-organized in both the Peninsula and the Central Valley. But more funding can help lubricate solutions to those problems. Mitigation matters. So too does the prospect of actual funding to connect the Valley section to the Bay Area and Southern California, which could create the necessary political momentum to overcome the NIMBYs and the opponents.

HSR advocacy, like HSR construction itself, is a long-term project. That’s especially true at a time when American politics is so unsettled. Things change fast these days, and those who persist in pushing their goals and who sustain their organizing are those who will eventually prevail.

  1. D. P. Lubic
    Oct 16th, 2011 at 22:00
    #1

    Sadly, the initial 13 comments (what was up at the time of posting the link below) were mostly against rail, considering it a waste of money. Not mentioned were the horrible cost recovery ratios and subsidy levels of the highway system, nor the general level of highway subsidy at the Federal level.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204774604576631600031699460.html?mod=googlenews_wsj#articleTabs%3Dcomments

    There was a comment on another blog post–I think it may have been Think Progress–that suggested we worship business people as a source of jobs (and that’s certainly true), but it should also be remembered that most of them aren’t as smart as we think they are.

    Having been an auditor for over 30 years now, I can personally say that half of the people in business have no business in business.

    It’s also surprising how many incompetent people get into high positions of major institutions. Mostly you hear about this in regard to government, but it happens in the private world, too.

    This is, I believe, another argument to limit the size of corporations. Sooner or later, even the biggest company will wind up with a crook or an idiot at the helm. If such a company is “too big to fail,”. . .

    Perhaps some of these large firms, including some insurance companies, should be broken up for just this reason. Consider it a variation of avoiding placing all your “corporate eggs” in one basket.

    Derek Reply:

    Ignoring cost-benefit ratios was how we got into this mess. Continuing to ignore them, as the current administration seems to be doing, won’t get us out.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Politics usually trumps cost-benefit Thus the Palmdale Detour. When lucrative contracts are involved, short term benefits often overwhelm, temporarily, long term efficiencies. And we haven’t even mentioned planners’ and pols’ bloated egos. Remember BART to SFO?

    Besides intangibles don’t often get counted as benefits. @ for instance, Richard’s “cuteness” factor and secondly blight issues. The T streetcar is cuter than the #15 diesel bus and more comfortable. On a bad day people might wish for the flexibility of the bus but overall rail trumps bus in the public mind. But that is an intangible.

    Similarly if you applied the strict bean counter mentality to the cable cars, they would have been busstituted 60 years ago. The cable cars epitomize high costs with two-man operation, intensive maintenance and slow speed. That is why streetcars immediately replaced them with the invention of the traction motor. But there is romance with the cable car that defies a dollar valuation. These subtleties are lost upon the modernists and brutalists.

    RisenMessiah Reply:

    Actually there aren’t.

    Planners, politicians, and the like have known for a little while now that trains attract a more affluent and white ridership than do buses. Just ask Mike Antonovich. And New Orleans is well aware of the value of its streetcars along with San Francisco.

    BART, as the ubiquitous example, is exactly what the public says it wants (minus the dirty cars): a unified, grade-separated system that reinforces the urban-suburban planning divide but is still totally accessible and responds to local area planning choices.

    What people say they want, however, and what they do are two different things. Whites want to live in the city for example, they just don’t want to have to enjoy the problems associated with it. People want transportation alternatives, they just don’t want to pay for them. And people say they want to create jobs, they just don’t want to disturb the residential character of their neighborhoods…

    Derek Reply:

    Riders will pay more for comfort, and the cuteness factor will attract tourists, so these don’t have to be intangibles.

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    The Golden Gate bridge and the cable car are the symbols of San Francisco all over the world. “Bustituting” the cable car would kill a tourist attraction. That has to be taken into account when calculating the cost/benefit ratio.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The younger generation has no idea how close the cable cars came to extinction. Modernizers don’t give a shit about symbols, other than the TransAmerica shaft.

    Apart from the costs, the single biggest problem was the goddam one-way streets the traffic engineers demanded, particularly Pine, O’Farrell and Franklin-Gough.

    All of the Market Street Ry. lines were lost save for the cable cars which were reduced by half. Same for most of the Muni lines, particularly the B on Geary. Now it is hell on wheels to get Geary back. Blame Urban Removal.

  2. JJJ
    Oct 16th, 2011 at 22:20
    #2

    We’re pretending that the WSJ is still reputable?

    They promise to write favorable “news” articles about your company as long as you help them cook their books by “buying” thousands of papers no one will ever read.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/oct/12/wall-street-journal-andrew-langhoff

    Perhaps if http://www.cahsrblog.com were to call them and promise to buy 5,000 papers, at $0.03 each, the WSJ will devote an entire section to the wonders of HSR?

    swing hanger Reply:

    Ignoring the editorial and opinion sections, I find the WSJ is generally better in reporting railway issues and correctly describing technical matters than other MSM outlets (granted, that is setting the bar low).

    synonymouse Reply:

    I wonder what is meant by “shortening the initial route”? Borden to Corcoran?

    So-called NIMBY’s simply don’t like the details of the CHSRA plan or don’t buy into hsr at all. A strongly divided public opinion is nothing new in the US. That’s democracy. As some would impugn and excoriate the motives of the reviled NIMBY’s others feel exactly the same about Bechtel and PB.

    Consensus politix just means the establishment wins again, and without a fight. The insiders always demand the dissidents “compromise”. That’s how you end up with dysfunctional crap like BART to SFO and the Muni Central Subway instead of the Caltrain TBT tunnel or light rail on Geary. Better nothing than crap.

    StevieB Reply:

    Shortening the initial route could mean building from San Francisco to Los Angeles Union Station instead of to Anaheim. The Los Angeles to Anaheim section is plagued with problems of heavy use in too small of a right of way.

    jim Reply:

    The initial route could well be the IOS. Shortening it could mean terminating at Fresno. Relying more on existing lines could mean upgrading the Antelope Valley line to reach LAUS. These would be sensible steps; interpreting them as “foundering” would be editorial.

    Joey Reply:

    The Antelope Valley line is mostly hopeless north of Sylmar. As it is, taking the train between LA and Palmdale takes a full 20 minutes more than driving (perhaps about even with traffic). Much of the alignment is single track with sharp curves and little room to expand/realign. You’re not going to see any meaningful passenger service on that route until you build a new line.

    jim Reply:

    Alternately, shortening the initial route might mean official recognition of the San Jose-Sylmar strategy that some of us have suspected the Authority of having.

    We’ll find out in a week or so.

    Joey Reply:

    Honestly it would probably be preferable go for LAUS (the biggest transit hub on the West Coast AFAIK) before bothering with SJ.

    Peter Reply:

    True. It will likely depend, however, on the relative stages of planning for Merced-SJ (which also depends on the status of the Atherton lawsuits) versus for Bakersfield-LAUS, either via Tejon or via Palmdale.

    If they get funding they have to spend soon, they’re going to go with whichever approach allows them to spend the money faster.

    Tony d. Reply:

    Frivolous Atherton lawsuits won’t have any bearing on SJ/MERC. May further delay SF/SJ, but nothing else.

    Peter Reply:

    What I meant was that they can’t start building SJ-Merced until the legal wrangling is resolved. Even if the plaintiffs “win” again and the Program EIR is decertified again, the Board will still likely select Pacheco next round again.

    Clem Reply:

    You’d be amazed how quickly a DEIR can go from being almost ready to nowhere close. SF – SJ was once 98% complete and on schedule for release in December 2010. They might be spending a lot of effort on engineering SJ – Merced, but that has very little bearing on when it will be built, if at all.

    Tony d. Reply:

    Going to SJ is essentially going to entire Bay Area (via Caltrain, Amtrak CC and future BART at Diridon).
    Not as big as LAUS obviously, but nothing to sneeze about either.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Going to SJ is essentially going to entire Bay Area

    I believe you’re confusing San José (the Capital of Siicon Valley) with any place that it actually convenient to nearly everywhere, such as, say, downtown Oakland.

    Look at a map.

    (But think of the vital Monterey blogger netroots-conference-attending market!)

    Joey Reply:

    Amtrak CC

    Good one.

    Tony D. Reply:

    So then what does the “biggest transit hub on the West Coast” consist of in terms of connections? Uhhh..Metrolink and, perhaps, maybe, uhhh…AMTRAK?! In case you haven’t been paying attention, this project is being planned with the future in mind, NOT THE EXACT PRESENT! Yes, perhaps LA is biggest; we get it! But SJ/Bay Area is second by far (now and in the future).

    Clem Reply:

    Grand Central of the West, baby!!

    Actually, if this project were indeed being planned with the future in mind, half of the Sacramento extension (to serve 3 million people) would already be built in Phase 1… it comes quite literally for free with Altamont, a stubborn fact that is bound to be noticed by someone, someday, in this highly constrained fiscal environment.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Isn’t Grand Central of the West going to be in San Jose?

    Joey Reply:

    Tony: the Surfliner runs nearly twice as many trains to LAUS as the CC runs to SJ (ignoring the fact that the CC is hopelessly uncompetitive south of Oakland). Overall, Amtrak California gets 7.5 times as many riders at LA as at SJ. You also neglect the LA Metro (red, purple, and gold lines) and a shit ton of frequent bus connections compared to which VTA might as well not exist. I can’t locate exact numbers, but I am almost certain that Metrolink at LAUS serves many more passengers than CalTrain at Diridon (which exists primarily to get commuters to jobs farther up the peninsula). Try visiting the two, particularly at rush hour, then reconsider which you think will support more ridership.

    and adirondacker: the only thing SJ is going to be is a testament to Rod Diridon’s insecurity about his penis size.

    jim Reply:

    Sylmar to SJ is essentially LA to SF. Except that LAUS to Sylmar is a “blended system” with Metrolink and Diridon to 4th and King is a blended system with Caltrain. The actual high speed tracks run between Sylmar and SJ. The trains run between LA and SF. They maybe even run through to Anaheim if there are through tracks in place. Think LGV vs. TGV.

    I would very much doubt that the business plan will say anything about timing priority.

    Joey Reply:

    Sylmar to LA carries a lot more freight than the peninsula – last I heard it was 6 trains per day north of Burbank and 18 south of Burbank (at least I think). If you pushed really hard maybe you could get those 6 to run at night (UP would definitely put up a fight about it though. More likely though you’d end up with three tracks – 2 passenger and one freight, and a helluvalota grade separations either way. So if you’re not building a new corridor you’re rebuilding the existing corridor, which, btw, is single-track for much of its length.

    swing hanger Reply:

    Definitely a separate freight track, at the least. You don’t want super heavy freight trains pounding down and grinding high speed rail track to bits.

    RisenMessiah Reply:

    It could mean that SF to San Jose is dropped from Phase 1, along with LA to Anaheim.

    That would help justify the BART extension to Santa Clara, while slicing off enough costs from the project to make the $42 billion price tag.

    Peter Reply:

    To officially “drop” SF-SJ and LAUS-Ana, they would have to have AB3034 amended.

    RisenMessiah Reply:

    Well the problem with all these semantics is that the engineers are going to build the project in phases based on funding anyway. I recognize that STREETS AND HIGHWAYS CODE
    SECTION 2704.04 indicates what “Phase 1″includes …but I also notice there is no direct mention of “Phase 2″ etc…etc….

    Thus I got a real strong suspicion that the business plan is going to assume that Prop 1A monies are all expended before the line gets beyond SJ to LAUS. The tricky part is that UP would probably advocate for “modernization” of the Tehachapi Loop that included HSR tunnels if the Authority was willing to construct Stockton to Fresno and thus move Amtrak California’s service off their lines that go to the Port of Oakland. As is, however, I’m not sure they will ever budge.

    Still, the Feds are going to be instrumental in getting the project from the Valley through the mountains into urban areas….

    jim Reply:

    Thus I got a real strong suspicion that the business plan is going to assume that Prop 1A monies are all expended before the line gets beyond SJ to LAUS.

    Yes. There’s on the order of $6B left. $3B plus federal funds buys Bakersfield to Sylmar plus upgrading and electrifying Metrolink; $3B plus federal funds buys Merced to San Jose plus upgrading and electrifying Caltrain. Whichever gets funded first includes electrifying and signaling Bakersfield-Merced (to create an IOS). One might not like a business plan that said that, but it would sound awfully plausible.

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    If you remember my blog post back in July, I understand there will be some incremental stages involved. In reality though at the rate we are burning through the bond money, SJ – LA might have to give way to Gilroy – Palmdale.

    I think that’s the real reason that van Ark ordered a look at Tejon again. He may want to save money by terminating the line temporarily in “beautiful downtown Burbank” knowing that the MTA can always extend the Red Line there in a pinch. Also, VTA could pay Cal Train to run connector trips from Gilroy to San Jose that would work well with the BART extension.

    JJJ Reply:

    The editorials shifting strongly to the right after the Murdoch purchase is one thing.

    Writing paid advertisements as news articles, defrauding advertisers, and firing whistle-blowers is something entirely different.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The editorials have always been super-right-wing. The news people used to call the editorial department fascists. Murdoch’s contribution is to shift the news coverage to the right, too.

    Nathanael Reply:

    The editorials were also always dishonest; they made a habit of fabricating statistics and quotes. Back in the 80s the letters column was fun because it consisted mainly of prominent people writing in to say “You misquoted me”, and scientists writing in to say “That is not what my study said”.

    Somewhat *before* the Murdoch purchase, the WSJ started censoring what letters they run, so now there aren’t even corrections for the lies.

    Then, as Alon said, Murdoch started inflitrating the news coverage with the editorialists.

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    Say what you will, but the WSJ has bar none of the best real estate coverage of any American newspaper.

    Nathanael Reply:

    That *is* setting the bar low. Press releases have better information about railway projects than most of the traditional media. I haven’t read the WSJ in a couple of years, since it lost all trustworthiness, but I can’t imagine that it’s more accurate than the press releases.

    If you want better than press releases, it’s all bloggers and enthusiasts on forums.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Press releases tell you a lot that’s relevant to future customers and investors, including information about prices. That essentially is what Railway Gazette does: a lot of press releases at a location that’s not prone to link-breaking corporate website redesigns, and some analysis where required, e.g. of Wenzhou.

  3. D. P. Lubic
    Oct 16th, 2011 at 23:11
    #3

    Off topic, but somehow it sounds very familiar. . .

    From other perspectives (bicycles, history, Copenhagen?) comes this editorial about the early fight against automobiles:

    http://www.copenhagenize.com/2011/02/anti-automobile-age-and-what-we-can.html

    From the same site, under the tag line, “Car Industry Strikes Back,” is this post, an accounting of a meeting in Australia. Of interest is this section, starting at the eighth paragraph down:

    “[Chris] Bangle [former head of design for BMW] said one thing that stood out, bold black on white. He said that the number of 16-18 year olds in the US who aren’t bothering getting their driving licences is growing fast. Cars register less on their radar. Then Bangle said it:

    “We have to hook them back to the car.”

    “That’s what he said. Sitting in the audience it was remarkable to see how many people turned their heads to the person next to them with quizzical looks on their faces. Silently asking each other; “Did he just say that? Really?”

    Complete post:

    http://www.copenhagenize.com/2010/08/personal-emotional-mobility.html

    The whole “Car Industry Strikes Back” posting list:

    http://www.copenhagenize.com/search/label/car%20industry%20strikes%20back

    Nathanael Reply:

    Heh. At most companies like BMW, they don’t even know *how* to hook people back on the car.

    There’s exactly one sort of car which has waiting lists: electric cars. Even then people would like to use them for a “country road trip” with several people and a hamper (and perhaps several bicycles) — rather than being *forced* to commute daily by car.

    I liked this comment: “The longer mature car companies avoid their future as elite toys, neighborhood shared vehicles, as taxi conveyances, and as omnibuses – the harder their fall. ” The commenter left out “as small trucks and local goods transportation”, but the point is clear. The era of more than one car per person is over; the era of fewer than one car per person is coming.

  4. Rain17
    Oct 16th, 2011 at 23:33
    #4

    What is amazing, now, though is how it seems no major project can be built in America anymore. That is, be it a major highway, infrastructure project, rail project, or commercial real estate development, a few loud voices can defeat it. I agree that not all projects are sound or wise investments. However, it just seems like we’ve gotten to a point where a few loud voices can derail a project that the majority wants.

    I don’t live in California, but I do think HSR would be very good for the state. I think it would relieve traffic and bring jobs. Yet you have a few loud voices in various towns along the route who want to destroy it for their own selfish reasons. It just seems like, at some point, over the last 50-60 years, we have gone too far in empowering a shrill minority to defeat popular projects.

    What I also lament is the fact that no one in America dreams about the future anymore. If this current band of Republicans were in office back in the 1950s or 1960s we probably would never have funded the Interstate Highway System or Space Program, for they would have been “too expensive”. We would never have funded various scientific advances. It is a pure shame.

  5. Donk
    Oct 17th, 2011 at 00:07
    #5

    What about the Occupy PB movement? I hear Richard M was out protesting this weekend.

  6. D. P. Lubic
    Oct 17th, 2011 at 04:09
    #6
  7. Nathanael
    Oct 17th, 2011 at 18:00
    #7

    Why are you reading the WSJ?

    Its editorials have always been dishonest crap (full of actual, outright lies about easily checked facts), but since Murdoch bought it the news pages have turned to crap too.

    And it was just revealed that Murdoch was running a circulation-inflation scam, in other words defrauding advertisers.

  8. swing hanger
    Oct 17th, 2011 at 18:37
    #8

    off topic, but passenger-rail related:
    British transport commentator on his experiences riding Amtrak, and in typical British fashion, pulls no punches. However, it always good to get a perspective from the outside looking in:

    http://www.christianwolmar.co.uk/2010/11/why-america-missed-the-train/

  9. Elizabeth
    Oct 17th, 2011 at 19:14
    #9

    OT:

    As details about the upcoming business plan are starting to emerge, we are still trying to figure out if the big issues with the ridership model have gotten addressed.

    One of the big ones is that the current model says that the further you live from a station, the more likely you are to take the train (from the consultants report -http://www.calhsr.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/Insensitivity-to-access-HSR.pdf )

    We sent in a long list of concerns that we wanted to make sure got fixed, especially for the IOS, which we posted here – http://www.calhsr.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/Ridership-peer-review-letter-v1.1.pdf.

    All the various consultant reports are available here:

    http://cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/Ridership_and_Revenue_Forecasting_Study.aspx

    Spokker Reply:

    “One of the big ones is that the current model says that the further you live from a station, the more likely you are to take the train”

    Just guessing, but it may have to do with the fact that HSR stations tend to be in city centers where residents are poorer and are less likely to be able to afford to take the train. If you live out in the suburbs, then you likely can afford a ticket and you’ll drive and park at the station.

    I guess it would depend on what other factors they controlled for.

    joe Reply:

    My current understanding is that the ridership model makes a simplifying assumption that riders will drive to stations. This reduces the complexity when modeling station location. A station services an area of influence equally. e.g. a station at Redwood City or Palo Alto would not influence in the model since they both draw from the same area.

    I saw this and have some comments:

    The overall specific model behaviors that we are concerned about are:
    1. 1) The high rate of diversion from trips currently taken by car. The diversion from automobiles is almost as high as that from airplanes for SF – LA trips.
    2. 2) The high sensitivity to frequency at a normal level of headways.
    3. 3) The insensitivity of the model to access and egress issues.
    4. 4) The lack of sensitivity to significant socio-economic differences that exist between regions in California.
    5. 5) The treatment of longer distance commuters as high-end business travelers.
    6. 6) The lack of induced travel.
    7. 7) The presumption of high rates of population growth.

    Number 4 is very problematic.
    You write:

    There were no such constants for travel from any of the Central Valley airports, which clearly helped limit demand for air travel.

    There are several problems with this approach. First, presumably the same types of factors that limit demand for air travel would apply in some manner to high speed rail, which is a close enough substitute for air that a nested model structure is used. There are however no similar dampening mechanisms for high speed rail demand from the Central Valley.

    Second, a better approach would be to directly incorporate socio-economic data that differentiates Central Valley cities from others in California. Travel demand in general and high speed rail travel demand in particular are closely linked to income levels, educational attainment and certain types of employment. While the peer review group has focused on the importance of income, we would suggest using additional measures as the differences between regions are stark. Many of these metrics are analyzed in detail in this sobering report:

    #4 If you follow this blog – a key benefit of HSR is to connect these communities to the coasts and improve the socioeconomic well being of the CV cities.

    First, you want to extrapolate CV air traffic demand but that’s wrong. Airlines have strict gate limitations at airports and manage gates as an asset to trade or use for profit. A gate used for Fresno to LAX traffic would take space away from a more profitable route JFK to LAX. This problem with air port capacity and agte space is why HSR is needed you are misunderstanding the current state as ideal. It is not ideal – there is limited gate space at the SF/LAX airports. HSR connects to these airports. In Europe, air fare between cities can include a rail segment.

    Second, I don’t think Central Valley citizens are rubes, either lacking in education or too poor to use HSR as much as projected. They are no less interested in travel than SF-PAMPA-SJ residents and probably well accustomed to using public transportation as much as a high-end business traveler.

    Thirdly, it’s incorrect to require the ridership model permanently assign a socio-economic status to the CV when under HSR operation. You demand HSR assign a permanent class level to the CV that is below PAMPA and thus not as interested or deserving of HSR. This is latent class-ism. Also it’s insulting to assert that this socio-economic class isn’t a HSR customer/user.

    With HSR it is probable that Fresno would be better located for state business than a Palo Alto office. Fresno is midway between SF and LA and lacks the high rents, anti-growth regulations and high cost of living. HSR is disruptive to the high rent coastal cities.

    #7, the complaint about high levels of population growth is worth exploring. CARRD is arguing that population growth should be estimated based on not building HSR.

    By rejecting HSR and not investing into the State CA can reduce economic and subsequently population growth. That’s why HSR is needed – not why HSR should be stopped.

    If we don’t invest in CA HSR and instead keep the status quo – we can continue to suffer poor economic growth and not attract population – that’s an awesome argument for HSR.

    Jack Reply:

    I’m glad there are smarter minds than I on this blog to point out the flaws in CAARD’s stratagey.

    And

    Go Fresno!

    Jack Reply:

    Bah edit button, please Robert???

    Jack Reply:

    Me thinks your prepping everyone on your next “tempest in a teapot” scenario.

    joe Reply:

    Commuters
    5) The treatment of longer distance commuters as high-end business travelers.

    While it is important to understand the potential of the high speed rail infrastructure to serve commuters, the actual level of service for commuters will likely depend critically on the available local subsidies. Realistically, a HSR operator will set fares high enough or alter schedules to limit demand during peak periods like Amtrak does with stations like New Haven and Princeton.

    It may actually make more sense to separate out commute service from the long distance service, especially as it is unlikely that the long distance operator will be in a position to subsidize local service as significant project debt is envisioned and, by law, any extra money must help expand the system.

    Long distance operators need not provide the subsidy for rail. Commuters can receive a subsidy directly from their employers. Development in PAMPA, such as Stanford’s 5B hospital expansion, required concessions to the impacted cities. Stanford is subsidizing alternative commute options i.e. free Caltrain and bus passes for all current University and anticipated employees at the hospital. A 4 zone rail pass is $232.00/month. In addition there is a free VTA pass. Stanford could pay for a portion of a HSR fare for CV commuters.

    This commute is realistic. According to the HSR site, Fresno-Palo Alto is quicker that the current Gilroy to Palo Alto Caltrain service. Considering the anti-growth policies in PAMPA and private, free shuttles operated by Silicon Valley companies (Google and promised by Facebook for the Menlo Park campus) it is not unreasonable to assume private, subsidized commuter ridership for HSR to allow for growth in ares where it is restricted OR to allow workers in anti-growth PAMPA to commute to jobs in the growth-friendly CV.

    Additionally, a UK study of HSR in Germany statistically demonstrated that HSR rail provided new commute options for local residents to urban centers. This connectivity stabilizes housing and increasing the local GDP over similar cities not connected to rail.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Keep in mind that the CAHSRA trip planner is only considering express trips between the two selected points, not the all stops trains that PA would see. It’s fairly nonsensical to compare Fresno-PA to current Gilroy-PA anyhow (rather than the upgraded speeds Caltrain would have by that time) or why workers would commute from Fresno rather than Gilroy which is going to be served by all the same trains they could take from Fresno to PA.

  10. swing hanger
    Oct 17th, 2011 at 19:21
    #10

    More clouds on the horizon, re. private investor sentiment:
    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2011/10/investors-may-wait-to-back-rail-project-until-trains-actually-run.html

    Spokker Reply:

    Relying on private investment was a huge mistake. Investors will not invest in capital, only operations. Government should fund transportation infrastructure and private firms can bid to operate on it.

    Don’t know why it has to be so different for trains.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Why different?

    Because corrupt rent-seeking corporations can and will and do capture the government funded capital construction phase, larding the system with worse than useless crap that not only grossly inflates costs, but cripples operations until the end of time.

    The people involved in “designing” CHSRA are far worse than incompetent — I’ve met some of them and can speak from first hand experience of their unprofessionalism and ignorance. The pile of shit that they’re going to leave somebody else to figure out how to operate is going to cost tens of billions too much to build (ka-ching!), and then cost somebody else (suckers!) tens of millions extra a year to word around.

    The reason to involve operators in design and construction is so that somebody, anybody has some incentive to keep costs under control and to build something that somebody might want to use.

    The present set-up, in which PB and pals just write blank checks to themselves, and everybody else gets reamed, can have only one outcome, and that outcome isn’t “cost-efficient and attractive HSR service”.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    But they are going to get an iconic bus garage out of it!

    joe Reply:

    The people involved in “designing” CHSRA are far worse than incompetent — I’ve met some of them and can speak from first hand experience of their unprofessionalism and ignorance.

    Hilarious.

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    Richard I’m actually going to agree with you. If you want a private operator, you have to include them to figure out what they want and don’t want. But that said…foreign transportation firms want: a) government building to issue the debt and b) to get a time frame to collect nearly all the revenue instead of cost-sharing.

    What I think Richard and Synonymouse get wrong is that PB does not want its name associated with a half-built, dysfunctional HSR system. It still wants to get future clients. Up until 2010, I think internally PB thought the “writing checks to themselves” model of infrastructure finance would never end. Now, however, I think they are beginning to realize this is all unsustainable.

    Not because of debt, but because as we get smaller as a country (economically and population wise and even militarily) there’s going to be fewer resources to go around and frugality is going to be at a premium.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    If investors won’t invest in capital, whence the freight RRs? Or the private companies which bid on building new sections of French HSR?

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    2 reasons:
    1)- Bids for French projects have to be open to all firms, whatever their nationality. The EU court will cancel any bid judged anti-competitive. Giants like Vinci and Bouygues won’t bid in America which is the private hunting ground of national firms like PB.
    2)- French PPP contracts are build-and-operate (50-year concession). Any cost overruns are the winning consortium’s business. It means, among other things, that it will keep its labor force as lean as possible. That is in total contrast with CHSR whose prime aim is to create jobs.

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    Now there is absolutely no doubt that Rod “dozens of private investors ready to go” Diridon is a lying scumbag.

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    Nah. He probably was thinking the Chinese and Japanese would bid themselves into a fight over how much they could contribute at the time, also knowing there’s lots of small time players who have offers out there.

    Now however, thanks to one big HSR crash and one big earthquake…that not going to happen…

    synonymouse Reply:

    The notion that Borden to Corcoran could generate any profits is simply laughable. And even if fully built out the CHSRA scheme is a collection of three regional mass transit operations whimsically connected by the weakest of links. A Bay Area quasi-BART, a Fresno area quasi-BART and an LA quasi-BART and a couple of backwoods detours. Regional mass transit always requires subsidies and why would LA-SF passengers want to be routed thru every burg and podunk in the San Joaquin Valley?

    Ridiculous. If you hope to have any possibility of breaking even the express route of Tejon,-I-5, Altamont is the only chance. And then with airline non-pilot level wages not TWU or Amalgamated compensation packages.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Fresno to Bakersfield. Why are you going on about “Borden to Corcoran” still?

  11. Ken W
    Oct 18th, 2011 at 13:05
    #11

    Why can’t we turn to the more “liberal” billionaires for help to fight against the “conservative” billionaires?

    IT billionaires and companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft, Intel, and to a certain extent, GE all are pro-rail, and to a certain extent, Warren Buffet of Berkshire Hathaway invested billions in the future of freight rail at a time when everyone was looking at trucking companies.

    Combine all of these billionaires to our side and I’m sure we can defeat the Koch Brothers.

    Nathanael Reply:

    There’s been a coordination problem, and more importantly liberal billionaires have been repeatedly tricked by politicians who they thought were solid….

    ….whereas the Republicans stay bought.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    What do you mean, “Everyone was looking at trucking companies”? A few years before the acquisition, the WSJ ran a piece about the resurgence of rail freight. And the market value of the Class Is is now in the tens of billions each, up from the approximately zero it was 20 years ago.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The internet is a wonderful thing. UP stock was in the 20s during 1991. I didn’t go bother to look at the other ones.

Comments are closed.