BLM Approves DesertXpress Project – and Utah Wants In

Nov 28th, 2011 | Posted by

Right before the Thanksgiving break the federal Bureau of Land Management issued a Record of Decision allowing DesertXpress to build a high speed train from Victorville to Las Vegas:

The decision authorizes a Right of Way grant to DesertXpress Enterprises, LLC to construct and operate a high-speed passenger rail line between Victorville, Calif. and Las Vegas, Nev. on public lands. The passenger rail line would be a fully grade-separated, dedicated double track passenger-only railroad along a 200-mile corridor that would generally follow the route of Interstate 15. The majority of the right-of-way would fall on previously disturbed lands and within existing energy production and utility corridors.

Still no word yet on how DesertXpress would finance construction, but they are still the closest true HSR project anywhere in the country to actual construction. As gas prices continue to be sky high, you’d think that maybe the state of Nevada and/or the casinos would be interested in helping get this project under way, given that rising gas prices or even just the regular Interstate 15 traffic james might convince more Southern Californians to gamble at Indian casinos closer to home.

And even as the financial questions remained unanswered, some in Utah are calling for a high speed rail system to be built to link Salt Lake City to Vegas:

Talk of regional rail connecting Western hubs such as Denver, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and Reno, Nev., is nothing new. But Utah Sen. Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake City, now wants to form a working group of stakeholders who could vet the train talk and perhaps secure federal funding for the all-important studies.

As McAdams sees it, there’s no harm in exploring a Rocky Mountain version of what has long-connected far-flung cities in Japan and across Europe — even if the network would cost tens of billions of dollars and take 20 to 30 years to build.

“We can’t let this pass us by,” McAdams says. “We need to study whether a connection makes sense. We are the crossroads of the West. And we don’t want to be left behind.”

The idea would be for a high-speed train hub to be built at Salt Lake City International Airport. The route is an open question. But McAdams notes it would be far less expensive to take a 200 to 300 mph train over public lands — perhaps alongside Interstate 15 with a stop in St. George — rather than atop purchased private property.

So it sounds pretty much like the DesertXpress project – run alongside Interstate 15, connect major stops but bypass intermediate cities. Of course DesertXpress is only planning to build the first phase to Victorville, saving a connection to LA via Palmdale for later on. In Utah this would be like running a train from Vegas to Nephi, although I suspect it would be significantly cheaper to build to SLC from there than it would be to build to downtown LA from Victorville.

At this point, though, the Utah HSR effort seems primarily designed to ensure the state is in the mix for future federal funding:

But fed maps left out the Southwest and Intermountain West, prompting the creation of the Western High Speed Rail Alliance, formed in part by Utah Transit Authority CEO John Inglish. During the past few years, the alliance has worked to raise money, plan and advocate for a system that ultimately would link population centers between Colorado and California….

UTA is working with state leaders, Mountainland Association of Governments, Wasatch Front Regional Council and the Salt Lake Chamber on high-speed-rail strategies. A connection to Vegas, officials say, could curb air pollution and cut down the “short” flights between Utah’s capital and the gambling hub.

McAdams notes 70 percent of Salt Lake City airport traffic is passengers making connections — many to Vegas — including a large percentage who take Delta’s direct flight from Tokyo en route to Sin City. He sees the airport dispatching both planes and trains — “Delta could run it,” he says — similar to European cities.

“It’s been the transportation of preference in Europe and Asia — and the U.S. has the right demographics,” he adds. “I’m not calling to build it. But there seems to be growing acceptance to the idea in the U.S.”

These arguments make sense, especially if the goal is to build a national, interconnected high speed rail network, and I believe that’s exactly what the goal ought to be. Would SLC-Vegas be one of the first routes I’d want to see built? No, and neither is Victorville-Vegas. But to generate support for a long-term federal funding plan to build a national network, places like Utah will need to have an HSR plan in place. Now is as good a time as any to start.

  1. joe
    Nov 28th, 2011 at 21:09

    Connecting SLC to Las Vegas could very well generate electricity because of the Seebeck Effect. Instead of relying on temperature differences to produce electric current, this rail system would harness the steep cultural gradient between the two cities.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    This comment is such epic fail.

    VBobier Reply:

    I’m a bit skeptical too, but If It were demonstrated being able to power an HSR train, then I’d believe It was possible.

    Seebeck effect
    Main article: Thermoelectric generator

    The Seebeck effect is used in the thermoelectric generator, which functions like a heat engine, but is less bulky, has no moving parts, and is typically more expensive and less efficient. These have a use in power plants for converting waste heat into additional power (a form of energy recycling), and in automobiles as automotive thermoelectric generators (ATGs) for increasing fuel efficiency. Space probes often use radioisotope thermoelectric generators with the same mechanism but using radioisotopes to generate the required heat difference.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    You missed the heavy sarcasm embedded in “steep cultural gradient,” I think.

    Mike from Salt Lake City Reply:

    I live in SLC, and your comment made me LOL. :)

    DanM Reply:

    A bit off topic, but quantum-based thermoelectric generators can now be manufactured (research labs) that are more efficient than classical refrigeration systems and contain no moving parts. The downside is that the prototypes tend to me about 4 square mm. The tech is a few years out, but in about 10 years it will probably be commercial.

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    The cultural gradient between the city of Latter Day Saints and Sin City, if converted to electricity, might cause voltage surges possibly damaging substations.

    francis Reply:

    If one can join SF and LA, why not Vegas and SLC? I think we’re onto something here on the ability of high speed rail to unify culturally disparate areas.

  2. Paulus Magnus
    Nov 28th, 2011 at 21:15

    Still no word yet on how DesertXpress would finance construction

    Quite some time ago DesertXPress asked for six billion dollars in RRIF loans.

    Peter Baldo Reply:

    This would be unusual for a RRIF loan. It’s a lot bigger (over 10 times their total loans outstanding, if I read right). The borrower is not a railroad with collateral (do we even know who the borrower really is?). Finally, RRIF loans are expected to be repaid.

    Alan F Reply:

    A recent story I saw on the DesertXpress stated that they were planning to apply for $4.9 billion in federal loans (ie, the FRA RRIF loan program) while raising $1.6 billion in private (or other source) investments. That works out to 75% public financing with 25% private financing. The earlier stories were indeed about DX seeking a $6 billion federal loan.

    I don’ t know what the law and regulatory specifics are on eligibility for a RRIF loan. Someone can parse the documents at the FRA website if they really want to and report on the details. I suspect DX had conversations with the DOT & FRA, if not the administration, who told them that as a startup with no record that they would not get a federal loan to finance close to 100% of such a large project. Have to put some serious skin in the game to qualify for what would be the biggest RRIF loan by almost 9x to date.

    The largest RRIF loan so far is the recent $562 million loan to Amtrak to be used to buy 70 ACS-64 electric locomotives for the NEC and for maintenance facility upgrades.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    The stopgap authorization bill floating through Congress for the USDOT specifically bans any new project using existing RRIF appropriations from prior fiscal years. You can imagine what Harry Reid thinks of that….

    VBobier Reply:

    Stopping RRIF appropriations, something that makes money, now there’s a stupid Repug concept.

    Liam Jameson Reply:

    I think the RRIF program still exists. It has always been based on the concept that loan recipients should pay back their loans at interest rates commensurate with the rates the FRA is charged to borrow the money. What is no longer funded is the due diligence necessary to verify the risk of making the loan. Congress has not appropriated funding for these investigations, so prospective RRIF borrowers are now expected to pay fees to help defray this cost.

    Alan F Reply:

    I would venture the Obama administration would take a dim view as well. The RRIF program, which was authorized in different amounts by a Republican controlled House in multiple bills over the past 10+ years if I am not mistaken, is essentially a variation on the proposed infrastructure bank.

    The RRIF loans, in general principle, don’t cost the US government anything except for the processing of the loan applications and selling the Treasury notes – so long as the loan does not default. As I understand it, the RRIF loans are funded by selling US Treasury notes for the amount of the RRIF loan. The FRA charges a fee to process the RRIF application, so that may cover some or all of the administration cost – in theory. The FRA is authorized to distribute up to a total of $35 billion in outstanding RRIF loans at any one time.

    The RRIF loan program is an example of the public-private financing for infrastructure projects that the Republicans frequently propose. If they are trying to stop the RRIF program because it might be used to fund HSR, Amtrak badly needed equipment orders, and intercity passenger rail projects, it just re-emphasizes how they are trying to block the Obama administration at every turn, no matter if they were for the program in question previously.

  3. adirondacker12800
    Nov 28th, 2011 at 21:41

    connect major stops but bypass intermediate cities.

    There are no intermediate cities along I-15 between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    There’s St. George, which is about as big as a medium-sized New York City neighborhood.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    I like to think of St George as Yonkers without Yonkers’ more suburban bits.
    …which sent me searching. It’s as big as the MSA for Ithaca. Searching a bit more Las Vegas to Salt Lake City is Sacramento to Bakersfield without there being a Fresno. Buffalo to Hartford-Springfield but with nothing in the Mohawk River Valley…. Cleveland to Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton with less population in between than the remote parts of Northern Pennsylvania…

    Alon Levy Reply:

    More like Yonkers without Yonkers’ urban bits.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Even the more suburban parts of Yonkers may be a bit too urban for St. George.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    .. I had to go look… the housing unit density in Westchester County, which includes the empty places north of the reservoir is denser than the per person density of St. George.. and the housing unit density in Yonkers is 6 times higher than Westchester’s as a whole.

    Howard Reply:

    The St George Metropolitan Area has a population of 140,000, more than the 80,000 population of Merced which a CHRT Phase 1 station. The St George station would also serve Cedar City with a metro population of 30,000 for a total of 170,000. A St George station would have a higher usage than a normal city its size because it is the gateway to Zion National Park. The access that a high speed rail station would bring would make St George a more desirable city (retirement destination) increasing it population and increase visitation to Zion National Park (with a good bus link), both inducing more demand for high speed rail trips. Zion might become so easy to get to even a New Yorker might tear themselves away from the pleasures of Manhattan to go see some real natural beauty for a few days (via a flight from LV). LA residents would defiantly make the trip.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The St George Metropolitan Area has a population of 140,000, more than the 80,000 population of Merced which a CHRT Phase 1 station

    But the Merced metro area has 250,000 people.

    would make St George a more desirable city (retirement destination) increasing it population

    So, more Arizona-style sprawl?

    even a New Yorker might tear themselves away from the pleasures of Manhattan to go see some real natural beauty for a few days (via a flight from LV).

    New Yorkers do go on vacation, all the time, and that part of the Interior West is not a top destination. They go to local beach spots like the Jersey Shore (ugh) and Long Island, to the Hudson Highlands, and farther out to the Poconos or Vermont. For longer trips, Florida is the top destination.

    Speaking of Florida, the various HSR lines going down the East Coast can meet up and create a continuous New York-Miami line, as on Yonah’s map. It’s much like New York-Chicago or Tokyo-Fukuoka – marginal for HSR on its own, but useful for through-service making use of the large intermediate markets.

    Tom McNamara Reply:


    I think as part of a deal with the airlines, Congress will forbid train service between the nation’s natural sections: Midwest, South, East Coast, and West. (Economics will also dictate that the Northwest is linked to California.)

    Even in the most fanciful renditions I could think of, for Chicago to New York or Philadelphia to Miami your choices will be an airplane, Amtrak sleeper or a Red Roof Inn:

    Peter Reply:

    Why bother forbidding it? If it’s not economically feasible, it won’t happen anyway…

    Joey Reply:

    Exactly. Distances greater than 500 miles rarely gain any appreciable market share anyway.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    nobody in Charlotte is going to want to go to Raleigh… interesting.
    Or nobody in Raleigh is going to want to go to Atlanta and nobody in Charlotte is going to want to go to Washington DC. Even more interesting. There’s going to be great big thundering herds of people who want to go from Cleveland to Pittsburgh or vice versa but nobody in Cleveland who wants to go to Buffalo. And nobody in Rochester who wants to go to Toledo. Nobody in Toledo, Rochester, Buffalo Cleveland is going to want to go to Toronto and nobody in Springfield is going to want to go to Boston or Albany. Hmm. But they are going to want to go to Montreal. And Bostonians are going to want to go to Montreal but not to Springfield, Albany, Schnectady, Utica Syracuse Rochester or Buffalo. Charlotte to San Antonia but not Charlotte to Balitmore, Philadelphia or New York….. hmmm

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    One caveat with that map…it presumes a population distribution of 2050 or 2075. It also presumes that the majority of service will be to and from the hub city to outlying destinations.

    Charlotte and Atlanta are likely to shrink this decade because of economic and logistical considerations.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Under any reasonable population distribution, there’s no need for all these lines in the interior of the Texas Triangle.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Do you expect nuclear weapons to cause the population decline or biological ones? Or maybe just a plain old epidemic?

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Charlotte and Atlanta is the Detroit of the 21st century. No metro regions were more dependent on the housing bubble as far as industry jobs. Sure, the construction happened elsewhere, but the loans were processed and Home Depot’s were managed in Char-lanta. Other cities are much better poised to capitalize on growth both in the South, and elsewhere.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    People building McMansions in minature Levittowns don’t buy their supplies retail. Their subcontractors don’t buy retail. The sub contractor’s sub contractors might occasionally wander into a Home Depot opr a Lowe’s. US Census Bureau says there are 303,000 people working in Cobb County which is where Home Depot’s Headquarters is. They all don’t work at Home Depot’s headquarters.
    Charlotte on the other hand, their biggest employer used to be PTL Ministries. They survived that I’m sure they will survive a shrinkage in the mortgage processing department at Bank of America.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Detroit has had about the same metro population since the 1950s. Its recent population decline is on the order of 3% per decade. The city’s emptied out, but the metro area is still there. Expecting Greater Atlanta to depopulate because Detroit proper did is apples-to-oranges at its finest.

    And Atlanta isn’t Detroit. Both have seen their incomes freefall in the last 15 years, by roughly the same amount (about 15 percentage points relative to the US average), but Atlanta’s done it with high population growth and Detroit’s done it with zero population growth. More importantly, Atlanta has a diverse economy, and many people (namely, blacks) who migrate there irrespective of the job situation; it’s more like Portland than either city would like to admit.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    [Sigh]. I’m not expecting Atlanta to be abandoned. However, if you take away population and you don’t have Delta using the city as a hub it’s going to shrink to something more managable. It’s not going to disappear off the face of the earth.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Atlanta is not dependent on Delta. It’s not like Detroit with the Big Three; it has research centers, universities, CNN, Coke, and a bunch of other companies I don’t remember. And even Detroit lost very little population; most of the city’s population loss has gone to the suburbs, not other regions.

    flowmotion Reply:

    Meh. LV to St George is a 2 hour drive. Once you consider transfer times, it would be easier to board a Zion NP bus in Las Vegas. (And btw, Zion is packed and doesn’t need any more visitors.)

    VBobier Reply:

    I wonder how good the Hospital is in the area or is there one there? Afterall Dirty Harry once went there…

    Geiger counter anyone?

    VBobier Reply:

    According to the wiki on St. George, the population from the 2010 Census was at 72,897 and the metro area is at 138,115, The Density is 1,132.2/sq mi (433.9/km2).

    Donk Reply:

    What about Mesquite!!! People travel there from all over the world!

  4. Donk
    Nov 28th, 2011 at 22:12

    This is great. I am all for leading on these Southwestern states and letting them believe that they might one day have HSR. There is no way there will EVER be HSR from Las Vegas to Salt Lake City. But go ahead and study it anyway – I’m fine with giving Utah $50M to study HSR if their congressmen support the national HSR plan.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Yeah the Utah delegation is NEVER, EVER, going to vote for HSR in Congress. And given the structural imbalance in Highway Trust Fund that 50 million could be used for the downtown connector and have more use….

  5. AndyDuncan
    Nov 28th, 2011 at 22:20

    To make this work, it would need to be both cheap and fast. Joking aside, the cultural differences between the two cities and the lack of anything in between make it not wholly unlike Paris/London, except at a fraction of the population. Not necessarily a good omen given the lower than expected (yet worthwhile) ridership of the Eurostar.

    If you ran the trains fast enough, and DX was built to 220mph spec, you might even be able to get LA-SLC trips down to 4-ish hours, which might make the whole thing a little more palatable.

    But still, we’re talking 440 miles of rail from SLC to LV, minimum, and 690 total to LA. At 180mph average, that gets you under 4hr end to end, but that’s highly optimistic given DX’s latest plans.

    some earlier brainstorming on the idea:

    Alon Levy Reply:

    A lot of your lines are going to underperform because the cities are too small or too far away. SLC-LV is fine albeit marginal because of the LA connection, but do people really need SLC-Sac so much that it should feature a new Sierra crossing? And who needs HSR on the Overland Route?

    Also, is the cultural difference really that big? Paris and London speak different languages, after all; SLC and Vegas do not. Looking at the air market sizes on table 1 of the consumer airfare report, the SLC-LV market doesn’t look small compared to the SLC-to-other-Western-cities markets.

    AndyDuncan Reply:

    Completely agreed, those lines were pure pie in the sky. The SLC-LV, Phoenix-LA and even the LV-LA lines suffer from not having anything in the middle. The only business case to be made for them is if the track can be done cheap. Lots of flat desert and cheap land in there with few grade separations and other structures. It’s possible, but I’m not holding my breath.

    An LA hub though, with Phoenix and Salt Lake connections in under 4 hours might be a compelling use case. Especially if you could layer on Phoenix-LV while using the same stations and approaches in the various cities. One line might not make sense, but all of them together sharing infrastructure start looking more compelling.

    The SLC-Tahoe-Sac lines will be built when aliens fly in on roller skates and resurrect president Graham. That one is so far away from being worthwhile i’m embarrassed it’s on my map :-)

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The problem is that even some of the quote-unquote radials are a problem. For instance, LA-Phoenix-Tucson is close to the upper end of the range of distances at which HSR is competitive. The next city over, Las Cruces/El Paso, is well beyond that range. LA-El Paso is about the same distance as New York-Chicago. Although New York-Chicago would be an okay HSR line, it would be entirely due to the overlapping intermediate markets, such as New York-Cleveland, Chicago-Pittsburgh, and New York-Detroit. The only intermediate market you’re really getting with the El Paso line is Phoenix-El Paso, and it’s too small: Phoenix is no New York, and El Paso is no Cleveland or Pittsburgh.

    If you want to focus on markets that are both of decent size and at such distance that HSR is useful, then the only lines outside California that make sense are LA-Phoenix-Tucson, LA-LV, and maybe LV-SLC.

  6. morris brown
    Nov 28th, 2011 at 22:44

    Tomorrow, Nov 29th, the State Assembly Transportation committee is having a hearing on High Speed Rail. It starts at 10:00 AM and will be webcast on CalChannel.

    Thee is an agenda now posted on the Committees webpage. It should be interesting. The LAO will be there among others. The LAO is supposed to release a new report on the project.

  7. Howard
    Nov 28th, 2011 at 22:52

    The Las Vegas High Speed Train Station should be designed for run through tracks to allow a LA to SLC service, and not a dead end terminal station that precludes an extension to Salt Lake City. Some Las Vegas tourists would take a high speed train to St George in order to go see Zion National Park.

  8. Joey
    Nov 28th, 2011 at 23:38

    400 miles and effectively zero intermediate markets.

    Not likely.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Sin City to Salt Lake is about the same as Fresno to Palmdale. Red ink.

    Peter Reply:

    Maybe using a tilting diesel like Bombardier’s JetTrain on existing tracks. But unlikely with OCS.

    Peter Reply:

    Or maybe not after looking at the existing tracks through the mountains.

  9. JJJ
    Nov 29th, 2011 at 03:01

    One concern about Desertexpress becoming the first HSR project in the country to get started:

    The GOP will jump onto it as “proof” that government projects aren’t needed, the private sector will do it if there’s a market.

    Of course, simultaneously, as the project fails due to it’s bad design, they’ll jump on THAT as proof that HSR is a failure (and not that the private sector can screw up grandly).

  10. morris brown
    Nov 29th, 2011 at 03:20

    The PA rail committee has started working on a resolution for their council, that would express the view that the HSR project should be killed..

    Hopefully this will become the model for many other cites in the state to adopt and lead to the killing of Prop 1A and the swindle of the voters and legislature that passage of this proposition in Nov 2008 has now fully been revealed.

    Peter Reply:


    joe Reply:

    Just wait until disgruntled Palo Alto residents Occupy Sacramento. Check your papers, it will probably be mistaken for a Luxury Motor-home convention for the 55 and over crowd.

    StevieB Reply:

    Which lobbyist did Palo Alto hire on Monday? Did they go with the previous company for $66,000 or did they go with the high priced at $126,000? The higher priced is said to be closer to Democrats in Sacramento. I suppose you get what you pay for in politics.

    J. Wong Reply:

    “Hopefully this will become the model for many other cites in the state to adopt and lead to the killing of Prop 1A and the swindle of the voters and legislature that passage of this proposition in Nov 2008 has now fully been revealed.”

    Why would other cities that aren’t going to ever have HSR running through them join in this? Claims to the contrary, the only reason Palo Alto is trying to kill HSR isn’t because of the price tag or because it supposedly doesn’t meet the requirements of Prop 1A but because they simply don’t want HSR running through Palo Alto. If you can’t admit that, you’re a liar.

    StevieB Reply:

    Palo Alto is not going to convince the California Legislature to kill the HSR because it does not appeal to the aesthetics of the city. The council is split over cost or misrepresentations to base their formal opposition statement. Something that will make them look less selfish.

    J. Wong Reply:

    Yeah, I know that, I was only calling out @Morris in his “hope” that other cities would back Palo Alto in trying to kill HSR based on their ostensible reasons not of course on their actual reason.

    joe Reply:

    Palo Alto’s cardinal complaint is that HSR is too expensive.

    It sure kills any moral standing for their demand we build a free trenched ROW at the CA Taxpayer’s expense.

    synonymouse Reply:

    @ Morris

    The only way you are going to kill Prop 1A, since the Pelosi machine has taken it on as a trophy, is to spend the big bucks and do the hard footwork to put a voter initiative on the ballot for a revote.

    Absent that you could go public with a grassroots campaign for Ring the Bay to supplant both Caltrain and CHSRA and terminate hsr in San Jose. The latter would be tickled pink but others might get miffed and call for returning to Altamont, a much better plan for everybody.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Say what?!?!?

    Altamont is not compatible with the Ring the Bay. You would end up with a costly duplication of HSR track and BART until you reached a large enough terminus. The most obvious one would be Oakland Airport. However, there’s no way SF goes for that even if the idea has merits.

    (Long term I think the Bay Area would be wise to consolidate its air traffic at Oakland, but you would need additional infrastructure beyond HSR to accomplish that…)

    Ring the Bay is, however, perfectly compatible with HSR on the Peninsula. You put HSR on the bottom, and BART on the top over your Cal Train ROW between San Jose and Milbrae. Sure there are technical issues to resolve, but you take less property and pour less concrete.

    Once complete, you use the same strategy for Metrolink and HSR in the Antelope Valley….

    Peter Reply:

    Ring-the-Bay is perfectly compatible with Altamont. As long as you don’t build the San Jose HSR branch.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    I’m hoping this is a joke. Otherwise, I’m not sure I have enough whiteboard space to diagram that out…

    synonymouse Reply:

    PAMPA would want a BART subway, period. Enormously gentrifying property along the ROW. Hsr would terminate at San Jose, bustling center of the known universe.

    I suggest that PAMPA’s attitude toward CHSRA aerials be it hollow core or berm, is pretty well summarized by the scene in “Independence Day” where the President asks the nastly alien in the cage what they want us humans to do.

    The alien’s answer: “Die!”

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    No, I think you have it backwards. The NIMBYs would characterize themselves as the humans and the Authority et al as the locust like aliens plundering the planet.

    joe Reply:

    (Long term I think the Bay Area would be wise to consolidate its air traffic at Oakland, but you would need additional infrastructure beyond HSR to accomplish that…)


    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    No problem, just double deck the runways.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Yeah you can dial up the snark all you want…SFO is a painful experience not the least of which is because it is subject to fog delays more than the others and because the poor runway design. The current airport is obviously too small at Oakland to make up the difference but it has enough land to expand when the time comes.

  11. morris brown
    Nov 29th, 2011 at 10:05

    State assembly transportation hearing on High Speed Rail is on line now at:

    and about to start:

    10:05 AM 11/29/2011

    Nadia Reply:

    LAO states that the Funding Plan approved by the Authority at their Nov 3rd meeting does not meet the requirements of AB3034.

    CARRD wrote to the Authority about this issue:

    StevieB Reply:

    The CA HSR Authority lawyers assert the plan does meet the requirements. The matter will need to be resolved.

    StevieB Reply:

    From the hearing I heard two things I was not aware of. The bonds will initially be serviced from truck weight fees until they exceed the resources. These fees may be enough for several years. Secondly the authority plans to operate the initial segment for two years to establish a steady income stream then sell the rights to the income to private investors to raise $11 billion. There would be no guarantee required by the investors.

  12. Nadia
    Nov 29th, 2011 at 11:45

    LAO report now posted:

    Key points:
    Funding Plan Does Not Meet Key Statutory Requirements
    Availability of Funding to Complete a Usable Segment Highly Uncertain
    Alternative Cost Estimate Overstated
    High-Speed Rail’s Priority Over Other Transportation Investments Unproven
    Economic Impact Analysis Is Imbalanced
    Independent Benefits of ICS Unlikely to Justify Expense
    Inadequate Structure and Staffing Persist

    nslander Reply:

    To be more specific:

    “Funding Plan Does Not Meet Key Statutory Requirements” is page caption that includes only this:
    Availability of Funding to Complete a Usable Segment Highly Uncertain.

    The remainder is conclusory, speculative, and reads like advocacy. Having said that, I expect the hack at the LA Times to put it above the fold in the Extra section.

    Nadia Reply:

    The report states:

    Committed Funding Not Identified and Environmental Review Process Incomplete.

    Proposition 1A identifies certain requirements that must be met prior to requesting an appropriation of bond proceeds for construction. These include identifying for a corridor, or a usable segment thereof, all sources of committed funds, the anticipated time of receipt of those funds, and completing all project-level environmental clearances for that segment. Our review finds that the funding plan only identifies committed funding for the ICS, which is not a usable segment, and therefore does not meet the requirements of Proposition 1A. In addition, the HSRA has not yet completed all environmental clearances for any usable segment and will not likely receive all of these approvals prior to the expected 2012 date of initiating construction.

    Peter Reply:

    “Our review finds that the funding plan only identifies committed funding for the ICS, which is not a usable segment, and therefore does not meet the requirements of Proposition 1A.”

    Good luck with that argument. It won’t fly very far. Here’s a summary of California law on statutory construction:

    In construing statutes, courts must consider the consequences that might flow from a particular construction and should construe the statute so as to promote rather than defeat the statute’s purpose and policy. People ex rel. Department of Conservation v. El Dorado County, 32 Cal. Rptr. 3d 109, 116 P.3d 567 (Cal. 2005).
    When construing a statute, a court seeks to determine and give effect to the intent of the enacting legislative body. People v. Braxton, 22 Cal. Rptr. 3d 46 (Cal. 2004).
    The canons of statutory construction are among the aides the courts can employ in reaching a reasoned interpretation of a statute; they are not to be rotely applied in disregard of other indicia of the intent and purpose of the body which enacted the statutory provision in question. California Chamber of Commerce v. Brown, 196 Cal. App. 4th 233, 2011 WL 2176508 (1st Dist. 2011).
    A construction that renders some statutory language surplusage or redundant is to be avoided. In re Estate of Hastie, 186 Cal. App. 4th 1285, 2010 WL 2854279 (1st Dist. 2010).
    The objective sought to be achieved by a statute as well as the evil to be prevented is of prime consideration in its interpretation. National Steel and Shipbuilding Co. v. Superior Court, 135 Cal. App. 4th 1072, 38 Cal. Rptr. 3d 253 (4th Dist. 2006).
    The objective sought to be achieved by a statute as well as the evil to be prevented is of prime consideration in its interpretation. Peoples v. San Diego Unified School Dist., 41 Cal. Rptr. 3d 383 (Cal. App. 4th Dist. 2006).
    Courts seek to adopt a construction which will render the statute reasonable, fair and harmonious with its manifest purpose. Regents of University of California v. East Bay Mun. Utility Dist., 130 Cal. App. 4th 1361, 31 Cal. Rptr. 3d 278 (1st Dist. 2005).
    Court’s primary task in construing a statute is to ascertain the Legislature’s intent to effect the purpose of the statute. Coso Energy Developers v. County of Inyo, 122 Cal. App. 4th 1512, 19 Cal. Rptr. 3d 669 (4th Dist. 2004).
    Statutory construction rules are not to be rigidly applied in isolation. T.H. v. San Diego Unified School Dist., 122 Cal. App. 4th 1267, 19 Cal. Rptr. 3d 532 (4th Dist. 2004).
    Even where the statutory language is not ambiguous, the intent of the Legislature is the end and aim of all statutory construction. Kramer v. Intuit Inc., 121 Cal. App. 4th 574, 18 Cal. Rptr. 3d 412 (2d Dist. 2004), as modified on denial of reh’g, (Aug. 11, 2004) and review filed, (Sept. 13, 2004).

    So, as you can see, it will come down to what the legislative intent was. From AB 3034:

    It is the intent of the Legislature by enacting this chapter and of the people of California by approving the bond measure pursuant to this chapter to initiate the construction of a
    high-speed train system that connects the San Francisco Transbay Terminal to Los Angeles Union Station and Anaheim, and links the state’s major population centers, including Sacramento, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Central Valley, Los Angeles, the Inland Empire, Orange County, and San Diego consistent with the authority’s certified environmental impact reports of November 2005 and July 9, 2008.

    If you can convince first the Legislature (and then possibly a court) that a rigid interpretation of AB 3034 best meets the legislative intent, then you win. I somehow find that unlikely.

    J. Wong Reply:

    Yes! The intent of the Prop 1A was to initiate the construction. If the Legislature determines that the best way to start is through the ICS and the Federal ARRA funds, then so be it.

    morris brown Reply:

    @ Peter


    Peter Reply:


    Peter Reply:

    Also, see the following:

    Courts must give a statute enacted by the voters a reasonable and commonsense interpretation consistent with the apparent purpose and intention of the voters, practical rather than technical in nature, which upon application will result in wise policy rather than mischief or absurdity. People v. Hartley, 156 Cal. App. 4th 859, 67 Cal. Rptr. 3d 667 (3d Dist. 2007).

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    What about how the LAO described both Initial Operating Segments as “usable segments”?

    Or the part about how William Kempton attested to the benefit of Metrolink as reliving congestion along I-5?

    Or when Dan Richard admitted he was skeptical about starting in the Central Valley until he realized it made the most sense?

    J. Wong Reply:

    So the question will be whether the Legislature will take any of this as a reason to vote against disbursing the funds from the bonds for the ICS. The LAO are not lawyers so their conclusion that the funding plan does not meet “key” statutory requirements is a non-expert opinion, i.e., not a legal opinion. I would only trust the Attorney General’s office to be able to answer that, but ultimately, it will be up to the courts.

    Peter Reply:

    See my above comment.

  13. morris brown
    Nov 29th, 2011 at 20:20

    For those interested, posted to YouTube are some excerpts of the Assembly Transportation meeting held today Nov 28,2011.

    Most notably missing are questions and responses mostly from Harkey and Bachmann.


    Farra Bracht LAO (5 minutes)

    The report she references is available at:

    It is quite critical on many aspects. Her input here is impressive.

    Will Kempton (head of the peer review group). responds to questions (3 minutes)

    Here Kempton makes the statement that he does not have much confidence in the funding plan.

    Grindley (5 minutes)

    excellent (as always)

    Bushell (1 minute)

    Alan makes excellent comment on how electronic conferences are already affecting business travel and will do much more in the future.

    Will Kempton opening remarks (4 minutes)

    Dan Richard opening remarks (7 minutes 30 sec)

  14. morris brown
    Nov 29th, 2011 at 20:22

    The SJ Mercury has just posted an article on its coverage of the transportation committee meeting today.

    Tony d. Reply:

    While I still feel Mike Rosenberg is a piece of s**t, I do believe its time to start thinking regionally:
    1) revamped Caltrain/ACE and expanded BART in NorCal.
    2) revamped Metrolink, Surfliner and expanded LA Metro in SoCal.
    Sadly, the dream may be coming to an end.

  15. D. P. Lubic
    Nov 29th, 2011 at 20:31

    At first glance, a new railroad from Las Vegas to Salt Lake City doesn’t seem to make much sense, and it certainly isn’t what I would consider for an early part of a modern HSR system. And going east to Denver is even worse, as David Moffatt found out attempting to build the Denver & Salt Lake line.

    Yet, there are those plains across the Dakotas, and the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona. . .and the Rockies and the Appalachians, too. . .not many people live there, but people still have to cross them, will still have to cross them when gasoline and jet fuel become unaffordable and/or unavailable. . .maybe not yet, but someday, and perhaps sooner than we think. . .

    Who can really know the future?

    swing hanger Reply:

    Yes, but first build them where the population and markets are. If fuel becomes too expensive, cross-country/long distance travel will be the first items to be cut back by businesses and vacationers.

  16. Reedman
    Nov 29th, 2011 at 21:20

    The fundamental issue is that HSR can’t solve the two basic impediments to rail — rail needs huge amounts of land and creates large amounts of noise along it’s entire path. The airlines will always win against rail where land is expensive and where people live. China is successful at building rail because it isn’t a democracy. The best the rail advocates here should hope for is to fix the biggest passenger rail problem in the US — to get between New Orleans and Jacksonville by rail presently, you have to go through Chicago or Washington DC (really). The best advertising for HSR would be to have functional, competitive LSR (low speed rail).

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Actually, an HSR line requires less land than a single airport (link), and also creates less noise. The ROW for rail is long, but not wide.

    I agree that low-speed rail is crucial, but Jacksonville-New Orleans is a very low priority. Right now the only low-speed rail that’s even mildly workable is the Northeast Regional, and maybe also the Keystone and Empire South. In the modern world, daily frequency is not enough, trains do not need to be hauled by super-heavy diesel locomotives, punctuality needs to be more than sporadic, etc.

    Joey Reply:

    rail needs huge amounts of land

    Not really. Two tracks can fit comfortably within a 50′ corridor. Even if you assume 100′, each mile only takes up 12 acres. By comparison, SJC, a significant but not massive airport takes up 1050 acres.

    Noise is also a relative thing, particularly when you’re dealing with existing corridors. Of course I wouldn’t recommend going 200mph through anyone’s backyard, but noise won’t be a terrible issue in most the urban sections.

    Liam Jameson Reply:

    As a rail oriented civil engineer and designer of hundreds of miles of double track freight railroad, as well as several dual purpose light rail/ freight combos, I can categorically state that 2 standard gauge tracks can only be constructed within a 50 foot corridor without costly retaining walls or land bridges under the most favorable of terrains. Fitting in the grading for double track embankments, excavations and ditching consistently requires 120′ – 200′ corridors.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The LGV Sud-Est ROW is 40 meters wide from fence to fence, and includes a lot of empty space for utility cables and such.

    Joey Reply:

    CHSRA design standards dictate 100′ corridors in areas where space is not constrained, and as little as 50′ in areas where space is constrained. Obviously 50′ is less than ideal, but it is wide enough to accommodate two tracks at-grade or on a viaduct.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Huh? Have you ever been near an electric railroad? First, it’s skinny, far more so than a highway. Airports, by the way, actually take up huge acreage; the newest large ones take up areas equivalent to a small city. Noise? Again, I’ve watched electric trains whoosh past at over 100 mph on our own Northeast Corridor, and was amazed at how quiet they were compared with the normal diesel freight trains I see, not to mention the constant drone of an interstate highway near my house. This was years ago, I might add, with boxy electric locomotives on what are called “conventional” trains here–no lightweight streamliners like what you will get.

    As to the New Orleans-Jacksonville link, don’t think there aren’t people working on that–but also recall that the pro-auto, spend-no-money-on-rail crowd and an unfortunately anti-passenger railroad that owns that track have managed to frustrate this so far.

    That same pro-auto, spend-no-money-on-rail-but-roads-are-best-forever bunch also managed to kill a rail line in Ohio that would have been along the lines of what you suggest. It was projected to have decent ridership even with an average speed of only 40 mph (top speed would have probably been in the 60 or 65 mph range), and with minor improvements in signalling and track could have had the average speed approach 80 mph, which is turning out to be very auto competitive.

    Truth is, there is no, absolutely no placating or compromising possible with that group who are amazingly, likely deliberately blind.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Silver Star from Jacksonville to Raleigh and then the Crescent from Raleigh to New Orleans. The only way to get from Jacksonville to Chicago is through Washington DC. I suppose you could take the Silver Star to Raleigh change to the Cresent to Greensboro, change in Greensboro to the Carolinian and then change to the Capitol Limited in Charlottesville but that reads like a Monty Python sketch.

    Andy M. Reply:

    Airondacker: The Crescent doesn’t do Raleigh. You need an additional change of trains at Charlotte if you want to do that route. Going via Washington DC is thus more hassle-free.

    Eric Reply:

    The best the rail advocates here should hope for is to fix the biggest passenger rail problem in the US — to get between New Orleans and Jacksonville by rail presently, you have to go through Chicago or Washington DC (really). The best advertising for HSR would be to have functional, competitive LSR (low speed rail).

    The difficulty with LSR is that all available tracks, except the Northeast Corridor, are owned by freight railways. Scheduling passenger trains around freight trains means that the passenger trains will always be erratic, infrequent, and slow, which is why Amtrak right now is noncompetitive. If you already have to build LSR on a new right of way, it’s not much more expensive to upgrade it to HSR, which provides a much higher level of service.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    This is part, but not all, of the problem. Amtrak is hardly on time on its own tracks. In my experience of shuttling back and forth between New York and Providence, the Regional is on schedule a little less than half the time – and the delays most frequently occur east of New Haven, on Amtrak’s own trackage.

  17. Richard Peterson
    Nov 30th, 2011 at 18:16

    High Speed Rail from Vegas to Zion thats a great Idea but goodluck, most of Latter Days Saint doesn’t gamble, and every Saint lives the word of Wisdom. and never do much in Vegas, accept eat at Buffet, going to shows, ride the Rollercoasters, and visit the Hooverdam? most of the people in Utah are Latter day saints. although they Rather ride Desert Xpress from Salt Lake City to Disneyland if Desertxpress ever get connection with California high speed rail in Palmdale, otherwise, we’ll drive the 18 wheelers to Disneyland.

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