It’s All About How You Ask the Question

Dec 6th, 2011 | Posted by

So the latest Field Poll is out and it does not provide comforting numbers for the high speed rail project. But before we look at the numbers, we need to look at how the question is asked.

Field is the gold standard of public opinion research in California, and their numbers usually turn out right. (Unless you’re Tom Bradley in 1982.) They tend to do their polling in batches, asking several questions at once, and then releasing the results over the course of several days, grouped by campaign/politician or by issue. For example, in recent days Field has released polling on approval ratings for Governor Jerry Brown and Congress, a horse race poll on the Republican presidential field, and even a poll on public attitudes toward the Occupy movement.

What this means is that Field doesn’t necessarily go out and do a series of calls to voters on just one of those issues. They ask about a range of issues all at once, although not everyone gets asked about everything, as Field explains:

The findings in this report are based on a Field Poll survey completed November 15-27, 2011 among a random sample of 1,000 registered voters in California. In order to cover a broad range of issues and still minimize respondent fatigue, the questions in this release were asked of a random subsample of 515 voters.

So they didn’t just do a poll exclusively on high speed rail. It was part of a bigger poll. That’s important, because it means they didn’t ask a wide range of questions on the project. And as we’ll see, that explains the numbers they found.

What did Field ask about HSR?

Have you seen, read or heard anything about California’s High Speed Rail project, a proposed passenger train service that when completed would link Southern California, the Central Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area?

(IF VOTED IN NOVEMBER 2008 ELECTION) In the November 2008 statewide election, Californians voted on a bond measure, Proposition 1A, to establish the High Speed Rail project. Thinking back to that election, do you recall having voted YES to approve or NO to reject the High Speed Rail Bond measure?

Nine billion dollars in state bonds were approved by California voters for the High Speed Rail project in the November 2008 election. At the time, the project’s estimated cost was 43 billion dollars and its targeted completion date was 2020. More current estimates now put its cost at 98 billion dollars and its completion date as 2033. Some think that the state legislature should resubmit the bond package to voters for another public vote next year. Regardless of how you feel about the project, do you favor or oppose the legislature putting the 9 billion dollar state bond package to another public vote in next year’s statewide elections?

Suppose that 9 billion dollars in state bonds for the California High Speed Rail project were put before voters again in a statewide election ballot. If the election were being held today, would you vote YES to approve or NO to reject this bond package?

Field is not asking a neutral question about the HSR project. By framing the project as one beset by cost overruns, without listing any of the other project benefits or the costs of not building HSR, it should be no surprise that they got results like this:

Favor another vote on HSR?
Yes: 64%
No: 30%
No opinion: 6%

Would you vote to approve $9 billion in bonds if re-voted?
Yes: 31%
No: 59%
Undecided: 10%

The above question asked of those who voted Yes on Prop 1A:
Yes: 53%
No: 37%
Undecided: 10%

The way one asks poll questions is significant. If all the person on the line hears is “this project has huge cost overruns, so do you still support it?” the answer in 6 out of 10 cases is likely to be “no.” I would be shocked if the outcome was any better for the HSR project given the way the question was asked.

But what if the question were asked differently? We know that the cost questions are not the only issue associated with the project. Gas prices are rising, airfares are rising, flying is inconvenient, people prefer high speed trains to planes when given the choice, we need to reduce carbon emissions to reduce global warming, the cost of alternative transportation to carry the same amount of people is $170 billion, HSR brings tens of thousands of desperately needed jobs.

How would voters respond if the question were framed in that way? The outcome could be very different.

And if a re-vote were indeed held, voters would be given all of those messages – the cost issues, as well as the benefits. A good guide to public opinion on the HSR project would therefore poll with questions asked with all of those frames, positive and negative.

What would the results then show? Who knows. There’s been a lot of polling over the last 3 years showing support for the project. A February 2011 Harris Poll found 70% of voters supported funding the HSR project. That support didn’t collapse between then and now. It’s all about how the question is asked.

Already the media is trying to spin this new Field Poll as “omg voters are turning against the HSR project!!!” In fact, all the polls says is “if people are told only that the project’s costs have risen, then they become less willing to support it.” It doesn’t actually indicate what voters would do if a re-vote were held because it did not test all messages and frames.

I would caution readers, commenters, and media outlets from reading too much into this Field Poll given its limitations. But I’m guessing people have already made up their minds about what it means, good or bad. I’m not happy to see these numbers, but neither am I surprised and I am certainly not concerned or worried about the project’s future.

That would change if I saw numbers that showed, even after positive and negative messages were tested, that poll respondents did not support the project any longer. But no poll has yet shown that – at least none that I have seen.

Ultimately this makes it all the more important to get construction started, and to get more federal funding to help ease voter concerns about the cost issue.

  1. J. Wong
    Dec 6th, 2011 at 10:38
    #1

    Bay Guardian on why we need HSR: Editor Notes.

    The Bay Guardian is a progressive newspaper so its not necessarily surprising that they would support HSR. Still all it takes is getting stuck in traffic on I5 to realize that yes, yes we do need HSR.

    synonymouse Reply:

    HSR will have minimal effect on traffic congestion. The idea was to present an alternative to aviation.

    Polls and surveys are just propaganda – that’s what I tell the pollsters that call me when I refrain from participating.

    None of this matters as the machine rules all. What really matters over the long term is that these functionaries, be they Republicans or Democrats, are like compulsive gamblers when it comes to budgeting. They just throw the money away. And the likes of PB are there to scoop it up.

    But there are the lighter moments, like the Grinch and Pelosi getting into a hissy fit. Nothing like having your enemies go at each other.

    Jonathan Reply:

    synonymouse: this is called “begging the question”, aka petito principii.

    Will HSR reduce congestion? It will if it captures traffic from road trips.
    Will HSR capture such traffic? You answer that question by _assuming_ the answer is “no”.

    In point of fact, some people will, given the choice between a Bay Area-LA/Anaheim car trip, and an HSR trip, will choose HSR. I had an old high-school/college buddy visit a couple of years ago, with his son. _If_ they had had the chance to take a train to LA, and rent a car to get to Disneyland, they would have.

    And that begs the question of induced trips: if HSR makes weekend visits between LA and SF, to family or friends who have an automobile (so that personal transport on the trip is a non-issue), then people _will_ take HSR.

    Well, at least people not born in the 1950s and 1960s will. Or people born then, but outside the USA. (In other words, the same people who take TGV or ICE in Europe, rather than flying.)

    synonymouse Reply:

    Indeed the impact will be minimal as congestion is mostly local. Soccer moms aren’t ferrying the kids to school via hsr.

    If, for example, SMART were modern streetcars operating on a frequent schedule with modest fares all the way to Marin City, yes, that would reduce congestion on 101 a little at the peak hours. Worth it, but tell that to the “diesel doodlebug” buffs at SMART ghq. Thanx, Clem, for the nice description of, what are they, Nippon Sharyu extravaganzas.

    Yes, some kids might actually make their way to school on the streetcar. Happens in the City.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Relieving congestion on I-5 is still relieving congestion.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The train is going to go to Anaheim. All they have to do is get off the train and get on the shuttle to Disneyland. No car needed. No parking in a remote parking lot either.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    Yes there will be induced trips. However, an induced trip does not divert a trip from the highways.

    jimsf Reply:

    An induced trip does however add to the california economy.

    Derek Reply:

    But does the benefit justify the cost?

    jimsf Reply:

    yes it does. First of all. Life is not all about cost. ( unless you’re one of those people who doesn’t appreciate anything but a dollar) The benefits of hsr are never ending. For the initial investment what we get in reaturn is an expandalbe effecient additional high capacity transit mode to absorb some of the states future transport needs well into the next 100 years. We also get, as californians, a new/additional choice when traveling. I put a high value on having modes from which to choose. We also get faster travel times between city pairs that most californains use – its not about the the biggies like sf-la where one can fly – its about the other 20 stations where all the rest of of live and visit – the places where are only choice now is a slow drive a slow train or a slow bus. We also get to bring cali up to par with the rest of the nations with whom we do business and compete. We’ll have a modern system in place which will attract growth and business. The list goes on and on. The system is also fully expandable. As a californian I want those things. I want that choice. Its a very california way of living. If you don’t see that you actually don’t really belong in a state like ours because this IS what we do here. This IS california. Defeatists belong in those other loser states like arkansas and alabama where they can’t do anything except eat fried food and suck the heads off of swamp food.

    Derek Reply:

    Of course life is all about cost. We always weigh the benefits and the costs when making decisions. Don’t you? Or do you only look at the benefits and ignore the costs?

    jimsf Reply:

    You ignored my point. Obviosuly you are one of those people who doesn’t get it.

    Derek Reply:

    And my point is, sometimes the benefits don’t justify the costs.

    jimsf Reply:

    In this case the benefits do justify the costs because the costs are affordable and the benefits long lasting and many.

    Derek Reply:

    Jimsf, please substantiate your claim by quantifying the costs and the benefits. If you cannot do this, or if the costs outweigh the benefits, your claim has no merit.

    Jon Reply:

    Jim is correct. You can’t quantify every cost and benefit; not everything in life can be assigned a dollar value. For a more in-depth discussion see here: http://www.humantransit.org/2011/12/how-do-you-figure-the-costs-and-benefits-of-a-project.html

    Derek Reply:

    Sorry, Jon, but the article you linked to is flawed. For example, it claims that you can’t assign a dollar value to the aesthetic impact, but if poor aesthetics lowers property values and hurts business, then aren’t property values and the effect on the economy both expressed in terms of dollars?

    Jon Reply:

    What if you wanted to build an elevated structure through the last remaining habitat of an endangered species? This species is not a tourist attraction and makes no contribution to the economy. What’s the dollar value associated with wiping that species out?

    What’s the dollar value associated with reducing carbon impacts sufficiently to prevent runaway climate change? The market places zero value on reducing carbon emissions because it does not, and cannot, consider the value of preventing events which will take place far in the future.

    Note that the article I linked to does not propose a comprehensive solution to the problem of quantifying the impacts of the problem, but it does at least recognize that a dollar value assessment does not capture everything.

    Derek Reply:

    Jon, if you wipe out the endangered grey wolf, the deer will run amuck, eating crops and damaging cars through their suicidal road crossings. Both of these can be assigned dollar values.

    The social cost of carbon emissions comes to about $20 per ton. Some say it’s actually much higher, but that’s a good starting point.

    DingDong Reply:

    Derek,

    I don’t actually have a clear position on the debate about Cost-Benefit Analysis. You seem relatively smart, so I imagine you know that there is a debate about it. In case you don’t, or even if you do, you might try reading Doug Kysar’s book “Regulating from Nowhere” to get a sophisticated critique of your view. It’s quite interesting. http://www.amazon.com/Regulating-Nowhere-Environmental-Search-Objectivity/dp/030012001X

    Elizabeth Reply:

    The impact of induced trips is an entirely separate (and interesting) conversation.

    The problem with current model is it has virtually all ridership coming from existing highway users which drastically overstates the benefits from an air quality and congestion standpoint.

    jimsf Reply:

    So what, the model is wrong. They don’t know what they are doing. BUT, I can tell you – one, as a 47 year resdient of california, and two, as someone who travels around the state a lot, and three, as someone who already works for the railroad, i can tell you no one needs a study to know that this system as planned is a good thing. The bottom line is that hsr brings a ridiculous amount of access to mobility to a population that desperately needs it. Two things are true for sure, railridership is increasing nationwide, especially in cali, and california will always grow in population. So even if ridership remained at x percent of the population, the pop would increase and ridership will grown, and if pop didn’t increase but ridership trends continue, then ridership grows, but what will really happen is the pop will increase and so will the percentage of the pop that uses the system. No it wont solve all our problmes. but netiher will anything else. californias deserve to have this option. Air works for some, driving works for some, rail works for some and all modes work for all for various needs. More transport is good. period. without it the rest of the economy can’t function. Californians are a highly mobile people. and ive said it a million times, this system as planned will tie together about two thirds of the population and area, in a fast simple way that no other mode can match. that is what it is and you can’t argue that fact away.

    joe Reply:

    But the model has problems and the parameters seem odd. Shocking! Or maybe not

    Climate Change Denial explains the social science behind denial. It contains a detailed examination of the principal climate change denial arguments, from attacks on the integrity of scientists, to impossible expectations of proof and certainty to the cherry picking of data….

    Derek Reply:

    Sorry, HSR won’t eliminate traffic congestion. “Two University of Toronto professors have added to the body of evidence showing that highway and road expansion increases traffic by increasing demand. On the flip side, they show that transit expansion doesn’t help cure congestion either.” http://dc.streetsblog.org/2011/05/31/study-building-roads-to-cure-congestion-is-an-exercise-in-futility/

    J. Wong Reply:

    No, it won’t eliminate traffic congestion for those who continue to choose to drive. It will offer those who choose to not drive another choice besides flying.

    Brian Stanke Reply:

    It will eliminate congestion for the ten of millions who choose to ride it. Those most bothered by congestion will also mostly be the people that choose HSR. People who don’t mind hours of stop-and-go traffic may still choose to drive, as it doesn’t bother them enough to motivate them to try something different. The study you link to also does not look at the land use half of the transit & smart growth combination. So the results only show doing a half-job, transit expansion with out smart growth, won’t work.

    Finally tolling the roads as they recommend would do wonders for the future ridership of HSR. How can we look at the Trillion dollar deficit in CA road maintenance over the next 20-30 years and pretend that there will not be either:
    1) Massive gas tax increases,
    2) Large mileage fees,
    3) Tolling and congestion pricing, or
    4) Enormous degradation of service and speeds, if no new revenue is raised from 1, 2, or 3.

    In any of those four physically inevitable cases HSR will far outperform the current projections. That is because the current business plan assumes that the tens of billions in deferred maintenance can pile up year after year without effect, when this is a physical impossibility. Roads and bridges will degrade and fall apart with wear and lack of maintenance whether that is politically convenient or not.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    “It’s a choice, not a referrendum…”

    You know that’s an idea. Perhaps what C4HSR needs to do is demonstrate that it’s either rail or FasTrack. After all, it’s not exactly a far stretch to have new toll roads that use transponders and then have the state require operators to divulge that information to both the DMV and insurers. People also don’t realize that the transponders also transmit other information like speed, fuel efficiency and the like.

    I think it’s regressive taxation of course, but I would agree with basing the car tax on vehicle weight since it’s fixed and does direct impact the surface.

    Derek Reply:

    Actually, it ought to be both: FasTrack to eliminate congestion, and HSR to add transportation capacity. Both achieve their goals at the lowest cost to taxpayers.

    Car taxes and tolls aren’t regressive, because poor people don’t drive. Sales taxes used for roads and freeways are regressive.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    No tolls are regressive because they generally are newer infrastructure that abuts more affordable housing attractive to young families.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Um, why are tolls necessarily near more affordable housing?

    Derek Reply:

    Tolls are significantly less regressive than sales taxes to fund transportation projects, and here’s proof: http://socialcapitalreview.org/regional-tolling-fair-to-low-income-households-uw-researchers-report/

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Toll roads (with exception of the interstate highways in the Northeast) exist in Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, California, etc… because of insufficient funding to expand infrastructure to meet population growth. Because of racial/social/economic issues, much of the “affordable” housing for newcomers is built on the fringes of the suburbs and thus needs new infrastructure to serve it.

    Now, sure…….. the study you cite is correct insofar as tolls are in effect voluntary and would not sweep up poor people that don’t drive or those that don’t need the road…but that also means that the bonding capacity and other considerations would make tolls less successful and serve fewer people.

    Don’t get me wrong: there is a gas tax and a registration fee which are both “progressive”. However, because tolls are flat for any driver… it’s a bigger sacrifice for a poorer person to make.

    Derek Reply:

    You say that toll roads exist because of “insufficient funding,” but there’s really no good reason to build unpriced freeways when express toll lanes “generate net social benefits of at least $12 million per year, compared with a scenario in which the lanes had been built but drivers did not pay to use them.” http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/97xx/doc9750/Chapter2.6.1.shtml

    The other nice thing about express toll lanes is that, most of the time, the price is very low. On the I-15 express lanes in San Diego, most of the time the toll is under a dollar.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Ever taken the 91 between Orange County to Riverside? Rush hour toll there approaches $10….

    Derek Reply:

    Tom McNamara, if you’ll look at the SR-91 toll schedule, you’ll see that most of the time the toll is only $2.10 or less: http://www.91expresslanes.com/schedules.asp

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Which is great… if you don’t commute during normal business….

    thatbruce Reply:

    @Tom McNamara:

    The toll on that section of SR-91 is if you take the toll lanes. If you are one of the poorer people as in your example, you likely find yourself adjusting your schedule to allow for a longer commute when using the adjacent non-toll SR-91 lanes.

    Derek Reply:

    Or you move closer to work, or change jobs to one closer to home, or you carpool and split the cost, or you shift your working hours, or you take mass transit, or ride a bike. You have plenty of choices!

    ComradeFrana Reply:

    “Because of racial/social/economic issues, much of the “affordable” housing for newcomers is built on the fringes of the suburbs and thus needs new infrastructure to serve it. ”

    Well, there’s your problem…

    Jonathan Reply:

    by the same token, vehicle registration taxes used for road maintenance are progressive ;).

    Given all the union-bashing here, why is no-one interested in taking on long-distance trucking?
    In New Zealalnd, every truck over 3.5tonne axle weight (and all diesel vehicles) have hub odometers, and the owner pays fees on mileage driven on public roads.

    The fees _should_ be scaled as the 4th power of axle load, though even the NZ free-marketeers didn’t go quite that far. ;) See the Wikipedia page on “Gross Axle Weight” to understand why.

    flowmotion Reply:

    While that is true in the general case, in this specific case (I-5 on a holiday weekend) HSR would certainly help. The 5 is a somewhat unique freeway with traffic being generated on either end and nearly nothing in between.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    It looks like road expansion doesn’t “cure” congestion, and transit doesn’t either (although it expands capacity and gives you an alternative).

    About the only congestion “cure” I know of that actually worked was gasoline rationing in WW II, but something tells me most people wouldn’t go in for that today unless it could be a really, REALLY convincing case–and considering how skeptical some people have become, I don’t think that could be achieved today.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    There was no congestion on the roads in the 40s except maybe “downtown”
    During the gas crises of the 70s traffic disappeared in metro New York.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    In the 40s there was rationing for gasoline and less than 50% of Americans had a driver’s license….

    VBobier Reply:

    That’s generally cause Women who were married usually worked at home as mothers and depended on their Husband for transportation to do shopping, unless there was adequate alternative transportation around like Buses, Trolleys, Light Trains, When I was born except for Buses, all the rest had been
    ripped out as they weren’t seen as modern, Buses though were seen as modern, even though they weren’t, This was just so more Cars(Automobiles) could be sold and more Interstates could be built, CA applies for Interstate Highway status as soon as they think they can as then the Federal Highway Administration gets to pay for highway maintenance instead of State Government getting stuck holding the bag. CA-58 is a prime example, CA has been converting that highway to an Interstate Highway over time and one day It will become a long delayed part of I-40, which currently ends in Barstow CA.

    Ben Reply:

    @Derek:

    Of course high speed rail won’t eliminate congestion but it only takes a 5-10% reduction of vehicles traveling during peak travel times to have a vastly disproportionate impact on mobility. The amount of traffic each additional vehicle on California’s highways during peak travel times generates is non-linear.

    High speed rail will also encourage walkable infill development, where walking will substitute for vehicle trips. This will definitely reduce, if not eliminate traffic. More freeways, on the other hand, leads to more sprawl.

    Third, as has already been noted, high speed rail is also about increasing travel choices. People will have the option of avoiding congestion entirely if they ride high speed rail.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Ben’s comment reminded me of the opening of the then-new Camden Yards baseball stadium in Baltimore, Md. It is retro-style facility with something like 40,000 seats, and is served by a light rail line and commuter trains, both of which run through Camden Station (ex-B&O facility) less than a block away.

    One of the controversial aspects of this stadium at the time of its construction was its relatively minimal parking facilities, partially driven by a somewhat cramped location in downtown Baltimore. The designers said they were taking advantage of street parking and that rail service. Everyone was worried about how the traffic would look on the stadium’s first day–a Monday game, ending at 4:30 in the afternoon, just in time for all those spectators to join the homeward commuter rush.

    Partially out of fear of the traffic jams, partially to go easy on the new stadium and work out operational bugs, the initial game was limited to “only” 30,000 seats. As it was, only about a third of the initial crowd of 30,000 took transit–but that was enough to take the pressure off the street system. Supposedly traffic in downtown Baltimore actually moved better than normal!

    Of course, one wonders how much of the traffic relief came from people taking the day off to go watch the Orioles in that first game. . .

    Elizabeth Reply:

    The issue is that the really congested roads are in the urban areas where the volumes are massive.
    Here are the volumes for the all the California highways (trucks and cars):
    http://traffic-counts.dot.ca.gov/2010all/2010_Traffic_Volumes.pdf

    The volumes in LA are an order of magnitude higher than through the CV, and probably even more if you just looked at car traffic (CV highways have very high % of trucks). A 10% reduction in CV volumes, which would be a big success, wouldn’t be noticeable by the time you got to LA.

    If you want to get that 5-10 reduction, you will need to address local traffic needs.

    Donk Reply:

    So what do you support? If given a check for $98B for inter-city transportation in the state of CA, what would you put it towards?

    (You aren’t allowed to use it for local intra-city transportation since both the federal government and CA voters have intended for these funds to be used for inter-city transportation. There are supposedly other sources for intra-city transportation)

    Elizabeth Reply:

    The solution will come from both a different project delivery method to lower costs of whatever route you do choose + a different route.

    This http://www.sma-partner.ch/index.php?option=com_rokdownloads&view=file&Itemid=207&task=download&id=357&lang=en seems like the beginning of an interesting conversation.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    You know, right that California is slightly larger than Switzerland? And has, wait for it, a huge network of rail lines to handle mountains?

    Look at the Australians. They have the same problem as we do and they aren’t buying this for a second….

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Dear Tom,

    The competition is stiff, but this might take the cake as the stupidest message you’ve ever posted.

    To be technical, I’d have to test every past one using a calibrated bogometer, but it’s hard to see how this one could be bested.

    Congratulations!

    PS You know, Antarctica is larger than California. And NGC253 is further away from Mars than Anaheim is from Fresno and yet you don’t see any entities from Betelgeuse buying Somalian rocket launchers.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    I know, but this plan is so stupid I couldn’t think of a good riposte other than the obvious. Switzerland has lots of rail infrastructure it already uses for passenger transport, California doesn’t. And it doesn’t stop there…but you can carry the water on this one…

    Peter Reply:

    Tom, why not discuss it on the merits? It does have merits. With some modifications, it could be quite viable.

    thatbruce Reply:

    If you look at the populations of the major cities involved, Australia’s HSR efforts have even more of an uphill battle than California.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Australia is, almost without exception (I’ll give you the Perth metro rail modernization and expansion) a perfect example of doing nearly everything wrong at every opportunity since circa 1940. It’s another America, making the exact same mistakes as America does and did. I mean, just look at the national per capita CO2 emissions! Look at the right wing turn at all levels of government throughout Australasia. It’s a basket case.

    Aside from that, Sydney-Melbourne is a perfect and technically simple and blindingly obvious and guaranteed successful HSR corridor, the only such “super-low hanging fruit” in the world other than LA-SF. It’s not the populations of the cities, it’s the fact that Australians speak English a first language, thereby dooming them to irreparable levels of transportation planning brain damage, that’s the problem. Hopeless. Just hopeless and heartbreaking.

    thatbruce Reply:

    Those ferries really did a number on you ;)

    Melbourne isn’t too bad with the continuation of trams and the city rail loops. Its on my list of non-US cities to retire to, along with a number of European ones.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    That, and Sydney’s transit mode share, 26%, is phenomenal by North American standards, especially for a city that has a lot of low-density postwar growth.

    Peter Reply:

    I agree it’s an interesting conversation-starter.

    I find it highly unlikely that a single-track Dumbarton Bridge and a single-track alignment through Altamont will be sufficient, especially given that it would also be used by upgraded ACE.

    How do they suggest getting from the Sunol Grade area to Redwood City? Unless that is tunnelled (at great expense), I would expect a shitstorm of NIMBY opposition in that area.

    The nice thing is that we can still have this discussion, specifically because we are starting construction in the CV, not in an urban area. The infrastructure can still be used no matter whether Altamont or Pacheco, or even whether Tejon or Antelope Valley are selected.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    I find it highly unlikely that a single-track Dumbarton Bridge and a single-track alignment through Altamont will be sufficient, especially given that it would also be used by upgraded ACE.

    It’s called integrated planning.

    And phased implementation.

    And, uh, well, doing any sort of planning beyond “how much useless concrete crap can we shit out without thinking about anything?”

    You people wouldn’t believe the things that can be done if you use a “timetable“. (I know, a completely foreign word. I’m not sure how to translate it into American — perhaps “Fahrplan”? It’s impossible to convey the sense accurately with these untranslatable poetic words!)

    FYI ACE traffic levels, even increased by a factor of 10, aren’t enough to even register on any non-American scale of track capacity. Get real!

    PPS My favourite piece of absolutely critical and saturated single track anywhere is between Thalwil and Zug in Switzerland. There are single track tunnels between Horgen Oberdorf “HGO” and Sihlbrugg “SBG” and again between SBG and Litti “LITT”. This line is critical for the functioning of the national network, being the main line between Zürich and Luzern and Zürich-Gotthard-Italy. And guess what: they make it work, using a “timetable”. A decade or so ago I saw them extend the double track section just a couple hundred extra metres (crossing a rider) so that they could squeeze and extra train and some extra reliability blood out of this stone. Great stuff!

    Or the (self-inflicted constraint, for construction cost reasons, because, well, there are other things a country needs to buy and deliver to its residents other than the very nicest train tunnel) halfway single-tracked Lötschberg Base Tunnel (single track from Ferdigen “FERD” deep deep inside a mountain to Adelrain “ADL”) and likewise network-critial and with heavy freight traffic as well as intercity passenger.

    Or the simply incredible double-track approach (with flat junctions and huge amounts of scheduled wrong-track running) to Luzern. Or …

    So yeah, right. One or two ACEs an hour. Scary, scary, scary stuff!

    Jon Reply:

    I think he’s assuming that upgraded ACE would have more somewhat more frequent service than existing ACE.

    Clem Reply:

    FYI ACE traffic levels, even increased by a factor of 10, aren’t enough to even register on any non-American scale of track capacity. Get real!

    Peter Reply:

    Well, with “ACE” I was actually thinking of SF-Sac HSR plus ACE-to-SJ. But if they can get it to work single-tracked, why not? Especially if they set it up so that they can add a second track at a later time.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    Some notes about the single track sections in Switzerland:

    a) There are indeed two single track tunnels between Horgen Oberdorf and Litti. The first one is roughly 2 km long, and the second one is 3.4 km long. The double track section between the tunnels is around 1.5 km long. The line is passenger only (except mail and occasional local freight). Maximum speed in the tunnels is 140 km/h. This line is a serious bottleneck, and despite the mentioned “timetable” is about the maximum which can be squeezed out of the line. There is also not much tolerance for gracefully handling delays (which do happen, particularly with the trains from Italy. There is a project for a base tunnel, but this base tunnel bypasses the important town of Thalwil, and therefore taking only one or two trains per hour and direction away from the “old” line. That’s why it has been put on the backburner; there are other projects which have a better price/performance ratio.

    Lötschberg base tunnel: This single track section is a big joke, and it seriously cripples the tunnel’s capacity. It is essentially those dear right-wing politicians who wanted to “save” some money. However, the bore exists, just not at full diameter. The tunnel owner (BLS) and the construction companies did point out that expanding that second bore at a later time would cost a lot more than doing it right away, but the politicians did not listen. Consequence is that the tunnel operated at capacity since the beginning. It is very difficult to get even a single additonal freight path during the day, which means that still some freight trains have to be routed over the pass. And, as shit happens, there is no way to maintain an emergency schedule through the tunnel on a single track.

    VBobier Reply:

    Single Track usually is slower and that means passing sidings for two way traffic, Two Tracks is better, sure It costs more, but then HSR speeds demands 2 Tracks, Otherwise Head on Collisions could happen and the fatalities could approach 100% at speed as It takes a good amount of time and lots of track to slow down and take a siding to let another HSR train to pass, so why add complexity when none is wanted or needed?

    Jon Reply:

    FYI ACE traffic levels, even increased by a factor of 10, aren’t enough to even register on any non-American scale of track capacity. Get real!

    ACE has 1 tph during AM and PM peak. So you’re saying that 10 tph isn’t enough to even register on any non-American scale of track capacity?

    This is just hyperbole and should be treated as such. The trouble with Richard’s comments is you don’t know where the hyperbole ends and the actual opinions begin.

    swing hanger Reply:

    10tph each way on a double track line is nothing remarkable, 20tph+ is more noteworthy. Of course, you can run 10tph on single track, as long as the trains are going in the same direction.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I think Richard was talking about the ACE’s pitiful ridership. An ACE upgrade would result in nonzero off-peak frequency first and peak frequency increases only later. 10 tph peak is usually reserved for very busy lines – not as busy as an RER or S-Bahn trunk but not much less busy either. On BART, only one out of the four lines converging on the Transbay Tube ever sees more than 4 tph. And increasing ACE ridership tenfold would still leave it at about one eighth of BART.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    To swing hanger: If you retrieve the graphic timetable mentioned in Richard’s post, you will see that 10 tph is just what is funnelled through the two tunnels between Horgen Oberdorf and Litti.

    A IMHO even more cramped single track line is the meter gauge Vereina tunnel of the Rhaetian Railways (RhB). Both entrances to the tunnel are double tracked, but then there follow on either side 7 km long single track sections, which are joined by a 1.7 km long double track section. Maximum speed is 90 km/h, although they say that a fully loaded car shuttle barely reaches this speed. And the line handles 8 tph; 2 passenger trains, and 6 car shuttles; a train every 15 minutes per direction. As the single track sections are subdivided in block sections, it is possible to squeeze in one to two additional trains, but that would lead to a slight disturbance of the timetable. Note that this tunnel is rather new, and it has been configured around the 15 minutes interval timetable. Of course, it is now “cast in concrete”, and changing it to a 7.5 minute interval would be rather expensive, as it would involve breaking out two 1.5 km or so long sections while the regular traffic has to be maintained.

    http://www.fahrplanfelder.ch/fileadmin/fap_pdf_graphic_tt/GRhB4.pdf shows the timetable, valid for 2012. BTW, the graphical timetables of essentially all Swiss railways can be downloaded from http://www.fahrplanfelder.ch ; in the left panel, select “Archiv”, then “Grafische Fahrpläne”, and that opens the list of lines to select from… have fun.

    Donk Reply:

    The Swiss study you link to makes a lot of sense at first glance. But if you are supporting this plan, then isn’t the CV HSR segment a major piece of this solution? And then isn’t the direction the Authority has gone in the last couple years – more toward phased construction and overlays – at least going in the right direction?

    Elizabeth Reply:

    I think they are looking at I-5. The general concept is it is better to get something that goes SF – LA then gold plated SJ – Bakersfield.

    jimsf Reply:

    That makes no sense at all.

    jimsf Reply:

    people in sf and la already have a way to get back and forth. Its the rest of us, the most of us, who are loeft out of the loop. Its everybody outside the bay area ad la. don’t we count?

    Peter Reply:

    Using I-5, bypassing all the CV cities while going through Palmdale is stupid.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    Beginning of a conversation…

    Peter Reply:

    “Beginning of a conversation…”

    So, what, we can’t have the conversation? Just the beginning of the conversation?

    If you’re going down I-5, you should use Tejon. If you have half a brain, you’ll also include the CV cities, and then you can use Tejon or Tehachapi. Tehachapi and Palmdale only makes sense if you DesertXpress gets funding, especially if it’s more expensive than Tejon.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Let’s let the general public weigh in on Tejon and I-5. Not just Fresno and Palmdale.

    Peter Reply:

    They did. That’s what the Program EIR was about. You can’t make decisions like that by ballot (it would violate state and federal environmental laws).

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    The problem with the plan is… it doesn’t have any merits.

    If you adopted it, you would still have to pay for electrifying miles of commuter rail in the state. You still have to build a lot of new track in the “middle-of-nowhere”. And you still buy new rolling stock and all the other costs built in…. Plus the service is slow like 110 mph slow….

    You don’t however, disturb the special people who live in Palo Alto or Southwest’s business model.

    It’s not high speed rail and if we tried to sell the idea to other countries they would promptly laugh us out of the room.

    Again, for a smaller state with less time lost because of size… you could use the idea. In say, Missouri, in Pennsylvania for the Keystone, in Colorado, or between Tampa and Orlando. But you can’t take a large state like California and use technology that does not address speed both in rural AND URBAN areas.

    California is TEN TIMES the size of Switzerland…. and the latter is largely area which you can’t build flat-straight lines without major engineering. Does the proposal include buying those broken Pendolino trains off the Italians too?????

    Mike Reply:

    Has anyone requested the “detailed report” that’s referenced at the end of the SMA brief?

    “If you are interested in the detailed report please send a message to u.leister@sma-partner.ch

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Has anyone requested the “detailed report” that’s referenced at the end of the SMA brief?

    Yes. The author has his reasons (I don’t know them, and they’re not my business) for not having it widely released at present.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    You don’t however, disturb the special people who live in Palo Alto or Southwest’s business model.

    So … German university rail transportation master’s degree students and Swiss rail planning consultancies, all in the pockets of the powerful secretive Atherton NIMBY cabal, SWAirlines, and … THE KOCH BROTHERS.

    God damn it. I knew something was up, but I never knew how deeply they’d penetrated.

    VBobier Reply:

    @ Tom McNamara: The CV is not the Middle of No Where, Millions of People live in the CV, the Middle of No Where is a Myth, It is a place that does not exist in reality, I Googled the term and found lots of references to Music, but that was It.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    What happened to debating the merits? I answered Peter… and now Mssrs. Mlynarik and Bobier seize the jokes I bundled in there…

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    What happened to debating the merits?

    I mussed have overlooked them. What I saw was random keyboard logorrhea divorced from reality or reason.

    California is TEN TIMES the size of Switzerland….

    Utterly irrelevant. What matter for network planning and operation is network complexity.
    The Californian HSR+Caltrain+Metrolink “network” is about as complicated as the tram system in Geneva.

    and the latter is largely area which you can’t build flat-straight lines without major engineering.

    Which makes it all the stranger than Californian costs, even in US pesos, are higher than Swiss ones. Wouldn’t you say? (Hard to know what the hell you are saying, frankly.)

    Does the proposal include buying those broken Pendolino trains off the Italians too?????

    Cisalpino AG, the joint Swiss/Italian company, is for all purposes defunct because the Italians (themselves, oh, about 10000 times as competent as Amtrak at train design and maintenance) couldn’t build, maintain or operate trains in such a way as to either meet Swiss network punctuality requirements, or to not catch fire for that matter. SBB finally had enough and pulled the plug.

    If Switzerland shared a border with Connecticut and Amtrak attempted to launch Acelas of mass destruction at them it would have ended worse.

    Again, it’s impossible to even begin to imagine what sort of point you’re making here.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Let’s try this again:

    The problem with the plan is… it doesn’t have any merits.

    If you adopted it, you would still have to pay for electrifying miles of commuter rail in the state. You still have to build a lot of new track in the “middle-of-nowhere”. And you still buy new rolling stock and all the other costs built in…. Plus the service is slow like 110 mph slow….

    Thoughts?

    It’s not high speed rail and if we tried to sell the idea to other countries they would promptly laugh us out of the room.

    Again, for a smaller state with less time lost because of size… you could use the idea. In say, Missouri, in Pennsylvania for the Keystone, in Colorado, or between Tampa and Orlando. But you can’t take a large state like California and use technology that does not address speed both in rural AND URBAN areas.

    Anyone?

    Jon Reply:

    I agree with you. No-one’s been able to explain how it would be possible to upgrade the UP or BNSF tracks to modern standards and run a frequent service with a punctual timetable. You’d have to buy the track off them to force the necessary changes, and they won’t sell. You might seize it by eminent domain, which I’d be all in favor of, but try that and you’ll hear nothing but cries of “OMG Communist Takeover!!!”

    Given that reality, to provide decent service to the central valley cities you need to build new track. You could build 220mph track along I-5 and slower track through the central valley cities, but I have a feeling that would cost more than just building 220mph through the central valley cities and nothing along I-5. If you want to advocate building I-5 only and nothing serving the central valley cities, you may as well kiss goodbye to the project as all your political support in the central valley will disappear. And given that building the mainline through the central valley cities rather than along I-5 only adds a small amount of time to SF-LA and Sac-LA, it seems to me the best way to go.

    Joey Reply:

    Tom: I wouldn’t agree with everything in the Swiss plan, but aspects of it do warrant consideration. It probably underestimates how stubborn the FRA and freight railroads are. It probably also assumes that electrification costs are what the are in the rest of the civilized world, not in the Unique States of America. But in terms of network planning and phased implementation it seems to make good points.

    Peter Reply:

    @ Jon

    The Class I’s (and most railroads, I believe) are immune to eminent domain. The only way you can exercise eminent domain is if Amtrak already runs service on the line and service becomes incredibly degraded due to the tracks being in shoddy condition. Then Amtrak is allowed to exercise eminent domain on the tracks.

    Peter Reply:

    The Swiss proposal is all fine and good (except for the weird service plan for the CV – just a Modesto station? Really?), but the devil will be in the details.

    Jon Reply:

    @Peter- well, that just reinforces my point. You can’t force them to play nice, and why should they give a shit about passenger rail?

    thatbruce Reply:

    @Elizabeth:
    I think they are looking at I-5.

    The cited study summary has:

    New high speed tracks between San Fernando(Valley) and Redwood City via Palmdale, Bakersfield, Modesto and the Altamont Pass.

    Ignoring the 3rd rail(sic) of how to cross from the CV to the Bay area, that sounds like following the east side of the CV (like the IOS, not I-5) and climbing through Tehapachi, much like the current CAHSRA plans.

    thatbruce Reply:

    @Tom McNamara:
    You still have to build a lot of new track in the “middle-of-nowhere”.

    No matter what plan anyone comes up with, a lot of new track will need to be built, whether its in the Central Valley, or the middle of no-common-sense (that’d be the Peninsula). The current tracks between LA, SF and Sac are, irrespective of ownership, not in a condition to use for any service that is time-competitive with airlines.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Joey, most places in California aren’t Caltrain. In the new business plan, the budget for electrification is $2.5 billion, i.e. $3.5 million per kilometer. And that’s with a fair amount of tunneling, where electrification is more expensive.

    synonymouse Reply:

    A couple of points relating to the I-5 line:

    San Joaquin Valley support is not essential for an hsr project to move. Most of the population and the money in California resides in the LA and SF Bay areas. Don’t forget you would collect support from Sac, which would be added as a terminus in the initial scheme.

    Any realistic examination of I-5 vs. 99 corridor is dependent upon a genuine cost-out of I-5. That means that Caltrans and PB would have to undertake a creative engineering study. And hanging out with Caltrans couldn’t be any worse than the company the CHSRA is keeping currently.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    And that’s with a fair amount of tunneling, where electrification is more expensive.

    I don’t know where this comes from. Unless tunnels are so long that intermediate feeders are required (not the case), the cost differentials between installing overhead above a new line in a new tunnel or in the open are down in the noise. In particular new built 200+kmh tunnels are of sufficient size that the hardware and installation are quite similar.

    Maintenance for all systems is of course far more expensive in a restricted environment.

    Donk Reply:

    BTW Elizabeth, you would also have the option of spending those funds on highways and airports. Do you prefer spending the $98B on this HSR/conventional rail solution over those other options?

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    How about spending $40 billion on HSR/conventional rail and getting way more delivered than PBQD “promises” for the low, low cost of $100 billion ($100 billion this month, who knows when the sky is quite literally the limit)?

    See, we have so many Professional Prepared choices and alternatives available! We offer a turd burger or a shit sandwich: so which would you like to have as your solution option to your brunching needs?

    Donk Reply:

    I prefer a deuce doughnut to a turd burger or a shit sandwich. I prefer my turd fried.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Derek,

    Surely it isn’t news to you that HSR is not “transit”? The cited study refers to data _within_ metro areas, not _between_ metro areas. Do you understand the difference between “within” and “between”? Or between long-distance high-speed rail, and “transit”?

    On the face of it, your argument doesn’t hold up.

    Can you cite similar studies showing that air traffic between city-pairs, spaced a suitable distance apart for HSR, grows as air-capacity is added? If you can’t, then even CARRD should agree that this argument is statistically illiterate.

    (Elizabeth? Nadia?)

    Derek Reply:

    Jonathan, what definition of “transit” are you using that excludes HSR?

    Further, HSR will also be used as commuter rail within a single metro area. Los Angeles will have 9 stations, San Diego 3, and the Bay Area peninsula 4.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Derek,

    I’m using the “transit’ as defined in the study *you* cited, which studies only *within metro areas8.

    Moreover it is far from clear whether HSR will be used as commuter rail within a metro area.
    Where I grew up, long-distance trains boarded at the same platforms as commuter trains, at the same height. But the pricing structures discouraged or forbade commuters from traveling on the long-distance trains. Prices were set to maximize the (much more lucrative) long-distance travelers who had reservations.

    And with CSHRA’s station design concepts, it’s not at all clear that commuters (read: anyone without HSR, and thus possibly *long-distance* tickets) will even get access to the HSR platforms.

    swing hanger Reply:

    HSR may be used by commuters living in the outer suburbs (as is the case on the Tokaido Shinkansen at Odawara Station), but typically the tariff structure will discourage regular use by most when the cheaper and almost as fast commuter rail option exists.

    Derek Reply:

    Jonathan, how is the word “transit” defined in the study I cited? The words “within metro areas” don’t exist in that order in my link.

    And it is quite clear that HSR will be used as commuter rail within a metro area. The ridership studies have been verified by an independent peer review.

    Eric Fredericks Reply:

    Maybe he meant that it really sucks to get stuck in traffic and you wouldn’t have that problem with riding HSR? I agree though, traffic congestion reductions will probably not be noticeable since they probably increasing with the population growth. Though, HSR can’t really be compared to regional or local transit systems either.

  2. Rick Rong
    Dec 6th, 2011 at 11:30
    #2

    I think it is interesting how you, Robert, have framed the poll results. The question that was posed referred to changes in the estimated cost of the project and its time of completion. A change in estimated future costs is not the same thing as “cost overruns,” since cost overruns pertain to actual costs incurred that have exceeded expectations. Yet at the very beginning of your “analysis” of the poll results you characterize the survey question as “framing the project as one beset by cost overruns.” You repeat that characterization later by suggesting that what poll respondents heard was that “‘this project has huge cost overruns’.”

    I don’t disagree with the idea that presenting a question to people that focuses on costs and not on benefits might not elicit the most thoughtful response from someone being surveyed, but a mischaracterization of what was asked does not show any greater objectivity or neutrality.

    J. Wong Reply:

    Do you think most poll respondents distinguish between increase in future estimated costs and cost overruns. We’re talking lay people here. I don’t think they make such a distinction besides hearing “it costs more”.

    Rick Rong Reply:

    Actually, yes, I do think lay people understand the difference.

    StevieB Reply:

    So your argument is that characterizing the framing as a “cost overrun” instead of a “ballooning cost estimate” as portrayed in news media makes the analysis illegitimate? Robert’s conclusion, “In fact, all the polls says is “if people are told only that the project’s costs have risen, then they become less willing to support it”” is absolutely correct.

    Rick Rong Reply:

    Maybe you didn’t carefully read what I wrote. You seem to have skipped the second paragraph of what I posted.

    My criticism was directed to how Robert characterized the survey question. And I see that he has stated, with regard to the poll’s question, “Their choice of language is reasonable.”

    Andy M. Reply:

    Cost overruns? With the economy tanking the way it is, contractors are keen to get any work and it’s a buyers market. If they can get the contracts signed and sealed before the recovery begins we’ll be saving huge sums of money. Maybe somebody should be estimating the cost of waiting unncessarily.

    In Londo, Crossrail for example looks set to be completed massively under budget precisely because of work-starved competitors agrressively under-cutting one another’s prices. Now is the time to build. We can’t afford to wait.

  3. Mike
    Dec 6th, 2011 at 12:04
    #3

    Yeah; in polling, getting the answer that you want is all about asking the question the right way, and we’ve seen such polls on both sides (recently the anti-HSR Probolsky poll). This Field poll isn’t what you’d do if you were actually exploring a ballot measure (i.e., it doesn’t educate and test arguments). But is does strike me as a generally honest assessment of public reaction to the major HSR news story of the day (i.e., the new price tag). No, it doesn’t talk about the benefits of HSR. But it also doesn’t talk about the risk that anticipated federal money doesn’t arrive on schedule. I can’t say that I’m surprised by this result, but now seeing the survey result in black and white makes me feel that it’s the end of the line for this project.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    I’m not saying Field was deliberately biased. Their choice of language is reasonable. My point is that it is also limited, and one should not draw too many conclusions from the results.

  4. Tom McNamara
    Dec 6th, 2011 at 12:30
    #4

    The real question is who bankrolls a repeal campaign? The Legislature’s not going to put in on the ballot, Brown won’t call for it… so that leaves it up to Darrell Issa and his ilk…

    The Field Poll is correct in that the electorate in 2012 is not going to be quite so progressive, in part because Obama isn’t as transcendental a figure this time. Unlike same-sex marriage though, there’s no legislation that could be copied and drive turnout for the opposition.

    But so what? If the money is already appropriated by then the bonds can’t be recalled.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Exactly. Without at least $2 million to bankroll a repeal then this is just speculative.

    StevieB Reply:

    Getting the bond sale approved may involve some political kickbacks to get to a floor vote. In the same way Lowenthal earmarked Los Angeles Measure R funds for the 710 extension through South Pasadena to get through his committee.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Not really. The Speaker and President can assign the bill to friendly committees.

    flowmotion Reply:

    True, but eventually they will need to pass another bond measure.

    StevieB Reply:

    There are sufficient bond funds to match federal dollars to build an initial operating segment. A concession to operate CA HSR for 30 years could then be sold for an estimated $11 billion. These funds would then be used to match federal grants to build more of the system. The lifetime of the system is estimated to be over 100 years so the concession could be resold at least 3 times providing additional billions.

    Reality Check Reply:

    I don’t get “system lifetime” being quoted at a fixed number of years. What’s this really mean? I mean, why isn’t the lifetime essentially indefinite/infinite? Of course there’s maintenance/upkeep all along, so under what plausible scenario is there an end of life point to be quoted at X years? Is it reasonable to assume the SF-LA ground transportation need will just disappear after X years, resulting in the HSR system being abandoned and/or scrapped? Of course not. So the system will be almost certainly be maintained, used and upgraded (as needed) forever … so why isn’t the investment viewed as essentially permanent?

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    You’re right, it’s called the Peripheral Canal….

    The bond program and matching federal funds are going to get us IOS North. After that the local transit entities are going to do the heavy lifting…

    Arthur Dent Reply:

    Regarding who bankrolls a repeal campaign — it doesn’t have to go back to the voters. The Legislature has the option of zeroing out the HSRA budget. Prop 1A gave them permission to go forward with the project; it did not REQUIRE them to build it at any cost. They are responsible for keeping CA’s budget and priorities in order, and for dealing with runaway, rogue agencies. There is no requirement for them to check in with the voters on every little thing. Some might argue that it’d be nice, or fair, to let the voters have another say, but it’s not required.

    The state may be better off if the Legislature took care of the inevitable ending of the project themselves rather than putting forward a costly ballot measure. It’s what they’re hired to do, after all. A ballot measure would be a cop out.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    Look what has been filed:

    http://ag.ca.gov/cms_attachments/initiatives/pdfs/i1028_11-0084_(high_speed_train).pdf

    Anyone know who the guy filing this is?

    jim Reply:

    I don’t know who the guy is, but he can’t draft. As written the initiative would probably ban Surfliner upgrades.

    Peter Reply:

    Or Capitol Corridor upgrades. Or even Caltrain upgrades, for that matter.

    StevieB Reply:

    There is little to be excited about. Title and summary won’t be completed until late January then the initiative will need to gather half a million signatures (plus 10% so they can be verified by random sampling) by about May. Meanwhile there could be as many as five tax initiatives gathering signatures including Jerry Brown’s tax hike on the wealthy initiative. Many initiatives are filed but very few make it to the ballot.

    Peter Reply:

    No, I know. It’s just a ridiculous initiative proposal.

  5. synonymouse
    Dec 6th, 2011 at 12:44
    #5

    KPIX-5 is reporting today on a recent spate of copper thefts from BART:

    http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2011/12/06/copper-thieves-stealing-from-operating-bart-tracks/

    Hey, BART is a busy property with lots of employees; imagine what a headache this would be for the LaHood-Galgiani Borden to Corcoran orphan trackage. Located in a remote, poor area this will require intensive, extensive, expensive security to discourage theft of copper and steel. One of a number of reasons the two class ones will not be interested in buying. And where would Amtrak get the money to maintain it? What a dumb idea.

    Much better to re-allocate the money to Tejon. Amtrak can use it as soon as it is operable. Plus I still think it could have some freight potential. And the tunnels have independent utility and intrinsic value and could be used to secure construction loans.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The article also notes that copper from traffic signals has been stolen. Does that mean we should put a cop on every signal to protect it? Or just give up on signals because someone might steal them?

    Jon Reply:

    The thieves are stealing electrical cables. The ICS will not be electrified, or have train communications installed; it will just be track and structures. Not much to steal unless you have the equipment to rip the rails out of the ties.

    VBobier Reply:

    Agreed, welded rail will be quite safe, the stuff is iron based and short of copper is super heavy, dense and thick, but then It takes a blue giant star going Nova to fuse iron from lighter elements.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    …because the racetrack alignment on I-5 is in the middle of a burgeoning metropolis????

    Spokker Reply:

    The money saved could be used to hire snipers to pick off people who try to steal copper.

    synonymouse Reply:

    It would indeed be more difficult to vandalize hsr tracks in the median of I-5.

    But has the legality of any Prop 1A funded hsr without electrification be tested?

    J. Wong Reply:

    Apparently the BART thieves are sometimes doing it when the rails are live (the 3rd rail is hot). I don’t think a little thing like a freeway is going to stop them.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Pedestrians on freeways are pretty much dead pedestrians and the CHP is definitely there and has plenty of firepower. Every driver has a cellphone so the perps are going to get spotted, unlike up on a stilt in the Corcoran boonies in the dark of nite.

    J. Wong Reply:

    Pedestrians? They’re going to drive trucks on the freeway to get to the median so they won’t be crossing it on foot. And why would drivers report them? They’d probably just assume they’re on “official” business. The I5 median is pretty wide in places too so at night I don’t think anybody would see what was going on.

    synonymouse Reply:

    In the first place this would probably count for homeland security as terrorism on an active hsr operation. In other words the cops would be authorized to shoot first and ask questions later. Plus plenty of concrete and fencing and surveillance devices they would not be advertising.

    My take is that there would be no berm next to the barrier separating hsr and the freeway. A gangbanger or jihadist would have to stop the truck dead in a fast lane.

    After a few perps receive the Bonnie and Clyde treatment problem controlled.

    Reality Check Reply:

    Hey synonymouse, ever notice how there’s never any graffiti on freeway structures, overpasses, etc.? Oh wait, that stuff gets hit with graffiti all the time! So much for CHP “firepower” and every driver having a cell phone and “perps” getting spotted.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Drones flying up and down the freeway with super-scopes picking off the spidies, doing graffiti or ripping off metals, should take care of the problem.

    It is all a matter of how squeamish one is, or how enraged.

    Jon Reply:

    Clearly you enjoy engaging in masturbatory fantasies of brown people having their heads exploded by high powered sniper rifles.

    Jon Reply:

    (That was directed at synonymouse- apparently the ‘Reply’ button disappears when the comments have reached a certain level of nestedness.)

    synonymouse Reply:

    naah, I’ll leave that to the narcotraficos.

    But with such empathy you should ask Pelosi to arrange for a Blago presidential pardon and given “sanctuary” in the Golden State.

    Peter Reply:

    Not wanting to shoot people for stealing copper or spraypainting public property is considered “empathy” these days?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Personally, I think politicians, oil company executives, brutal police and military leaders, and bankers should be targeted before graffiti artists. Your mileage may vary.

    synonymouse Reply:

    @ Alon Levy

    Nothing is ever really going to happen to the classes of wealthy individuals you list for the simple reason they have money.

    Horses will go to the abattoir because they can’t vote and don’t have any bribe money. The likes of Madoff and DSK enjoyed their luxury cribs and high end call girls. Is there any justice? No.

    But open city runs the risk of a desperate populace calling for an iron fist just to restore some semblance of order. If you think shooting looters is harsh read Suetonius or Tacitus.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    How are they going to scale the the concrete stilts? use their Spidey powers?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    They don’t steal the electrification. People who steal copper for a living might not be the brightest bulbs in the string but they understand that it’s not a good idea to toy with 25,000 volts.

    VBobier Reply:

    Some do try as noted here, this potential thief got fried for trying this and Google does have more stories about this.

    Spokker Reply:

    It’s becoming a major problem: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMxaNcTwIQQ

    I wonder what the money is being used for. Drugs? Weapons?

    Jon Reply:

    Meth.

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    Copper is now a semi-precious metal. The average price of copper is $8000 a ton and may reach $10,000 depending on purity. Stealing copper is now a flourishing industry and thieves rarely get caught. The few tons discovered by the police in Gypsy camps are a tiny fraction of the amount stlen every year.
    Thefts of signal cable cost SNCF €38m in 2010 and caused cumulated delays of 5840 hours. The company now has specially equipped helicopters flying every night over the most sensitive zones, mainly Paris-Brussels and Paris Lyon. Less frequented lines have less protection and that’s where thieves now operate. They never damage fences but dig little tunnels under them. They can steal from 200 to 1800m of cable at a time.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    They need to have a nice little visit from the fiber optic salesman….

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    They also steal the fiber optic cable, while they’re at it (10km of it in 2010). A parallel market for fiber optic now exists in eastern Europe.
    I don’t think cable theft in the US can reach the same scale as in Europe. The loot has to be trucked quickly to a country with negligent (to say the least) customs officers. Romania and Bulgaria are a long way from the US.

    Reality Check Reply:

    Copper thefts around tracks bedevil BART officials

    BART police are searching for brazen bandits whose quest for copper has led them to cut cables from the trackway, sometimes during operating hours — a practice that could endanger both the thieves and train riders.

    Such thefts, which have become common problems for transit agencies in the Bay Area and around the country, have forced BART to delay some maintenance projects.

    Reality Check Reply:

    What it takes to keep BART rolling

    BART officials say closing the system for a few hours a night is crucial to keeping it working, especially as the cars age. […]

    The tunnels are closed for 13 hours each week. [Paul] Oversier [BART assistant GM of operations] both say it’s not enough.

    OVERSIER: Stuff goes wrong every day.

    Multiple times every day. The system is 40 years old. A lot of parts have been replaced over time, but a lot haven’t. And when they do need replacement, they’re not always easy to find.

    OVERSIER: We have to go truly looking at eBay in some cases to find certain parts that otherwise just aren’t manufactured or on the market anymore.

    For example, some electrical components are hard to find, as are some parts of BART’s fare collection equipment. Oversier says shopping on eBay isn’t common. If they need a lot of a certain part, they’ll build it themselves, or order it from one of just a few suppliers around the country.

    Joey Reply:

    Just another reason why going proprietary is idiotic.

    Peter Baldo Reply:

    It’s hard maintaining anything from that era. There are primitive electronic circuits which cannot be repaired, because components are no longer made. There are molded plastic and rubber pieces which harden and break. There are mechanical devices which are cleverly designed, which means they can’t be replaced by off-the-shelf hardware. The original companies, and even the parts manufacturers, often don’t even exist. It would probably be easier to maintain a 100-year-old streetcar.

    So, hopefully, BART is continually re-engineering and replacing much of their system. In a perverse way, it’s almost better being proprietary, because then everything’s the same, and once an upgrade or replacement is engineered and tested, it can be built in volume, and installed systemwide.

    Peter Reply:

    “It’s hard maintaining anything from that era.”

    That’s why Birmingham’s maglev had to shut down in 1995. And that was only 11 years old. Not 39 years old like BART.

    synonymouse Reply:

    So you would have BART continuing to re-invent the wheel. You just have to give Bechtel & SP credit for such masterful sabotage for the aeons.

  6. Alon Levy
    Dec 6th, 2011 at 14:11
    #6

    Most of what you say about what question to ask is useful, but you shouldn’t quote Harris Interactive as a counter-poll. Harris Interactive is a very low-quality poll, and ranks among the worst on 538.

  7. Reality Check
    Dec 6th, 2011 at 14:51
    #7

    Regarding the $170 billion equivalent capacity argument … why not jack it up to $340 billion by merely doubling the design capacity of HSR? Not high enough for some HSR critics? Never mind plausible demand or ridership … just keep increasing the HSR design capacity until the critics are stunned into silence by the equivalent capacity cost!

    Howard Reply:

    A updated accurate cost estimate of the alternative, highway, airport and conventional rail upgrades is needed now based on adding capacity equal to the forecast ridership with dollars in year of expenditure (just like CHSR). This should be done for IOS, San Jose to Los Angeles, full Phase 1 and full project (with Phase 2). This study should also state what the ROW impacts of these alternatives are, including houses, apartments and businesses condemned.

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    Using the logic of CHSRA, highway capacity can be increased by replacing passenger cars with vans.

  8. morris brown
    Dec 6th, 2011 at 17:11
    #8

    AP News story:

    Covers the Congressional hearing today (Dec 6,2011). The California project really got beaten up during the hearing. This is a prelude to what will take place next week.

    http://www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_19481755

    Administration defends high-speed rail in Calif

  9. Derek
    Dec 6th, 2011 at 17:23
    #9

    What’s the point of expressing a project’s anticipated cost in Year-of-Expenditure dollars? You can’t compare two YOE$ figures and determine that one is more than the other in real-world units. You first have to convert them both to the same year’s dollars, or to ounces of gold, or Big Macs, or some other commodity before you can determine if one YOE$ figure is really more than the other. This seems to be causing people a lot of confusion.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yeah… I heard somewhere in comments here that it was partly forced by the GOP in order to make cost estimates look higher.

    That said, there’s one legitimate reason to use YOE dollars: construction bonds and appropriations bills are priced in current dollars rather than in constant dollars. Both can in principle be indexed to inflation, but in the case of construction bonds this would force the bond interest to be higher.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    Any idea the GOP had anything to do with it is a conspiracy theory. The GOP wasn’t let near the biz plan.

    My understanding is that using YOE was directly the idea of the new board members. It is the same currency as the bond measure and the same as previous estimate and is in line with how the Federal government wants to see things for grant applications.

    Rick Rong Reply:

    Elizabeth, I don’t understand your statement that YOE dollars are “the same currency as the bond measure.” The $9 billion of bonds don’t change over time. The more the project costs in actual dollars, the smaller the portion of total costs that will be represented by the $9 billion.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    Precisely. This is why you need to look at YOE costs, not 2011$ cost figures.

    In the 2008 biz plan, they used the $9 bn as is and $33bn in 2008$. We made the point that you either had to discount the $9 bn or inflate the $33bn. They did that in the 2009 plan, which is why the costs were listed as $43 billion.

    Mike Reply:

    Sure, there’s reason to use YOE dollars, in order to forecast year-by-year financing needs. But adding up that series of YOE costs, as the Authority did, creates a sum that is meaningless. If you want to talk about the cost of the project, use (as Derek said) a constant currency. If you want to develop a financing plan, look at the series of YOE needs. But don’t add up those YOE numbers and claim that the total is the project cost! If it’s not obvious why this is so, just think about different ways that the expenditures might be spread out: (1) spend nothing until 2035 and then pay $98.5 billion, (2) spend $98.5 billion now and nothing in the future. Are those the same? Not in the world of my checkbook, but that’s the logic of the $98.5 billion number.

    thatbruce Reply:

    We made the point that you either had to discount the $9 bn or inflate the $33bn. They did that in the 2009 plan, which is why the costs were listed as $43 billion.

    The legislative mandate to express figures in YOE dollars was the reason the CAHSRA made that change, not as you imply the result of CARRD’s actions. I also seem to recall CARRD jumping on the ‘golly gosh the cost has ballooned’ negative bandwagon as a result of the same change from current year to YOE dollars.

    Derek Reply:

    Yes, it’s in the federal government’s interest to have funds requested in YOE$, because the federal government can effectively reduce the value of the distribution through inflation.

    But that doesn’t explain why the more local governments must do the same.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The GOP blaming I heard was not about the state GOP, but about the national GOP demanding that the federal government demand that states price everything in YOE dollars. I don’t know if it’s actually true. As you say, there are other reasons to use YOE figures.

  10. Emma
    Dec 7th, 2011 at 00:05
    #10

    You know… what exactly is the $170 billion alternative? Wouldn’t that alternative be more comprehensive, more convenient and more accessible to the public than a $100 billion HSR?

    As far as I remember, the $170 billion alternative consists of highway expansions, airport constructions and probably a dozen public transit and conventional rail projects all over California. If it wasn’t for the TSA, I think there would be far more people considering flying and despite Hollywood and news paranoia, it’s still by far the safest way to travel.

    Now that electric cars are booming, airlines testing alternative fuels and new designs, the whole argument of HSR being “greener” will probably not hold up until 2033. That’s for sure. I think it would make more sense to spread this huge sum to several forms of transportation in order to keep the current infrastructure alive and prepare it for future population growth instead of betting $100 billion in hope everyone who has been using planes and the highway will immediately switch to high speed trains.

    Regarding tolling: I think it wouldn’t pay off. All you do is cause even more traffic congestion and shift all the cars to using urban streets with no toll booths. The result would be almost empty highways and overcrowded inner city roads. Before we start thinking about taxing, what about we end all the subsidies for big (oil) companies and use those tens of billions of dollars to invest in our public transit systems?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    ..tolling.. that’s why the Pennsylvania Turnpike closed up shop in 1944, deterring NY, NJ and Ohio from building toll roads. Since NY, NJ and Ohio didn’t build toll roads Connecticut, Massachusetts and Indiana never did because there was nothing to connect to and that smooth limited access ride from Boston to Chicago or New York to DC or Baltimore to Cleveland.. never happened…

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Tolling… that’s also why California built the statewide highway system BEFORE the Interstate Highway Act…because they realized then growth couldn’t pay for itself…

    Derek Reply:

    Emma, if the toll is set correctly, it would be just high enough to eliminate congestion on the freeway, but no higher. (A “demand curve” shows how this works.) That means the freeway will be completely filled with cars.

    If the freeway is completely filled with cars, then how can you blame the toll for cars driving on urban streets with no toll booths? Where else do you expect those cars to go when the freeway is full?

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    As far as I remember, the $170 billion alternative consists of highway expansions, airport constructions

    Nope. The $170 billion number was not based on the projected ridership of HSR! Instead, the maximum capacity of a HSR line was the basis of the calculation. 12 tph (both directions) all day, double-length trains — show me any HSR running at those levels.

  11. Tony d.
    Dec 7th, 2011 at 09:24
    #11

    Robert,
    Respectfully, as someone who loves the concept of HSR, if I had been asked the question by phone I to would have said yes to a re-vote. But (as stated previously) I’m now fully in the camp of regional rail improvements over the Fresno to Bakersfield scheme. The Prop.1A bond monies should now be split between north and south and used exclusively for rail transit/commuter purposes. Hopefully if if comes to a re-vote will also have the opportunity to choose an alternative: regional “HSR-light.” That is all.

    jimsf Reply:

    That only postpones the inevitiable need for the project and doubles the cost again. There is never going to be the perfect time. We need to get it done because it will only become more difficult. Local and regional transit improvements can be funded locally as they often are when voters decide to tax themselves within their counties to fund such specific local projects

    Tony d. Reply:

    I agree Jim, we need to get it done..but how? I’d love to be proven wrong, but where are the billions in federal and private funds to get this thing from Bay to Basin? Until I see such funding surface I will remain skeptical of the proposed scheme. I will also be wary of the fact that the $6 billion ICS could be all we ever get, all while we choke on fumes, stuck in traffic.

    Peter Reply:

    The only way to get the billions in federal and private funds is to kick the teabaggers out of office and force the two parties to make some rational compromises in Congress. However, right now we HAVE money to start. It will take five years to complete the ICS. A LOT can happen politically in five years. Are you suggesting we should wait until we have ALL the money needed to complete the ENTIRE project?

    thatbruce Reply:

    @Peter:

    You’re not going to get that crop of naysayers to agree to that wording of their party line.

    @Tony d.:

    Your homework is to find a US state/federal project of similar magnitude that had all funding available before one sod of dirt was turned.

    Emma Reply:

    The only thing to get this down is to let someone else do the job. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel .There are dozens of companies that have experience constructing a HSR system. All you need to do so is a little bit Googling, getting phone numbers and tell all those companies the following:

    “Hey, folks. We have $60 billion for the company that can build a HSR network between SF and Anaheim within 10 years. Who’s in?”

    And you’ll see ideas and offers flowing in. One idea better than the other and all we would have to do is choose the one we like the most and just ram it through.

  12. Reality Check
    Dec 7th, 2011 at 12:32
    #12

    Copper theft becomes a crisis for public agencies

    BART also disclosed for the first time that two major thefts last December had delayed a $38 million venture, known as the Central Contra Costa County Crossover Project, that will allow trains to cross between tracks in Walnut Creek. The project, which will reduce delays that can affect the whole system, was supposed to be finished by the beginning of this year but won’t be ready until January, Allison said. […]

    Vallejo Public Works Director David Kleinschmidt, whose city emerged from bankruptcy last month, said Tuesday that thieves had stripped $200,000 worth of copper wiring from street lights and signalized intersections since May.

    Most of the lights are still out. Two of the intersections have been repaired, but at three others signs declare, “Signal lights are nonfunctioning due to copper wire theft.”

    Peter Reply:

    I was wondering why the CCCCCP was delayed. I thought they had just failed to update the website’s infoon the project.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Just so. You’d better believe it. Don’t ask, don’t tell.

    Along those lines, the BART Dublin extension, as you may recall, was delayed for the best part of a year by “rain”. I’m melllllllting!

    swing hanger Reply:

    Wow. If Japanese railways were stuck with contractors like those, not a single km of rail could be laid, as it’s much, much more rainy here than in NorCal, not to mention snow…

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Maybe it wasn’t the right type of rain.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Imagine what depredations the “thieves” will do between Borden & Corcoran. The Flyer may never make it to Palmdale at that rate.

  13. morris brown
    Dec 7th, 2011 at 14:45
    #13

    On YouTube is 15 minutes of video, extracted from the Mica hearing on High Speed Rail, of Dec 6, 2011 with exchanges between, LaHood, Shuster, Richardson and Denham.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2VqxWOyOIg

  14. Reality Check
    Dec 7th, 2011 at 17:01
    #14

    Financial Times Editorial: US high-speed rail: off track

    US high-speed rail: off track

    Can America get on track? An answer to that figurative question might require a literal response. High-speed rail projects are the sort of expensive, difficult and long-term investments that require politicians to think big. Sadly, the first such project, which would run through California, could be derailed by small-minded considerations.

    Yes, it is expensive and time-consuming — $65bn in today’s dollars with a final completion date of 2033 — and it is easy to ridicule with the first stretch slated for the rural Central Valley. Not helping matters is the limited and meagre example of what is dubbed “high-speed rail” in the US — the spotty Acela trains between Boston, New York and Washington. Though they can reach 150 miles per hour for a brief stretch — 10mph below the unofficial high-speed threshold in Europe or Asia — the average pace between New York and its city neighbours is less than half as much.

    America is not Europe or East Asia, where securing right of way is simpler, populations denser and such projects already old hat. More passenger rail would have enormous benefits in the US. Eliminating flights and speeding travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles or between east coast cities would bring large-scale logistical and environmental relief. For example, a quarter of flights from congested San Francisco now go to LA. The initial stretch in California, decried as a train to nowhere, is critical to certification before adoption elsewhere and would spur further investment in regional and urban transport that critics claim is lacking in some cities.

    High-speed rail is portrayed as a boondoggle given its high cost and limited geographic reach. But failure of its latest incarnation would be a mark of political paralysis and technological backwardness for the whole country. The train is leaving the station — will America miss it yet again?

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    “High-speed rail is portrayed as a boondoggle given its high cost and limited geographic reach. But failure of its latest incarnation would be a mark of political paralysis and technological backwardness for the whole country. The train is leaving the station — will America miss it yet again?”

    How did my country become so wimpy and so dumb?

  15. Reality Check
    Dec 7th, 2011 at 17:07
    #15

    Bombardier Urges Rail Upgrades [instead of HSR] as Tracks Hobble Amtrak’s Acela

    New high-speed trains are “not really what the U.S. needs right now,” Bombardier Chief Executive Officer Pierre Beaudoin said yesterday in an interview. “I know that sounds odd from a manufacturer. Before you go and buy all this new equipment, let’s work on the infrastructure.”

    Joey Reply:

    I’m pretty sure we’ve got the entire world telling us that we’re doing HSR wrong at this point.

    swing hanger Reply:

    Railcar builders are not putting all their eggs in the fleeting, possibly mirage of a N. Am HSR market. At this point, supplying existing rail authorities and the transit market are surer bets.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Well yeah, he’s looking at what he can sell the next time the plant runs out of work not what the plant might or might not sell in 2019. or 2031 at the rate California is going. He’ll probably be retired or dead in 2031.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    Sure, some of the upgrades can be implemented quickly, and also provide the system benefits faster. The HSR will be needed, but considering how long things take in the US, short-term measures are necessary.

  16. morris brown
    Dec 7th, 2011 at 19:46
    #16

    Slate: Requiem for a Train
    High-speed rail is dead in America. Should we mourn it?

    http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technocracy/2011/12/high_speed_rail_is_dead_in_america_should_we_mourn_it_.single.html

    Very well written with a good historical time-line and perspective.

    ComradeFrana Reply:

    “…and healthy operating profits—yes, profits, on a railroad…”

    And here goes their credibility…

    ComradeFrana Reply:

    … Although given the record of American railroads, I can’t really blame them for their skepticism.

  17. morris brown
    Dec 7th, 2011 at 19:49
    #17

    As the High-Speed Rail Debate Rages On, Stanford Historian Becomes Big Critic

    KQED —

    Here Robert gets to have the last word on an article with a guy he respects, but with whom he violently disagrees. I suspect Robert will spin a thread on this one.

    http://blogs.kqed.org/newsfix/2011/12/07/as-the-high-speed-rail-debate-rages-on-stanford-historian-becomes-a-critic/

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Curious, no comments following that story, and yet rail seems to draw a collection of passionate people (myself included).

    Morris and the other critics might be interested in the commentary exchange below:

    http://www.infrastructurist.com/2011/11/18/the-daily-dig-death-to-high-speed-rail-maybe/

    synonymouse Reply:

    White’s critique is quite serious and incorporates many observations that reveal his interest in and knowledge of railroading. In some respects he is like a Tolmach, but differs in that he seems to be dead set against any hsr scheme.

    Expect much more heat like this, turned up by Brown’s and others’ tax increase schemes. You are going to hear more demands for a re-vote on Prop 1A to accompany and balance the tax plebiscite.

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