Dan Richard: Valley Is The Place to Start Building

Jan 28th, 2012 | Posted by

On Thursday I discussed remarks made by CHSRA Board Chair Dan Richard about the upcoming revision to the Business Plan, remarks that suggested urban areas were going to play a greater role than earlier thought. While I never assumed Richard was suggesting that the Authority was going to abandon the Central Valley Initial Construction Segment, my post did include a discussion of why it would be a bad idea to do so anyway.

As it turns out, Richard remains strongly supportive of starting in the Valley:

“There are a number of people who would be just as happy to give that money back, and there are people who would say, ‘Let’s take it out of the Valley and put it in other places,’ but I oppose that,” said Richard, who acknowledged that he was originally skeptical about building first in the Valley.

“This is the place to start building.”

I strongly agree. The Central Valley is part of the key missing link in connecting Los Angeles to San Francisco via train. Building there makes sense not only because it’s flatter and cheaper, but also because closing that gap helps bring high speed rail much closer to reality in a way that building in urban areas alone never will.

  1. J. Wong
    Jan 28th, 2012 at 20:02

    I don’t really understand the arguments against starting in the Central Valley based on “independent utility”. Planning on independent utility is planning to fail. It’s “we’re not actually going to build HSR so it’s better if we build something that will be useful since we’re not going to have HSR”.

    And I’ll be the first to admit that any “independent utility” for the ICS in the Central Valley is really a stretch. But you know what? I don’t care. The Fed’s were willing to accept it probably because they understand that it is a very unlikely outcome.

    The Central Valley segment is the backbone of the system. Without it you will not have HSR no matter what else gets built. That’s all that matters. Let’s get started…

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The backbone is LA-Bako. Bako-Manteca is also important, but it has an existing slow train, whereas LA-Bako has nothing.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Yeah, the San Joaquin Valley is the backbone of the system. All the tourists are going to visit the holiest of holies, Fresno, on their way to Lalaland:


    And of course the orphan trackage from Borden to Corcoran should be perfectly safe out their in the boonies:

    “Across the valley, meth addicts steal any metal they can resell – agricultural pluming, copper wiring, lawn sprinklers.”

    In reality Brown’s version of hsr is a big BART in the boonies. Where are the financial angels lined up to invest in BART?

    Stilt-A-Rail is pure 3rd world thinking. It is like some central Asian oligarch throwing darts at the map and coming up with the de rigueur Detour.

    J. Wong Reply:

    Actually, they will visit Fresno if only on their way to Yosemite or Kings Canyon.

    VBobier Reply:

    Yep, a Real waste of time and money, Not… Yep tourists spending money(Foreign or Domestic), the more, the better, Greenbacks spent here in CA are always welcome.

  2. Howard
    Jan 28th, 2012 at 20:35

    The only way to fill the missing link between the Bay Area and the LA area is building the segment between Bakersfield and Palmdale; however, that segment is not ready for construction yet; therefore, the ICS between Merced and Bakersfield should go ahead and the CHSA should announce that the Bakersfield to Palmdale segment is next. I think a high speed train between Merced (with transfers to the Bay Area and Sac via San Joaquin’s and ACE) and Palmdale (with transfer to LA via Metrolink) will attract enough riders to break even or maybe even generate an operating profit.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    There is no segment ready for construction, no complete EIR, no land acquired.
    In business one could only wish that “I think it could maybe generate a profit” were good enough to attract investors with $6 billion to burn.

    jim Reply:

    The numbers aren’t that bad. Roughly speaking an hourly service Palmdale-Merced is going to cost about $200M/yr to run. To break even, it’d require an average of 3,000 riders/day boarding at Palmdale, 2,250 at Bakersfield, 1,650 at Fresno and 1,350 at Merced, assuming an average $66 fare (which is in line with business plan indications and keeps the math simple). This is roughly a quarter of the ridership expected at each of these stations at full buildout. The mean northbound train would see 200 riders board at Palmdale, 60 of them would get off and 60 get on at Bakersfield, 120 get off and 20 get on at Fresno and the last 100 alight at Merced. This is not an impossible expectation.

    The only point worth noting is that Metrolink can’t deliver any of these riders to Palmdale during the morning peak, since there’s too many southbound trains and too much of the Soledad Canyon route is single tracked. Nor can Metrolink carry any of the southbound riders on to LA during the afternoon peak, for the same reason. So the Palmdale ridership will largely have to come from Palmdale and environs.

    These numbers won’t, of course, attract investors, but then, we already knew that.

    Reedman Reply:

    The ACE train is a commuter corridor success story, tied to the biggest jobs hub in California (Silicon Valley), and it has 4000 riders per day, with a farebox recovery of 40% (i.e. 60% of the cost of providing the ride is collected from non-rider taxpayers). I will go out on a limb and say that extrapolation based on these facts tells me the ridership of a full-fare Palmdale – Merced train would be closer to 300 per day than 3000 per day.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    4000 riders a day in the rest of the world… there would be discussions about bustituting it because of teh low ridership.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I want to say there would be discussions in the US, too, about bustituting. But the Greenbush Line is not being bustituted. The Fairmount Line isn’t and shouldn’t – it’s turned into a more local line, as it should be – but it’s really hobbled by the FRA, lack of electrification, lack of level boarding, and low frequency.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Boston is at the end of those lines, where there’s a subway system that goes someplace other than the suburbs, a bus system with frequent buses, places to walk to and expensive parking.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The Greenbush Line gets 6,000 weekday riders. The Fairmount Line gets 1,500 (why would anyone ride it when the Red Line is cheaper, gets to more places, and is at least 3 times as frequent?).

    Speaking of parking, there’s a proposal to finally charge for parking in Back Bay. Bob Reich and Mark Thoma have both written completely wrongheaded articles about how it’s evil and capitalistic.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Sorry, I misremembered – Thoma and Reich didn’t write articles, but just were quoted in a news article as making equity arguments against market-rate parking.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The ACE is slow.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Reedman, look at the population of Bakersfield and the population of LA, and the unemployment rate in Bakersfield vs. LA, and the housing prices in Bakersfield vs. LA, and the drive time from Bakersfield to LA….

    …LA-Bakersfield is going to have astounding numbers of people riding it. It will change the nature of Bakersfield.

  3. Jerry
    Jan 28th, 2012 at 20:40

    Again, I’ll have to say, I can’t wait for the groundbreaking.

  4. Joseph Melendrez
    Jan 28th, 2012 at 21:22

    It is easy for someone on the East Coast to sit back and say that HSR should link LA and SF directly and wonder what is this Central Valley stuff? But the deal is to build a system that will allow the entire state to grow and prosper. With quick and easy access to the state’s major urban areas, the population and economy of the Valley will grow as a result. Sacramento is located in that part of the state and people want to be able to travel to the state capital. Right now it’sisolated and not too easy to get to. The average Californian if interested in an issue, can’t be flying back and forth to the capital like a business person or a legislator does. Having a convenient way to get to Sacramento is democratic.

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    Sorry to burst your bubble, but the Sacramento phase has been all but eliminated from the HSR Plan.

    Oh, and then there’s the little problem of the Pacheco routing….and it’s horrible SF-Sac travel time.

    Howard Reply:

    The Sacramento extension has not been canceled, it is just in Phase II as it has always been. Phase II is delayed but so is the Phase I completion.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Phase II does not appear in the draft business plan and has been delayed to the point of futility. The LA-SD branch, for instance, would offer nothing over the by then current Surfliner travel times.

    joe Reply:

    Phase II has NOT been canceled and should NOT be in the current Business Plan given the urgency to get started in 2012 on Phase I.

    Zach San Diego Reply:

    So the LA-SD branch “would offer nothing over the by then current Surfliner travel times?” That’s true if you’re going from LA to SD, but what about all the people who live in the IE, Temecula area and Escondido? Apparently they are not important and should be bypassed.

    jimsf Reply:

    Not only is it not cancelled but while looking for more bnsf info, I just read something about plans to find a suitable re routing between sac and stockton for hsr and san joaquin trains and also about electrifying and expanding ACE to make it compatible with hsr through stockton.

    As for SAC-SF that’s ccjpa’s territory and they plan to upgrade to 90mph with PTC.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    I read something about plans for Mars colonies if only they find a suitable nuclear rocketship.

    joe Reply:

    Maybe this is part of that intention.

    H.R.1504 — Altamont Corridor Rail Improvement Act of 2011 (Introduced in House – IH)

  5. Back in the Saddle
    Jan 28th, 2012 at 21:24

    Robert– If your still on the blog, I would appreciate an answer to this question. Since bond interest rates are about as cheap as they can get, why not sell all $10 billion worth and complete the Bakersfield to Palmdale/Lancaster leg and build out to San Jose and or complete the line to Sacramento. If the bond amount doesn’t pay for both go to the Federal Railroad Administration and look for a grant to complete that construction. Bond rates will only go up making the cost of the bonds more expensive and therefore, increasing the cost of the project. Besides reducing the cost of the project, it will also give the high speed rail opponents and naysayers less of an opportunity to use the “train to nowhere” argument.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    For one, Prop 1A requires its funds to be matched 1-to-1.

    jim Reply:

    I really don’t understand the rules for California issuing bonds, but unless Prop 1A barred any other source of funding for HSR, I don’t see why the State can’t issue non-Prop 1A bonds to build HSR segments not funded through Prop 1A.

    Peter Reply:

    California needs majority approval through a state election in order to issue bonds. Unless one of the previously authorized bond measures can be vaguely used for “transportation” projects, I don’t see how that would work.

    jim Reply:


    joe Reply:

    Move HSR under Caltrans. Voters pass the Governor’s revenue proposal.

    CA can then match Prop 1A bonds with revenue from the state’s transportation budget and possibly use these State transportation budget with 2012/13 federal transportation funds.

    The benefit of pushing funding into HSR is access to Prop 1a matching funds which and give CA more construction per budget dollar.

    Another benefit is the use of Prop 1a when borrowing is so cheap.


    CA is supposed to be a credit risk but this fall CA issued short term bonds at or under 1%.

    VBobier Reply:

    The Governor already has a better proposal than that, He wants all of the Transportation the State of CA controls under one umbrella department, Called the Transportation Department I think, with the CHSRA being parallel of Caltrans. I’m in favor of that.

    VBobier Reply:

    $10 billion? It’s been quoted as $15.5 Billion…

    Alon Levy Reply:

    $15.5 is for Bako-Sylmar. Bako-Palmdale is significantly cheaper. I want to say it’s much less than half, but I’m not sure (it was about half in the 2008 Business Plan, and there was a huge overrun on Palmdale-LA).

    jim Reply:

    There was an equally huge increase on Bakersfield-Palmdale. It went from $4B to $7.5B-$7.7B. The ’09 plan had 1.3 miles of viaduct, the ’12 plan has around 20. The ’09 plan had 6 miles of tunnel, the ’12 plan has 12.

    Figure that it’s still about half.

    So Merced-Palmdale is in total $$7.6B+$6.6B+$3.7B = $17.9B of which approximately $6B is in hand. To complete a Merced-Palmdale IOS requires another $12B, at least $6B federal to match the remaining $6B Prop 1A.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    …and that’s why they should stop the ICS at Fresno and not try to go to Merced before they have a decent connection to the south.

    Nathanael Reply:

    More importantly, engineering is practically finished on Bakersfield-Palmdale; Palmdale-Sylmar is where all the routing problems and NIMBYs appeared.

  6. BMF from San Doego
    Jan 29th, 2012 at 13:56

    One thing that is certain…. Where-ever the ICS was to be, a large number of people will question the logic and second guess it forever.

  7. jimsf
    Jan 29th, 2012 at 15:38

    Ok so here’s a what if just for kicks…

    a: Lets say the ICS goes as planned and we have a high speed track from roughly MDR to BFD.
    and say that allows conventional trains up to what… say 125mph?
    b: And then add the bnsf PTC on the remaining portions of the valley which brings speeds up to 90mph on the non HSR portions.
    Now you have a very usuable segment for amtrak or another (bnsf say, since they already control the ROW) operator to run existing but higher speed service while waiting for the hsr IOS.
    Then the next step is BFD-PMD. which gives you another stretch of true high speed line, that, in the interim, could be used as conventional 125mph through service.
    Now you have the ability run a conventional train from LA to OKJ) with a single seat ride. ( and keep in mind that PTC is going in on the UP ends too) So you have from the bay to LA…..
    90mph (OKJ-MDR) 125mph (MDR-PMD) 90mph (PMD-LAX)

    You get improved single seat higher speed service that is feasable, and you keep the true high speed segments construction moving forward on sked.
    then all you do is decide which segment to upgrade to full hsr next either pacheco or lax-pmd

    Then the second contruction segment

    jim Reply:

    The problem with this is PMD-LAX. The section of the Antelope Valley Line that runs through the Canyon is currently almost all single tracked and there’s not much room to add a second track. In a couple of places, Metrolink has already added a second track. The new track eases a curve and the old track has been left in place to act as a siding. None of the sidings are long. All they’re good for is for a train to stop and wait until a higher priority train has passed. The line is owned by Metrolink and operated by UP. Guess where pseudo-HSR ends up in the priority list.

    South of Sylmar, there’s room for double-tracking (there’s a fair amount already). If the ICS were extended to Sylmar, one can see single-seat runthrough (even if not HSR) into LAUS. But Palmdale won’t do.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Well, the peak would be in the same direction as on Metrolink: toward LA in the morning, away from LA in the afternoon.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    No no the peak is going to be people who want desperately to go to Livermore. Or Tracy.

  8. jimsf
    Jan 29th, 2012 at 15:41

    (strike that last sentance which was out of place. lots of typos in my world)

  9. D. P. Lubic
    Jan 29th, 2012 at 15:44

    Crazily off topic, but fascinating: Chinese customers are taking a liking to certain American made items, including Buick and Cadillac automobiles, and certain lines of clothes and shoes:




    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    More off topic stuff; while I think there may be some dispute about the climate change question, what is unquestionable is how toxic Rupert Murdoch can be to a news organization’s accuracy and objectivity:


    Nathanael Reply:

    Why isn’t Murdoch in prison yet? The stuff he did in the UK is legally treason, among other crimes.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    One makes reservations at KFC, when you want to go out for a holiday dinner. If you are staying in, serving Tang is just the thing……

  10. Amanda in the South Bay
    Jan 30th, 2012 at 07:49

    While I appreciate the desire to use HSR as a means of reinvigorating the Central Valley’s economy, I think focusing too much on connecting the CV, rather than on the end goal of SF-LA, is only going to bog this project down further and cause it to never be completed. Besides, its shitty PR, and if there’s one thing this project doesn’t need more of, its shitty PR.

    jimsf Reply:

    the central valley is the most critical part of the system. Its also the only part thats close to ready and funded. Its aslo where you get the most mileage completed for the money.

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