HSR’s Role in Reducing Environmental Impacts

Jul 29th, 2012 | Posted by

A new study authored by researchers at Arizona State University and UC Berkeley shows that with the right steps, high speed rail can reduce environmental impacts in California, especially over and above the status quo:

Sustainable mobility policy for long-distance transportation services should consider emerging automobiles and aircraft as well as infrastructure and supply chain life-cycle effects in the assessment of new high-speed rail systems. Using the California corridor, future automobiles, high-speed rail and aircraft long-distance travel are evaluated, considering emerging fuel-efficient vehicles, new train designs and the possibility that the region will meet renewable electricity goals. An attributional per passenger-kilometer-traveled life-cycle inventory is first developed including vehicle, infrastructure and energy production components. A consequential life-cycle impact assessment is then established to evaluate existing infrastructure expansion against the construction of a new high-speed rail system. The results show that when using the life-cycle assessment framework, greenhouse gas footprints increase significantly and human health and environmental damage potentials may be dominated by indirect and supply chain components. The environmental payback is most sensitive to the number of automobile trips shifted to high-speed rail, and for greenhouse gases is likely to occur in 20–30 years. A high-speed rail system that is deployed with state-of-the-art trains, electricity that has met renewable goals, and in a configuration that endorses high ridership will provide significant environmental benefits over existing modes. Opportunities exist for reducing the long-distance transportation footprint by incentivizing large automobile trip shifts, meeting clean electricity goals and reducing material production effects.

In short, to the extent HSR can shift people from driving to the trains, and particularly if the California High Speed Rail Authority is able to make good on its commitment to power the trains with renewable energy, there will be significant reductions in carbon emissions over the do-nothing option.

Some HSR critics will likely doubt the possibility of HSR grabbing a significant share of automobile trips or generating significant levels of induced demand (which the study also points to as being a factor in carbon emissions reductions). One only needs to look at the price of gas, still hovering just below $4 per gallon, to see that such shifts are a sensible possibility. Spending just a couple of hours on a train would also beat spending at least 6 hours in a car to drive between SF and LA (and usually more than 6 on a busy holiday weekend).

But we can see from other HSR systems that such shifts do happen. Here’s evidence from Spain:

Over half the ridership on Spain’s first HSR line, the AVE from Madrid to Sevilla in 1992, came from drivers or from induced demand. Spain’s geography and population density compares well to that of California. Given the other factors I described above, this evidence merely strengthens the case being made in the study.

The authors’ main point here is not just to point out that HSR will likely be a benefit to the environment, but to encourage specific choices to be made during the development and operating process to achieve those goals:

HSR has the potential to reduce passenger transportation impacts to people and the environment, but must be deployed with process and material environmental reduction measures and in a configuration that will ensure high adoption. We have highlighted the life-cycle hotspots that dominate modal success: (i) train size (affecting electricity consumption, frequency of service and ridership); (ii) infrastructure construction; and (iii) the fossil fuel intensity of the electricity mix.

The study itself goes into further detail on these three “hotspots” and I encourage you to read it closely. As high speed rail moves ahead, finding ways to maximize ridership and maximize carbon reductions should be top priorities – far more important than short-sighted construction cost reductions. After all, the biggest cost savings to the state comes by getting as many people as possible to ride the trains, and by having it reduce carbon emissions as much as possible.

  1. Andrew
    Jul 29th, 2012 at 20:02

    HSR’s main contribution to the environment comes not from the difference in carbon output & energy consumption for getting from a given point A to a given point B. Instead, it comes from the massive overall reduction in car usage and distances traveled for all sorts of OTHER trips, as a result of the more compact and transit-oriented framework that develops around the HSR backbone. This is the main reason why HSR should prioritize penetrating into the natural transit hubs of more urban areas (eg Central Valley cities) over building the fastest link between the endpoints (though a local spur line would make more sense for Palmdale if there were any feasible way to build the main line thru Tejon Pass).

    Derek Reply:

    Instead, it comes from the massive overall reduction in car usage…

    Which only occurs in the short term, at best. In the long term, there will be no net reduction in car usage:

    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.

    joe Reply:

    Yes. Emperical and derived from the US. Right?

    Professors Gilles Duranton and Matthew Turner analyzed travel data from hundreds of metro areas in the U.S., resulting in what they call the most comprehensive dataset ever assembled on the traffic impacts of road construction.

    Oh my, they didn’t study data outside the US.

    For interstate highways in metropolitan areas we find that VKT [vehicle kilometers traveled] increases one for one with interstate highways, confirming the “fundamental law of highway congestion” suggested by Anthony Downs (1962; 1992). We also uncover suggestive evidence that this law may extend beyond interstate highways to a broad class of major urban roads, a “fundamental law of road congestion”. These results suggest that increased provision of interstate highways and major urban roads is unlikely to relieve congestion of these roads.

    Fundamental Law derived from the US during the era of cheap oil and strong, long-term economic growth.

    joe Reply:

    Oh my, A train on dedicated track is lumped with buses that run on roads.

    The researchers didn’t discern between light rail, commuter rail, and buses. Turner said he feels that buses allow cities to move just as many people with a much cheaper infrastructure network, but there are passionate arguments on both sides of the bus vs. rail debate, and the authors don’t choose one over the other in their paper. In fact, they only have one significant policy recommendation:

    So in this study, replacing Caltrain with a Bus make NO difference. The HSR system is treated like a bus that would run along the freeway. I am begininning to understand …

    the authors don’t choose one over the other in their paper. In fact, they only have one significant policy recommendation:
    “These findings suggest that both road capacity expansions and extensions to public transit are not appropriate policies with which to combat traffic congestion. This leaves congestion pricing as the main candidate tool to curb traffic congestion.”

    Well, at least their study that lumped buses with trains reenforced their policy recommendfation to tax cars with congestion pricing.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Not that I think that study is all that seminal, but would you care to explain why the congestion reduction effect of mixed-traffic buses and trains should be different?

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Train lovers want to believe. It’s as simple as that. How could possibly evert NOT be true that a train is the answer?

    I thought that way when I was 16, also.

    VBobier Reply:

    When I was 16 If I had the cash and the weather wasn’t all that good I took the Bus into Long Beach from Dominguez CA, otherwise I rode My 10 speed bike that I’d built(the parts only cost Me $99.00 back then and it could keep up with cars on Del Amo Blvd too, which was about 45mph as that is what the speed limit was on part of Del Amo Blvd). I didn’t get a drivers license until I was 19, as the school district allowed anyone to teach kids how to drive and one didn’t get much time behind the wheel, so My Dad paid for Professional Instruction and No He wasn’t rich, He may have been a Republican, but He did care. Oh and I passed with a score of 99 out of 100 on the tests.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Things were better then, weren’t they, V? I remember being slim and biking a lot, too. . .wish I could get that body back. . .

    Although a bit off topic, I came across something recently that looks cool, if it weren’t so hot in Yermo. That’s the Calico Ghost Town (preserved/restored town) in your area. Have you ever gotten to it? Looks like what you would have seen in old movies, but apparently it’s authentic. Potentially dangerous in spots, too; there are warnings not to enter the mine shafts, and it’s not just hokum, they are the real places where men wrestled silver from the ground. Has a train ride, too, with what looks like a Porter mining locomotive.





    VBobier Reply:

    Well Calico is only half of what It used to be, the other half now lives in Anaheim at Knotts Berry Farm…

    VBobier Reply:

    Yes, I’ve been to the one in Anaheim and I live near the one out here, but not actually gone up to Calico. Plus gold, Borax and I’m not sure what else, sure there are mine shafts in the area, some are marked and some are just easy to see, best avoided cause the condition their in, lousy. One of these days I need to get 3 of My relatives to come out here and go to Calico, the admission is inexpensive I think, plus I think one can pan for gold and maybe get something to eat there too. Also if the freeway is clogged up(a parking lot), there are some surface streets linking Barstow CA to Yermo CA, but their not obvious unless one either knows the area or can read a map.

    joe Reply:

    Train lovers want to believe. It’s as simple as that. How could possibly evert NOT be true that a train is the answer?
    I thought that way when I was 16, also.

    At 16 I thought about girls, not trains. I guess we’re different.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    The effect of congestion slowing down mixed traffic public transport and not slowing down dedicated corridor public transport, so that the travel time swings against mixed traffic public transport and in favor of dedicated corridor public transport with increasing congestion, is not strictly bus vs rail. A similar impact would apple to an all-mixed-traffic streetcar route versus an actual dedicated corridor busway route.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Okay, but this is going to impact ridership rather than congestion reduction. The question is, is there a reason to believe that moving 10,000 drivers to a mixed-traffic bus has a lower congestion reduction effect than moving 10,000 drivers to a separate-ROW vehicle? Of course all other things being equal the separate-ROW vehicle, bus or train, will get more ridership, but we can either try to come up with a congestion-reduction-per-vehicle-removed formula and compare, or assume that certain things are not equal (say, the fare on the separate-ROW vehicle is much higher, or the frequency is lower), and compare then.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Of course, “congestion reduction” is just a framing used to justify roadbuilding, and the short term solution induces more travel over the longer term, recreating the congestion and justifying more roadbuilding.

    The question is what level of mobility can be achieved at a given level of congestion, and, since all other things equal the separate ROW vehicle can get more riders in response to a given level of congestion, therefore it achieves more mobility for a given level of congestion.

    All other things are generally not equal, but the balance has to be tilted in the favor of mixed traffic public transport simply to bring them to equal ridership at a given level of congestion.

    As far as whether there is a reason to believe that moving 10,000 drivers to a mixed traffic bus has a lower congestion reduction effect than moving 10,000 drivers to a separate ROW vehicle? At the margin, yes, of course, the mixed traffic bus is on the road adding to the congestion. But its hard to imagine a scenario where a given number of drivers are going to be shifted onto public transport no matter what route and mode you use. It seems more common for the number of drivers that are going to be shifted to vary by route and mode.

    joe Reply:


    The study lumped trains with buses. BART has the same impact on congestion as a bus over the bay bridge in street traffic. Caltrain and a VTA bus out of Gilroy are equal. Don’t bother to electify Caltrain. Just run buses down 101 in traffic and express buses down El Camino Real.

    I would not use that study to predict how HSR will impact travel.

    blankslate Reply:

    Ridership impacts congestion reduction. More riders = more reduction.

    synonymouse Reply:

    not so much if they are being diverted from other “public” transport instead of autos and if they are driving and parking to access hsr.

    You could even argue that creating bloated compensation union jobs on hsr is taking away market-rate jobs on airlines, buses.

    It’s complicated. The idea of hsr was to divert traffic from more polluting modes and still be self-supporting. But real hsr gave way to AmBART in the boonies requiring handsome subsidies..

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The people on the train experience lots of congestion relief since they aren’t stuck in it. It’s difficult to be stuck in congestion on a road if you aren’t on the road.

    Matthew Reply:

    Their conclusions are basically correct, and just another test of an old theory. You can’t alleviate traffic congestion by increasing transportation supply. Traffic congestion is just the fact that peak demand exceeds supply in any place of economic significance. Since the peak demand is usually much greater than feasible supply, and increasing transportation/road supply induces additional trips, chasing after a congestion “cure” by increasing supply is a fool’s errand. You’ll end up paving over the entire city before you achieve it. Adding public transportation won’t “cure” congestion either; but it will enable many more people to move around, despite congestion, than before.

    If managing supply won’t work, the other approach is to manage demand in some fashion. Shifting from a “buffet” model of road usage (pay flat fee/taxes, get unlimited use) to a “pay-for-use” model (tolls, road pricing) could be one way to encourage people to think about and weigh their trip choices. Another idea is to go to the generators of trips (e.g. work-places) and ask or require them to participate in a program of reducing automobile demand. Cambridge’s Kendall Sq has been pretty successful with this: a 40% increase in commercial space and activity paired with a 15% decline in traffic on surrounding roads.

    VBobier Reply:

    The only fly in the ointment for comparing Buses vs HSR is that Buses are limited to either 55mph or 70mph(I ‘m not sure which is the right speed limit for buses), HSR has no limitation like that(outside of what the track and horsepower can support), Buses are actually closer to Amtrak which right now is limited to a maximum of 79mph in CA. So Buses really can not replace HSR, not unless You want Buses moving down the Freeway at 125mph and then it’s still only a faster Amtrak equivalent…

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Amtrak is currently signaled for up to 110mph along a portion of the Surfliner and about half of the LA-San Diego route is signaled for 90-110mph.

    VBobier Reply:

    Good to hear, didn’t know they’d gotten the speed up down there. Thanks.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    And the Metrolink signaling for 110mph on the northern section has been funded from the HSR connectivity funds.

    Derek Reply:

    Fundamental Law derived from the US during the era of cheap oil and strong, long-term economic growth.

    Expensive oil and economic stagnation will cause a reduction in driving (or not), with or without alternatives to driving.

    joe Reply:

    Yes, this carefully crafted and evasive comment is another reason why an economics degree isn’t useful.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The CHSRA, like all growth-mongering, will negatively impact the environment.

    And, of course, why do those eminent ecological stewards known as the Tejon Ranch Co. so vehemently, vociferously, venomously, vituperatively, viciously recoil at the very suggestion of hsr tracks touching their pristine Wilderness Kingdom?

    Tejon is perfectly feasible – it’s a no-go because Jerry candidly wants to build “shit”.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Wilderness Kingdom – aka Golf Course.

    Reality Check Reply:

    The Brown “shit” quote doesn’t seem quite as intemperate when in its fuller context:

    “At this stage, as I see many of my friends dying … I want to get shit done,” the 74-year-old third-term governor said. “We’re going to take into account the opposition, but we’re not going to sit here and twiddle our thumbs.”

    VBobier Reply:

    Sorry Tejon will not happen, except in Yer mind, as no one else wants Tejon and Prop1a says HSR has to go to Palmdale, so Tejon is illegal or are Ya too stupid to acknowledge that and move on?

  2. Paul Druce
    Jul 29th, 2012 at 20:58

    Your image is broken.

    VBobier Reply:

    Sorry We cracked Yer mirror Paul…

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Could you try, just try, posting something that is actually related to what someone says and not nonsensical? Seriously, what the hell does that have to do anything that I said, which itself was a basic housekeeping note?

    VBobier Reply:

    I’m so used to Yer previous disparaging remarks, so what did Ya expect?

    Ok, I’ll bite, what broken image? I only know a couple on this page, their both yellow and blue, if their not the ones Yer talking about then, what are they?

    Paul Druce Reply:

    The one in the post right after “Here’s evidence from Spain:” which clearly shows a broken image.

    Donk Reply:

    Agreed. VBobier, you don’t have to post every thought that comes into your head. Half of your stuff is just blog clutter.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    The image URL works fine by itself, just not embedded in the page.


    VBobier Reply:

    If this is the one Paul was referring to, Yeah that and underlining or colored text doesn’t seem to work here, unlike bold and italic of course.

  3. Donk
    Jul 29th, 2012 at 23:50

    So the Merc supports the XPressWest project, but not CAHSR? And where is this $6B figure coming from?


    synonymouse Reply:

    Sheldon Adelson alone is sitting on about $25 billion reportedly. Ask yourself why the Venetian magnate is not laying rails himself? He takes suckers’ money, not the other way around.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Because the ROI on bribing politicians is way higher than anything else.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Private capital isn’t going into passenger rail yet, partially because of what Alon has observed, partially because many people with money are older and a still tied to big driving, and partially–mostly, I would say–because the game is still rigged against it.

    I still say if the game were unrigged, that would change things VERY quickly.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It’s not exactly what I was saying. Rather, it’s that Adelson can make far more money buying politicians (Tom DeLay, Bibi Netanyahu, etc.) than making honest investments.

    brian Reply:

    Well not exactly true. Florida East Coast Railway is going into private passenger service. They have made the decision to do the new service after ridership studies were completed last month. Miami to Orlando. Now this is for sure a special case, but it does prove that private money is willing to invest in passenger rail in the USA. check out http://www.allaboardflorida.com/

    Paul Druce Reply:

    In my opinion, it’s mainly a way of boosting their real estate values, it won’t turn a net profit, including investment, on its own.

    brian Reply:

    You are correct in that general assessment. Also my opinion is that FEC is also looking at potential frieght traffic to Orlando (and Tampa in the future). But real estate is their best bet. On another blog, it was speculated that the Miami station development downtown could pay back enough over time to pay for the infrastructure for the new service. Not sure how true that is. For the land in downtown Miami, because it is a transit development, I read that there are special exceptions made to zoning rules regarding sq feet of buildings, usage, etc.. that would seem to make it very profitable for FECI holding company. And isn’t this what the original land grant railroads did back in the 1800’s? make money off of real estate as well as running a railroad. Regardless, it is indeed a very good development for passenger rail in this country.

    Andy M Reply:

    This is one of those projects I’m going to have to see before I believe.

    Setting up a website and collecting Facebook likes is one thing. Actually seeing this through will be a far tougher test.

    brian Reply:

    I can understand your thinking that, however I think this project is for real. AAF just announced on their website today the architects for their station design and TOD planning for their four planned stations on the initial route. So I can assume that they are serious about this project. I think at this point it is more about getting their financing set and also acquiring the ROW into Orlando that are the big hurdles to overcome. They do have deep pockets with their owners at Fortress Investment Group. This project has flown under the radar mostly, but don’t assume a lack of news means no progress. I have been in contact via email with an official from AAF in the past 2 months and it is very much a go at this point according to what I have been told recently after the investment grade ridership study came back in June. AAF has just chosen to keep quiet until they can confirm progress on the project is what it appears.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    I don’t see it. They aree claiming a 3 hour trip but the driving according to google maps is only 4 hours. I think they are going to pull a DesertWest and ask for all the capital in a loan from the government so there is no real risk to them, if it does not make money they will just default and walk away.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    While this Florida project is of interest here, it’s not true HSR. As far as we know, it’s to be diesel powered, with top speeds in the 110-125 mph range, and running on a railroad with freight trains. It’s what Bruce McF calls “Regional Rail,” and what an editor at Railway Age has called “higher speed rail,”, or “HrSR.”

    Your comments do bring up a discussion here from about a year or so ago, about how much speed you needed to have a competitive railroad. Basically, all you had to do was be faster than driving, which this will be by a fair margin.

    It can be surprising how slow competitive speeds can be, and how slow driving really is even in the best circumstances. Amtrak has a regional train in Virginia, running to Lynchburg; I think its average speed is in the 60 mph range, which probably puts the top speed at 79 mph. That’s the maximum a railroad is allowed to run without positive train control (PTC) or some variation of cab signals and automatic train stop. This train turned out to be quite competitive with auto traffic because there is no Interstate highway paralleling it (an example showing how government road subsidies gave an advantage to auto drivers, an advantage that’s absent here), and the train has been making an operating profit from almost the first day.

    I don’t know about Google’s time estimates, but I consider Mapquest’s times to be–optimistic. Even at that, it can be surprising how long it takes to drive some places. Too often people display ignorance (both non-negative and negative forms) when they say you can “average 65 mph” on some road. Truth is, though, you have to stop for gas, you have to stop to eat, you have to stop for “relief,” and on really long trips you should stop to sleep. All of that takes more time than you think. You also should wonder how you are going to feel on some of these trips.

    A somewhat hand-picked but real example may help illustrate the point. Mapquest gives the driving time from New York City (Broadway) to Chicago (LaSalle Street, and the station for the old 20th Century Limited was on that street) as just under 13 hours (actually 12:51). That works out to a speed of close to 61 mph for 791 miles (obviously Mapquest assumes you are a law abiding citizen who obeys speed limits). That’s about right, allowing for slower speeds over city streets at each end of the trip–but when do you stop for gas, when do you stop for food and your own relief, and what sort of shape are you going to be in after such a long drive? Indeed, that drive is illegal for commercial drivers, who are limited to 12 hours of duty time. People have died when bus drivers worked longer than this.

    The train takes longer (20 hours, which is 3 hours slower than it used to be, and even that 3-hour shorter time was with a 79 mph limit), and a part of that is that the rail mileage is 960 miles instead of 791 (the trains loop north and east (!) to Albany, NY)–but you can eat, rest, sleep, read, work on a computer, or just enjoy the Hudson River instead of being cooped in a tin can for that long trip–in fact, much of the trip is at night, and you can sleep and arrive in Chicago in morning refreshed instead of being a zonked-out zombie. I would personally take the train, but too many other people would look at that time and insist on driving; an example of ignorance, or at least not thinking things through.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    What do you do when Mapquest ( or Google or … ) doesn’t account for the 45 minutes it takes to go through the tunnel or bridge between Manhattan and New Jersey. Or the way I-80 can turn into a parking lot in western New Jersey. Or the way it turns into a parking lot [insert a metro area here}

    Brian Reply:

    From what I’ve read, it will be majority 110mph running with 79mph at the miami end and 125mph at the Orlando to cocoa end. Depending on the train sets they use, avg speeds of >80mph are very possible. That would equal Washington to NYC service for avg speed. The key to any successful service is not necessarily maximizing the speed, but frequency and reliability. I’ve seen where they plan to offer departures from 6am to 9pm. And hourly service at that. Even if they expand to Tampa where I live, 4 hour travel to Miami from Tampa is competitive with travel by car and will be alot more enjoyable as there are no issues of traffic jams to deal with, especially in south Florida. I don’t see them applying for government loans at this time, the timeline is too tight for running trains at the end of 2014.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    “Or the way I-80 can turn into a parking lot in western New Jersey. Or the way it turns into a parking lot [insert a metro area here}”–adirondacker12800

    That can be in some of the most surprising places, some of which are not that large at all. One of them is Harrisonburg, Va., on I-81. That road turns into a parking lot or something like it around 5 in the afternoon; that’s when I ran into it. I don’t imagine that state lasts too long, but it’s still strange when you look at how small Harrisonburg is. It’s been enough of a bottleneck that it’s been a source of serious complaint and study in Virginia.

    Andy M Reply:

    It’s not speed alone that makes trains competitive. You cannot really compare time spent on a train where you can doze or read or do some work or look out of the window to time spent driving where you are basically otherwise unproductive. Of course the train musn’t take far longer, but if it takes a reasonable margin longer than driving, it can still be a competetive alternative. What is more important than speed is having a regular service so you can travel at a time that suit you rather than having to adapt your plans to the train timetable. It has to be punctual, reliable and easy to use. What also matters is location of stations. Is there local transit? Are they in safe and walkabale areas, with significant traffic generators being within walkable distance? If you’re going to use freight railroad tracks that haven’t seen any passenger service for decades, that is no longer a given. I don’t know the situation in Florida, but all too often former stations sites get sold off and used for other purposes. Sometimes even the trackage that served them vanishes, as freight doesn’t normally need to go downtown. And even if the track is still there and the site can be recovered, it could be that the city itself has developed in a different way and that site is no longer of much relevance.

    We shouldn’t assume that just because something worked back in the 1950s (or because looking back through our rose-tinted spectacles, we fool ourselves into believing it worked), that it can be made to work again. Re-establishing lost passenger service can require considerable investment (often involving longer sections of new right of way like the NM Railrunner), not just some doodling on maps.

    I do wish this project success, but I do hope they are not naively underestimating the challenge? Do they have anybody on board who actually has experience with starting up passenger rail?

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    “Do they have anybody on board who actually has experience with starting up passenger rail?”–Andy M.

    Looks like they do–and with a California background at that:


    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    I also recall that Amtrak has expressed interest in running from Jacksonville to Miami, serving cities that haven’t had service in a long time; there was a test run a year or two ago. Despite having freight service, the railroad is quite ideal for passenger trains–flat, straight, at one time double-tracked, currently rated for 90 mph and already equipped with PTC. It was built for passenger service originally; it was to feed vacationers to founder Henry Flagler’s resorts up and down the coast of Florida, which was billed as “the American Riviera.”

    Miles Bader Reply:

    resorts up and down the coast of Florida, which was billed as “the American Riviera.”

    So when did it turn into “Deliverance: Beach Bingo”?

    Paul Druce Reply:

    3 hours is easily doable if you’re upgrade the tracks to support 90-110mph operations and only have a the couple of stations that they plan on. They also plan on doing this with at least a majority of the funding being private rather than public.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    Mouse, are you saying that investing in rail is for suckers?
    But yet you spend a lot of time on a rail blog.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Sin City is treading water while every place in the States is moving to legalized casinos. LV is an artificial and temporal byproduct of 20th century California blue laws.

    Amtrak does not even want to invest in LV service. BTW ditto for the Tehachapi Loop, wherein the UP could probably be talked into some token service if any powers-that-be cared.

    Showering money on PB is definitely for suckers. You saw what happened to the SNCF. Not crooked enough.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    You have to remember in 2009, Arnold was still the governor and still very interested in using HSR as part of a larger trade deal with Asia. Given that basically all Asian HSR systems are descendants of Japan’s system, using SNCF technology would put the kibosh on that idea and force Stew Resnik to have sell his pistachios the old fashioned way.

    VBobier Reply:

    There’s still no stop in Barstow CA, unless XpressWest has changed their mind and come to an agreement with the City of Barstow CA. They should go for Palmdale and Victorville as that would mean one loan for $8.4 Billion instead of two at $6.9 & $1.5 Billion each.

    Alan F Reply:

    I have seen 2 figures for the RRIF loan XpressWest is seeking: $5.5 billion with $1.4 billion in private investment (80% RRIF, 20% private financing) and $4.9 billion, but that might be an earlier figure based on a $6.5B pricetag. XpressWest is not going to get a RRIF loan for the entire $6.9 billion for the Victorville to Vegas segment. They have to put some private money into the game in order to get the loan.

    The Palmdale to Victorville segment is not ready for a government backed loan. XW has to complete a Tier II EIS and get a Record of Decision from the FRA first. The route for that segment can’t be established until CA has completed their own highway route selection.

    My guess is that the RRIF loan will be approved sometime in August when Congress is not in session so the Republicans can’t rush to the House or Senate floor to bash the loan and much of the press corps and right wing pundits are on vacation. An announcement on a Thursday afternoon or Friday would fit into that scenario. The Obama administration will show support for the loan, but this would lower the volume from those who attack every initiative the Administration undertakes. How about Thursday afternoon before the Olympics are over?

    PS. They should have stuck with the name DesertXpress. I find that to be a better name than the awkward sounding XpressWest.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    I honestly don’t see how they’ll get the loan. The requirements entail being able to pay it back yet there is nothing that they’ve ever released showing that they’ll be able to do so.

    egk Reply:

    …except their ridership/revenue study.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Which showed that something like 75% of their revenue would be taken up by paying the loans for the next decade.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Did that study though, assume that riders would have to park in Victorville before embarking? It would seem that given that Mr. Antonovich is going to reserve a ROW for Desert-Xpress-West in the High Desert Corridor project that a system that ran through to LA Union Station would have a much different ridership and revenue profile…

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Yes, but it also predicts a 20% diversion of auto trips, which I think is fairly absurd.

    Alan F Reply:

    Presumably there were detailed business revenue, costs and passenger traffic projections that were provided with the RRIF loan applications that would not be shared with the public. This is a private firm, they are not going to spend millions developing a detailed business plan, models, projections and share them with the public – and possible competitors. The FRA may have hired consultants to review the XW business plan and if those consultants report that the projected ticket revenue and income numbers look viable, that would give the FRA the cover they need to issue the RRIF loan. What the specific legal and statutory requirements that have to be met to qualify for a RRIF loan, I don’t know. We shall see what happens.

  4. D. P. Lubic
    Jul 30th, 2012 at 03:56

    In other related news, it seems a study, partially funded by none other than the Koch brothers, finds global warming to be real, alarming, and very likely caused by man:





    VBobier Reply:

    Oh how shocking, I’ll bet that wasn’t the slanted result they wanted…

  5. Tony D.
    Jul 30th, 2012 at 10:12

    Even MORE evidence that favors Cap N Trade revenue for HSR. Excellent! Keep em coming Robert…

  6. Reality Check
    Jul 30th, 2012 at 13:20

    Bay Area to Sin City? Las Vegas [XpressWest] backers gamble on record loan

    Already, private companies responsible for the train, which also include North Dakota motel developer Gary Tharaldson, have spent more than $50 million to clear all the required bureaucratic and planning hurdles. If the federal government approves XpressWest’s $5.5 billion loan application from December 2010, project officials claim that would trigger $1.4 billion in private financing.

    While President Barack Obama is a huge high-speed rail backer, the XpressWest loan would be 10 times larger than any other loan given since the $30 billion-plus rail funding program was created a decade ago. The California project is not vying for the loans and is searching instead for federal grants.

    Critics call the loan plan a super-sized version of Solyndra, the former Fremont solar company that shut down last year after receiving a $535 million federal energy loan. Still, the mostly-under-the-radar Vegas project hasn’t had to endure the gantlet of political attacks levied on the high-profile California bullet train, which skeptics call a boondoggle for its historic price tag and potential to drain vital state resources.

    Federal rail officials said they do not comment on pending loan applications.

    XpressWest officials expect to hear back on the loan’s fate later this summer. They confidently predict a groundbreaking on the initial $6.9 billion stretch from Vegas to Victorville later this year, with the first trains running by 2018, followed by a $1.5 billion extension west to the California-wide project at Palmdale.

  7. Reality Check
    Jul 30th, 2012 at 15:53

    Ok, so the concerned about ridership-and-cost-and-subsidies-and-“process” Peninsula boondoggle/kill HSR or “do it right” groups still haven’t done or said anything (that I’m aware of) about adding 4 (four!) additional lanes to Hwy 101 now underway starting in Palo Alto and Mountain View.

    So what about this $54m Santa Rosa Airport expansion project? Sure, the article says there are claims that each additional flight somehow brings in $15m … but have they validated the business plan, and does it really pass muster and guarantee no public/taxpayer subsidies?

    Runway plans delayed at Sonoma County airport


    A $53.8 million project at Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport to extend the runways is part of an $84 million expansion that also would add a passenger terminal, control tower and air cargo facility.

    More regulations: Work lengthening the runways was set to begin this month and wrap up in November 2013, but additional environmental requirements have pushed back completion to July 2014.

    Extra flights on hold: Alaska Airlines offers five flights a day. The expansion eventually would allow up to 21 flights, but the delay is expected to slow talks with other carriers.


    Alaska Airlines, now the only airline serving the county, offers five flights a day in and out of the airport. Long term, the expansion would allow up to 21 daily flights.


    The [Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce] was one of many in the business community to back the airport expansion as a boon for local industry and selling point for tourism.

    In approving the expansion plans in January, county supervisors echoed those points, citing studies that put the value of each additional flight at the airport at $15 million in direct and indirect investment in the local economy.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    So what about this $54m Santa Rosa Airport expansion project?

    CARRD hasn’t weighed in on the Guinea Worm Eradication Project, the use of antibiotics in livestock feed, or the state of post-earthquake reconstruction in the Dominican Republic either.

    Damned NIMBYs. Upate your web site. We demand the facts.

    Reality Check Reply:

    Of course, where the Peninsula HSR watchdogs have really let me down is the 101 widening. While I don’t live close enough to 101 to truly qualify, I’m a 101 widening NIMBY, and I’d love Peninsula HSR NIMBYs to go out and do their thing on Caltrans/VTA.

    Of course Richard, I don’t really expect them to go after Sonoma Co. airport expansion (and Guinea Worm) projects. I leave that to the Sonoma-Marin SMART NIMBYs to not make a peep about.

    It seems anti-rail NIMBYs are very selective in focusing their “concerns” on rail “waste” and “business plans” and “ridership” and “subsidies” and “good public process” to dress up their less appealing basic NIMBY motives. This is not to suggest, however, that HSRA — or almost any rail transit project I can think of — is above reproach in these areas of “concern”. And that’s what makes if so easy for NIMBYs to hide behind these legitimately altruistic-sounding “concerns” for the greater good of riders and/or taxpayers.

    Clem Reply:

    I have to agree–the double standard to which HSR is held is rather annoying to me. Where is the business plan for that 101 project, and was it vetted by Enthoven and the Sand Hill Road gang?

    joe Reply:

    What about the EIR?

    The 101 expansion adds a car pool and merging lane. It will allow traffic to pass the bottleneck where cars enter/exit the freeway. I happen to think this expansion will allow more cars into PAMPA streets in the AM, when kids are going to school.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    So the nice ladies whose organization has “Railroad Design” in its name are supposed to also fight 101 widening?

    Perhaps sticking to the issue is a way (do as I say, not as I do) to be effective? Or at least not to be hopelessly dissipated.


    Jon Reply:

    Jeez, you’ve practically defining a Straw Man argument right there.

    Highway widening is the same issue as high speed rail. Both are part of a larger debate about future transportation options, and expansion of rail transit is a direct alternative to highway expansion and airport expansion. So you would think that a group that attacks high speed rail by questioning the ridership studies and advocating financial prudence might have something to say about the ridership and financial prudence of a similar transportation project under construction just a couple of miles away from the project they so vehemently oppose. Even if that comment is simply “we do/don’t like it but haven’t had time to look into the details.”

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

    Jon Reply:

    ..and yet enough non-reply. Empty vessels and all that.

    joe Reply:

    It’s the “Blue Screen of Death”. He crashes all the time.

    The HW 101 expansion is supposed to get cars off the surface streets of Palo Alto which back up during the PM commute. The expansion also allows more traffic to reach Palo Alto during peak AM travel times. The City should have more street traffic in the AM as kids make their way to school.

    joe Reply:

    At least Caltrain Platform Compatability with HSR should be mentioned on the CARRD site. As of last week a search on the site turned up nothing. It’s a constructive activity – something I don’t see CARRD undertaking. It was organized to oppose, not improve pennisula rail.

    I personally think some CARRD members would like to see Caltrain service improved – such as better service to stations like Calirfornia St. to reduce the emphasis on the main PA stop.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Oh, such tragedy. To look at what Richard has done in the past, to know what he once was, and then to look to what he is now, is to bring tears to your eyes. To descend from what he once was, to become a walking mountain of madness, to fall to such depths of despair, is a frightening journey that can only be imagined.

    Oh, the horror, the horror. . .

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    That gave me a whopping headache; has anybody got some aspirin?

    Reality Check Reply:

    I will agree CARRD has probably been among the most effective CHSRA watchdog groups, particularly if the metric is media/press coverage and actual face/voice-time at hearings/panels and radio programs.

    While the “Rail Design” portion of their group name may fortuitously and retroactively allow them and their defenders/admirers to deflect questions as to why they’ve not brought any of their (richly-deserved, in my view) scrutiny on the quiet/stealth doubling to 4 lanes of the previously-announced/authorized VTA/Caltrans 2-lane auxiliary lane Hwy 101 widening project, I don’t even perceive the overall thrust of their CHSRA watchdogging/critiques having much, if any, “Responsible Design” elements. OK, so they do hammer HSRA on process, but “Responsible Rail Design” surely also extends to the design issues Clem has done a fantastic job in detailing and outlining sane and cost effective responses to in his excellent Caltrain-HSR Compatibility Blog.

    I would encourage and be heartened by CARRD more fully living up the “Advocating Responsible Rail Design” part of their moniker. On his blog, Clem has for years now served up the Peninsula design issues with excellent and (in my view, anyway) well-reasoned/researched solutions on a silver platter for CARRD to hammer home as they have done so well with project process problems. But Clem’s hard an excellent work appears more limited to blogging than the field work that CARRD so obviously excels at … and which is needed to get Clem’s ideas into the faces of the media and board members that CARRD is so good at reaching.

    To date, I’d stipulate a more accurate name for CARRD would have to be (CSIRPM) Citizens Slamming Irresponsible Rail Project Management. Their almost complete lack of focus on the ‘D’ in their name makes them come off more like NIMBYs than true citizens advocating responsible rail design.

    That said, I think Jon made a reasonable point. Hwy 101 widening parallel to and in direct competition with the Peninsula Caltrain/HSR corridor through Palo Alto really should be in their scope. But hey, obviously it’s their group and they can and will do what they want.

    In my view, bus, rail or highway advocacy groups may primarily be interested in one particular mode, they can and should follow and have something to say about all projects that are part of the transportation network in their geographic sphere of interest … especially ones that intersect or overlap or compete with their primary mode of interest.

    Jon Reply:

    To date, I’d stipulate a more accurate name for CARRD would have to be (CSIRPM) Citizens Slamming Irresponsible Rail Project Management. Their almost complete lack of focus on the ‘D’ in their name makes them come off more like NIMBYs than true citizens advocating responsible rail design.

    That’s it exactly. Clem’s no CAHSR booster, but he’s also no NIMBY. His blog has done far more to advocate for responsible railroad design than CAARD have ever done, but because he’s concerned about the dull but important technical details rather than just finding any excuse to slam the authority, he doesn’t get anywhere near the press coverage that Elizabeth and Nadia do. He does, however, come off with a lot more credibility and integrity, even to those who disagree with him.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Remind me again how any why anybody has any fucking idea of what the CHSRA and HBTB and PBQD and Cambridge Systematically Fraudulent are up to?

    Oh, that’s right. FOIA requests made by a bunch of useless blowhard blog commenters.

    Reality Check Reply:

    Whatever are you on about? And if it’s CARRD, who said they were any of those things?

  8. Reedman
    Jul 30th, 2012 at 16:08

    Environmentalists withheld their support for CAHSR until a Los Banos station was explicitly deleted from the plan. If HSR is good, wouldn’t more HSR be better?

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    nvironmentalists withheld their support for CAHSR until …

    Clem Reply:

    It could be explicitly added to the plan.

    YESONHSR Reply:

    Can you move out of the City?? Richy baby

  9. John Nachtigall
    Jul 31st, 2012 at 08:40

    This is 1 way to “go green”


    I would not draw any comparisons between India and the US but maybe it will spur someone to look into updating and upgrading the US electrical grid. That is capital investment I would be happy to support even if it meant nationalizing the grid (I belive currently it is sort of semi-governmental but not fully nationalized)

Comments are closed.