California High Speed Rail Authority Continues to Staff Up

Oct 25th, 2012 | Posted by

Tim Sheehan of the Fresno Bee has a good overview of some recent significant hires at the California High Speed Rail Authority. While Sheehan argues these changes mean “stability seems to be at a premium,” in fact this looks to me like things are settling down as the Authority gets ready to begin construction next year on the Central Valley segment of the system.

The authority announced this week that it’s hired Frank Vacca, who has been the Chief Engineer for Amtrak for six years, as chief program manager for the high-speed rail effort.

Vacca will head up the authority’s technical and engineering teams….

Earlier this year, Roelof van Ark, the authority’s CEO since mid-2010, stepped down; the agency eventually tabbed Jeffrey Morales as his replacement. Morales, a former chief of Caltrans, came to the authority from his post as a vice president of Parsons Brinckerhoff, the multinational engineering and consulting company that is providing overall project management services to the authority.

Jeff Abercrombie, a Caltrans veteran who was the authority’s Central Valley program manager for about a year and a half, returned to Caltrans last month. His post has been filled by Diana Gomez, who worked for Caltrans in Los Angeles. Gomez is one of eight senior positions the authority has filled recently.

Within Parsons Brinckerhoff, Hans Van Winkle, a retired general with the Army Corps of Engineers, was the company’s high-speed rail project manager. Van Winkle’s appointment to the post was much ballyhooed by the authority back in 2010. Van Winkle is now on to other things within the company, and Brent Felker took over the high-speed rail chores — quietly and without ceremony — within the past few months.

Staffing changes aren’t unusual on big projects like this, but what you are seeing is that Governor Jerry Brown is slowly but surely getting his team in place. Many of the new hires, in addition to the ones described above, are filling vacancies. The numerous open positions was a point of criticism made by peer reviewers and the Legislative Analyst’s Office against the Authority in recent years, so this should be taken as a positive sign.

Many of these new hires have a background in government transportation, whether Amtrak or Caltrans. That’s a good sign, as successful construction of the project will require people familiar with building public transportation projects in California and the legal, regulatory, and political issues that come with them.

Sheehan also pointed to three resignation from the CHSRA board. We mentioned Bob Balgenorth’s retirement earlier this month. Matthew Toledo was appointed on the last day of 2010 by outgoing governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Russell Burns was appointed back in 2009 by then-Speaker Karen Bass. Brown can now appoint more of his own people to the board, helping ensure his stamp is on the project as it moves forward.

  1. Stephen Smith
    Oct 25th, 2012 at 21:48

    In Spain, project managment is done in-house whenever possible. In California, they’re just now getting around to hiring a chief project manager.

    joe Reply:

    My experience, companies formulate a project with a one team and shift staff when they begin to execute.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    PB shifted a senior vice president from its own payroll into the “public” position of supervising PB’s contract and approving all of PB’s rent-seeking designs.

    Capitalism is what makes America great.

    That, and Amtrak.

    Brian Reply:

    Richard, he was the head of Chicago CTA, then head of CalTrans, then joined PB.

    If he ran CalTrans first, how is he a “captive” of PB and not qualified to run the Authority?

    Also as he headed up the revised business plan that cut $30 billion by cutting lots of concrete, how is that “rent seeking”?

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Thanks, Brian! I had no idea! You learn fresh new fascinating things here every single day in the anonymous comment section of teh interweb blogs.

    joe Reply:

    Brian’s right.

    What is the conflict of interest? There are laws so what’s the illegality? There is none.

    How does Jeff Morales make money off this scam? He doesn’t.

    You can’t even show how Jeff Morales is involved in the decision or procurement.

    Companies often hire from a pool of sub-contractors and interns – so do universities and the government.

    VBobier Reply:

    I can tell Ya why some don’t like Jeff Morales or President Obama, Closet Racism, nothing more, nothing less, If Obama were VP and Biden were President there would be no objections, it’s cause there’s a Black Man in the White House that was built by Black Slaves, who were as human as anyone else and that is the truth, as are their descendents. People objecting to this or that or to HSR is just stnkin smoke screen by a bunch Old White Men and Women who can’t accept that the legal President of the USA is a Black Man and that He is better than someone like Romney at being POTUS and that will always be true, Romney only knows how to tear things apart, sure He’ll make jobs, His record as a CEO(Dictator) says they will be overseas in China in a Bain leased Factory(it’s Chinese Government owned over there), just so someone can profit at others expense and live the life of reilly without a care in the world for others outside of His own family…

    Donk Reply:

    Are you listening to yourself? You sound equally as ridiculous as a conservative Republican.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    Morales was a senior guy at CTA, but he was not the head

    Elizabeth Reply:

    It should be noted that the amount of concrete was not noticeably decreased in revised Biz Plan. The plan simply shifted the cost to other agencies.

    joe Reply:

    So what’s the conflict of interest here with Jeff Morales?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Not with Morales, but with everyone who goes through the industry-government revolving door.

    VBobier Reply:

    Basically some are objecting to peoples work History, this is so wrong… It’s also petty and meaningless too and that’s exactly what the courts will see this as, if anyone sues on this basis it will be tossed out and of that I have no doubt… And for those that don’t like this, I don’t give a rats ass…

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Some people don’t mind corruption.

    joe Reply:

    I hate corruption. Not one explanation of what is “corrupt”.

    A public employee who leaves the government and uses his previous knowledge and experience to make money is illegal too. There are federal and state laws against these types of corruption but Jeff Morales went from private sector.

    Does he get a kickback? Illegal.
    He downs stock in PB – illegal.
    Helps a family member – illegal.
    Gets gifts over $500 – illegal.
    He benefits financially – illegal.
    He funnels money to a Sub that he has a financial interest – illegal.

    Finally, it is common for people to work as a intern, sub, postdoc, or as a contractor and then get hired by the firm/org/univ that they worked with. The employer gets to vet before they hire.

    CAHSRA need people with experience and they can’t switch between private and public sector.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The revolving door is the problem here – he can go from public back to private, as he has before, and this means he has a different incentive from a purely public employee.

    Something similar is true of financial regulators, by the way: because of the same revolving door, their incentive is to develop an ideology that’s friendly to big financial institutions, and this means they won’t regulate them as effectively.

    Nathanael Reply:

    So what are you going to do about it? The first thing you need to do is to substantially raise the pay of government officials, because unless you do so, the revolving door is *too tempting* and no regulation will ever be able to stop it.

    Once the regulators are making more money than the regulated, *then* you can successfully prevent them from going back to the private sector.

    Obviously, the right-wingers refuse to implement this solution, because they always try to cut government officials’ pay. Well, this makes sense: right-wingers LIKE a government which is run by people captured by the private contracting companies.

    (I expect to hear right-wing bullshit complaints about this solution from a bunch of the usual right-wingers on this blog, many of whom don’t realize that they’re right-wingers.)

    Anyway, until we do that — or use the law to forcibly reduce the income of people in private-sector jobs, which can be done int he financial world, but I don’t see a practical way to do it in the construction world — there is simply no way to end the ‘revolving door’, so we are stuck with it.

    Brian Reply:

    Really Elizabeth?

    Can you provide citations or links to which “other agencies” are now obligated to spend $30 billion extra?

    Somehow I missed those celebratory new releases that these agencies would raise the extra $30 billion for HSR voluntarily.

    joe Reply:

    I think it is the opposite. Electrification of Caltrain is part of the HSR budget. I think the long needed grade separations in the Peninsula will be part of the HSR construction costs. So there’s ample evidence in the Peninsula of HSR paying the tab with overdue infrastructure improvements.

    jonathan Reply:

    How does “I think” magically become “ample evidence”?

    joe Reply:

    I think you are too hot headed to read clearly.

    “Electrification of Caltrain is part of the HSR budget.”
    The memorandum of understanding between the California High-Speed Rail Authority and seven Bay Area public agencies would use local, regional and federal funding to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in high-speed rail funds for the project. Riders could see an electrified Caltrain system as soon as 2019, Caltrain announced.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    1) Joe is correct about electorification. There was money in budget for it.
    2) All of the savings were from 3 buckets. a – arbitrary changes in assumptions about inflation and timing of construction. This does not represent a change in the amount of concrete. b – assumption that HSR deadends in LA. c – caltrain blended system.

    We need to look more carefully at the budgets to breakdown cost savings to show why I claim there is very little concrete being saved. If you want to look at amounts of concrete, it is best to compare costs in current year (2010) format.

    Cost of draft biz plan lowest cost option (2010) $61.4 bn
    Cost of revised biz plan lowest cost option (2010) $49.5 bn

    Cost in draft biz plan lowest cost option San Jose – LA (2010) $42.2 bn
    Cost in revised biz plan lowest cost option San Jose – LA (2010) $43.5 bn

    This actually went up $1.3 bn.

    Cost in draft biz plan lowest cost option LA – Anaheim (2010) $5.6 bn
    Cost in revised biz plan lowest cost option LA – Anaheim (2010) $0.5 bn

    In this case, all the planned grade seps between LA and Anaheim are out of budget, LAUS run-through tracks are out of budget. While sanity would dictate that there is scope reduction from what was originally planned, many of the improvements will happen. Indeed the $500 mm in bookend funding that LA got will largely go to projects which were in the draft plan. For example, Anaheim is about to approve a $92 million grade sep that they hope will be paid for with a mixture of book end money, as well as other state and local $$. Run through tracks are still necessary but pricey. They will use book end money and again other state, local, federal $$. An LA person may be able to chime about the upgrades to this corridor that are likely to occur over the next 20 years (original timeframe of draft plan).

    Cost in draft biz plan lowest cost option SF – San Jose (2010) $13.6 bn
    Cost in revised biz plan lowest cost option SF – San Jose (2010) $5.6 bn

    This is where the real nuttiness occurs. Some of the $8 billion in cost savings is real. There are places where you will not probably ever build a 4 track aerial structure. On the other hand, a couple billion of the savings comes from the CHSRA limiting its responsibility to contribute to transbay tunnel. This is several billion $ of spending that will happen. Some will come locally (land sales from redeveloping land after the 280 comes down?) and some will probably come from same federal $$ that CHSRA will be after. The total budget for grade seps in the revised plan is $20 million. With 10 trains an hour planned in each direction, many if not all of the 50ish grade crossings will get separated over the next 20 years. And those passing tracks that are assumed in the operations analysis? Nowhere to be found in the budget.

    joe Reply:

    “Arbitrary changes to inflation. ”

    If the savings are arbitrary so too were the origional costs arbitrary.

    IMHO inflation was overly conservative, too high and became a point of attack. It is a lesson in why overly conservative estimates are “dangerous “.

  2. Joey
    Oct 26th, 2012 at 00:05

    Still not a single person with actual HSR expertise? (and no, the Acela debacle doesn’t count)

    Neville Snark Reply:

    God you’re right. So far, it looks like Syno/Richard prophecy coming true …

    synonymouse Reply:

    I am beginning to think LaLa is as eccentric and bizarro as the Bay Area. (But how can you get more boffo than Indian Broad Gauge?)

    Where in hell is Sepulveda Pass?

    Six mile tunnels are ok here but verboten at Tejon?

    And is Villa really up for re-election?:

    For all its reputation as a futuristic and progressive place doesn’t the Tejon Ranch Co’s stranglehold on LA planning seem peculiarly “retro”?

    I saw “Chinatown” again recently and I think the actual line is:

    “You may think you know what you are dealing here, Mr. Gittes. But believe me you don’t”

    John Huston should have gotten an Oscar, but I suspect he(and Polanski and the screenwriter whose name I cannot remember)surely must have pissed off some powerful people.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Forgot the “with”

    J Baloun Reply:

    300,000 vehicle trips a day.

    J Baloun Reply:

    300,000 trips. That just about evacuates the city or New Orleans every day.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The dual six mile rail-road tunnel would appear to be roughly of the same magnitude(if not greater)than the Quantm golf course mountain crossing at Tejon.

    Curious how otherwise fatal LA Basin seismic worries just seem to evaporate when the right people are making proposals.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Should have read dual level tunnel

    thatbruce Reply:

    Six mile tunnels are ok here but verboten at Tejon?

    The USGS has an interactive fault map where a casual layman can compare the single slip fault (Santa Monica) at Sepulveda Pass with the intersection of 3 slip faults (San Gabriel, San Andreas, Garlock) and a small reverse thrust fault (Pleito) at Tejon.

    It’s still a stupid place to put a tunnel. But it’s a less stupid place than Tejon.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    it’s a less stupid place than Tejon.

    Apart from the crossing a fault underground part, and massive extra expense part, and the large extra route-km costs, and the significant extra power supply costs, and the large extra construction staging costs, and the huge operating cost increases, and the lower state-wide ridership from a slower trip between the major (overwhelmingly major) markets, what precisely makes PBQD’s rent-seeking Palmdale route “less stupid”? There must be something right, otherwise you’d just be typing random words in a void, right?

    And please, feel more than free to examine and cite PBQD’s own heavily-sandbagged and rapidly-quashed own study form January 2012 to point out exactly where the stupidity lies. Because there must be something in there, right? Somewhere in there, right? Hello?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    They are going to have to build it anyway to get to Las Vegas?

    synonymouse Reply:

    Here’s my thoroughly personal, no-doubt addled. cranky and contrarian view of RoundaboutRail.

    It’s a laff-riot tho the laffs are on the foamers. If built out as it stands now there are three primary beneficiaries and two have to seem ironic to say the least.

    That would be Palmdale, Sin City billionaire moguls, and the class ones.

    Palmdale will get its quasi-BART to LA; Sin City another attempt at passenger rail service, and the big winner, the UP-Santa Fe will get their new and improved line over the Tehachapis virtually free, courtesy of the taxpayers.

    Antonovich will of course be happy but I kinda doubt the hard-left Patronage Machine will be pleased they have blown all those funds to primarily benefit the hard=right Sheldon Adelson and the center-right Steve Wynn; and these guys don’t even appreciate it. There is no demonstrated demand for this rail service – all past attempts have petered out – and this one will too. Big loser, your convalescent Harry Reid, who will have backed a worse bomb than the LV Monorail.

    Biggest surprize of all for the UP-haters will be that the latter will end up owning and running the DeTour, albeit in a mutated form. I suspect there is a very hidden hand here; I’ll call it “old railroad hands” who are puppeteering the whole show.

    The CHSRA charade will go down something like this:

    They will construct the Tehachapi alignment, nicely paralleling the UP in many places, and so interestingly to quite similar parameters as FRA-AAR freight railways, all chalked up to “Value Engineering”. Connection at Mojave.

    Bombardier or the like will get the initial operating contract. In short order it will be organized, maybe even Pelosi’s notorious TWU, you know the one with the 13 guaranteed, non-documented no-shows in the contract:

    Pretty soon there will agitation, demonstrations, and eventually a real strike. The Machine will intervene on the side of the union; the private operator will throw in the towel; and the State will take over.

    Most likely they will try to enlist Amtrak at this point, with the State retaining ownership of the physical plant and paying for the maintenance. Red ink and deferred maintenance will inexorably ensue and the State will move to privatize. Guess who will be the only bidder, at a clearance price. The UP will modify, cannibalize, re-organize and maybe toss a bone of a few trains over the Mountain a day to placate the foamers.

    Crazy? PG&E Richard may have done a Freudian slip when he said the CHSRA would relieve freight congestion on the Loop. The truth is Amtrak cannot exist without the freight rr’s. As it stands the Raton Pass line may close, as it is redundant to the BNSF and the states claim they have no funds to maintain it. Amtrak is broke. Portents of the Roundabout’s fate.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Peyote is not a drug to be taken lightly.

    There’s a couple flaws in your fantasy.

    1. A private contractor like Veolia won’t want to own the equipment. It’s convenient to think that a rolling stock provider like Bombardier would simply hire workers to make their equipment a selling point, but that’s not really likely unless the sponsor is a foreign government trying to sell us their technology. The state is going to buy the equipment and own the track anyway unless in cases where other public agencies already own track that would be shared.

    2. If the State hires a contractor outright, it’s likely to be Amtrak to begin with or an airline looking to diversify it’s profile. Amtrak and many airlines already have workers represented by the TWU, so it’s not as if they won’t know how to manage concessions.

    3. The UP has about as much incentive to buy CHSRA track as the transbay tube. California needs exports to flow from the San Joaquin Valley out to the Port of Oakland and into Asia. Los Angeles/Long Beach, meanwhile receives more imports that are shipped eastward into the rest of country, not northward to the Valley.

    4. The Class I’s of course would want the government to build them upgrades for free. But it’s BNSF that has gone further in this regard than the UP.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The CHSRA will want to try to contract out operations to an outfit that appears to be “private” to cater to the promises of Prop 1A and fend off critics. And of course if it is indeed Bombardier that is awarded the contract to build the trainsets it will already have handsomely payola’d the functionaries and will stand at the head of the line.

    Amtrak’s unions, outside the NEC, are not like the locals that will organize the CHSRA. Government owned and operated is quite a different environment than privately owned and operated. SF Muni and BART are the template – remember Pelosi is the primary mover and shaker behind RoundaboutRail and she will want to reward her favorite inhouse union, the TWU, if at all possible.

    In any event you can count on straightout guvmint operation in short order, but the red ink will quickly mount up to the point the State will have to spin off, aka privatize. (Remember California is Greece of the day after tomorrow). Urbanized chunks, like the Palmdlale to LA neo-BART will remain government owned and run as the locals will be made to accept the very high taxation levels required(see BART). Adios the rural trackage(as with Raton)and the class ones will be free to cherry-pick as they like.

    No psychotropics required – my conceit is much easier on the mind than the conventional wisdom that TehaVegaSkyRail is the wetdream of a handful of corrupt morons.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Again, you seem not to be reading the tea leaves very well.

    If Amtrak California is dismembered into local JPAs that can hire fully private firms to run their services, you are going to have a decent number of suddenly idled Amtrak employees who could handle nearly all the duties required with running CHSRA.

    The bigger issue is who fronts the cost of capital and operating investment to run the railroad itself? No rolling stock sale is big enough to make it worth it. I mean, you don’t see FasTrack building their own bridges do you? Or Toyota building its own charging stations for the Prius. So yes, Bombadier could be the contractor, but that would indicate Amtrak is already going to be the concessionaire.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Tom, Caltrain requires the private contract operators to maintain current staffing levels.

    jonathan Reply:

    Synonymouse, one more time: a competently-designed HSR route is USELESS to US freight railroads s. Useless. An HSR line will be desiged for ~17-tonne axle loads, and with grades of 2% or more. There’s no way a US freight railroad with 33-tonne axle loads can handle either one. Overweight FRA-copliant lcomoatives can’t haul humungous 33-tonne-axle-load cars up those grades; and the axle loads will destroy bridges and viaducts.

    How many times do we have to tell you this, before you get it?

    synonymouse Reply:

    Fix a little there; change a little there, et voila. The Loop is relieved.

    All those out there itching to go to Palmdale, please stand up.

    The DeTour is not the Transbay Tube – it’s a joke. Perfect exercise in friperie for Tutor-Saliba.

    Tejon is the punch-thru equivalent of the BART tube.

    Joey Reply:

    Fix a little here, change a little here, and by the time you’re done the cost benefit of Tejon is nearly gone. The Tehachapi line is fine for freight, and eliminating the remaining single track segments could very well be cheaper than trying to accommodate heavy freight on HSR lines.

    synonymouse Reply:

    I must be stupid; I am not following.

    Tehachapi is a freight detour they went to ca 1870 because they wanted the access to the east and Mojave and LA was nothing. They did not have a clue LA would in time dominate California the way Chicago dominates Illinois. Except LA is more corrupt.

    There are no upgrades(short of a base tunnel and why would you do a base tunnel there)at Tehachapi that it would render it the equal of Tejon. Hey, let’s relocate I-5 to Mojave.

    Mitigating factors:

    1. Freight at half the speed of hsr.
    2. PB, in dissing Tejon as seismic hopeless, has effectively promised no seismic damage whatsoever at Tehachapi. This means they have to design everything extra-heavy; otherwise they will have a scandal of Big Dig proportions if their infrastructure there is wrecked in a quake.
    3. PB is bringing an Amtrak guy on board as head of engineering. This means the CHSRA is proceeding with Amtrak as the likely operator. This means existing Amtrak equipment compatible – ergo, you are getting pretty damn close to FRA-AAR.
    4. PB lives to pour concrete, the more the merrier.

    Personally I sense the “gnomes” at work behind the scene knowing full well the cost benefit ratio and utilization factor of the DeTour are atrocious. This is not Afghanistan; $20 billion flushed down the crapper will attract attention. They are going to make this thing freight possible if and when the passengers don’t materialize.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Think something a little more practical.

    Currently Amtrak has no service what-so-ever to Las Vegas and that even Acela-fast services that would serve this market would do a lot to burnish the reputation of train travel among the uninitiated.

    When you add in the political heft of guys like Antonivich and Harry Reid, it makes sense that if Desert Xpress West by Northwest is going to get built anyway that Tehachapi is the more logical alignment.

    Now, it is true that Tehachapi is probably going to require *serious* capital investment that might exhaust the remainder of Prop 1A funds. But that Merced to Palmdale IOS dovetails with the existing consensus in Northern and Southern California.

    Meanwhile, the biggest issue is going to be the disruption in the Valley of the existing San Joaquin and thruway bus service. But that’s not that big a deal relatively speaking.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The reason there is no passenger train service to Las Vegas is because the market does not warrant it. Ditto for service over the Tehachapi Loop.

    Vegas’ time has come and gone. It has the vice but no longer the monopoly on casino gambling. In time it will just look seedy, like the Tenderloin.

    Peter Reply:

    Right, because 40 million annual visitors obviously demonstrates your point of “the market does not warrant it.”

    Maybe the market just wasn’t interested in passenger rail service that took over 7 hours each way? Whereas 4 hours each way might work a bit better?

    Finally, again, there is a lot more to Vegas than casino gambling.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Mostly they tend to fly or drive. Sorry, that’s just the way it is.

    Sin City is strictly an artifact of California laws. You could decree the same Xanadu in Palm Springs, for instance. You’d save on energy and the money would stay in California to pay to feed all those homeless people milling around in downtown SF and LA.

    Let Californians get wasted in California and use the money from the sin taxes for entitlements. for the down and out. We have a bunch.

    Joey Reply:

    I must be stupid; I am not following.

    Perhaps. Or you just fail to understand the nature of freight rail in the US. The US freight railroads make their money on shipping things at very low cost. This means freight cars are loaded as much as possible, it means half an hour of additional journey time means almost nothing, it means that crawling along flat terrain at bicycle speeds isn’t a major concern. All of this is antithetical to running any sort of freight across a shorter HSR line. No matter how well the line is built, you are always going to have weight restrictions in order to maintain the track geometry for HSR. The long tunnels would necessitate electric power, which means you’re looking at a locomotive change somewhere, costing probably about as much time as you would save with a base tunnel, plus adding labor costs etc.

    Peter Reply:

    “Mostly they tend to fly or drive.”

    No shit. They also have zero alternative right now, and even with the Amtrak Desert Wind, they had no reasonable alternative at the time.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Long freightless tunnels like the Moffat and Cascade. And the St. Gotthard base tunnel.

    Who knows but what Bombardier or Amtrak might have to run diesels thru any tunnels on the DeTour.

    I’d wager you could find people in the engineering and departments at both our two class ones who could tell you how to adapt the Roundabout to handle freight.

    Point remains that the $20bil or so I guesstimate to construct the Loop Replacement aka the Grande DeTour is simply too big a fiscal blow-out to hide from the public. This is not god-forsaken 3rd world hellhole we’re bribing here – oh well, maybe it is; it’s California.

    Call them what you wish, old railroad hands, gnomes, or better minds, the hidden hand is not going to do the mountain crossing in such a way utility can be extracted from it in the event it disappoints or downright fails. It is a risk – political and financial – many times greater than Muni’s extended ex-Stubway. The Stubway is a failure to properly prioritize; the Roundabout is just a fiasco from its heart.

    I doubt there is any basal utility than can be extracted from Deserted Xprss, which is why i cannot imagine it will ever be completed.

    synonymouse Reply:

    should read “cannot be extracted.

    synonymouse Reply:

    “engineering and operating departments”

    This software needs a large font preview feature for failing eyes.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    You misunderstood; the “less stupid” place to tunnel is Sepulveda Pass, not Soledad Canyon.

    thatbruce Reply:


  3. synonymouse
    Oct 26th, 2012 at 13:03

    And Tehachapi is better? 50 miles and a half hour longer, $5bil more better?

    Is the Sepulveda close enough to share in the fun of Northridge?

  4. morris brown
    Oct 26th, 2012 at 15:00

    Sen. Reid taken to hospital after Vegas car crash–election.html

    Reid has been a major voice for HSR both here for California HSR project and for the Desert Xpress proposed line.

    StevieB Reply:

    Sen. Harry Reid was bruised by his seat belt.

    “Senator Reid was taken to University Medical Center Hospital by his security detail as a precaution, and walked in on his own,” said a statement released by Reid’s office to NBC News. “Senator Reid was wearing his seatbelt at the time of the accident. He experienced rib and hip contusions and has been cleared for release by the doctors.”

    The voice of Sen. Reid will not be so readily silenced.

    VBobier Reply:

    Nope He’s a tough and wily old bird…

    jonathan Reply:

    bird, fart, magic-Mormon-underpants-wearer.. whatever. Still a voice which will be heard until at least 2014.

    VBobier Reply:

    So Reid is a Mormon, so freakin what? Big whoop, ever heard of freedom of Religion? It’s not like He wears it on His sleeve, like some far right loonies do…

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Why 2014? He’s not up for reelection until 2016.

  5. D. P. Lubic
    Oct 26th, 2012 at 23:06

    In other news, the Pullman Rail Journeys arm of Iowa Pacific (which recently made some minor headlines by signing a “memorandum of understanding” to reestablish Pullman service between New York City and Lake Placid) is apparently about to inaugurate its first operation, on a route between Chicago and New Orleans on October 29:

    Floor plans in the link below:

    It looks like it will be pricey, but not quite as extreme as American Orient Express or successor Grande Lux (although still way too pricey for me). It’s worthy of note, at least to me, that rather than a faux “European” feel, this company is going for an American style–and that includes sections! I wonder how well those will sell!

    Who wants to ride (even if you can’t afford it)?

    Jos Callinet Reply:

    I would not be surprised to find that a good many people will want to see just how well-done this new enterprise is. It’s remarkable that someone is willing to step forward to revive the rail-travel experience as it was in the best days of railroading.

    I wish them every success – a lot will depend on how well they execute their mission, including living up to what they are promising their customers in exchange for a hefty ticket price. They can’t afford to flub this one.

  6. StevieB
    Oct 27th, 2012 at 19:20

    California 10th House District Republican Reps. Jeff Denham is facing an expensive fight. The HSR opponent who sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee is below 50% in his own polls but refuses to admit the race is close. Over $7 million has been spent in the Sacramento district so far. Politico claims GOP’s California dreams dashed as Republicans started the year with high hopes in the state.

    But the Golden State isn’t the golden opportunity the GOP thought it was this cycle. Nearly every Republican in California and in D.C. privately concedes the same thing: They could wake up on Nov. 7 having lost every competitive seat in the state.

    The removal of Jeff Denham now appears likely and would be a hard blow to California HSR opponents.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    HSR will be dead when Prop 30 dies. Moonbeam et al will need someone or something to blame and since HSR is losing him votes it will be a convenient target. Even if he does not kill it outright, he will not have the “juice” to ask for more money from the taxpayers for it and with prop 1a funds exhausted that will be the end of that.

    Really I would like to thank the supporter of HSR on this board. Because of you the state will only borrow 9 billion instead of tax the 50 billion that prop 30 would have cost us. A generally good bargain.

    VBobier Reply:

    LIAR! Prop 1a and 30 have nothing to do with each other, outside of being ballot measures, if Prop 30 does not pass it will not effect HSR one bit! You twit… Good riddance to Jeff Dunsel and any other elected CA Repug for that matter, State and/or Federal…

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    One of the top 3 reasons sited by voters for voting no on prop 30 is HSR. It pisses people off regarless of the fact 1 is capital and 1 is operating budget. Money is money.

    The HSR bonds passed by 1 vote and are going to cost 350 million per year in interest payments out of the general fund.

    Do you really think the Dems are going to continue to support it when they have to trigger the 5-6 billion in cuts as a result of prop 30 failing? Who is the real twit here?

    joe Reply:

    Yes, Dems will continue to support HSR. Investing in American and infrastructure is a core Dem value as is alternative transportation and energy independence.

    It’s opposed by the GOP. That’s why it’s failing. 70% oppose Prop 30.

    If 30 fails, Dems have to either cut the budget or raise revenues. Corporations support Prop 30 because they know the state will raise revenues on targeted items like beer soda oil.

    Other companies that have stepped up financially include Coca-Cola, which has contributed $592,000 to the Yes on 30 campaign; Occidental Petroleum, $500,000; California Beer and Beverage Distributors, $255,000; and Aera Energy, California Medical Association and KP Financial Services, each contributing $250,000.

    Nathanael Reply:

    If sane candidates (which means Democrats, since all Republican candidates are insane) win 2/3 of both houses of the CA legislature, then of course all bets are off, because the shackles of Prop 13 will be released.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Prop. 30 will probably pass.

    It’s that 47% thing – robopolitix

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    It’s losing in polling

    Alon Levy Reply:

    If the government spends $10 billion and also fails to raise taxes to pay for it, why is that a win?

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Because it will force them to live within their means. The CA government spends so much money on things that are not core to function of government they have shown they will not change unless there is a crisis. So spending 9 billon on HSR the same year they cut 6 billion from education will force a rethink of the whole role of government. That is a good thing

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    The CA government spends so much money on things that are not core to function of government they have shown they will not change unless there is a crisis.

    Right, like massively subsidizing homeowners and other property tax payers through Prop 13 and Prop 98. There’s no shortage of cash for the State to pay for the program it actually operates: universities, state parks, highways, etc but the Constitution requires it to bail out local government jurisdictions like counties and school districts who can’t have property tax revenue cover operating costs.

    And then to make matters worse, since incorporated cities are guaranteed a slice of point of sales tax revenue, many counties and school districts have to absorb additional costs from growth and development that they have no way to pay for, and no way to stop.

    There’s no reason why local governments should be able to hold the state’s ability to provide excellent, world standard assets hostage. It’s not just about HSR, but about the State Park system, our highways, water delivery system, our universities, and the like. Voting Prop 30 down, FYI, just kicks the can down the road.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Three cheers for starving the beast!

    Nathanael Reply:

    Bullshit. Did Bush’s giant tax cuts prevent him from starting multiple wars? No, no they did not.

    Learn some modern economics. Spending always comes first and taxes always come afterwards. You could cut taxes to zero and it would have no effect on government spending. Historically, this is simply proven fact. If you want to cut spending — for instance, I would like to see the bloated federal military budget cut — you have to actually cut spending.

    joe Reply:

    Because we are in a economic recession and the responsible thing is to borrow and invest when the private sector has excess, unused capacity.

    The accompanying increase in GDP reduces the debt ratio.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    California isn’t a sovereign borrower.

    joe Reply:

    Which means what Alon?

    The State’s economic activity goes up and the debt it CA owes is a smaller faction of it’s wealth – the debt is more affordable.

    The spending also produces in-state economic activity which produces more tax revenue. Since we’re spending stat eand fed dollars, the within state economic benefit is greater than if it were 100% state money.

    Bonus – we build HSR.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    What you’re saying is true for a country with its own currency. When you don’t have that, see Spanish/Irish/Greek bond rates.

    joe Reply:

    No Alon.

    I made no mention of devaluing currency and cheapening the debt by cutting the value of a currency.

    The State has a GDP and the spending of State and federal funds increases economic activity and the state’s GDP. That increases the tax receipts in CA and it also lessens the debt burden.

    Greek and Spanish budget cuts and austerity are their problem, they are cutting spending and reducing GDP and worsening their GDP to debt ratio. They are paying off debt and falling further behind.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The fact that you didn’t mention it doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. Independently of whether devaluation is currently taking place, you see low bond yields in the US, Switzerland, Sweden, UK, Japan, etc., and high ones in Spain, Italy, and the other German colonies. This is because the countries in the first group could devalue their debt in the future if they needed to, which gives them much more slack to run up debt now. California is not a sovereign borrower, and can’t devalue relative to other states or print money, which means it’s in a more constrained situation. Best it can do is sell bonds, and even that has its limits.

    joe Reply:

    Yes devaluing debt with a currency is very important. I agree with you about devaluation.
    I am however, aware CA has no currency to float.

    The benefits of spending on HSR are there even as a state. We get fund matching by the feds, we do this spending at a time of historically low cost borrowing and save with reduced soical/unemployment benefit spending. Workers will be paying taxes, buying gods and generating activity.

    We gain infrastructure like Caltrain electrification to keep the SV productive and maintain a quality of life.

    Here’s a neat graphic about our debt to GDP ratio. I noticed RI is in horrible shape, CA, not so bad.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Talking to you is like arguing with a talking points machine.

    joe Reply:

    The link provided shows GDP to Debt ratio for each USA State.

    Spending federal and state dollars increases the GDP. The ratio currently shows CA can afford the debt and the resulting GDP increase and tax revenue offsets the costs.

    Sorry if this appears like a talking point. Its keynesian economics.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    You don’t seem to actually understand Keynesian economics above the talking point level. The issue is not debt ratios, but bond yields; compare Ireland’s debt ratio with Germany’s. And more broadly, it’s not about HSR now but about persistent deficits coming from selling bonds for public works but not raising taxes to pay for them.

    joe Reply:

    Sorry, “Persistent deficits”? Raising taxes for public works spending in a recession.

    What is the economic theory here? The economy is not a family budget – what’s the purpose of contracting policy in a recession?.

    Please – a link perhaps?

    joe Reply:

    In economics, the debt-to-GDP ratio is one of the indicators of the health of an economy. It is the amount of national debt of a country as a percentage of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). A low debt-to-GDP ratio indicates an economy that produces a large number of goods and services and probably profits that are high enough to pay back debts.

    There is a difference between external debt nominated in domestic currency, and external debt nominated in foreign currency. A nation can service external debt nominated in domestic currency by tax revenues, but to service foreign currency debt it has to convert tax revenues in foreign exchange market to foreign currency, which puts downward pressure on the value of its currency. So all of the money used to service foreign currency debt has to come from a country’s balance of payments transfers.

    So if a nation with it’s own currency has to borrow in another currency, they cannot devalue the debt. CA borrows in dollars, and pays back in dollars.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Except CA can’t print dollars…so they end up like Greece…owing debating a currency they don’t control

    Nathanael Reply:

    Alon, you are right that the key point is California’s repeated refusal to actually raise taxes, which is due to the Prop 13 disaster with its bogus “2/3” rules.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Alon, California is close enough to a sovereign borrower; nobody’s pushed the point yet because it would be a constitutional crisis. But in fact if California decided to issue its own currency, it could, and it would be successful, and the dollar borrowings could still be paid off because the Cali currency would probably be stronger than the dollar.

    Nathanael Reply:

    …assuming, of course, that California was willing to actually collect taxes. Which is the key point. A government which is unwilling to collect taxes will eventually find that nobody wants to lend it money, regardless of what currency is being used.

    VBobier Reply:

    Neat article, Thanks StevieB, Much appreciated.

    James M. in Irvine Reply:

    It would sure be nice to show those republicans that AMERICA won’t stand for the shenanigans they have been pulling. When they get on stage and state that their only goal is to make Obama a one term president and then throw the whole country under the bus to try to make the President look bad, they will get no crocodile tears from me when they have to pack up their office in DC and make room for all the democrats coming in!

    VBobier Reply:

    I voted for Obama/Biden, Democratic candidates like Feinstein, Heck if I could I’d vote for Nancy Pelosi Herself, I’ll never vote for uncaring politicians who don’t listen to My concerns and that they expect Me to listen to them and accept their authority over Me, like a criminal, I also voted No on 31, 32, 33 and 38, while I voted Yes on all the rest. Democrats care about the people they serve, Repugnicans only care about Power and how to get and keep it at all costs and Repugs have been lying since Watergate…

    Donk Reply:

    Your political opinions have become tiresome. Nobody cares.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Your political opinions are more tiresome.

  7. Reedman
    Oct 28th, 2012 at 16:22

    In other California train tunnel news:
    — the new 1.2 mile BART tunnel under Lake Elizabeth/Central Park in Fremont (part of the 5.4 mile BART Warm Springs Extension) was officially dedicated on Friday. The Warm Springs Extension is expected to begin operating in 2014. The BART extension to Berryessa/San Jose is targetted to open in 2016.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    And people complain that CAHSR can’t spend money that fast.

  8. Reality Check
    Oct 29th, 2012 at 02:13

    Richard Branson, India’s High-Speed Savior?

    Richard Branson teased reporters from The Hindu that he may invest in India’s long percolating high-speed rail networks. Yesterday, the nation reportedly signed a three-year agreement with Spanish Railways to explore the feasibility of bullet trains.


    An estimate pegs construction cost at 100 crore INR (around $18m in today’s volatile exchange rate) per kilometer of track. That would be a little over $2bn for the shortest track and close to $18bn for the longest (connecting New Delhi to the expanding cities of Lucknow and Patna).

Comments are closed.