Peninsula Cities Fire Their Anti-HSR Lobbyist

Dec 12th, 2012 | Posted by

I thought this was a rather amusing story:

With a few members declaring themselves unimpressed with the return on their investment in lobbyist Ravi Mehta’s Capitol Advocates firm, the Menlo Park City Council voted 3-1 to terminate his $5,000 a month contract.

The city hired the firm in 2010 to help with high-speed rail. Although Palo Alto and Atherton also used Capitol Advocates, those jurisdictions terminated their contracts earlier this year. Mr. Mehta was not available for comment on Wednesday morning….

But, he argued, the city does need an advocate in Sacramento. The issue of whether the high-speed rail project should be exempt from California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) remains hotly contested in the state’s capital.

Councilwoman Catherine Carlton said that while Capitol Advocates was not worth keeping, she supported finding another lobbyist capable of representing Menlo Park’s position on a broader range of issues such as housing as well as high-speed rail.

I’m not sure who to feel bad for here. These cities were delusional enough to think that hiring a lobbyist would somehow change the fortunes of the high speed rail project. There are 482 cities in the state of California and I’m not sure what other than their inflated sense of entitlement suggested to these three cities that they could sway the state legislature into undermining the high speed rail project. I don’t know if Mehta was clear with the cities about that reality, but his job was impossible.

It’s clear now that high speed rail is moving ahead in California. The state legislature is in support, a repeal vote is unlikely to ever make the ballot, and construction will soon begin in the Central Valley. A lot of problems remain in Congress, thanks to the continued Republican House majority and their ideological opposition to high speed rail. But those will either be overcome or the project will find other sources of funding.

High speed rail is coming to the Peninsula. It’s only a question of when. Let’s hope that these cities focus their dollars on more productive pursuits.

  1. joe
    Dec 12th, 2012 at 21:48

    BTW, the article mentions Palo Alto’s lobbyist cost 15K per month.

    Two other brain farts out of Menlo Park.
    1) Menlo Park is infilling residences next to the Caltrain ROW – creating potential conflicts for the HSR line. Replacing closed car dealerships with housing including units next to the Caltrain ROW.

    “I’ve let them know that,” Keith said. “We’d like to see higher-density housing in areas within walking distance to Caltrain.”

    Steve Elliott, Stanford’s managing director of development, said although the university is open to making changes, it has consistently communicated to the city that it wants a mix of uses on the property.

    “”I think it will be a really beneficial redevelopment to replace all the empty car dealerships with a new mix of uses that are more appropriate for the location,” Elliott said.”

    2) According to my friends who live in Menlo Park, the City is considering building grade crossings incompatible with HSR. An attempt to make crossing “poison pill”.

    The three Dumbarton Rail crossings within city limits were not considered a priority given the current lack of passenger trains on the line.

    Although council members Kelly Fergusson and Rich Cline suggested “having a priority of one,” i.e., focusing on the Ravenswood crossing, Mr. Taylor pointed out that building a grade separation at one crossing may create a need to make changes to the others, so in the end the council agreed to indicate it wanted to study grade separations at all four crossings.

    “I don’t disapprove the idea of a study,” Mr. Cline said, acknowledging that the previous reports were outdated. “I want to make sure that when we do that we’re articulating very clearly what we want and don’t want” just in case high-speed rail heads in a different design direction than expected.

    He expressed concern that a lack of clarity in the letter would suggest to the California High-Speed Rail Authority that Menlo Park had come onboard with the four-track design. “No, we have not.”

    Mr. Taylor agreed that the letter could reiterate Menlo Park’s support for a two-track design with no elevated segments.

  2. Reality Check
    Dec 13th, 2012 at 14:17

    Amtrak Plans to Replace Acela Trains in U.S. Northeast

    Amtrak’s decision to buy new trains comes as it develops long-range plans to develop service as fast as 220 miles per hour (354 kilometers per hour) in the Northeast, an effort it’s said will cost $151 billion.


    Amtrak, based in Washington, announced it would abandon its plan to add 40 Acela passenger cars after its inspector general questioned the “high dollar value and Amtrak’s plan to award a sole-source contract,” according to a Dec. 4 report. The report didn’t identify the company that would have received the contract.

    “They were too expensive,” Boardman said today.

    Amtrak was in negotiations with Bombardier to supply an additional two passenger cars per train set, Capon said.


    Amtrak appears to have decided it’s cheaper to buy new trains than upgrade, said Andy Kunz, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. High Speed Rail Association, a Washington-based trade group that includes manufacturers such as Bombardier, Alstom, Siemens AG and Patentes Talgo SA.

    Reedman Reply:

    Back of envelope calculations (and comments):
    — article says European train sets cost $30 million. So, a heavier Amtrak set will be assigned $50 million.
    — twenty Amtrak train sets (entire present fleet) would therefore cost 20 x $50Meg = $1 billion.
    — $1 billion is a helluva lot less than $151 billion
    — the entire Acela run, from Washington DC to Boston is 440 miles (same as the distance from San Francisco to LA).
    — so, CAHSR should need about $1 billion in train sets to operate between SF – LA (CAHSR should cost less, because CAHSR will run on it’s own track/right-of-way).

    aw Reply:

    The $151B qutoed above is for the full blown NEC rebuild.

    Amtrak should try to get a waiver so they could use off-the-shelf lightweight trains for their replacement. Hopefully the FRA would be more comfortable with that than it was 20 years ago.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Amtrak should try to get a waiver so they could use off-the-shelf lightweight trains for their replacement.

    What you should say is, “off-the-shelf trains”. US trains are conspicuous by being excessively heavy due to FRA regulations promulgated in the name of “safety”. Contemporary trains with up-to-date crash energy management designs are safer (more survivable) than FRA behemoths.

    aw Reply:

    And the FRA has granted waivers for rolling stock with crash energy management, like for example the Rotem cab cars on Metrolink.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Not sure there is a waiver there, they are heavier than the earlier rolling stock.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    …or, FWIW, the Denton County GTW, which are not considerably heavier than the “off the shelf” models.

    Jonathan Reply:

    But don’t those run on dedicated track on a dedicated corridor?

    Max Wyss Reply:

    According to the DCTA press release (, the GTWs are approved to operate in a mexed environment, concurrent with FRA-compliant vehicles.

    Peter Reply:

    Yeah, AFAIK, the Rotem cars are FRA-compliant, with additional CEM.

    Useless Reply:

    @ aw

    An FRA waiver is not possible because of mixed traffic status of the Northeast corridor. The new 220 mph train sets must be built to the current FRA high speed train set regulations.

    That would exclude Japanese bidders and Siemens, leaving TGV, KTX-II, and AVE to compete for the Acela replacement contract.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Not if they change the regulations. The whole corridor and the tendrils leading out of it on the commuter railroads will have ACSES very very soon.

    Joey Reply:

    1) The TGV and KTX-II aren’t compliant as far as I know
    2) Which AVE? Spain uses trains from several manufacturers. None come close to being compliant to my knowledge

    If you’re referring specifically to locomotive-hauled sets, perhaps it’s easier to make them FRA compliant, but that doesn’t make them compliant from the onset. Compare: the Acela power cars come in at about 23t/axel, whereas all of the rest come in below the standard 17t/axel limit … that’s the cost of FRA compliance. And maybe Amtrak thinks that they can make an FRA-compliant train go 220 mph without having the lights dim in every state it passes through, but I’m not so sure.

    Bottom line, this issue is going to have to come up at some point in time. Hopefully some resolution will come of it.

    Useless Reply:

    @ Joey

    FRA high speed train set crashworthiness regulation changed from static load to impact energy absorption. So loco-pulled high speed trains fitted with energy absorption devices could meet the crashworthiness requirement more easily than the likes of Shinkansen and Velaro. Furthermore TGV and KTX-II are fitted with energy absorption devices.

    So while it is true that none of the candidates meet the FRA requirements as is, some train models can meet them more easily than others.

    Because of the mixed traffic nature of the California high speed rail, train set vendors have been preparing to deal with the FRA regulations for some time now. It is just that certain vendors can react more quickly than others.

    Joey Reply:

    None of the California route will be shared by freight during the day. My understanding was that the CHSRA planned to adopt UIC crashworthiness standards and operate under an FRA waiver.

    James M. in Irvine Reply:

    Except for ths shared Caltrain tracks and the shared Metrolink tracks, which can host a few freight trains each day.

    At final build-out, yes, it should be completely seperated from freight, but once the hsr gets running, the construction will probably be stretched out.

    Jim M

    Jim Reply:

    The Metrolink tracks will not be shared. The MOU between UP and CHSRA states that CHSRA will not ask Metrolink to electrify tracks which UP uses.

    On Caltrain tracks, passenger and freight will be temporally separated, per the existing Caltrain waiver.

    Joey Reply:

    HSR will share tracks with Metrolink between LA and Anaheim, but they will be separate from the BNSF tracks. Freight trains would still have to share the Fullerton-Anaheim tracks, and I don’t know exactly how that would work. Presumably freight to San Diego etc wouldn’t operate during the day.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Who’s to say Amtrak is going to with Acela II tanks on rail? Minor modifications and you could run off the shelf Shinkansen on the NEC. The NEC is going to have ACSES along it’s whole lenght very soon if it doesn’t already. All of NJTransit uses it. Metro North is busy installing it and SEPTA’s Silverliners Vs all have it. I suppose MARC’s Penn Line trains do too. The small amount of freight that runs on it ( I’ve seen 50 trains a day out of the 1000 that run on the NEC on weekdays ) have it.

    Jonathan Reply:

    And who’s to say that the FRA will view ACSES as sufficient to run off-the-shelf European HSR trainsets on the same lines as FRA-compatible Dinosaur-Trains? Let alone Shinkansen, which aren’t as robust as European HSR train-sets.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    If ACSES isn’t good enough nothing ever will be.

    Useless Reply:

    @ Reedman

    > article says European train sets cost $30 million. So, a heavier Amtrak set will be assigned $50 million.

    Amtrak wasn’t going to buy new train sets, rather 40 coach cars to be added to existing 20 train sets, two cars per set.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    They decided against buying more cars. From the most recent press release:

    WASHINGTON – In order to better meet strong and growing ridership demand on the Northeast Corridor (NEC), Amtrak is advancing plans to acquire new next-generation high-speed train sets and ending its plans to purchase 40 additional high-speed passenger cars to add to the existing Acela Express fleet.

    Jonathan Reply:

    I’m not surprise.d the knowledge on how to build the Acelas, the tooling, is almost certainly gone.
    Bombardier would have to effectively develop Acela-compatible, FRA-compatible new designs, and then tool up to build them. For a paltry 40-car order, that wouldn’t be cost-effective.
    (2 cars for each of 20 train-sets?)

    Personally, i think the most important part of this news is that Amtrak must, as part of this process, perssuade the FRA to approve operating “off-the-shelf” HSR train-sets on ACSES-II track, cohabiting with regular FRA compatible bronto-trains. Including freight.

    Jim Reply:

    I don’t know about the North End, but the small amount of freight on the South End could either be rstricted to night operation or confined to one of the tracks (which non-compliant train sets would never be dispatched to). So the waiver would only have to cover sharing track with compliant passenger trains.

    It will probably be harder to get an RPA approved which would allow concurrent operations of trains running at 300+ km/h, 200 km/h and 125 km/h on three or four tracks.

    Peter Reply:

    As every major high speed system around the world has shown, dedicated tracks and new alignments are necessary to support very high speed trains and to permit the type of frequent and reliable service that has made these services financially successful.

    Which is why the ICE often runs on legacy tracks? At very high average speeds? Hamburg-Berlin comes to mind.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    However, on Hamburg-Berlin, the maximum speed is 220 km/h (maybe 250 km/h). A similar situation is in the Lötschberg base tunnel, where passenger trains running at 200 or 220 km/h are mixed with freight running at 100 or 120 km/h (but in single track bores, and using ETCS L2); the same will apply for the Gotthard base tunnel.

    Peter Reply:

    230 km/h top speed, 190 km/h average speed, which is the highest average speed between two major city pairs in Germany.

  3. Reality Check
    Dec 13th, 2012 at 14:20

    Landowners air concerns about high-speed rail

    About 100 property owners packed an open house Wednesday to learn how their farms, homes or businesses could be affected by California’s proposed high-speed train system.

    But rain throughout the day dampened a planned tractor rally and protest by farmers outside the Madera Community College Center, where the state High-Speed Rail Authority held its outreach meeting. What organizers hoped would be a dramatic show of four or five dozen tractors turned into a trickle of four or five.

    Farmers have been among the most vocal critics of the train system in the San Joaquin Valley, and Farm Bureau organizations in Madera and Merced counties are among those suing the rail agency to stop work on the Merced-Fresno section approved by the rail authority this year.

    Construction of a stretch of the line from Madera to the south end of Fresno is expected to begin as soon as next summer.

    “These farmers are the ones whose property is being threatened,” said Anja Raudabaugh, executive director of the Madera County Farm Bureau. Raudabaugh said farmers in Madera County are unified in fighting the loss of land to the rail authority. Rather than sell all or part of their affected parcels, the farmers are prepared to force the state to use eminent domain — to go to court and ask a judge to order the property be sold to the rail authority.

    “It’s taken six months, but I’ve finally contacted every single property owner along the route from Avenue 17 south to the San Joaquin River,” she added. “Except for one, everyone else is getting ready to be unwilling sellers.”

    joe Reply:

    Classic, worth saving: The farm bureau estimates 2,000 migrate farm workers will lose their jobs causing a multiplier effect in the economy.

    I doubt the job losses. Even if true, how do poverty level migrant workers salaries have a multiplier effect on the economy? Not the value of their work in harvesting – but their poverty level compensation.
    Landowners air concerns about high-speed rail
    [1] “It’s taken six months, but I’ve finally contacted every single property owner along the route from Avenue 17 south to the San Joaquin River,” she added. “Except for one, everyone else is getting ready to be unwilling sellers.”
    In a written statement, the Farm Bureau said that the rail line will displace “hundreds of farms.”
    “In Madera County alone, an estimated 2,000 migrant farm workers will lose their jobs,” the statement said. “The families of displaced small business owners and laid off workers will be harmed, and the entire regional economy will experience adverse ‘multiplier’ effects.”

    [2] Jim Erickson, a former president of the Madera County Farm Bureau, farms almonds and other crops in southern Madera County. He brought two of his tractors out for the protest rally, even though none of his family’s properties are affected by the rail route.

    [3] Juan Urena, who owns 32 acres along the BNSF tracks at Road 27, east of Madera, said he’ll lose about 2 acres of land to the high-speed train line.
    But far from despairing, he’s looking forward to the project,
    even though a map he pointed to shows the tracks passing not far from the house he built six years ago.
    Instead, he’s excited about a planned Road 27 overpass over both the high-speed line and the BNSF tracks. “Once they put in that overpass, the freight trains won’t have to honk their horns,” he said. “That’s noisy, and it drives the dogs nuts.”

    Unlike other land owners who vow to force the rail agency to go to court for their land, “I’m going to work with them,” Urena said, “but I want to make sure I’m fairly compensated.”

    [4]Morales said the authority has not yet awarded a contract for a consultant to handle negotiations with property owners whose land is in the path of the rail line. That could happen within days, he added.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    This would be so much easier in SI units…

    There are 43,560 square feet in a acre. A mile is 5,280 long. So a piece of land 100 feet wide and 5,280 feet long is 528,000 square feet. 528,000 divided by 43,560 is 12.121212… Lets be outrageous and say that the ROW has to be 200 feet wide. Or 24.2424 acres. Round it to 25 acres. The system is going to have 800 route miles. Much of it is already railroad but lets go with 800 route miles. At 25 acres a mile that’s 20,000 acres. 20 1000 acre farms. Or 40 500 acre farms. 80 250 acre farms. or 160 125 acre farms. Are there 125 acre farms in the Central Valley? Or are they called “very private estates” in the real estate ads?

    joe Reply:

    20,000 acres and 2,000 workers.

    Jobs are measured in job years. That’s 10 acres per alleged displaced worker per year.

    It is and less than an acre per month per person year.

    Seems fishy.

    An acre is defined as the amount of land that can be ploughed by one man and oxen team per day.

    Pre industrialization, a homestead grant was about 160 acres. “The occupant had to reside on the land for five years, and show evidence of having made improvements.”

    How do they get 2,000 jobs?

    aw Reply:

    So, what happens when migrant farm workers lose their job? They migrate of course. Those jobs won’t be lost, they’ll just move on down the road.

    VBobier Reply:

    Yep, they follow the crops.

  4. Keith Saggers
    Dec 13th, 2012 at 15:16
  5. Reality Check
    Dec 13th, 2012 at 18:21

    Since I’m in Campinas for a couple weeks right now, and because Campinas (or at least it’s on-the-outskirts Viracopos airport) is also supposed to be served by the Rio de Janiero – São Paulo HSR, I can’t help but post this. I like the cost/performance-based approach they’re taking with this … which is how I expect we would have avoided the whole politicized Pacheco vs. Altamont and Techachapi vs. Tejon nonsense in California:

    Brazil sweetens terms for Rio-Sao Paulo bullet train

    The planned 350 km/h (217 mph) bullet train will run between Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and the fast-growing adjacent city of Campinas by 2020, said Bernardo Figueiredo, head of the government agency in charge of infrastructure projects.

    The government will shoulder more of the risk by raising to 45 percent from 30 percent the public stake in the consortium that will design the high-speed system, provide the technology and the trains for it, and operate it on a 40-year concession.

    “It’s a way of sharing the risk with the investor and making the project more attractive,” Figueiredo told a news conference.

    The winner must invest an estimated 7.7 billion reais ($3.7 billion), offer economy class tickets of no more than 200 reais ($100) and guarantee that trains cover the 260 miles between Rio and Sao Paulo in no more than 99 minutes.

    To qualify to bid, companies cannot have had a fatal accident on an existing high-speed system they operate in the past five years. That’s down from the 10 years required earlier.

    The new auction to pick the operating consortium will be held on September 9, 2013, at the Sao Paulo stock exchange Bovespa.

    A second auction in 2014 will choose the engineering group that will build the track, with a minimum investment of 27.3 billion reais, Figueiredo said.


    The winner of the contract will be the bidder that offers the highest fees to the government and a design that costs the least to build, Figueiredo said.

    Reality Check Reply:

    Yes, yes, I know “it’s” should have been “its” and “Techachapi” should have been “Tehachapi” … I blame it on all the Brazilian beer and churrasco I’ve stuffed myself with this evening, again! 30 BRL (USD $15) for all the meat, pizza (“rodizio” style) and salad bar you feel like eating at Omatuto, plus freezing-cold $3.50 600ml Antarctica Original beer bottles … what’s not to like??

    Useless Reply:

    Brazil is a different case from the US projects like CAHSR and Acela, because it’s a closed circuit system with 100% new tracks.

    In the Brazilian project, EMUs make much more sense than loco-pulled HSR trains suitable for the US projects because of that “99 minute to cover 420 km” mandate.

    US projects : Pretty much TGV vs KTX-II
    Brazil : Shinkansen vs Velaro vs AGV vs HEMU-430x(If it can make it in time)

    Reality Check Reply:

    The point I was making was about process — not technological or other requirements differences/constraints based on how “open” or “closed” the systems might or might not be.

    joe Reply:


  6. synonymouse
    Dec 13th, 2012 at 19:52

    “High speed rail is coming to the Peninsula. It’s only a question of when”

    Try when hell freezes over. PAMPA has enough money to buy out the Tejon Ranch and have lots left over.

    Meanwhile Tejon-Santa Clarita virtually has a real estate “covenant” in place – the sun had better not set on no hsr ’round h’yuh and the cheerleaders say nary a word. Hopeless hypocrisy.

    James M. in Irvine Reply:

    Hell is freezing over. Proof? Union Pacific is looking into restoring a Big Boy, that was th W.H.F.O restoration project. Anything is possible.


    synonymouse Reply:

    I’d feel a lot more secure about the 4-8-8-4 proposal if the locomotive were already being moved into the shop before the story leaks.

    Some have suggested the 4294 cab-forward in the CSRM but evidently restoration to operating condition would be damn close to building a new locomotive.

    Too bad Warren Buffett does not seem to be into steam. I read the two Santa Fe locomotives that were donated the CSRM are sitting on a siding somewhere in Sac.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    That’s true about the Santa Fe power at Sacramento; one is a 4-8-4, the other one of those big 2-10-4s the road had.

    If Buffet or someone at BNSF were into steam, I would pick a GN 4-8-4. No. 2584, an S-2 with 80-inch drivers (same size as under SP 4449 and UP 844), survives today in Havre, Montanna:

    Can you picture that engine restored to operation and looking a good deal like this sister?

    That green paint wasn’t restricted to passenger power on the Big G:

    Syn has plenty of faults, and I admit to having some too, but I don’t think he or about anyone else would argue that seeing one of these run again would be a bad thing. . .

    synonymouse Reply:

    Sad thing is when the Santa Fe kept the 2925 at Belen they moved it every week to keep the bearings from going flat.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Synon, those of us who live in the real world know that the “HSR”-on-the-Peninsula is, in fact, a proposal to run HSR rainsets at up to 125 mi/hr. The Peninsula is already okayed up to 79 mi/hr. And, 110 mi/hr is possible without grade separation (as in Michigan): all the FRA requires is the “most sophisticated barriers which will fit in the location”. Like, quad gates. So 110 mi/hr is doable; and with electric traction, quieter than now.

    So somehow 110 mi/hr is okay, but 110 to 125 mi/hr will cause Hell to freeze over?
    that doesn’t sound very rational.

    synonymouse Reply:

    IMHO 110mph is not hsr and you know that’s not what the cheerleaders are talking about. What they are palpitating about is a 4 track hollow core massive aerial thru the heart of PAMPA. An Embarcadero Freeway on rails at 220 mph.

    Nothing like that is going to happen now or 50 years from now. PAMPA is rich and getting richer by the day. They are much richer than the Chandlers and the Chandlers have Jerry Brown paralyzed with fear. He won’t touch the Tejon Ranch and he won’t touch PAMPA.

    This whole thing revolves around crony contracting and providing some cushy state-bankrolled jobs for the pet unions, in particular the TWU and Amalgamated. All it has to do to meet their abysmal performance standards is occasionally turn a wheel. Empty trains AOK.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    No one ever suggested that trains would be going 220 MPH on the Peninsula.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Synon doesn’t let his rants be dictated by little things like “facts”. Maybe he secretly envies Neil Newhouse and the Romney 2012 campaign.

    VBobier Reply:

    Even with 4 tracks, the max would still be 125mph. Governor Brown beat Meg Williams to be Governor, so I doubt He’s scared of pompous people in Pampa…

    VBobier Reply:

    That should be Meg Whitman…

  7. Useless
    Dec 14th, 2012 at 10:14

    Amtrak is searching for new 220 mph trains instead of stretching exiting Acelas.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It will be great if you want to go to Newark NJ. Getting from Newark to Manhattan is the constraint. Longer trains will help but the Tea Party decided that building new tunnels was too expensive and Amtrak and NJTransit won’t be able to fit anymore trains in at peak. 12 cars per set would be nice.

  8. John McNary
    Dec 18th, 2012 at 09:06

    Whom. You’re not sure whom to feel sorry for.

Comments are closed.