Ray LaHood Mounts Another Strong Defense of California HSR

Jan 7th, 2013 | Posted by

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood traveled to Sacramento today to announce federal funding for a light rail extension to Cosumnes River College. While there, he made another strong defense of California’s high speed rail project:

“There’s no stopping high speed rail in California,” said the nation’s transportation secretary…

Secretary LaHood, a former GOP congressman from Illinois, recounted in an interview Monday that the state’s plans came up in the very first conversation he had with his fellow Illini – the president – after the November 6 election.

“The one thing the president mentioned to me was we need to get high speed rail, not only really on good footing in California, but we need to get it done,” said LaHood….

State rail officials said recently they remain optimistic, given that their plans don’t call for additional DC cash until 2015.

And LaHood, while not directly saying so on Monday, suggested that the Obama administration won’t put any of the other projects around the country – in the Midwest or the northeastern U.S. – ahead of California, if Congress eventually forces a prioritization of who gets money… and who doesn’t.

“Well, we have prioritized,” said the secretary. “California’s gotten the largest amount of money.”

LaHood’s comments today make it clear that President Obama remains strongly supportive not just of high speed rail in general, but of the California HSR project in particular. California HSR planners have pointed out that they don’t need additional federal money until 2015, which happens to be the earliest possible moment when federal funds are likely to be available since that’s the soonest that Democrats can reclaim the House of Representatives.

It’s still unclear whether LaHood will stay or go as Transportation Secretary. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is considered a front-runner if LaHood leaves, but it is becoming less clear that LaHood is planning to leave at all. Either way, this is another welcome vote of confidence in the project, even if the next two years don’t look any more promising for federal HSR funding than the last two.

  1. Adam
    Jan 8th, 2013 at 05:12

    Obama understands that California is his last, best hope for building HSR in America. He badly needs a successful demonstration project to tout the virtues of his infrastructure investment. Only a bold, splashy, 220-mph train will do. However, this strategy presupposes that HSR trains will be operational in the near future. They won’t be. Funding for the initial segment of HSR doesn’t include electrification or trainsets. How and whether this Central Valley segment currently under construction will be integrated into the rest of the State rail network is still a big question mark.

    And to suggest that California officials remain “optimistic” because they are funded through 2015 is stretching credulity. By that time, MAP-21 may or may have been reauthorized, and funding levels for HSR and intercity rail will be cast into budgetary stone for at least a two, hopefully a six-year period. If GOP is still in control of the House, forget about PRIIA or other FRA programs being adequately funded. At best, as Obama is leaving the WH, he can maybe get a one-off grant program passed, but this will look suspiciously like an earmark if California is still the only viable HSR game in town.

    Nathanael Reply:

    I won’t say that California is *the* last, best hope for HSR is the US — I think the movement for HSR is going to keep on going no matter what — but it is *Obama’s* last, best hope because Obama’s term will end soon.

  2. jimsf
    Jan 8th, 2013 at 07:16

    Hopefully the state can secure federal funding to complete san jose to palmdale or fresno to la by the end of obama’s term.

    Joey Reply:

    It probably makes more sense, from a ridership and usefulness perspective to go all the way to LA before you start work on the Pacheco crossing.

    joe Reply:

    New rules for prioritizing transportation funding include additional factors like ridership, which broaden the current ranking system that is more narrowly focused on travel time-saved.

    I’ll be pulling for the Pacheco connection which connects to the Caltrain line and brings service to SF. There isn’t that much between Fresno and San Jose. Gilroy’s behind the project and the South San Jose is partially open space. Nor Cal thinks that connection is useful.

    jimsf Reply:

    good point. with caltrain corridor upgraded bakersfield to sf could be just as useful as fresno la. no doubt an inside political battle will ensue btween socal and nor cal interests

    BMF from San Diego Reply:

    No north versus south battles, please. The next segments should be at the same time…. If not for construction, for decisions made in Sacramento.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    IOS South was already decided upon anyhow.

    BMF of San Diego Reply:

    Not funding. Or, notice to proceed.

    Nathanael Reply:

    EISes are going to finish on the south side first (mostly thanks to the gung-ho attitude of the LA County governments… versus the behavior in the Bay Area). That means funding will go there first, too.

    joe Reply:

    Fighting between NorCal and SoCal to BUILD HSR has no losers.

    The compromise is to do BOTH.

    There’s no reason this project has to be done in serial. When the economy improves, gasoline will spike.

    Obstructionism has consequences, it is not a bargaining chip. The other section gets double rainbow funding.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    No north versus south battles, please. The next segments should be at the same time…. If not for construction, for decisions made in Sacramento.


    Believe it or not, both Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln were instrumental in selecting the location for the Transcontinental Railroad. In fact, Lincoln sued Davis when he was Secretary of War over using the Rock Island military base for the first bridge that would span the Mississippi. Not to be outdone, Jeff also commissioned future Republican Presidential Candidate John C Fremont to explore southerly routes for a transcontinental route in the 1850s.

    All this makes the current Bay Area/Southern California tussle seem tame in comparison.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Oh, the fights over the Transcons….

    jimsf Reply:

    fresno to la at full hsr would be a good start

    Joey Reply:

    On that we can agree :)

  3. TomW
    Jan 8th, 2013 at 07:36

    He’s said he will quit. See http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-lahood-to-be-transportation-secretary-for-one-term-only-20111013,0,1233656.story

    StevieB Reply:

    LaHood talking with Obama about staying

    LaHood told incoming House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) that the two will work together in the near term, Shuster told POLITICO. Speculation swirled around LaHood’s future after he recently backed off comments made last year that he would retire after the president’s first term.

  4. Reedman
    Jan 8th, 2013 at 09:58

    FYI, the was a derailment yesterday in China while testing a new stretch of subway.


    Eric M Reply:

    And your point? Derailments happen all the time on all railroads.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Especially during *testing*. There’s a reason people *do* testing.

  5. J Baloun
    Jan 8th, 2013 at 11:22

    Off Topic,
    (I am not a rail tech engineer like some experts here, so the following are ignorant questions.)
    How common is wheel slip on locomotives control in recent years?
    Is it only used in specific applications?
    Do the Caltrain locomotives use wheel slip control during acceleration/deceleration?
    Does the BART equipment have wheel slip control? Considering how BART has a smooth acceleration it feels like the equipment has some level of torque control on the motors.
    How does greasing the wheels to enter the 4th st. station affect the locomotive for some distance locally? Seems like slip control would help with the greasy section.

    Eric Reply:

    I can talk about the greasing…I believe what you’re referring to is greasing the flanges, not the wheel surface. This reduces friction between the wheel flange and the rail and extends the rail lifespan.

    JBaloun Reply:

    Thanks Eric.

    BMF of San Diego Reply:

    Also reduces noise.

    Andy M Reply:

    Some degree of wheelslip control is pretty much standard for state of the art rolling stock. On older stock this may or may not be the case. Putting on my engineer’s hat, wheelslip is not something that can or should be eliminated totally, as some controlled wheelslip enables optimization of wheel to rail adhesion, but it has to be controlled or at least limited.

    Pretty much all electric rail traction equipment is both torque and speed controlled these days. Depending on the mechanical arrangement of the drive chain, flexible elements there can also absorb torque peaks which leads to softer and jump-free initial acceleration.

    J Baloun Reply:

    Thanks Andy. That explains the YouTube videos that show locos pulling heavy freight with the wheel slip control in a controlled slip a few RPM faster than if the contact were static. I found comments discussing how the steel is being liquified at the limits of adhesion. The modern tractive effort forces are amazing for the weight of the locomotive. The liquification of the steel reminds me of the various types of Friction Stir Welding where the metal is physically mixed together between two parts. In this case it sounds like the wheel and rail are being smeared to generate the force but not becoming welded. It sounds like this maximizes the tractive effort while keeping the wheel and rail wear to a minimum. I suppose freight gets better pulling and commuter trains get better acceleration. This would make for some interesting dynamics in the area of wheel to rail contact. Quite different than static Hertz stress.

    Andy M Reply:

    J Baloun: The melting and welding you describe is happening at a nano level. On a more macro level, the force that the wheel exerts is horizontal at the point of contact of wheel and rail. The maximum force you can exert is dependent on the perpendicular (downward) force (gravity) mutiplied by an adhesion factor. That factor is dermined by the material, humidity and contamination of the surface and also the degree of wheelslip and actually peaks at about 4 percent.

    Now the fact that the locomotive is pulling a heavy train means that the force at rail level is tending to rotate the locomotive around its center of gravity which is higher than rail level. Thus the gravity on the leading axle will be decreased on that axle and that on the rear axle will be increased. This is why modern locomotives spin different axles at different speeds. The leading axle doesn’t do its fair share in terms of pulling but by spinning a bit faster it can clean or decontaminate the rail surface so the following axles can have a higher adhesion. Really advanced locomotives can monitor the quality of adhesion and spin each axle individually at the optimal speed for that axle.

  6. Eric
    Jan 8th, 2013 at 13:06

    I can talk about the greasing…I believe what you’re referring to is greasing the flanges, not the wheel surface. This reduces friction between the wheel flange and the rail and extends the rail lifespan.

  7. Derek
    Jan 8th, 2013 at 15:19

    Wendell Cox: Getting to Vegas, baby

    As usual, nearly every sentence contains a lie.

    Donk Reply:

    I agree with most of what he said in this article. Why do you have to say he is lying? The use of the words “lie” and “lying” is way overused, ever since George Bush came into office. People who call others liers sound like 4th graders.

    Overall I think Wendell Cox is a scumbag, but come on – DesertXpress is obviously going to be a failure. There are other places that would be much better suited for $5B in loans, such as the LA Metro system.

    Derek Reply:

    Let’s start with:

    The car is by far the least expensive way for a household to travel to Las Vegas.

    At the IRS standard mileage rate of 56.6 cents per mile, it costs $150 each way to drive the 265 miles from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. It only costs about $25 per person each way to take a bus, so unless the family has more than six people, it’s cheaper to take the bus.

    The very next sentence, he writes:

    Driving also requires no contribution by taxpayers…

    This is also false. Even if gas tax funds were fully devoted to highways, total user fee revenue accounted for only 65 percent of all funds set aside for highways in 2007..

    Need I go on?

    Paul Druce Reply:

    IRS standard mileage rate is crap however and a far more appropriate figure would be the marginal cost of driving. Given normal fuel economies and current gas prices, you are looking at $80-82 round trip.

    Derek Reply:

    You’re ignoring the costs of maintenance and depreciation. That’s why the IRS standard mileage rate is a far more appropriate figure than just the cost of gas.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    1. Nobody actually gives a rat’s ass about those costs when figuring out how much it will cost them to go somewhere.
    2. Depreciation and maintenance for personal vehicles are better considered as fixed costs rather than variable.
    3. The calculations are horribly wrong

    Derek Reply:

    1. Irrelevant. The claim was, “The car is by far the least expensive way for a household to travel to Las Vegas.”
    2. False. The odometer reading directly affects the value of the vehicle. Every mile traveled reduces its value.
    3. Your link doesn’t mention the IRS standard mileage rate.

    trentbridge Reply:

    Folks – we’re talking about going to Las Vegas. How many people going to Las Vegas are concerned with maintenance and depreciation costs when zooming along I15? None. If we sat down and calculated the cost of getting there, the cost of staying there, and the realistic odds of making sufficient “rate of return” on our (possible) gambling adventures, we’d be driving down a deserted highway. The least expensive way to travel to Las Vegas is not to go..

    joe Reply:

    Why None? The argument people only think about gas costs is way out of the normal.

    Derek is NOT arguing people whip out a calculator and plug in the appropriate coefficient to estimate car operation costs.

    Mileage based maintenance, and wear and tear are all common concerns. Also people worry about break downs, it’s a hard drive to Vegas and tires/cars wear out.

    Folks will argue over who has to drive and put miles on their car all the time.

    People are quite capable of using ordinal and comparative thinking.

    Nathanael Reply:

    And in any case, the argument “people are idiots and think the car is the cheapest way to get to Vegas” is not the same as the statement that the car *IS* the cheapest way to get to Vegas.

    The second one is a lie. The second one, the lie, is what Wendell Cox said.

    In reality, the car is one of the most expensive ways to get to Vegas. The airplane may be more expensive.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The IRS rate is outsourced to the AAA.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Oh, it’s gotten worse since 2007. For 2010 (latest available year’s information), the “cost recovery” ratio for the road system is down to 45.7%.


    Which reminds me: William Draves at NineShift suggested recently that the big news story, from his perspective at least, would be a realization that the highway funding problem would “have no fix.” Out of curiosity, what will likely be the reaction to this, particularly an acknowledgement that kids aren’t driving as much as their elders–and that their elders aren’t driving as much either, because of retirements? And, just for fun, what do we think Cox’s take on this generational shift would be? (I’m afraid we’re limited to speculation; I can’t imagine Cox ever acknowledging even the idea of the generational shift, much less its actual occurrence.)


    Nathanael Reply:

    (1) Most of the really expensive multilane expressways are going to be shut down. Most of the remainder will be tolled, possibly with crazy privatization schemes involved.
    (2) The extra-wide boulevards will become narrower when they’re redone.
    (3) Cities will go back to using brick and cobblestone, which is expensive but lasts a lot longer than asphalt and is easier to patch.
    (4) A lot of minor rural roads will go back to gravel. Or even dirt.
    (5) Property taxes are going to go way up to pay for all the local road maintenance, even *with* all these cost savings.
    (6) “Road preservation laws” will be passed which will make it very expensive to do trucking. The result: more and more freight will shift to rail.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Well, we don’t have to say he’s lying, but it happens to be true. He made up a travel model that assumed cars face no congestion when driving to Vegas, but have to budget a large amount of congestion when driving to Victorville to the train station. He claims cost escalations by comparing Desert Xpress to the more complex Central Valley CAHSR segment, but in a footnote in his report claims that widening I-15 instead would be cheap due to easy terrain, citing a cost figure that’s a fraction of that of widening 99 and converting it to a full freeway.

    In short, his criticisms of the cost and ridership model of Desert Xpress are wrong and fraudulent and for all of my misgivings of the Victorville terminus decision, I think at liquidity trap interest rates it’s a good investment.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Overall I think Wendell Cox is a scumbag, but come on – DesertXpress is obviously going to be a failure. There are other places that would be much better suited for $5B in loans, such as the LA Metro system.

    Don’t be so sure. Subway-seeking Westsiders have to remember that the planning isn’t that far along… 30/10 type programs would get you light trail to Claremont and rides to LAX via Crenshaw before the La Brea Tarpits station opens on the Purple Line.

  8. Derek
    Jan 8th, 2013 at 16:46

    Spain completes Iberia’s high-speed link to Europe, by Keith Barrow

    Right now, passengers still have to transfer at Figueres near the border, but direct high speed service between Barcelona and Paris will begin in April.

    Donk Reply:

    “The €3.7bn project involved the construction of 30 tunnels totalling 34.3km, including a 5.8km tunnel under the centre of Barcelona between Sants station and La Sagrera, and 60 viaducts with a total length of 12.6km.”

    How much would the equivalent cost in CA? $10B? $20B?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    At present-day estimates of the per-km cost of LA-SF, it’d be about $10 billion. But the California tunnel percentage is much smaller than for this line, which is 26% in tunnel. If California built Syn’s Tejon base tunnel, the total LA-SF tunnel percentage would still be only about 16%.

    synonymouse Reply:

    I don’t believe the two six mile tunnels proposed by PB at Tejon would really fall into the base category. They were designed to meet the convention that faults would be crossed at grade.

    What sucks so much and is such a betrayal of California’s best interests is that even these plans were likely jaundiced by the Tejon Ranch embargo. Sometimes coverups do more damage than what is being hidden but in this case I suggest the best route at Tejon is even significantly better than what we know and think. Barry Zoeller has good reason to hide it. Van Ark evidently had an inkling.

    Alternately we will become with every wart and wrinkle on Tehachapi’s face. Gold-plated or value-engineered. But who is going to want to buy second-rate, engineered by some local influence peddlers and ward healers?

    synonymouse Reply:

    become intimate with Tehachapi’s warts

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Oh, I know that a Tejon base tunnel was never planned. I brought it up because even with such a tunnel, there would be less tunneling than in Spain. It’s a limiting case, much easier than to figure out an optimal Tejon alignment with partial tunneling (which PB of course didn’t).

    synonymouse Reply:

    I am a bit puzzled why the Tejon Ranch Co. is so dead set against hsr. They are developers – you would think they would be more receptive to a major modal improvement, especially when there is a lot of tunnel involved in any of the Tejon alignments.

    Perhaps it is Santa Clarita opposition that is key to the logjam and embargo. If Clem is correct and the CHSRA will be compelled to revisit some version of the Quantm plan Santa Clarita will have to be placated. But then major capital undertakings will be necessary with either choice, north to Santa Clarita or east to Palmdale, well before you get to the actual mountain crossing.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Spain’s civil engineering has been running super-cheap. Could have something to do with the 25% unemployment rate, of course.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It’s been cheap for 15 years. When the Spanish economy was running hot while Americans made Old Europe jokes about France and Germany, Spanish construction costs were low and those of Eurosclerotic Germany were high.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    You’d be luck to get just the Barcelona Sants-Sagrera tunnel for $3 billion at California prices.

    Barcelona La Sagrera station alone would be more than $12 billion at California costs (compare the $4 billion 100% unusable Transbay Terminal catastrophe.)

    As for the rest of it? Dream on. America’s Finest Transportation Planning Professionals would have burned through the entire BCN-France budget without even leaving the city of Barcelona, guaranteed. Forget all that Pyrenean base tunnelling jive.

    Our local cast of fucking clowns aren’t even on the same planet.

    BMF from San Diego Reply:

    I have a friend that rode the line today; Barcelona to Gerona.

  9. Reality Check
    Jan 9th, 2013 at 11:22

    Security Theater Cannot Sidetrack High-Speed Rail

    Unfortunately, the security creep that has poisoned American air travel has made its way to our trains, and nothing has given me any reason to believe it won’t continue on to infect and deliver a purely manufactured and completely self-inflicted fatal blow to high-speed rail in California and elsewhere in the United States.

    We can’t let this happen. High-speed rail is one of the best, most forward-looking, legitimate society-improving things we can spend money on, but not if we insist on ruining its ability to provide cutting-edge travel friendly to both person and planet based on nothing more than fear and nonsense. Bin Laden’s endgame wasn’t the Twin Towers. It was war-driven overspending and people getting their colostomy bags manhandled at airports.


    [High-speed rail] is going to fail (and we won’t get another crack at it for a long time) if we cut it off at the knees with onerous and odious airport-style security protocol, which occurs nowhere else in first-world domestic rail travel. This is not the American exceptionalism we want, but it sadly appears to be infiltrating previously free Amtrak. This paranoia is unbecoming and shortsighted, and must be fixed before it destroys high-speed rail in this country. Those who would sacrifice liberty for the feeling of security deserve neither—but they also don’t deserve to sabotage advanced-society transportation for the rest of us.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    This isn’t the first time that writer expressed concerns about goofy security.


  10. Keith Saggers
    Jan 9th, 2013 at 12:23

    Not sure what the problem was, we have police dogs on BART

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Not sure what the problem is. I for one welcome pre-boarding and on-board cavity searches.

    Jerry Reply:

    As David Letterman would say: They searched my body cavity before I got on the train. And then they searched it again on the train. Wow. I’m going back tomorrow to take that train ride again.

    Joey Reply:

    Anal probes – not just for aliens anymore.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    They’re likelier to be used on aliens, though.

    Travis D Reply:

    Strangely I know people that fly all the time that will never, ever get on a bus because they see buses as cesspools where people are just asking to be raped/murdered. Don’t even mention a subway to them!

    No, for them a giant SUV ride to an airport out in the boonies is about as risky as they are willing to get.

    Lamentably they are part of the demographic that the HSR will want to try and swoon.

    joe Reply:

    Swoon them with overpriced cars – three times the price of coach to keep out the riff-Raff.
    Bonus, you get wi-fi and free, unlimited Google searches.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Why would this “demographic” want to go from SF to LA via Fresno and Mojave?

    You lost them when you caved to Villa and Antonovich.

    And when the NdeM could not and did not survive how do you expect TehaVegaSkyRail to avoid being liquidated similarly?

    joe Reply:

    Q: Why do people want to fly first class from NorCal over Texas to get to Chicago?

    A: They don’t care or obsess over flight paths, nor do they know what is a Villa or Antonovich or why Rose Park rings your bell. Just give them that little screw top bottle with a coke & ice.

    Eric M Reply:

    or they want to get more miles/segments for their trip! :)

    Andy M Reply:

    They will never get everybody to ride trains, just as they never gor everybody to drive, no matter how hard they tried.

    HSR is not about squeezing the last drop out of the toothpaste tube, but its about addressing the needs of a sufficient number of people to make the effort worthwile, and to have a sufficient effect on the overall situation.

    Derek Reply:

    The only way they got many so people to drive was by subsidizing the suburban lifestyle and by forcing property owners to overbuild their parking lots.

    Nathanael Reply:

    And prohibiting urban construction! There’s *so much* crap in zoning codes which prohibits traditional “building up”.

    synonymouse Reply:

    “addressing the needs of a sufficient number of people to make the effort worthwile[sic]”

    Addressing the political needs of Villa and Antonovicjh – check

    Addressing the bottomline needs of PB, Tutor-Salibla, Bombardier, et al – check

    Addressing the corporate cultural needs and paranoia of Tejon Ranch Co. – check

    Mission Accomplished!

    Pero senores donde estan los ferrocariles NdeM? Remember Mexico is the template of California of the future(throw in a little Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina)

    Meanwhile what goes up on stilts sometimes comes down:


    The neighbors report feeling the impact. Minimize the hollow-core is the lesson.

  11. Keith Saggers
    Jan 9th, 2013 at 17:53

    love that 14th amendment

  12. Prideaux
    Jan 10th, 2013 at 09:44

    Um, no. He didn’t mount any sort of defense. He claimed that the project will get more money, a promise that the admin lacks the ability to fulfill.

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