The Original Frivolous Lawsuit Is Finally Dismissed

Feb 28th, 2013 | Posted by

In August 2008, the cities of Menlo Park and Atherton joined forces with the Planning and Conservation League and TRANSDEF to file the first frivolous lawsuit against the California High Speed Rail project. They cited the California Environmental Quality Act as the basis for their suit, but their objections had nothing to do with environmental quality.

Menlo Park Caltrain station, 2009. Photo by the author.

The “Derail HSR” site URL no longer works, but here’s what I quoted from them back when the suit was filed:

The proposed route of the project runs down the heart of Menlo Park and Atherton on a narrow corridor occupied by CalTrain. The necessity of 4 tracks, where there are currently only 2 as well as needing the high 15 foot berm for the rail bed to accommodate grade crossings is of concern to both communities. With a minimum of 100 feet of width needed, as well as overhead catenaries for the electrical power to power the train, the impact in both communities is severe.

But the “impact” was merely of an aesthetic nature. They didn’t argue that sending the HSR tracks through the Peninsula would put endangered species at risk, that it would create air and water pollution, or that it would increase carbon emissions. Instead this anti-HSR alliance tried to argue that CEQA gave them the justification to sue to stop the project simply because they did not like the way it looked.

Since August 2008 the anti-HSR forces have been dealt a series of defeats in court. In August 2009 Judge Michael Kenny found that the vast majority of their claims were “without merit”, though he did direct the California High Speed Rail Authority to make some minor technical revisions to address some noise and vibration matters. At no time did he ever indicate that their core arguments, that the Pacheco alignment was flawed and that the tracks would cause irreparable damage to Peninsula cities, had any merit whatsoever.

The anti-HSR alliance soldiered on, however, in hopes that they might be able to somehow use the courts to do what neither voters nor legislators would do – end the project. Today, however, Judge Kenny finally dismissed their lawsuit:

Nearly five years after Peninsula cities first sued to block California’s high-speed train from running along the Caltrain corridor, a judge has dismissed the case in a long-awaited victory for bullet train backers.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny’s ruling, released Thursday, means that the state finally proved it was legally correct in December 2007 when it decided to send its planned $69 billion high-speed rail network up the Pacheco Pass from the Central Valley, zipping bullet trains from San Jose to San Francisco. An alternative plan that environmentalists and some Peninsula cities preferred would have sent the trains up a longer East Bay route through the Altamont Pass.

Officials of the California High-Speed Rail Authority breathed a sigh of relief as they head toward a groundbreaking on the controversial project in the Central Valley as soon as July.

“This is an important ruling and testament to the fact that the authority is committed to delivering the high-speed rail project in accordance with the law and in partnership with the public,” rail authority CEO Jeff Morales said in a statement. “We continue to move forward to start construction this summer and begin creating thousands of jobs.”

Although they’ve come to the end of the road, still they can’t let go:

Atherton Vice Mayor Jerry Carlson, however, has not resigned himself to the bullet train coming through his town. He notes that the state still needs tens of billions of dollars to extend the line to the Bay Area.

“It’s a long time from now, and they’re going to need a lot more money than what’s on the table,” said Carlson, whose town last week donated $10,000 to a separate Central Valley lawsuit against the bullet train.

At some point Atherton is going to have to reconcile itself to the reality that high speed rail is coming through their town, and that this is a very good thing for everyone involved. Atherton was founded as a railroad suburb, and therein lies its future. Their property values will depend on having reliable, fast connections to the job centers of San José, San Francisco, and even Los Angeles. And a properly designed and built Peninsula rail corridor can provide quieter, safer operations in Atherton, Menlo Park, and other cities within a right of way that mostly already exists.

And of course, this lawsuit is deservedly Exhibit B in the case for some sort of CEQA reform. (Exhibit A, of course, is the lawsuit against the San Francisco Bike Master Plan.) There was no actual environmental quality at risk from these HSR tracks, at least not according to this lawsuit. CEQA should never have applied in this case, and has no place being used to enable lawsuits based on aesthetic values. Maybe once carbon emissions have been eliminated and global warming has subsided. But not until then. And it’s worth noting that one of the original parties to this lawsuit, the Planning and Conservation League, is busy arguing there’s no need to make any changes to CEQA.

This lawsuit is a reminder that some sort of CEQA reform is badly needed. It has to be good reform that strengthens the law rather than carving out loopholes. But after four and a half years and god knows how many hundreds of thousands of public dollars spent on legal fees, it’s clear that this lawsuit was unnecessary, unjustified, and unsuccessful.

High speed rail and the Peninsula belong together. And some day, soon, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

  1. Matthew F.
    Feb 28th, 2013 at 21:18

    I hope California finds a way to finance it on our own. I have no objection to federal funding, except that with Republicans cycling in and out of power over the lifetime of the project, we’re guaranteed that they’ll do everything they can to impede our success. There is nothing Republicans hate more than a successful government.

    joe Reply:

    Both – have a commitment but work the system. Make the US pay for stuff in CA equally.

    I am sick of the GOP funneling federal dollars to fund their states’ infrastructure. These states often get more revenue than they pay into the system har har har on us. Well got to keep Military bases while ours close. They can pay for our HSR system.

    James M in Irvine, CA Reply:

    Yes, there is something Republicans hate more than a successful government, a successful DEMOCRATIC government.

    No one wants to be the first except us, but once we have trains making money, everyone will want to be next.

    Jim M

    VBobier Reply:

    And Repubs hate California, cause CA leads the way into the future, Where CA goes, the USA goes, eventually…

    Jo Reply:

    Note that republican registration in the state is now below 30%. They are supposed to trying to rebrand themselves. Please spare us.

    VBobier Reply:

    I should have said National Repubs. Now is that better dearie?

    Jo Reply:

    Sounds better. But unfortunately republicans seem to be calling the shots in D.C. Sad.

    Nathanael Reply:

    The main problem is that there is a “sellout caucus” of US Senators who claim to be Democrats, but who want Republicans to control things, but don’t want to admit that they want Republicans to control things. They use the fake filibuster rules — the 60-vote bullshit — so that they can “vote for” something secure in the knowledge that it won’t pass.

    The “sellout caucus” needs to be removed from power. In fact, they’re so evil they don’t deserve to live — if they were *honest* about what they supported, I wouldn’t say this, but their scheme to “vote for” bills secure in the knowledge that the bills will not pass — that’s extremely evil, a fraud on the voting public.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Because of the shell game they play with the 60-vote rule, it’s very hard to tell who the members of the “sellout caucus” are. We know it includes Harry Reid (R – sellout) since he’s majority leader and could have ended the bullshit 60-vote nonsense any time he wanted to. We know it does *not* include Tom Harkin, who’s been fighting against the 60-vote bullshit since the 1970s. Beyond that, it’s hard to tell.

    Jo Reply:

    Right on.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Don’t you think that logically if there were a truly “successful DEMOCRATIC government” that would be the end of it; that’s all there would be?

    It is not that simple. I can remember in 1980 I came across all these 20-somethings who were voting for Reason out of what seemed to me a clear blue sky. They hated Carter – a broad liberal who was elected in part out of disgust with Watergate.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Plug in Reagan for “Reason”. Dunno where that came from; I never liked Reagan and could not believe it when he was first elected Governor.

    VBobier Reply:

    Agreed, today on the local TV News(KNBC4 in Los Angeles) mentioned that the CA Excise tax is going up by about $0.03 per gallon of fuel on July 1st 2013.

    Derek Reply:

    We’re doomed! Doomed, I say!

    rtaylor352 Reply:

    I hear what you’re saying, but, for years California has paid far more in federal taxes than they’ve received in federal spending. I think it averages around .75 to .80 cents per dollar. It might be time to make up for that discrepancy.

  2. James Krusel
    Feb 28th, 2013 at 22:35

    I need to ask a question for class: Will the proposed high-speed rail station west of Hanford in Kings County promote business in tourism and hospitality in the Hanford/Lemoore area? If yes, please explain thanks.

    Jo Reply:

    I think that a station in Visalia would have worked better. But, Hanford has a wonderfully historic downtown and is very relaxed, and I think that any visitor from Southern California would be pleasantly surprised. There is no doubt that HSR will help the San Joaquin Valley economy.

    Hanford loves its Amtrak San Joaquin service and it serves them very well; and perhaps we should leave it at that. I am not sure that a station west of Hanford would be feasible. Perhaps simply using the Amtrak San Joaquin for Hanford/Lemoore with a station actually in Hanford to connect to HSR in either Bakersfield or Fresno would be preferable to a Hanford HSR station outside of town.

    Institute similar Amtrak San Joaquin service between Fresno and bakersfield via Visalia/Portable with stations actually in their cities so they can connect to HSR in either Bakersfield or Fresno, and it may better all around. Both areas can still enjoy the benefits of HSR, but still have the convenience of having stations actually in their cities.

    Peter Reply:

    In my opinion, yes, it would. Considering that Hanford is completely bypassed by the two major Valley freeways (I-5 and 99), it would place the Hanford area onto the map, and allow people to travel there more easily.

    Ryan Reply:

    I thought the map and plans showed the station east of Hanford, am I wrong?

    BruceMcF Reply:

    There was a west of town station in the alternatives analysis, though I’m not sure whether station location has been finalized. When I looked at it, the eastern seemed to be a better location as far as connecting into the road grid. Either way offers some prospects for Hanford to piggyback on public transport to the HSR Station ~ from the air base for the eastern side station, from Visalia for the western side station.

    Nathanael Reply:

    There are still plans floating around to run an east-west shuttle train along the existing line parallel to CA198, in which case people really would take the train to visit Hanford and Visalia. (The towns are small enough that people can walk once they get into town.)

    Ryan Reply:

    Anyways regarding your question, it’s tough to answer. What does Hanford have to offer tourists to choose them over another destination? I remember they had an active Renaissance Fair but it’s been cancelled.

    Anyways I can’t help but think a station built outside of Hanford will be more for Kings and Tulare County residents to get to LA and SF then the other way around.

    jimsf Reply:

    The main thing that a hanford hsr station would offer in the way of tourism is that it, if done correctly by local agencies, can become a statewide gateway to sequoia and kings canyon parks, as merced is a gateway for yosemite. Now, mind you, merced has failed to take fully advantage of their gateway status because the local politics is dysfunctional and reactionary and without vision. So the benefit to the hanford area will depending entirely on the vision, ability and will, of local politicians. That goes for the type of growth and development, as well as retail and tourism.

    HSR will provide access to kings and tulare county, what those counties do with that access is up to them.

    Matthew F. Reply:

    To answer this, you should locate the reports conducted for the project on the subject, read the assumptions, methods, and conclusions, and try to construct arguments, based on evidence you can gather, for or against them.

  3. Jerry
    Mar 1st, 2013 at 00:06

    Robert, it is certainly good news to hear that the lawsuit was dismissed. But your photo is more of a fence than that of the beautiful Menlo Park rail station built in 1867.

  4. D. P. Lubic
    Mar 1st, 2013 at 04:00

    Off topic but too cool (and funny!) not to share:

    From what is apparently a series on the subject:

    If you don’t smile after these, something’s wrong with you. . .

  5. J. Wong
    Mar 1st, 2013 at 08:22

    “[T]hey did not like the way it looked.” Actually, they didn’t like the way they thought it would look. And instead of working with the Authority on getting it to look better, they tried to draw a line in the sand, but instead got kicked in the teeth. Of course, they’ll still get some input when construction plans are made (and it’ll look like the Caltrain ROW in Belmont and San Carlos).

  6. Peter
    Mar 1st, 2013 at 08:50

    I’m amused that Judge Kenny gets to decide the next Peninsula lawsuit, too. And by Peninsula lawsuit, I’m referring to the Kings County lawsuit bankrolled by Peninsula interests.

    YESONHSR Reply:

    Yes the Nimbys in Burlingame were also behind all the stupid signs ..same ones they put in the store windows here…the liitle dears .. same ones that ran the silly rally show on TV..on and on..

    synonymouse Reply:

    Why change dicks in the middle of a screw?

    The plaintiffs have to go thru the motions and the litigation process with the full knowledge they have no chance of winning any concession whatsoever from Jerry’s Judiciary. But you have to put up some king of a fight or you’ll be steamrollered even worse in the bigger picture.

    TehaVegaSkyRail is the DMV computer on rails.

    But Maginot Lines are inevitable in the order of things, just like the Sin City Monorail, which taught the morons nothing.

    Keith Saggers Reply:


    synonymouse Reply:

    ‘clair de lune’

    Peter Reply:

    Pretty sure it would have been “Arnold’s Judiciary” in your opinion when this circus started. And Judge Kenny has been a judge in Sacramento since 2002, when Gray Davis was governor. Why you think that a judge who was appointed two governors ago has any “loyalty” to the current governor is beyond me. Feel free to respond in your usual fashion.

    Peter Reply:

    Especially given that he must have been elected by popular vote in Sacramento County at least once since being appointed.

    Jonathan Reply:

    On both points, you fell into the error of thinking that _facts_ have any relevance to a conspiracy-theory wing-nut.

    Peter Reply:

    No, no, I know. It amuses me to converse with synonymouse. Helps me burn time I have nothing else to do in.

    VBobier Reply:

    Sounds good, Hit Him high and low…

    synonymouse Reply:

    The Sperminator was mostly a caretaker governor not very popular with either party. But despite his dubious rep I suspect he is actually smarter than Moonbeam and with a smaller ego, even as a “star”. I think Schwarzie could grasp the dissident argument on CHSRA routing whereas clair de loone is way into his second childhood and only responds to his handlers.

    The judiciary is controlled by the political machine set up decades ago by the Burtons and polished by successors. First appointed and then anointed by the bosses. You saw this raw power in action in the last election when an even more liberal education tax measure was defeated by one pimped by the all-powerful teachers’ union, joined at the hip with the machine which accords Jerry his position and clout.

    Youse guys will have to live in the Hunger Games anthill society – I’ll be doggone, long-gone. One of the hoary “gnomes” has finally spoken up:

    “The Fed spends $85 billion a month purchasing Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities. That’s the amount of the entire sequester for fiscal year 2013.”

    Roger Christensen Reply:

    I thought I read that the Kings County trial was a jury trial.

    Peter Reply:

    No, it’s not. The plaintiffs had attempted to dismiss all the writ claims so that they could get a jury trial, but the Authority objected that the remaining claims would still make the case in its essence a mandamus action (and therefore not entitled to a jury trial) and the plaintiffs dropped their attempt to dismiss the writ claims.

    BKwong Reply:

    I read in the Fresno Bee that it would be a jury trial as well- Where did you hear that it would be a bench trial, Peter?

    Peter Reply:

    I follow the court filings? I just reread the most recent filings, and it does in fact appear that this will be a bench trial, not a jury trial. The parties (and the order) refer to a “hearing”, not a “trial”, the plaintiffs dropped their attempt to dismiss the writ claims (which was the basis of requesting a jury trial), and they appear to be proceeding in the fashion the parties agreed to before the plaintiffs attempted to dismiss the writ claims. However, I could be mistaken about the intricacies about California’s civil procedure rules pertaining to writ claims (not something they teach in law school).

    BKwong Reply:

    Peter, when was the most recent filing? Is there a link? I wonder why Tim Sheehan of the Fresno Bee said that it would be a jury trial.

  7. JBaloun
    Mar 1st, 2013 at 10:00
  8. StevieB
    Mar 1st, 2013 at 12:06

    Redwood City has not participated in the Peninsula lawsuits and seems the most likely to receive a high speed rail station which would be a boon to the city. The Redwood City Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors are asking for businesses to send letters in support of the Chamber’s position for a “blended system” of rail service on the Peninsula. The letter reads in part:

    [COMPANY NAME] supports our Chamber’s advocacy for modernized Caltrain service by 2019 and a statewide high speed rail system that connects to the Peninsula by 2029. Approval of the proposed MOU is a major step toward keeping both projects on track and bringing substantial benefits to our employees, the region, and the state of California.

    jimsf Reply:

    I have always hoped that redwood city would get the station. They are the only ones who haven’t been a pain in the ass.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Mandatory parking garages and lots more street traffic. They would do better with a casino.

    PA is the smart one – all they need is Caltrain or BART.

    StevieB Reply:

    Street traffic is the sign of a prosperous area where people want to be. A city without traffic is one without enough commerce.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The New York Times had an piece on Exit 14 of the New Jersey Turnpike. A place everyone loves to hate. Because Exit 14 serves Newark Airport, US1 US 9 US 22 State 21 and Interstate 78. People think it’s ugly. It is. It also means that the general environs of Newark Airport are rich enough to support Newark Airport, the New Jersey Turnpike, US 1, US 9, US 22, State 21 and Interstate 78. Most places would love to have Exit 14 in all it’s ugly.

    joe Reply:

    Using cars as measure of success is nuts.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    .. nobody goes there anymore it’s too crowded?

    Michael Reply:

    Wrong. Almost any place where “it’s hard to park” is a successful neighborhood. I’ll use North Beach in SF as an example. Works for the nicer downtowns of the Peninsula, Rockridge in Oakland, getting tougher in Old Oakland, pick a place. Walnut Creek? Downtown Santa Monica or Pasadena. People are attracted, drive there, and then enjoy the “pedestrian” neighborhood. Places like (again, excuse my Bay Area-centric examples) Emery Bay or Santana Row, new’ish mall developments based on a “Main Street” feel do not have easy/free parking. Easy parking is sign of a dead place. cars looking for parking is a useful metric.

    jimsf Reply:

    that applies to living as well as shopping.

    Michael Reply:


    joe Reply:

    If cars measures success then encourage cars. So the example is an old SF neighborhood –
    North Beach isn’t car friendly. Why not a mall with easy parking and many cars?

    Michael Reply:

    Yes, an old SF neighborhood.
    And malls, and suburbia, and places in LA, and I was talking about the ease of parking. Sorry I wasn’t clear enough.

    joe Reply:

    Okay – I get it.
    We used to live in SF and my spouse had a weekly italian lesson in North Beach.

    Here’s a possible example in Mountain View trying to increase the popularity of a main street that has ossified. I think it fits what you meant. Note that Caltrans was part of the problem.

    Historically, Caltrans, the state transportation department, has controlled El Camino as a state road and has limited what could be done, she said. But that grip has loosened as cities have pressed back, in part through the Grand Boulevard Initiative involving nearly two dozen cities bisected by the roadway.

    “A lot of El Camino is junky junk,” French said. “It used to be road houses and liquor stores. Cities regionally are taking back the road.”

    Mountain View has already embarked on a large-scale redevelopment at El Camino and San Antonio Road, the Village at San Antonio. Merlone Geier Partners continues construction on approximately 328 high-density apartments at El Camino Real and Mountain View’s San Antonio Road. The company, which has San Francisco and San Diego offices, is redeveloping more than 16 acres with apartments and 175,000 square feet of retail.

    The El Camino development replaces a 60’s style mall with denser, walkable development and stacked/underground parking.

    Palo Alto’s looking to add more parking and the city estimates it will cost 60K a space.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Here is somebody’s list of failures (which includes more than one listing from California!); wonder what their idea of success looks like:

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    One of the things they use is how long the commute times are. It’s hard to have long commute times in metro areas that you can drive across in 15 minutes during rush hour. .. nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded, in the metros with long commute times…

    StevieB Reply:

    Many malls surrounded by parking lots are not doing well. More modern commercial areas include housing and office space in a much more livable area. Pasadena is an example where a mall that opened in 1980 was dying with an anchor store closed and numerous vacancies. It was torn down and reopened in 2000 as the outdoor mall Paseo Pasadena with 400 condos, a grocery, shops and offices.

    This area is adjacent to Old Town Pasadena which has been redeveloped with multistory condos and apartments within the commercial district. The Gold Line light rail has two stations in the area but with all the people using the shops, restaurants, movie theaters, museums, and the Pasadena Playhouse the street traffic is busy. This is in contrast to before redevelopment when old town streets were free flowing but the main businesses were a porn store next to a pawn shop across the street from a bar with many 100 year old vacant storefronts lining the streets.

    joe Reply:

    “Pasadena is an example where a mall that opened in 1980 was dying with an anchor store closed ”

    Sunnyvale tore out downtown and built a Mall.
    “The mall opened in 1979 and was finally demolished in 2007 ”

    A point we might agree on is to not optimize for car traffic and parking.

    Yes popular places attract cars. They are not optimized for cars. It’s people that matter.

    I’ve been in Pasadena few times – mostly 1-2 day trips. @CalTech and some local hotels.
    Sandwiches at “Hey That’s Amore”. I also get turned around every. damn. time.

    Jo Reply:

    Just FYI: Fresno is going to have a battle royal later this year over tearing out its Downtown Fulton Mall which is an open mall and restoring traffic on it. Depending on your point of view the Fulton Mall is either a historical treasure with fine artwork which should be made an historical landmark – or an ugly tacky embarrassing strip of concrete embedded with some trees with tacky cheap storefronts. On thing people do agree on: downtown Fresno’s traffic flow is incomprehensible if you are not VERY familiar with it.

    joe Reply:


    wikipedia sez:
    The Fulton Mall has declined in recent decades and is consistently the subject of revitalization efforts. It was nominated in 2008 to the National Register of Historic Places, but was not placed on the register due to objections from a majority of property owners. However, because of its eligibility, the mall is now listed on the California Register of Historical Resources.

    Wiki sez this about Chicago, where I lived and it tried the same thing and it didn’t work.

    State Street became a shopping destination during the 1900s and is referred to in the song “Chicago,” sung by Frank Sinatra where Frank refers it to “State Street, that great street.” In 1979, Mayor Jane Byrne converted the downtown portion into a pedestrian mall with only bus traffic allowed. Mayor Richard M. Daley oversaw the State Street Revitalization Project and on November 15, 1996, the street was reopened to traffic..

    I bet Fresno gives up on that Mall.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    downtown Fresno’s traffic flow is incomprehensible

    You’ve never driven on the East Coast have you? Then there the extra specialness that is Washington DC.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Walkability comes first.

    A successful place is one with a lot of people on foot (or in wheelchairs :-) ). If building parking garages or roads really helps you attract people who are then on foot, then it might be worthwhile. If they jump in their car for every little trip across the street, you’ve killed the place.

    Train stations are a lot better for creating foot traffic.

    joe Reply:


    MTView’s plan for El Camino (which parallels Caltrain) is to widen the sidewalk exactly as they did on Castro St from El Camino to Caltrain. Then build up and increase density.

    I did not know that Caltrans limited what the City could develop (for the sake of traffic flow) which explains why small, 1 story old shops that have persisted for years as Google expands and homes are snapped up with cash.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Old one story shops that had their property tax assessment frozen in amber in the 70s.

    John Burrows Reply:

    On the other hand a city without traffic is a great city to be in if you have a reason for being there. When I had business at the Federal Building in San Jose it was really easy to drive in and find a place to park. Wide streets, not much traffic, plenty of parking—makes driving in downtown San Jose a real pleasure.

    I use VTA light rail to go into town whenever it makes sense, but most of the time driving would have been easier. Someday in the future Downtown San Jose might reach “critical mass” and the resulting fusion reaction will make the area a planners dream come true, but for now San Jose has a downtown that is about 95% driver friendly.

    John Burrows Reply:

    Probably should have said “enough density” instead of “critical mass”

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Poeple could take Caltrain to get to Redwood City lessening the need for parking garages and having almost no effect on traffic.

    joe Reply:

    I agree – less emphasis on-site car storage.

    RWC should have lots of room for drop off and pick up. Buses, shuttles buses, cabs and POV. That means lots of traffic and good access to 101, El Camino and 280.

    Full cost recovery on car storage.

    Palo Alto estimates a new structure they WANT to build will cost 60K per spot. Over 10 years that’s $16 a day with 365 a day occupancy.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    At 16 dollars a day it’s cheaper to take a 15 dollar cab ride to the station and 15 dollar cab ride home for a two day trip.

    J. Wong Reply:

    “PA is the smart one – all they need is Caltrain or BART.”

    You’re assuming that Palo Alto won’t have HSR running through it? Redwood City has been trying with little success to revitalize their downtown; HSR just might be the ticket to get it done.

  9. trentbridge
    Mar 1st, 2013 at 16:12

    “Atherton Vice Mayor Jerry Carlson” Vice Mayor? Atherton has a pop of 6914 (2010 census) and they have not only a real Mayor but a “Vice Mayor” too? Is this a lifetime appointment or does “Jerry” really think he’ll still be around in such a high-visibility local government position when the double-tracked HSR comes roaring thru’ town?

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    When they build the catenary can they place the the posts 100 ft.across from each other to make room for 4 tracks

  10. D. P. Lubic
    Mar 2nd, 2013 at 06:59

    In other news, there are some interesting things in the current edition of Hotline News (NARP newsletter); among them are comments about a Brookings Institution paper on Amtrak, the new Virginia transportation subsidy bill (a compromise that includes a wholesale fuel increase and a general tax increase for roads, but some more money for rail service), a TOD that’s being planned to go with the Florida Sunrail line, and a joke by VP Joe Biden that the Secret Service didn’t like him riding trains, but now he gets to do so again because it’s cheaper:

    The Brookings paper:

    Nathanael Reply:

    Biden wasn’t joking, believe it or not. Gospel truth: the Secret Service didn’t like him riding trains, and now (after the “sequester”) he gets to do so again because it’s cheaper. :-)

    swing hanger Reply:

    WaPost article about the Brookings report above:

    *includes the predictable reader’s responses, including the stock “American railroads’ job is to move freight only”. Yeah, move lots of black rocks and soybeans, basically.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Took a look at the comments, too, and was pleasantly surprised to also see a lot of people who understand the extent to which the highway and air systems are subsidized, and to understand the operational handicaps (freight railroads) that Amtrak has to deal with. Sounds like the word is finally getting out, would say the positive comments were over 50%. . .now if only this would reach the Congress Critters. . .

    VBobier Reply:

    Good luck on that, repubs are in denile on a lot of things, equality, racism, people being unable to work, that there are no jobs, that Government creates jobs and pays for jobs, etc, etc, so transportation is just another thing they don’t want to bother with. Repubs still want a military that’s 2nd to none, even if means beheading most of Government to so with… Even parts of Government that people need, like and want…

    joe Reply:

    Maybe comments reflect that Washington DC is the ONLY metro Area where median income can afford the Median car.
    @Swinghanger et al

    New Cars Increasingly Out of Reach for Many Americans
    Looking to buy a new car, truck or crossover? You may find it more difficult to stretch the household budget than you expected, according to a new study that finds median-income families in only one major U.S. city actually can afford the typical new vehicle.

    Bottom line? A buyer in the capital can purchase a car with a sticker price of $31,940, slightly more than the new vehicle average for the 2013 model year and about what it would cost for a mid-range Ford Fusion sedan or a stripped-down BMW X1 crossover. The buyer in Tampa? They’ll just barely cover the cost of a basic Kia Rio, with $14,516 to spend.

    While the typical new vehicle will likely nudge up this year, editor Sante stressed that car costs are one of the most controllable parts of a household’s budget. “You’re better off driving something more affordable and saving or investing the difference.”

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    There’s nothing new there. Well maybe the part about DC being the place. The people who can afford to spend thousands of dollars for the short ride from the dealer’s lot to the street buy new cars. The rest of us buy used. After it’s been resold a few times it’s finally 15-20 years old and not worth fixing anymore.

    joe Reply:

    The new part is the continual slipping middle-class. Your model of how we buy cars was once but is no long operative.

    We can’t all be buying used cars. Fewer and fewer can afford new cars, are buying smaller cars, are keeping cars longer. Clearly the current supply is not sustainable.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Upper middle class people buy new cars, they sell them off after a few years to a poorer relation or the dealer. The middle class people snap them up. After they’ve had them for a few years the lower middle class people snap them up and then at around 10 years the poor people take ’em. Might be 12 or 13 these days but that sort of thing happens during a depression.

    Nathanael Reply:

    10-year-old cars are astoundingly expensive to maintain. Poor people are getting poorer and can’t afford that any more.

    joe Reply:

    I agree with the generality of hand me downs but the times are changing that impacts auto ownership and affordability. Physics and smog laws limit how much a car can be driven without major repairs. People fall out the bottom.

    1. The upper middle class is shrinking along with the middle class.
    2. Again, DC is the ONLY metro area where median income can afford median car. Is DC going to produce the used cars for the rest of the US?
    3. We see the impact in data:
    – Ave age of cars increased and
    – so has the ave trade in age.
    – Overall new car sales are lower.
    4. Larger fraction of newer generation thinks Cars are less desirable expenses.

    “Polk said the average age of a car in the U.S. last year was 11.1 years, while the average truck was 10.4 years old.

    Meanwhile, the average trade-in at new-car dealerships is now 6.5 years old, one year older than the average in 2007, according to the Power Information Network, a unit of J.D. Power and Associates.
    Detroit car companies are so much smaller and more efficient today that they are profitable at a much lower level of sales.

    In 1985, 38 percent of all new cars were purchased by people age 21 to 34, but that fell to 27 percent in 2010, the Atlantic reported. Four out of five millennials said in the Zipcar survey that the high cost of gas, parking and maintenance has discouraged them from owning a car.

    “What I have heard a lot is that the cost of getting licensed, purchasing, insuring, maintaining and fueling a car has become an impediment to use of a car. Prices have increased a fair bit since the mid 1980s for all facets of car ownership and operation,” UMTRI research professor Ray Bingham said in a 2011 publication of Research Review. “Cost pushes people to seek out transportation alternatives.”

    D. P. Lubic Reply:


    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Keeping an eye on the competition:

    Is it me, or are the car builders getting desperate?

    JBaloun Reply:

    Better sell for less than $10k if inflation hasn’t been sneaking up on us.
    (Don’t look behind you but….)

    joe Reply:


    The U.S. job market is slowly improving, and most economists expect that gradual recovery to continue this year. Yet one of the most disturbing trends of the recession is still very far from being reversed. America’s middle-class jobs have been decimated since 2007, replaced largely by low-wage jobs.

    A recent presentation from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco lays out the situation clearly. The vast majority of job losses during the recession were in middle-income occupations, and they’ve largely been replaced by low-wage jobs since 2010:

    VBobier Reply:

    That would go double for someone with Very Low Income, where even a used car is currently out of reach for Me, I’d need more income(like double or at least $300 more per month) and a larger Liquid Asset Limit of $10,000.00, instead of $2,000.00 which is unchanged since 1989, which Repubs are against, but then Repubs are against a lotta stuff that help those who aren’t rich campaign contributors…

  11. synonymouse
    Mar 2nd, 2013 at 12:04

    LA in a panic takes up the obvious but ridiculous notion of cutting taxes to attract business:

    But Villa and Brown have already raised them and bound to rise exponentially. Too late.

    Same for the Sequester. Prime cuts are the ARRA Moondoggle and Deserted Xprss loans, but the earmark system plus PB’s power pulls these hopeless wastes of money off the table.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Can’t sequester money in last year’s allocations in this year’s budget.

    joe Reply:


    A recent independent poll shows that two Democratic elected officials from inside City Hall, Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti, and conservative talk-show host Kevin James are the top three contenders for the post.

    Hilarious. The GOP’s top candidate in the LA Mayoral race is an AM Hate-Radio Host.

    James achieved notoriety for a May 15, 2008, guest spot on the MSNBC television program Hardball with Chris Matthews, in which James supported an apparent comparison by President George W. Bush of Democratic primary presidential candidate Barack Obama to American Senator William Borah of Idaho, who was serving at the time of Hitler’s invasion of Poland.[13]

    VBobier Reply:

    And James couldn’t get elected Dog catcher in Los Angeles, but then He isn’t expected to get any real support, except among the crazies…

    VBobier Reply:

    Governor Brown did not raise taxes, the People of California did that, remember Prop 30 and 39?

  12. Elizabeth
    Mar 2nd, 2013 at 15:39

    OT Fun map for thinking about routes that make sense

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    What is this “thinking” of which you speak and how is it relevant to anything?

    joe Reply:

    “Vat are you sinking about?”

    Nathanael Reply:

    The most obvious gap is Dallas-Houston. The second-most-obvious is Detroit-Cleveland. The third-most-obvious is Cincinnati-Columbus. The fourth-most-obvious is LA-Las Vegas…. the fifth-most-obvious being Cincy-Louisville-Nashville.

    There are also a lot of Amtrak routes which could clearly use more speed and more frequency, notably Chicago-Indianapolis-Cincinnati-Columbus.

    The lack of Detroit-Cleveland is astounding, and it’s the only one of these routes which has no serious plans for reinstatement or improvement.

  13. Keith Saggers
    Mar 3rd, 2013 at 12:54

    The Slow train

    Jonathan Reply:

    Ah, Dr. Beeching…….. Yes, Virginia, things could be _much_ worse!

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Came across this while looking for something else; of note is that there were people raising concerns about the oil situation even in the 1950s in Great Britain:

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Ran into this, too:

  14. StevieB
    Mar 3rd, 2013 at 15:58

    The Brookings Institute has come out with a study on American Passenger Rail. Amtrak is now at record levels and growing fast. This continues a trend of several years. Driving ridership are routes under 400 miles.

    Simply put, short-distance routes are the engines of Amtrak ridership. When only considering corridors of 400 miles or less—an accepted distance for optimal rail ridership—these short corridors are responsible for over 80 percent of all Amtrak ridership.

    These shorter routes also are the most financially sound.

    Combined, Amtrak’s short-distance corridors generated a positive operating balance in 2011—while corridors over 400 miles returned a negative operating balance… Every single one of the eighteen corridors traveling longer than 400 miles operated at a negative operating balance in 2011.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    They are massaging numbers. It’s 450 miles, in nice round numbers, from Boston to DC.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Completely misleading regarding “financial soundness”. The problem with the long routes is low frequencies and low speed. NOT length; length is fine.

    Short routes which have low frequencies and low speed do extremely badly (see the Hoosier State).

    Long routes which have high speed… well, St. Albans VT – Washington DC, Boston – Lynchburg VA, Boston – Newport News VA, Boston – Norfolk VA, New York – Charlotte NC, all of these seem to do pretty well. There appear to be no long routes with high frequencies except Boston-DC and Boston-Norfolk.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Chicago-Los Angeles has one of the highest average speeds in the system. It still doesn’t make enough money to cover avoidable costs.

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