Congressional Republicans Still Trying to Kill California HSR

Mar 7th, 2013 | Posted by

California voters and their legislators have approved the high speed rail project and construction will begin this summer. But that isn’t stopping Congressional Republicans, led by Central Valley representatives Jeff Denham and Kevin McCarthy, from trying to kill the project, as Dan Walters explains:

Denham questioned why California had not sought approval of the project from the federal Surface Transportation Board, a successor to the old Interstate Commerce Commission, as apparently required by federal law.

With the CHSRA hoping to break ground within a few months, the failure to clear the project through the federal board, or get an exemption from it, could become a new weapon in the arsenal of groups that oppose the bullet train.

The sticky point, apparently, is the CHSRA’s plan to connect the 131-mile-long San Joaquin Valley segment to Amtrak service in the region. The Surface Transportation Board exempted Florida’s bullet train project from its process because it was a stand-alone system, but connecting to Amtrak could invoke its authority.

We’re not sure yet,” Dan Richard, the CHSRA’s chairman, said earlier this week. But Tuesday, after meeting with Denham, the CHSRA agreed to seek the approval.

It seems likely that the STB will give its approval to the California high speed rail project, but this is an obvious 11th-hour move by Denham to undermine a project that will put his constituents back to work and help promote economic growth for years to come.

Walters also described another line of attack being used against the project, this regarding the ability to achieve the 2 hours and 40 minutes standard laid down in Prop 1A:

When the CHSRA switched the project from a stand-alone system to one “blended” with regional train service, critics demanded technical proof that it could meet the standard. Last month, the CHSRA generated a memorandum purporting to prove that it could do so “with appropriate assumptions,” based on computer modeling.

However, the model assumes that the train could “operate safely at 220 mph on sustained steep grades” in the Tehachapi Mountains between Bakersfield and Los Angeles – a contention that critics are attacking as unrealistic and potentially unsafe.

That could become the basis for another legal challenge.

Trains can operate safely at 220 mph on steep grades, but it requires some different technical solutions, including the right kind of braking and proper track design. The Authority is only assuming 220 mph for the downhill section, and not the uphill part. This is only necessary because of the “blended plan” and while I support that plan, I can also understand why some like Lynn Schenk think the impact to the overall project is too great.

These issues would be more easily resolved with federal money, which as we know isn’t coming as long as Republicans control either house of Congress. Bakersfield’s own Kevin McCarthy again rattled his saber, saying “I would hate to see [California] start a process they cannot finish.”

Well, I would hate for Congress to refuse to help create jobs, reduce oil consumption, and address the climate crisis merely out of ideological spite, but here we are. California will have to continue going it alone until wiser heads have control of Congress.

  1. D. P. Lubic
    Mar 7th, 2013 at 22:10

    Off topic, but possibly of importance to our society–and an unfortunate possible black eye on capitalism as employers look for a “purple squirrel.”

    Nathanael Reply:

    Our corporate execs are crazy. It is creating serious problems.

  2. John Burrows
    Mar 7th, 2013 at 22:33

    Regarding wiser heads controlling Congress—

    Denham won in 2012 by a small 5% margin. McCarthy won by a huge 46% margin, more than any other Republican in California. Hopefully Denham will be gone after the next election, but based upon the 2012 election results retiring McCarthy will be a little harder.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Eric Garcetti garnered a measly 100,000 votes for Mayor of huge-ass LA.

    VBobier Reply:

    Whoopee doo syno, Kevin James a Repub lost the race for Mayor of Los Angeles, but then I expected as much.

    VBobier Reply:

    Being both Denham and McCarthy are members of the House, both will be up for reelection in 2014… I’d still like to send both packing, as far as I’m concerned both can go and join Sarah up in Alaska…

  3. Peter
    Mar 8th, 2013 at 06:23

    OT, but seriously, why the hell did the Authority have to remove the dates of its documents from its library?

    Peter Reply:

    Ok, they’ve only removed the dates from some of the documents.

  4. trentbridge
    Mar 8th, 2013 at 08:44

    So if the “initial operating section” stops twenty yards short of the Amtrak tracks it’s okay to build without Surface Transportation Board approval? Apparently the Republican troublemaker really wants the train to be “to nowhere”. Hasn’t Congress got a budget to pass plus raising the debt ceiling, and ending the sequestration cuts?

    jimsf Reply:

    Hopefully these kinds of shenanigans will move the voters to remove some of these folks in the next election. If anyone bothers to vote.

    VBobier Reply:

    I’ll vote and so will plenty of people will too, 1st Denham, then McCarthy… McKeon needs to go too…

    VBobier Reply:

    That should ‘so will plenty of other people too’.

    Nathanael Reply:

    In fact, even if the operating section connects to the Amtrak tracks, no STB approval is needed — according to the recent STB precedent in the All Aboard Florida case.

    (I personally didn’t think that decision was made correctly, but the STB board members won’t change enough to overrule that decision during the time when CAHSR is being constructed.)

  5. Brian_FL
    Mar 8th, 2013 at 15:39

    @ Robert,

    This is not an attempt to “kill California HSR” as you say. In fact I believe that Rep. Jeff Denham has actually done the CHSRA a favor by bringing this up now. If the CHSRA had not been forced to petition the STB for an exemption now, it would have been in an even worse position later on. Why are you focusing your anger on Rep. Denham when you should instead be questioning why a government agency such as CHSRA (with all of their “expertise”) could overlook such an important and basic step? If All Aboard Florida could get it right by requesting a decision by the STB before beginning construction, how come the CHSRA could not decide that it needed to do this until after being questioned by Rep. Denham after all this time? Its not like the rules have changed recently. Look it up under 49 CFR Part 1150.

    Here is the link:

    If you read the federal rules, it is very obvious that the CHSRA will need to petition the STB for either a certificate of operation or an exemption from the same. Why that was not done before now needs to be an issue brought up before the CHSRA. In my opinion, this does not bode well for public confidence in the CHSRA. As supporters of HSR in the US, we should not accept medicocrity by our government agencies. We should demand competence, otherwise HSR will ultimately fail in this country.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    “if you read the federal rules” then why have you not raised this issue before?

    Brian_FL Reply:


    It is not my responsibility to tell the CHSRA what to do.

    I would assume that with their staff of lawyers and professionals that they would have known what was required long before now. The CHSRA has been around for awhile and should have petitioned the STB before now, would you not agree? It only took me a few hours of searching the internet (and having also followed All Aboard Florida’s progress for the past year) to determine that in order to construct and operate a new railroad line in the USA, it would require a ruling by the STB. I am not an opponent of HSR in CA or anywhere else. In fact, I am a strong supporter of public transit (including CA HSR). I just want to see that it is done right. Also, I want to see that the public has trust in the organizations that are responsible in constructing this project. From what I can see, it is apparent that the CHSRA organization has issues with understanding what needs to be done in order to be move this project forward.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    Thank you Brian

    Nathanael Reply:

    Brian, look up the All Aboard Florida application. There is new precedent. The STB has said quite clearly that no certificate of operation and no exemption is needed. The STB claims to have no jurisdiction.

    Brian_FL Reply:

    I am familiar with the AAF petition to the STB. Under US Federal law, any entity proposing to construct a railroad for public transit (freight or passenger, inter or intra-state) must petition the STB for either an exemption from the STB oversight or ultimately for the STB approval. It is not automatic that a project will be exempted. That is why AAF requested to be exempted from STB oversight at the same time AAF asked for a ruling on if the STB had jurisdiction in their case. CA HSR will require a ruling by the STB. It cannot rely on precedence alone, even though the most likely outcome will be exemption. To do otherwise would violate federal law. I am not sure how not obtaining a ruling from the STB would affect approval for operation or permits from other agencies such as the FRA.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    They haven’t started construction in California either.

    Brian_FL Reply:

    All Aboard Florida petitioned the STB around the first of October 2012, and requested that the STB rule on their petition expeditiously befroe the end of 2012. It took the STB until Dec 21st to rule on their request. Therefore, the CHSRA can expect at least a two month waiting period to receive a decision from the STB after they request a ruling. How this will affect the construction timeline with the FRA (and the HSR federal grants from the FRA) is not known. I do know that in the case of All Aboard Florida, they petitioned the STB in order to be able to apply for a RRIF loan through the FRA.

    joe Reply:

    It took the STB until Dec 21st to rule on their request. Therefore, the CHSRA can expect at least a two month waiting period to receive a decision from the STB after they request a ruling.

    Absolutely no reason this action has to take as long as FL. If this HSR Project – a top priority of El Presidente – needs approval from the executive branch (SBT) it can be made a priority and expedited.

    Nathanael Reply:

    I don’t know why my previous comment got lost. All Aboard Florida got a ruling by the STB that *the STB did not hav jurisdiction* and *All Aboard Florida did not need to seek STB approval*.

    While I don’t think that ruling was legally correct, it tells you what the STB is thinking, and it is legal precedent. Further, nobody but the STB appears to have standing to complain about it….

    Therefore, CAHSR can start, and finish construction without STB approval.

    aw Reply:

    This application to the STB will likely turn out to be a mere formality. For a project that competed for and won an FRA ARRA grant, it hwas been well vetted at the federal level. Conceivably, the application for the grant could fulfill many of the needed data for the STB application. If not, somebody will be employed for a couple of months to refmormat and update that application.

    I mean, it’s not like the STB was unaware of what was going on.

    aw Reply:

    “hwas” –> “has”

  6. Paul Dyson
    Mar 9th, 2013 at 09:46

    Really Robert, you make too much of this. It is the job of an opposition party to raise questions especially about large expenditures. By the same token one would hope that democrats would question outrageous defense expenditures, $1,000 toilet seats etc. Mostly they are looking for a “gotcha” and political point scoring but it does help keep agencies honest. After all, even if you’re going to build your first section of railroad from nowhere to nowhere you’d better have all the permits!

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    When Democrats raise questions about Defense spending the whole right wing, almost in unison, starts to question their patriotism, ask whether or not they are sympathizers and make veiled comments about their penis size.

    VBobier Reply:

    Yeah, they want to go to war with Iran and want all to agree and they don’t like those who want Peace, war doesn’t solve much, outside of who gets to die for a delusional ideology that the far right loonies have and can be counter productive in the middle east where blood feuds happen… And people in the Repub Party wonder why they didn’t win the 2012 election for POTUS? It wasn’t just numbers, most people just don’t believe in delusional ideology put out by crazy ass fanatics…

    synonymouse Reply:

    Jerry: “Permits? We don’t need no stinkin’ permits.”

    A much bigger and important question is whether PB-CHSRA will go BART segregation or Amtrak-FRA-AAR.

    I think they will go segregated and count on the machine to bull their way thru any regulatory nuisances.

    joe Reply:

    Gee Paul, a more reasoned person would ask why now oppose what was a bi-partisan project?

    They hate your ideas too and not because other people soured them to your superior plans.

    You are defending at Nihilism.

    joe Reply:

    Gee Paul, a more reasoned person would ask why now oppose what was a bi-partisan project?

    I know you like to scape goat HSR advocates for souring the opposition to rail but that’s vanity. They’ll hate your ideas too and not because other people’s bad project soured them to your superior alternative.

    You are defending Nihilism.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Squandering a fortune on a patently dumb idea just because nobody can stop you nijhil est.

    synonymouse Reply:

    drop the extraneous j

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    Dear Joe: Politicians do what they do, just like scorpions….

    joe Reply:

    Opposition to HSR is NOT about fixing a flaw or improving HSR or helping CA with alternatives. Opposition is opposing stuff for the sake of opposing. Alternative plans are good because they oppose the current plan – select the alternative plan and they’ll oppose it.

    Mitt Romney Opposes Gov Mitt Romey’s health care plan.

    Best thing they did was sic the GAO on CAHSRA. Nice red herring at the time to delay funding until the GAO finished the report (CA didn’t) but that report will unintentionally help the project debunk critics.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    Quite right Joe, opposition is opposition for its own sake. So why act so shocked when it happens? It’s all part of the game.

    joe Reply:

    I’m not shocked in the least bit at the opposition.

    Mostly they are looking for a “gotcha” and political point scoring but it does help keep agencies honest.

    No. It cripples our ability to act on climate change, economics, transportation and etc.

    I suggest you look at a graph of filibusters and tell me we are in some status quo.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    You’re acting like the Democratic caucus would have voted for a carbon tax/cap-and-trade with teeth if left to its own devices.

    Derek Reply:

    If only they were enlightened enough to do so. (Carbon tax, not cap-and-trade.)

    joe Reply:

    I make no such claim.

    I disagree that the GOP’s obstructionism helps improve what they obstruct – it doesn’t.

    synonymouse Reply:

    PB, like its antecedent Bechtel, bullies. The burgs have to put up resistance, however waved off by the puppet courts, lest they have sand kicked in their face and Berlin Walls erected in their backyards.

    Jo Reply:

    I would have gladly paid $1,000 for a couple of toilet seats if it would have met the USA never getting involved in the ridiculous Iraq/Afghanistan conflicts. At least the $1,000 toilet seats would have been made in the USA. Mention a couple of $1,000 toilet seats and congress acts like hell has blown over. Mention trillions of $$$ in Iraq/Afghanistan and congress does not even blink an eye.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The US, just like France in Africa, is stuck with intervening to keep thugs from overpowering weak regimes. Would you prefer weakly democratic or shariah?

    Remember how non-intervention in the Spanish Civil War played out.

    Talk to the Russians, Chinese, and East Indians about helping out with a thankless task.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Those regimes aren’t weakly democratic. They’re weakly democratic like the Bay Bridge Eastern Span replacement was done weakly competently.

    synonymouse Reply:


    John Burrows Reply:

    The Chinese are happy to let us police the world while they build the world’s largest economy.

    VBobier Reply:

    Not to mention the largest housing/business building bubble in China…

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    I would think American business was quite pleased with the outcome of the Spanish Civil War.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The Church generally supported the fascist movement but I think it was isolationism foremost that kept Roosevelt from extending any aid to the Republic.

    Franco did prove cagey about the outcome of the War, not allowing German troops to cross Spanish soil after 1939 and turning over fleeing Vichy functionaries to France after the Liberation.

    Jo Reply:

    Or good old fashion American fear of communism. The USA preferred to let franco win instead of having the Spanish Republic win and risk having the communist come to power.

  7. jimsf
    Mar 9th, 2013 at 10:09

    two informative articles from the fresno bee
    state investment in valley rail

    fresno county to join rail agency

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Off topic, but perhaps of interest: In Great Britain, a heritage railway is about to be reconnected with the national network. Two items of interest are (1) the restored connection required cleaning out a great cut that had been used as a landfill, which meant moving a mountain of trash, and (2) the connection is at a new and modern looking station:

    Some photos of the excavation of the cut, giving an idea of just how big the job was:

    Finally, a video clip from earlier in the work, showing some of the trash that was in the cut:

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Too funny not to share:

    Peter Reply:

    So, Kings County and Kern County are “angry” about HSR (in the same way seniors were “angry” about healthcare reform in 2009), so they refuse to join the JPA? That seems somewhat childish, not to mention unproductive and illogical, especially given how “upset” they were about the San Joaquins allegedly being stopped in one or another iteration of the HSR plans.

    Andrew Reply:

    Why does the California high speed rail project require federal approval? It is entirely within California, so federal regulation does not apply, it is not interstate commerce.

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