How the Republican Anti-HSR Trap Works

Jun 30th, 2013 | Posted by

The Merced Sun-Star lays out the current state of high speed rail politics in Congress, which is the same as it’s been since January 2011 – Republicans hate HSR and are doing everything in their power to kill it. What’s new are not the specific ways they are trying to kill it, but the rhetoric they are using. Central Valley Republicans, stung by unusually strong criticism of their anti-HSR actions by Valley institutions and newspapers, are trying to shift the blame onto the HSR project.

See Rep. David Valadao’s comments for a good example of how this works:

“It’s going to be tough for them to come asking for money, from anyone,” Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, said in an interview Friday.

On Thursday, Valadao won House Appropriations Committee approval for an amendment that would, if it enacted, slow construction of the high-speed rail project. The amendment blocks the federal Surface Transportation Board from taking further action on any section of the project until the three-member board has formally approved it.

Because overall approval could be years away, pending completion of a massive environmental impact study and a financing package, the result would be to delay construction of an initial section linking Bakersfield to Fresno, for which approvals have not yet been obtained. The federal board has approved starting work on a Fresno to Merced section.

“We want to make sure that when they start to spend taxpayer money, they know what the next step is,” Valadao said.

And later in the same article, here’s Rep. Jeff Denham, another Valley Republican:

“At a certain point, they have made it very clear that they are going to need $38 billion in federal funds,” said Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, “and we are making it very clear that they won’t receive a penny until they have a business plan.”

Denham said Friday he will use his chairmanship of the House railroad subcommittee to stymie further federal funding for the California project, unless he is satisfied it is on track. Later this year, Denham will oversee the rewriting of a five-year Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, which he said will include language touching on high-speed rail.

Neither Valadao nor Denham are overtly saying they oppose California high speed rail or are trying to kill it, even though both have consistently voted to deny it funding. Their latest argument is that in fact HSR is just fine and dandy, as long as it successfully jumps through a number of bizarre hoops the Republicans have set up for it – most of them high off the ground and on fire.

Valadao’s demand that the STB review and approve the entire project before any segment of it is built is intended to stop the project by preventing the $4 billion in federal stimulus funds from being spent before their expiration date in September 2017. Denham surely knows that the California High Speed Rail Authority has written numerous business plans – you can see them here – but wants to set up some unspecified process for determining what kind of business plan is acceptable to him, rather than what is objectively good.

The Republican trap, then, is to set up tests that the HSR project cannot possibly pass – and then blame the HSR project and those administering it for its demise. That allows people like Valadao and Denham to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. It’s a clever game, but I doubt that anyone in the Central Valley will be fooled.

  1. trentbridge
    Jun 30th, 2013 at 17:43

    From the same article:

    “”It doesn’t make a difference because the federal funds have already been allocated,” said Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, a project supporter.The federal government has provided about $3.5 billion to the project. This money can’t be taken away, and no additional funds had been sought for next year.

    So who gives a hoot about a symbolic act of Republican stupidity? I’m not losing any sleep over this.

    J. Wong Reply:

    The allocated money must be spent by 2017 _or_ it can be taken away. That’s the Republican plan, delay HSR construction so that legally the money can be taken back.

    VBobier Reply:

    Agreed, so far it’s just two baggers in Congress who need to be shown the door in Nov 2014, this legislation won’t get past the US Senate…

  2. 202_cyclist
    Jun 30th, 2013 at 18:30

    Couldn’t the CA high speed rail still receive loans via the Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF) program at the US DOT? This isn’t contingent on Congress appropriating the funding.

    VBobier Reply:

    I don’t see why not, though they might have to construct two stations to have an initial operating segment. But since I’m no lawyer, it’s just My humble opinion.

    AB3034 says this:

    (5) Revenues of the authority, generated by operations of the
    high-speed train system above and beyond operating and maintenance
    costs and financing obligations, including, but not limited to,
    support of revenue bonds, as determined by the authority, shall be
    used for construction, expansion, improvement, replacement, and
    rehabilitation of the high-speed train system.

    VBobier Reply:

    Here’s the Ballotopedia for Prop 1a from 2008.

    Provides that at least 90% of these bond funds shall be spent for specific construction projects, with private and public matching funds required, including, but not limited to, federal funds, funds from revenue bonds, and local funds.

    Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF)

    The RRIF program was established by the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) and amended by the Safe Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act: a Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). Under this program the FRA Administrator is authorized to provide direct loans and loan guarantees up to $35.0 billion to finance development of railroad infrastructure. Up to $7.0 billion is reserved for projects benefiting freight railroads other than Class I carriers.

    The funding may be used to:

    Acquire, improve, or rehabilitate intermodal or rail equipment or facilities, including track, components of track, bridges, yards, buildings and shops;
    Refinance outstanding debt incurred for the purposes listed above; and
    Develop or establish new intermodal or railroad facilities

    Direct loans can fund up to 100% of a railroad project with repayment periods of up to 35 years and interest rates equal to the cost of borrowing to the government.

    Eligible borrowers include railroads, state and local governments, government-sponsored authorities and corporations, joint ventures that include at least one railroad, and limited option freight shippers who intend to construct a new rail connection.

    VBobier Reply:

    It’s rather convenient that Jeff Denham and His Repub/bagger buffoons want a business plan, well the CHSRA has had a business plan since November 1st, 2011, but then like I said before, I doubt that any plan mentioned would be approved by His High Monkeyness…

    Plus even if the EIR was ready for the whole project, they’d probably impose another roadblock on what is a Blue State Project by a heavyhanded troglodyte, especially if the State decided to self fund CA HSR, which it could if needed, the Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF) is an excellent idea, that combined with what is there already could get 59.85% of CA HSR funded, enough to probably get private investment, since Government would have secured almost 60% of the capital cost of building HSR in CA or at least to sell Revenue bonds to fully fund construction in addition to an RRIF loan and what CA has now for funding.

    Lets not forget that even the Golden Gate Bridge had its nimbys and anti-bridge detractors, as did Hoover Dam, both of which created jobs during the Great Depression that My parents lived through.

    VBobier Reply:

    In fact the CHSRA had a business plan in 2012 according to this site Here, that’s better than Congress can say.

    VBobier Reply:

    Oops forgot a blockquote from the California High Speed Rail Authority listens,
    releases cost-effective new business plan

    After 296 community meetings and forums, today’s plan reflects those concerns, and California –and American– high-speed rail will be stronger as a result.

    After listening carefully to everyone involved, the California High Speed Rail Authority today offered a new plan that lays out a faster, better, and more cost-effective path to building the high-speed rail system that is so critical to California’s economic future.

    Repubs/baggers in Congress object to money going to a Blue State, Jeff Denham is a bagger, VOTE Jeff Denham out in Nov 2014, He kills CA jobs and wants to send that jobs money to Red States back East instead.

    Robert Reply:

    In 2010, Jeff won the 19th district 64.6% to 35.2%, against Loraine Goodwin. In 2012, Jeff had a bit of a tougher time after redistricting and beat a fellow by the name of Jose Hernandez by 52.7% to 47.3%. The vote count was 110,265 to 98,934. Basically, 5,666 of Jeff’s 110,265 voters (5%) just need to change their mind next time and he is out of a job. I don’t know how the unemployment rate is tracking since the election in 2012, but the electorate in his district is 40.1% Hispanic.

    I’ll bet you that a lot of his Hispanic constituents are trade workers, who might start looking a lot more favorably on Mr. Hernandez next time around if Jeff keeps trying to throw away several billion dollars of construction jobs. Just sayin…

    It might also warrant some grass roots involvement of HSR supporters in helping point out things like this next time around. The local papers seem to be picking up the story a bit more now. At some point in time, even those with thick skulls will start to get the idea that opposing HSR in California will cost them their jobs if they don’t “get with the program”.


    Alan Reply:

    Might be worth building a coalition of trade unions and companies who could benefit from HSR, and who would have the deep pockets to run some TV ads against Denham, McCarthy, and Valadao. Call it something like, “Californians for Better Transportation”, or whatever.

    Clem Reply:

    The pesky thing about loans is that they need to be repaid. A song and a promise won’t cut it.

  3. VBobier
    Jun 30th, 2013 at 23:08

    Oh and I doubt there is any business plan that Jeff Denham and company(Repubs/baggers) would like or even agree to, their idea of HSR is NO HSR cause it conflicts with their campaign contributions from Big OIL and the KOCH brothers David and Crane Koch.

    CA-10(Jeff Denham, R-Atwater), voted for POTUS in 2012 64.7%,
    CA-21(David Valadao, R-Hanford), voted for POTUS in 2008 43.7%,
    CA-31(Gary Miller, R–Rancho Cucamonga), voted for POTUS in 2012 79.9%

    POTUS being President Obama, whom Repubs/baggers don’t admit is the legitimate POTUS and who has been willfully obstructed by Repubs/baggers in one way or another since 2008.

  4. James M in Irvine, CA
    Jul 1st, 2013 at 09:06

    Does anyone else see this possible hurdle as a potoentially good thing? So the STB needs to approve the whole thing, instead of peice-meal approvals. The STB might just say something to the effect of “…we approve the entire project as long as CHSRA continues due dillegence and environmental impact mitigation …” .

    That would put the Rupublicans in their place.


    VBobier Reply:

    Agreed, that would make the CA baggers livid, that they were thwarted…

    Alan Reply:

    First of all, this “possible hurdle” doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance of getting through the Senate or the White House. DiFi and Boxer will see to that. If somehow it did, I think it would be ripe for a constitutional challenge, on 14th Amendment grounds–Congress enacting a law that treats some states differently from others. No other state faces such an obstacle for such a major project, of any type (not just HSR).

    VBobier Reply:

    James M didn’t say a thing about making a law, just an STB ruling, which is not something that needs to go thru Congress for petty approval.

    Alan Reply:

    The “possible hurdle” is the amendment which would prohibit any construction unless the STB approves the whole thing. That would be a law. If the law is never enacted, there’s no need for such a sweeping STB ruling. Things would go on as they are now, with the STB approving each section as the environmental work is completed and funding is secured. In any case, from what I gathered from reading the STB ruling for the first construction segment, their own procedures wouldn’t allow such a sweeping ruling even if they wanted to.

    Besides, if the STB *did* do something like say, “We approve everything as long as CHSRA continues due diligence”, you know that the baggers will scream and howl and try to figure out another way to stop construction.

    VBobier Reply:

    Too true Alan, too true.

    VBobier Reply:

    Also We have the 2014 Election to get past, Repubs/baggers want to take over the US Senate, then Repubs/baggers could do whatever they want, so winning the 2014 Election in the US Senate is vital and so Democrats and Independents need to come out like it was 2012 all over again, complacency loses elections and will allow Repubs/baggers to win in 2014 and I don’t think anyone whose not a Repub/bagger wants that to happen.

  5. Derek
    Jul 1st, 2013 at 13:40

    Study indicates high-speed rail has strong financial possibilities
    By GREG SOWINSKI, The Lima News, 2013-06-28

    An economic feasibility study to gauge the possible financial benefits of high-speed rail between Columbus and Chicago indicates it could translate to billions of dollars, and tens of thousands of jobs, according to a report released Friday.

    “What the study demonstrates, with the end points in Chicago and Columbus, it does in fact make financial sense,” Lima Mayor David Berger said. “Since we’re along the route, we get the benefit of that as well.”

    synonymouse Reply:

    Yeah, Columbus does not even have streetcars.

    I watched them cut down the trolley bus wire on High St. in 1965. Morons.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Funny how they left out the part where it makes money (including construction costs) or even just pays operating costs. I wonder why? You think it might be because it won’t?

    So according to this wiki article just getting to Cincinnati would be about 8 billion in 2002 dollars (10.5 billion in current dollars). Now this is a vast understatement of what the dollars would be because it would not go all the way to Columbus and early estimates are always too low, but lets say its right just to be nice.

    So we are going to spend 10 billion to get 6 billion back of the next 30 years? Otherwise calculated as a negative 1.7% return over 30 years. You could just invest in t-bills beat that return by double at least. Just give the money away and you will help the economy more.

    It is hard to imagine a crummier way to invest 10 billion dollars,not that there is any way Illinois (which is in the worst financial chape of any state) can afford it.

    Joey Reply:

    Excuse me sir but I have a dilemma I think you could be of help on. You see, I pay my taxes just like everyone else, and some of these taxes go into building and maintaining highways. Now, you see, I rarely drive, and rarely buy anything that has been shipped long distance. This is not to say that I don’t use highways at all, just that my usage is much less than the average citizen. So I can expect to be reimbursed for the tax money I have put into the public road system but have not benefited from, can’t I? To which government office should I direct this inquiry?

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Thank you so much for your inquiry. We at the government are always happy to interact with our customers and citizens. I am afraid, however, that you have been misinformed about your relative usage of the local, state, and federal taxes pay for. Please don’t be embarrassed, this seems to be a common misconception, especially on this particular forum.

    The good news is that you are getting more than your money’s worth out of the road system. While you maintain your direct use do the system is “less than average” we would like to point out several factors you may have not considered.

    – the house or apartment you live in has materials that were deliver using the road system
    – the food you eat was delivered using the road system, even if you “eat local”
    – the police and fire system not to mention public transport, utilities, and most all other government services also rely on the road system. Do you enjoy the fact the average response time to 911 calls is sub 10 min…you can thank the road system
    – I presume you are working or did work at some time., thanks to the interconnected US road system people were no longer required to live within walking distance from their place of employment. This lead to I cased employment freedom and the rise of the middle class.

    In summary we thank you for your inquiry and don’t feel the need to thank us for building the road system, it was our pleasure. We would finally liked to remind you that 80-85% of takes place within 12 miles of the travelers home which ensures the road system is necessary despite talk of replacement with something dreamers like to call HSR. We continue to appreciate your contributions to this public good through the use of gas taxes and general fund money (income tax and sales tax). Please continue to enjoy the benefits of the system which enables the largest economy in the world.

    The Government

    Joey Reply:

    Excuse me sir but you have listed only areas in which my usage of highways is less than or equal to that of the average citizen. I feel that I am still entitled to a refund.

    Okay, dumb caricatures aside, the point I’m trying to make is that public infrastructure shouldn’t be judged solely on whether it benefits every single person directly and equally, but rather overall contribution to mobility and economic development. So the question I have to ask is this: why should rail projects be expected to pay back their capital costs when most other infrastructure is not held to this standard?

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    I agree, my argument is that the road system has a very high public good so the cost of building, running, and maintaining the system is outweighed by the overall good to society. HSR would not have enough public good to offset the costs. Why? Because it does not create anything we don’t already have (planes, roads, busses). It is just expense

    Derek Reply:

    TIL alternatives are bad because an alternative “does not create anything we don’t already have”.

    Alan Reply:

    Why? Because you don’t like it, hence, it provides no value to anyone. Because you benefit from roads, everyone does. That’s about the sum of your argument.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    so is a 70 billion dollar system worth it if it proves value to 1 person? to 10 people?

    My argument is everyone benfits from roads because everyone does. Everyone eats, sleeps in a home (or most everyone), uses utilities, buys things…those all exist with the use of the road system.

    All those things also exist without HSR. What public good does HSR bring (or increase) that we don’t already have and that is worth 70 billion plus the cost of running the system?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The people on the train won’t be on the highway?

    Joey Reply:

    By that logic no freeway or airport expansions should ever be undertaken with government money, because they provide something we already have.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    They do provide something, they provide an expansion to the existing system (presumably to accomodate increased use). This brings up another good point. Expanding the existing system is also a better use of resorces than creating a new system (HSR) that requires brand new capital

    Joey Reply:

    Both require brand new capital. It’s just politically easier to fish up funds for highway expansion than rail projects. And how exactly would highway and airport expansion accommodate “increased use” in a way that HSR wouldn’t? Even people who won’t use HSR would see the benefit in terms of trips diverted to HSR, freeing up capacity on highways and at airports.

    VBobier Reply:

    Let Me guess, you don’t think the states population is going to go up, like to at least 50 million? The existing freeways and airports are at their limit and can not be expanded, do you suggest that nothing be done?

    Derek Reply:

    Translation: everyone benefits from the roads equally. Telecommuters don’t exist, because that would violate the previous sentence.

    wdobner Reply:

    Unfortunately nothing in you post bears even a passing resemblance to reality. The painfully written article appears to have been authored by someone with only a passing familiarity to the source material. You can ignore your Wikipedia sourced BS and read the actual report from The most glaringly obvious discrepancy between your “analysis” of the horrendous article and a Wikipedia article which does not refer to the project in question is that IHSR proposes to build this as a diesel, 140 mph service for around $1.5 billion. After that your “analysis” devolves into GIGO.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Fair enough, I read the document. The cost estimates have 0 credibility. The SMART train in CA operates on an existing ROW, will be a 80 mph diesel (40mph average) and costs 380 million for 36 miles. So 10 million a mile with no land costs at all and they think they can create a ROW plus build for 4 million a mile?

    The wiki article has more credibility

    Peter Reply:

    SMART’s cost for Phase 1, its “IOS”, if you will, of around 37 miles, is not $380 million, but $103 million. That’s $2.78 million per mile for completely rebuilt trackage. Admittedly, that does not include the cost of replacing things like the Haystack Bridge, but those will not drive the cost to anywhere near $380 million.

    As an aside, how are they going to run diesels at 140 mph? Is anyone even looking at developing diesels to run that fast in everyday operations?

    Peter Reply:

    Just remembered where the high total for SMART might be coming from: the as-yet unfunded pedestrian-bicycle pathway. That additional amount really should not be used to compare SMART’s construction costs with rail-only projects.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Defending SMART?

    Stop shooting yourself in the foot. No, in the chest. No, in the head.

    There are lots of good passenger rail projects. Your problem — our problem! — is that none of them are American or involve Americans.

    synonymouse Reply:

    To have any understanding of how SMART came to be you have to examine the politics of how the planning and decision making happened.

    Traditionally the NorthBay was run by good old boys and girls, mostly moderate locals who had been around since the beginning. Business oriented well-to-do Republicans were replaced with well-to-do Demos associated with the Burton patronage machine which runs the Bay Area.

    The decisions were made by a small group of insiders, including some fans nostalgic for the rebirth of the NWP. Plus exquisitely connected lawyer Doug Bosco, who now has a column in the PD, courtesy of his investor group recently buying the paper. Get the drift? Rumors of lucrative gravel mining persist.

    SMART, as currently conceived, is irrelevant and interim. At least it sees the ROW rebuilt and shuts up a little bit the broad gauge fanboys.

    thatbruce Reply:


    The scanned pdf that wdobner linked to claims 110-130mph operation. The facts page on that web site is only willing to claim up to 110mph.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Sorry but you are confused…the inital construction contract was 103 million, but the total cost of the 37 miles is 380. Here is the link from the SMART page itself. (2nd page, phase 1 summary, project)

    So again, 10 million a mile for an existing ROW

    Peter Reply:

    My bad, you are correct.

    synonymouse Reply:

    115lb rail, which I still think is light for Doug Bosco’s phantom gravel trains. I interpret that as SMART giving the middle finger to NCRA-NWP.

    I did get a kick out of the thermite buttwelded 136 to 115 lb joint down at Washington & Lakeville. I did know that was allowed. I would think you gotta make sure the ties are not tamped to the same height.

    synonymouse Reply:

    I did not know

    Peter Reply:

    I think the point is that they ARE in fact just “phantom” gravel trains. If anyone were serious about running them at some point, that party would have spoken up and ensured that the tracks were able to carry such weights.

    wdobner Reply:

    NJ’s Riverline was built with 115lb/yd rail and it supports freight traffic, including stone trains for both customers and MofW, without problems.

    synonymouse Reply:

    That’s what everybody says but the class ones seem to use mostly 136lb., I think, because the extra cost is more than made up for by the reduced maintenance. In other words the track remains useable much longer with essentially no maintenance.

    wdobner Reply:

    Apples to oranges, but kudos for the frantic grasping at straws. SMART is being built in a predominantly suburban and exurban area. The “high speed” rail proposed by Indiana will be built almost exclusively in rural areas. That, more than the cost to physically acquire and assemble the components, is what drives construction costs for large infrastructure projects. One only has to look at the disparity in cost between suburban/urban areas and rural areas due to receive CHSRA tracks to see how utterly incompatible cost comparisons are going to be between urban and rural areas.

    Indeed the $4 million/mile figure is quite in keeping with other ARRA “HS”R projects of similar scope in the same region. Your figures, OTOH, are completely without merit.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    SMART is paying $0 for the ROW, it already exists. All it is doing is laying new track in an already prepared bed. In Indiana you have to do that from scratch plus acquire the ROW. So tell me how they are going to aquire the land, prepare the bed, and lay the track for 4 million a mile when just laying the track in CA is 10 million a mile.

    It is as close to apples to apples as you can get to show that the cost estimate is a farce. The fact SMART is in an already established ROW means their costs are construction only.

    4 million a mile is a fantasy that borders on fraud

    wdobner Reply:

    Again, you’re comparing a rail transit project which must bear the costs to construct all ancillary infrastructure with an intercity rail project that can utilize existing infrastructure to a much greater degree. For example a Chicago-Columbus train can use Amtrak’s maintenance facilities, while those must be built, at considerable expense, for SMART. So you are making a comparison which is entirely apples to oranges and, as usual you “analysis” is noting but GIGO.

    If you wanted to make a more apples to apples comparison then look at Illinois’ high speed rail corridor. There they are spending $1.3 billion to upgrade 183 miles of the corridor between St. Louis and Chicago to the same speeds contemplated by the Indiana high speed rail group hole traveling through much the same terrain. At $7 million/mile it’s only slightly more expensive than the Columbus corridor, likely due to Springfield’s demand for both a signature station and a bypass. But it certainly demonstrates that your assertion regarding project costs relative to SMART to be completely false.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    So lets use your numbers. $7 million a mile to “upgrade” and existing tract as opposed to $4 million a mile to build a new track including aquiring the ROW. Even if you belive the numbers they are almost off by a foactor of 2 and that still does not take into account aquiring the land for the ROW.

    So even with your own numbers it is at least twice as expensive as when they said it would cost.

    And my comparison is completly valid. There is no way they can contruct a line FROM SCRATCH including aquiring the ROW for $4 million a mile when a simple 38 mile project with and existing ROW costs 10 million a mile.

    wdobner Reply:

    Ah, so you didn’t read the report I linked to. Why do you even bother commenting around here if you refuse to familiarize yourself with the most basic of facts on these things? Please go back and read the report. You can start by reading the section which describes the alignment as being an extant and utilized route. Then you can stop making stuff up to support your erroneous narrative.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Are you daft…do you understand you are sinking your own argument?

    Your example is a train that costs 7 million per mile for an existing ROW.

    The proposed HSR line is estimating 4 million per mile including acquiring the ROW.

    Explain how your example supports that 4 million per mile is a reasonable number considering that your example says it costs 7million before you even aquire the land?

    wdobner Reply:

    Please indicate where in the report they contemplate the acquisition of the alignment.

    Peter Reply:

    The track bed SMART is using is basically completely new. The old bed was crap and had to be replaced, IIRC.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Not entirely apparently. The section north of Lakeville and Washington in Petaluma next to Dairymens Feed was rebuilt a few years ago due to flood rechannelization works and a new bridge for the NWP. New track, new switches, new spur. AFAIK that all stays.

    This is the 136lb rail I was referring to and straight butt-welded to the new 115lb rail. Interesting job with lots of cleaning up with a diagonal grinder. Next to your celebrated gauntlet track.

    As far as the trackage south of Novato the farther towards the City the worse the condition as it was successively abandoned from that direction.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    If you’re doubling the return on an investment that returns -1.7%, doesn’t it mean you’re just losing -3.4% now?

Comments are closed.