Harry Reid Scrambles to Save XpressWest

Jul 18th, 2013 | Posted by

Nevada Senator and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is pledging that “it’s not over yet” when it comes to the XpressWest high speed rail project:

Sen. Harry Reid will be doing some shuttle diplomacy with the White House next week to get things moving on a suspended federal loan application for the XpressWest high-speed rail project.

“It’s not over yet,” Reid told Nevada reporters Wednesday afternoon.

Reid insisted that White House officials have no hang-ups about green-lighting the project on principle but are concerned that backer Tony Marnell hasn’t met all the required financial obligations.

Marnell, who has put up $1.5 billion from private investors, is seeking a $5.5 billion federal loan for the train between Las Vegas and Southern California.

“Marnell had trouble raising private capital,” Reid said, adding the White House was concerned there was “not enough domestic manufacturing” in the original XpressWest plan.

$1.5 billion is a lot of money to have raised privately. I can understand why the White House might want even more money to be raised, to reduce the government’s risk and potentially avoid an embarrassing political situation if for some unlikely reason XpressWest defaulted on their loan. I’m sure the White House still remembers the hit they think they took over the bankruptcy of Solyndra, even though it ultimately did not hurt Democrats in the 2012 election.

Still, it’s a good reminder of the absurdity of demanding that the private sector alone fund major infrastructure projects like rail. Projects like high speed rail are usually too big a lift for the private sector alone, especially in a time when lenders remain cautious. Government exists to do big things like this, to get things built that the private sector can’t or won’t build on their own. Modern America is made possible only by government spending its own money to build huge infrastructure projects like the Boulder Dam or the Interstate Highway System.

Republican insistence that the private sector alone do big infrastructure projects flies in the face of reality. They know full well that if government doesn’t provide the funding, nobody will. That’s how they justify their attacks on important, necessary pieces of 21st century infrastructure like a bullet train from Southern California to Southern Nevada.

I hope Senator Reid is successful in saving XpressWest. But the real fault lies with the other chamber of Congress, where a House Republican majority refuses to fund high speed rail and the other things that are needed to build a lasting, sustainable prosperity in 21st century America.

  1. morris brown
    Jul 18th, 2013 at 07:47

    At least major publications like the Washington Post tell it the way it is.

    Washington Post Editorial:

    The Post’s View
    Good riddance to XpressWest, the high-speed boondoogle


    WE’VE SEEN some bad policy ideas but not many more awful than the proposal to extend a $5.5 billion low-interest, 35-year federal loan to a West Coast start-up for a high-speed rail connection between Southern California and Las Vegas. This time, though, we are happy to report, common sense has prevailed: The Obama administration has stopped the project.

    Backed by wealthy casino moguls, who in turn enjoyed the support of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), a company called XpressWest wanted to lay tracks between Vegas and lonely Victorville, Calif., some 81 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. Several times larger than the largest amount ever loaned under the obscure federal Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Program, the federal money would cover 80 percent of the project’s costs. The supposed public benefits were reduced carbon emissions, less auto traffic and, of course, more jobs.

    …. read the full editorial…

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    The supposed public benefits were reduced carbon emissions, less auto traffic and, of course, more jobs


    BMF of San Diego Reply:

    If casinos offered online gambling as an option, I could support them. Of course, if they did offer that service, I’d be changing my Las Vegas trips from occuring 1 per your to none. Thus, no need for HSR to Vegas.

    Emmanuel Reply:

    If casinos offered online gambling, a train wouldn’t be necessary. Thousands of tons of CO2 would be saved. I never understood this train. The same amount of money could be used to build a whole new casino strip in the LA area, heck Downtown LA which isn’t used for anything.

    Judge Moonbox Reply:

    The Washington Post seems to have an :I only have to outrun you” attitude when it comes to rail corridors outside the Northeast–that if they allow the oil monopolists to kill rail lines that don’t serve their region, it’ll be better for the Northeast Corridor.

    Go back and read their editorials and columns on the California High Speed Rail Authority. There are very few which don’t misstate the demographics. You would hardly guess that Fresno has a metro population of a million and Bakersfield 700 thousand, that there are already 12 trains to Bakersfield (6 round trips) and that Bakersfield is the 6th busiest Amtrak station in California and 23rd in the nation.

    Ironically, one of the few reports that does not distort the demographics is from columnist George Will. I think it would be because one of the San Joaquin valley newspapers carries his column, and the Post spares him the embarrassment of having to ask that paper (or papers) to edit out the misstatement.

  2. morris brown
    Jul 18th, 2013 at 07:48
  3. Derek
    Jul 18th, 2013 at 08:10

    Is the I-15 making a profit? If not, why is XpressWest expected to?

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    You still need I-15 to reach Xpress West.
    It’s foolish to think, as Robert does, that default is unlikely. On the contrary, default or restructuring of the debt is almost inevitable unless they get a 10 year holiday on repayments and the CA project is open and feeding them passengers. Whether it’s southern California, the UK or any place else the vast majority of people won’t load up their cars and complete 25 – 35% of their journey to then turn off into a parking lot and trek to a train which doesn’t even take them to their destination. Plus the only real volume market is NE bound Friday and back on Sunday. What sort of business is that to build a daily service?
    As for the private investors, that money will evaporate in no time once there is some scrutiny on the terms of the loan. You just need to consider the timing of the announcement. This has been the turd in the punchbowl for LaHood for 30 months. How do you call it for what it is without ticking off the leader of the Senate? Wait until you’re going out the door and throw a note over your shoulder. The new guy can do the non mea culpa and eventually the noise will die down.
    IF the CA project is built, (a big IF at the moment), and if it is built via Palmdale, then there may be some justification to revive this project once that is up and running. Reserve your seat for 2045.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    It’s foolish to think, as Robert does, that default is unlikely.

    Cruickshank is pretty clear that as long as it is a choo choo train and is electrified (because like, Peak Oil, and stuff), that money doesn’t matter.

    So go on about your Earth Dollars all you like, but you’re not going to win here on that basis.

    nick Reply:

    If it were electrified it would not go “choo choo” would it more like “woooosh”

    Joey Reply:

    FRA regulations mandate a whistle with that particular noise.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    I like the pointy noses. They give me a funny feeling when then go into a tunnel.

    jonathan Reply:

    how every adult, objective, and quantitative of you.

    Peter Baldo Reply:

    I can’t see how you can default on one of these loans. You have 35 years to pay. The interest rate is something like 2%. You’re paying back in devalued 2050 Dollars. At that point, the abandoned right-of-way is worth $5 Billion. The derelict station site in Las Vegas is worth $5 Billion. You’re dead, so they can’t come after you. The main risk is borne not by the train promoters, but by the US treasury which is another $5 Billion in debt which it must somehow finance. The promoters have usually agreed to do in-kind stuff like build a $1 Billion casino near the station, rather than move rocks and steel in the desert, so they still have their casino.

    The original BART cost about $1 Billion. Even if you had to pay back the bonds today, it would be only a few Billion. Compare that to what it would cost to build BART today.

    The only question is, why doesn’t CaHSRA go this route? It’s essentially free money. Especially if the Majority Leader is from your state.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Sure you can default. But yes, the low interest rates today are what makes Desert Xpress worth pursuing even with the Victorville terminus. At 4% interest or whatever the normal rate of return on capital investment is, its expected operating income can’t pay construction costs.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Simply put because I-5 was built with public money and XpressWest is a LOAN!! They have to PAY IT BACK!!! And they can’t pay it back because no conventional passenger train in the world can pay for operating costs and capital. This is just not even a close call

    Joey Reply:

    They used to, before the government started pouring money into highways.

    Andy M Reply:

    Even back in the 19th Century, few railroads genuinely recovered their capital costs. Many just went bankrupt and then got taken over by other companies at a fraction of their capital costs. So basically one lot of shareholders built them and lost a lot of cash while another lot partied on the profits.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    And so was created the SEC and security laws. But if they want to fleece investors (legally) then fine. But the government does not have to fall for it.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    The Big Four was the name popularly given to the chief entrepreneurs in the building of the Central Pacific Railroad, the western portion of the First Transcontinental Railroad in the United States.[1] However, the four of them preferred to be known as “The Associates”.
    Leland Stanford – President
    Collis P. Huntington – Vice President
    Mark Hopkins – Treasurer
    Charles Crocker – Construction supervisor and president of Charles Crocker & Co., a CP subsidiary.

    David Hewes, an enterprising businessman, was called the “maker of San Francisco” for his work in clearing land for development. He was invited to be a part of the Big Four (Central Pacific Railroad) but declined due to the financial risks. Over his lifetime he gained and lost several fortunes.[2]

    In popular culture[edit]

    Ambrose Bierce included characters based on the Big Four in his work Black Beetles in Amber as Sootymug (Hopkins), Happy Hunty (Huntington), Cowboy Charley (Crocker) and Leland, The Kid (Stanford).[3]

    Alon Levy Reply:

    In the US, yes. In the UK, not so much – the Railway Mania led to a nationwide depression and low railroad profits, but the railroads did not go bankrupt, and after a few decades they surpassed the 1840s’ traffic projections, which did not account for general economic growth.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    “the railways did not go bankrupt”, maybe not technically but most branch lines and many secondary routes fell under the control or ownership of their larger neighbours without paying the original investors a penny. They were built in a “torschlusspanik”, that the 19th century world would leave them behind if they didn’t have a line.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    The difference between paying for infrastructure with public money and a loan of public money to pay for infrastructure is…?

    jonathan Reply:

    if the public pays, the public owns the infrastructure.

    if the public makes a (unilque, huge) loan to a private enterprise, to build infrastructure; and the private enterprise goes belly-up, who owns the infrastructure? Private investors won’t invest if the Government is at the very head o f the queue

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    ….is who owns the infrastructure.

    If it is going to be profitable and pay back the capital why not all private money. 6 billion is not beyond organizations like Goldman who bought all the parking garages in Chicago.

    The truth is no one expects it to make money AND pay back the capital

    Reedman Reply:

    I-15 was built with money paid by the users (federal gasoline excise tax and state gasoline sales tax). The users of passenger rail don’t pay-their-way in this fashion. As a matter of fact, 17% of the Highway Trust Fund (money from gasoline and tire taxes), goes to public transit, which contributes nothing into the fund.

    In air travel, the government is involved with the airports and air traffic control systems, which are paid for by fees from the users (both in fees on air travel tickets as well as parking, which is hugely lucrative for the government).

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I-15 was built with a combination of state tax dollars and a federal gas tax levied on drivers who don’t use the national highway network. Urban streets generated and continue to generate gas tax money that went and still goes to numbered highways.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    Who cares how I-15 and the airports were paid for? What is being debated is the investment needed to solve the transportation problem of travel between SoCal and SoNev. But is there a problem? There is peak demand a couple of afternoons per week in one direction. How much investment does that justify compared to say people’s everyday journeys within Southern California? Draw up a table of transport infrastructure needs in the western USA and this route will come well down the list.

    Donk Reply:

    Exactly. All of the LV HSR supporters here just cover their eyes when they read this point.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Generally, I avert my eyes when I read about the contortions that OCTA is going through to satisfy Disney in regard to the Anaheim Streetcar. Updates about Bakersfield’s Centennial Freeway Extension also make me shudder.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Draw up a table of transport infrastructure needs in the western USA and this route will come well down the list.

    IF ONLY that was how the federal government operates.

    However, I would quit while you are ahead. Under that scenario the Democratic Socialist Republic of BART-landia would be at the top of the list every time. LA Metro would disproportionately be funding subway and other grade separated routes, while local transit agencies would be fighting for crumbs along with San Diego, Portland, Denver, Seattle, and Salt Lake City.

    And Metrolink? Forget it. They would busy tying beer cans together with piano wire. Not to mention all the sprawl-inducing highways that would sprout up in the Central Valley and all points east….

    Derek Reply:

    How much investment does that justify compared to say people’s everyday journeys within Southern California?

    That’s a good point. The cost of building HSR to recover the lost revenue from people not willing to sit in traffic may not be worth that recovered revenue.

    If congestion relief is the goal, then charge a small toll during times of peak demand, a toll just high enough to eliminate traffic congestion, but no higher. Then if you add up all the tolls you’ve collected, you’ll know how much congestion relief is worth to travelers, and then you’ll know if XpressWest HSR is worth building.

    Alan Reply:

    Here we go again, with the myth that highways and aviation are self-supporting. The DOT begs to differ. Do you own research. Amtrak actually recovers a higher percentage of its costs from ticket sales than the Interstate highway network does from user fees. The FAA’s air traffic infrastructure needs massive infusions from the general Federal treasury in order to stay in service, to say nothing of the Federal money being spent to develop next-generation radar technology. And pray tell, which airports contribute any part of their “hugely lucrative” parking revenue to the FAA?

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    The highways are supported by a combination of gas tax and general funds. There is no “gap” it is just partially general fund money. So what, it is a public good paid for by the public

    This is a private train that claims to be able to pay back capital costs, so it has to be judged as what it purports to be. If they want it to be a public transport then pass a bond and build it, like CAHSR.

    I would suggest not using prop 1a wording however since given the law the CAHSR can’t seem to meet those requirements

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    I’ve said it before, and it appears to need repeating. . .

    Make the highway user pay, up front, strictly from user fees, what it costs to build and maintain the road system. Make him follow the same economic rules that we demand of a rail operation. See how quickly things will change with this new and proper accounting.

    Derek Reply:

    So what, it is a public good paid for by the public

    When it gets congested, a road is no longer a public good, because it fails the “non-rivalrous” test.

    The economically optimal amount of traffic congestion on a road is not zero congestion but the amount where MR=MC. Therefore, roads should not be public goods, if you understand financial topics.

    The unscrupulous diner’s dilemma is another way to look at the wastefulness of paying for limited resources out of the general fund.

    If roads paid for themselves through the gas tax and other user fees, it would encourage innovation and the development of alternatives in a way that subsidizing them out of the general fund is unable to achieve.

    So there’s really no good reason why roads should be financed out of the general fund, and some really good reasons why they shouldn’t.

    jonathan Reply:

    Derek, its time you learnt a ilttle more than Econ 101. Congested public roads are still a public good.
    They’re just a less-pleasant public good than non-c0ongested roads.

    By your asinine Ayn-Rand logic, public schools are _not_ a publc good. Classes can get too big, in which case _your_ logic i that we should charge more for public schools.

    Derek Reply:

    Jonathan, do you deny that a congested road fails the “non-rivalrous” test of a public good? Please explain your reasoning.

    There are some good reasons why we shouldn’t charge more for public schools, but these don’t apply to road pricing.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Simply put….all non-rivalrous goods are public goods but not all public goods are non-rivalrous.

    Example: There are a limited number of fire trucks and police cars so if others use them I may not get good service..that does not make them non-public goods.

    Derek Reply:

    No. What you are describing (non-excludable but rivalrous) are common goods.

    jonathan Reply:

    A c0ngested road is still a public good. It’s merely congested, not a club good. Jus ta scrowded public schools are still a public good, even though less-crowded schools are more effective at educating pupils.
    You really _should_ learn something about economics.

    Deciding how to pay for roads is a public p0licy question, ?not pure, value-neutral economics.

    Derek Reply:

    No, a congested road is a common good, not a public good. Please read up on the difference.

    jonathan Reply:

    Please get a clue. As long as the public chooses to drive onto the congested public road, it’s still a public good. You might be able to argue that an uncongested road is a common good.

    You still don’t seem to understand that what you advocate is not an economic decision, it’s a public policy decision. Can you acknowledge that fact, Derek? If you cannot, I think it’s time to suggest that you take your one-track argument elsewhere. Your claims have been refuted, repeatedly; you ignore the refutations and come back in a few days with the same, old, tired, claims.

    Derek Reply:

    No, Jonathan. A common good is non-excludable but rivalrous (such as a road or a parking lot), while a public good is both non-excludable and non-rivalrous (such as air or radio signals). Not all non-excludable goods are public goods as you claim.

    Alan Reply:

    The same blather you’ve spouted before. Anything you favor is a “public good”, and therefore worthy of public subsidy. By your standards, Amtrak also has no deficit, because the shortfall between receipts and expenses is made up with public funds. Ergo, Amtrak is a “public good”.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    It would be if the didn’t claim to be a private corporation. No one claims that highways “make” money. Rather the claim is the are a public service for the greater good. Amtrak is a private company that bleeds money for no particular gain

    Derek Reply:

    Roads bring certain benefits, but that’s no reason why they can’t or shouldn’t pay for themselves 100% from gas taxes and other user fees. When I buy something from the store, why can’t the price of the item reflect the true cost of shipping it to the store, including road taxes? Then stores and shippers would find ways to reduce their costs that they cannot do with sales taxes (the usual way to cover the difference between the cost of the roads and the user fees to pay for them). Innovation and low costs are good things, right?

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Now you are just arguing there is a better public policy then the one in place now. We could go the full “fees pay” route..we choose not to. Run for office and change it.

    As a curiosity, in your system, how to electric cars (no gas) pay?

    Derek Reply:

    We could go the full “fees pay” route..we choose not to.

    Yes, like two wolves (motorists) and a sheep (non-motorists) deciding what to have for dinner.

    As a curiosity, in your system, how to electric cars (no gas) pay?

    Mileage fees based on odometer readings, and tolls, would be the most efficient and fair way for electric vehicle owners to pay their share.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The highways are supported by a combination of gas tax and general funds.

    Is “general funds” a euphemism for “subsidy” or is “subsidy” a dysphemism for “general funds”?

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    So it’s a subsidy..so what.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    The “so what” is that damned double standard I keep bringing up! You and others expect a railroad to have to live on whatever it brings in at the farebox–NO SUBSIDY!–but you are happy, happy, happy to have 50% or more of your road system paid for by someone else, or paid for invisibly, or paid for by fairies and unicorns.

    As it is, most rail networks or systems outperform the road system; Amtrak covers 88% or so of its operational costs, the Washington Metro does about as well (and in fact hauls twice the passengers for half the cost of its associated bus system, and does so while maintaining its own costly infrastructure, something the bus system doesn’t do).

    So, what this amounts to is a rigged game, a game that’s fixed in favor of cars and against railroads, particularly passenger service–and private investors likely know this. Level the playing field, play square, play fair, and see how quickly things will change. Hell, they’re changing now, thanks to driving becoming a bore and a chore instead of the “freedom” it used to be because of overuse, and the price of gasoline, despite your comments to the contrary, isn’t helping the highway cause. All the pro-road people are doing is drawing out the process, and while they’re at it, they are advocating what amounts to enslavement to the oil industry.

    Sorry, too many of us can see this, it’s too bad you don’t.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    I expect to subsidy when they say “no subsidy”. Both CAHSR and Amtrak claim no subsidy for different reasons. CAHSR by law and Amtrak because they are private. If you are going to claim it be subsidy free then be prepared to get called on it. I have no problem with trains or plane systems that beta subsidy that don’t claim to be self sufficient. PS. Amtrak has 1 service that I self sufficient, I don’t think that puts them at 88%.

    If this policy is so “pro road”. Why aren’t busses (which benefit from the subsidy) a huge money maker for cities? Because people, even poor people, like cars.

    It’s not a game, it does not have to be fair. In the US we picked a winner, it is cars for the short haul (which accounts for 85-90% of the trips) and planes and cars for the long haul. Trains are for freight.

    Joey Reply:

    Difficult for cars to be the only option for short haul when urban and suburban highways are already at capacity and there’s no room to expand them.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Why aren’t busses (which benefit from the subsidy) a huge money maker for cities?

    Will you hate me if I point out that in the 1920s and 30s, pro-road policy did in fact cause transit operators to switch from streetcars (which had to pay road maintenance) to buses (which didn’t)?

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    But there is room for a train ROW?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Why not? Trains are way more efficient than cars in passenger capacity per unit of ROW width.

    jonathan Reply:

    Alon, that’s not the whole story. Witness a consortium of GM, Firestone, oil companies, etc. buying up streetcar companies in the 1930s through 1950s in order to shut them down and convert them to buses.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Jonathan, that happened after many cities had already kneecapped their streetcar companies with these regulations, to say nothing of federal regulations forbidding utilities to own streetcar companies. What I’m talking about is a pro-road policy through the late 1910s and 1920s, before the postwar transit decline.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    “Why aren’t busses (which benefit from the subsidy) a huge money maker for cities?”

    In my opinion, for the same reason that rail made money when buses didn’t, and for the same reason rail has a better cost recovery ratio than buses today (and a better market penetration)–ride quality.

    I’ve ridden railroad passenger cars from the 1880s behind steam, 1920s vintage steel cars behind steam (and those rode very nicely!), century-old trolley cars with classic step controllers, PCC streamlined trolleys that were still in service at 40 years of age, Amtrak heritage cars, Amfleet cars, and modern light rail cars (Pittsburgh) and subway cars (Washington). All, ALL, with the exception of a Washington Metro car that was afflicted with badly flattened wheels, rode better than the best bus.

    A bus has a roaring, screaming engine in the back, and usually a transmission that kicks whenever it shifts gears. Newer transmissions are better in this regard, but the kicks are still there, as is vibration and noise from the engine. You also have bumps that rattle the bus (I thought those air bag suspensions were supposed to be so smoo-oo-ooth, according to Wendell Cox and Randall O’Toole), and generally seats that are less comfortable than those of a trolley car, much less those of an intercity coach.

    I still recall the sound and feel of our “old look” transit buses when I was growing up. Those buses–and the “new look” ones that began to replace them–used a single-ratio torque converter transmission that would lock at 40 mph. I still recall one that apparently had troubles in that torque converter locking mechanism; the driver would accelerate to 40, the 6-71 “screaming Jimmy” engine racing at full RPMs all the way, and then the converter locking–sounding something like (engine opening, torque converter lock, engine at lower RPM)–“reeeeeeeeeee–whoo–whoo–WHUMP-rrrrr, rrrr, rrrrrrr. . .”

    The “new look” buses were a disappointment–much newer in styling outside, but the same sounds and same kicking transmission, and hard plastic seats instead of black leather to boot. Man, what a step backward!





    Rattle, rattle, the seats rattle, the windows rattle, your teeth rattle. . .


    swing hanger Reply:

    I still liked the New Look better than its successor, the RTS. Alot of Canadian operators also shared that opinion.

    synonymouse Reply:

    @ DP

    You should have seen and heard the New Look Jimmys that SF bought in 1968. Big 2 cycle v-8’s with an extra low gear and Jacobs brakes. Screaming.

    That had to climb Sacramento Street in particular. If you had seen the 1960 Macks, also with an extra low gear(2600’s)grinding their way up those hills you would know why Jack Woods wrote the specs for some real power.

    The New Looks had the reputation of being dangerous for drivers – the story was all they had was a plywood floor and nothing to protect you feet up front.

    It is axiomatic the highway lobby loathes street railways. But don’t worry about your obvious enemies; worry about the really dangerous one – the transit consultants like PB and crooked politicians ready to jump on the next SkyBus scam.

    These a-holes are the same ones who want to kill off trolley buses.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    D.P. You cant compare a time when car ownership was at 40% to a time when ownership is at 90+ %


    Let it go. There was a time when horse travel was the ultimate in luxury, those times are gone also. Rail made money in the old days because it did not have competition. Those days are gone. Unless you are going to confiscate cars or make them 10X more expensive to drive then that battle is over.

    It not roads vs trains. Its public vs. private. In the US, because of our relative wealth (even the poor) most all people can afford private transportation, which is superior to public transportation because you dont have to share and you dont have to wait around for the route.

    Its not a great mystery.

    Joey Reply:

    1) Other wealthy countries have reached very different conclusions about this “public” vs “private” transportation debate you speak of. And even in the US there’s nowhere near the unanimity you claim exists. Voters have been approving major mass transit projects for decades, and the current trend seems to be toward more of them, not less of them. The majority of New Yorkers choose to take mass transit rather than demand highway upgrades. So it seems silly to say that that any mode of transportation is “superior” to any other. If only you want to take a particular trip, then sure, driving is probably going to be the only viable option. If you and 20,000 other people want to take the same trip every hour, then trying to accommodate them all in private vehicles is going to be a problem (but less so if the vehicles are small like, for instance, bicycles).

    2) Haven’t we been though this whole “public” vs “private” terminology thing before? Mass transit is usually built with tax dollars and receives an operating subsidy, but a large part (in many cases most) of operations are paid for by user fees (fares). Cars and fuel are paid for by individuals but the roads they drive on are paid for with taxes, the minority of which come directly from driving-related activities. And then there are the undocumented healthcare costs of burning the types of fuel we burn. You yourself have admitted in the past that roads receive large subsidies, but that it was justified in economic terms. This is an entirely different debate which I’m sure we will continue to have in the future, but I would appreciate if you would be consistent on this particular issue.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    I haven’t had the time to read that Old Urbanist post yet (but will certainly do so, as it and the following comments look quite interesting), but it’s interesting to note that the “generational shift” some of us have been discussing seems to be on the way to going back to 40% car ownership already for people currently under 30, and it looks to be something that will continue long term. Some say it’s economics, but I say that’s only part of the story–but, I’ve talked in detail about that before. No need to go over it again, and no time, I have to get to work!

    thatbruce Reply:

    @Alon Levy:

    Will you hate me if I point out that in the 1920s and 30s, pro-road policy did in fact cause transit operators to switch from streetcars (which had to pay road maintenance) to buses (which didn’t)?

    That’s also a reflection of the rising costs associated with street maintenance as roads switched from dirt tracks to petroleum/rock stews. Most people enamored with the heyday of the streetcar forget that private operators who obtained franchises to run between two points frequently had to take on the financial responsibility of the roads that paralleled their streetcar line. When the roads were dirt, this consisted of nothing more than running a grader down the road every other month. As it became policy to have wider asphalt roads instead of dirt tracks, the financial burden of maintaining both their own ROW and that of the street in which their tracks were embedded in became too great for some operators, triggering a shift from streetcars to buses as Alon has indicated.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    In addition to the higher cost of asphalt, there was the higher cost coming from a larger volume of cars using the road.

    Nathanael Reply:

    “It’s not a game, it does not have to be fair. In the US we picked a winner, it is cars for the short haul (which accounts for 85-90% of the trips) and planes and cars for the long haul. Trains are for freight.”

    If you have that attitude, John, then I have news for you.

    We’ve picked a new winner. It’s trains. We will be coming to take away your highways. You have lost at the ballot box. Your heavily-subsidized highways will be going away soon. Deal with it.

    swing hanger Reply:

    It’s this dogmatic “all or nothing, either/or” approach to road/rail that seems prevalent in Anglophone culture that’s so frustrating. There are countries that have excellent passenger rail systems that also invest in their roads and keep them in tip-top condition. People there still love their cars and support robust domestic automobile industries (well, two of them). They just have the choice (and thus not forced) of whether or not to use their cars to get everywhere.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Thank you, Swing Hanger, this is what I’ve been trying to get for this country. Unfortunately, some people seem to think anything else is un-American. That even includes bicycles.


    And I thought people were crazy calling me a Communist for supporting trains! They’re even nuttier about bike share programs! Whooee!!

    Alon Levy Reply:

    We’ve picked a new winner. It’s trains.

    Does this mean no more parking minimums in Harlem, the South Bronx, and inner Brooklyn?

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    A new winner…really. Lets try this the easy way.

    Total miles of public transport is about 56 billion miles a year. And I am belong generous because that includes busses and para transit. Also notice the growth rate is about 1%


    Total miles by car about 3 trillion miles


    Or about 54x less. But with that 1% growth rate I am sure it will catch up sometime before the sun burns out.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Passenger-miles don’t vote.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Passenger miles don’t vote, but passengers do and they are voting cars

    Joey Reply:

    Not all of them.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Passengers vote differently, especially in urban areas. Where I live, non-North American competence levels regarding TOD have led to a 20% transit mode share (up from 16.5% in 2006 and 13% in 1996).

    Derek Reply:

    Sorry, Reedman. 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.” (subsidyscope.com)

  4. BMF from San Diego
    Jul 18th, 2013 at 09:02

    I’m surprised this project has lived this long. It could have been put to sleep years ago.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Apparently we are but days away from the X Train “rolling out” it’s order form:


    Keith Saggers Reply:

    OK , do I have to party

    Michael Reply:

    It’s the Reno Fun/Ski Train repainted! I wondered where it went…


    Paul Dyson Reply:

    Selling tickets? A good way to raise cash. Will they run a train or go chapter 11 first?

    synonymouse Reply:

    The same methodology could be applied to evaluating X Train(lo option), Deserted Xprss(hi option)or the DogLeg. They all come up wanting.

    I wonder how long it is going to take for the reality to set in that the case for AmBART detoured thru the Tehachapis is no better than for any train to Vegas. Red ink in all instances.

    And just how is the orphan ARRA-IOS going to show? Is the San Joaquin equipment rated for over 90mph? And still change to a bus at Bako for LA. You’d think they would at least try to talk UP-BNSF into something over the Loop in our time.

    Peter Reply:

    Nah, raise money, then liquidate under chapter 7. Nothing to reorganize under chapter 11.

  5. TomA
    Jul 18th, 2013 at 09:10

    Sit on it. Wait two decades until they finally build the LA portion of CASHR, then it will build itself. The issue is of course that no one wants to build the hard part – certainly no private investors.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Look at it this way:

    How little interest PB-CHSRA has shown in its plans to be operationally compatible with Caltrain, a public entity under MTC. Why would you not expect the same resistance to co-ordinating with LV Rail, out of state private interests?

    And in there any language in Prop 1A about selling or granting trackage rights or contracting out or selling out to Amtrak, a subsidized governmental operation?

    synonymouse Reply:

    is there

  6. Keith Saggers
    Jul 18th, 2013 at 09:31

    Generally, nobody in the U.S. builds bullet trains. XPressWest renderings of its proposed electric trains were supplied by Bombadier, a company headquartered in Montreal, with its train division, Bombadier Transportation, based in Berlin.

    “In the absence of a U.S. High speed rail network, there is little or no onshore high speed rail manufacturing capability,” XPressWest states on its website.

    The firm “through its procurement activities, intends to incentivize to the highest degree feasible development of the U.S. industrial base through means such as technology transfer, and domestic sourcing and content.”

    Las Vegas Review Journal 7/16/13

  7. jimsf
    Jul 18th, 2013 at 09:40

    Well california should work with xwest to make a deal that makes the lv route part of the cali system. We should own that anyway.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Violates, probably invalidates Prop 1A, absent some major kind of political revisiting and revision.

    VBobier Reply:

    There is nothing there in Prop1a or in AB3034 to forbid linking up with XpressWest or any other HSR proposal and you know it Syno…

    synonymouse Reply:

    Transformation from an LA to SF hsr to an LA to LV hsr would require new enabling legislation replacing Prop 1A.

    Plus interstate would bring in the feds in a bigger way legally and presumably the State of Nevada. You would end up with Amtrak, again not authorized in Prop 1A.

    Public ownership and private operation won’t mix. The unions would go on strike until they brought down the private operators. The LV Rail crowd must have figured this out somewhere in the process.

    Las Vegas, Amtrak – talk about bait and switch and obfuscation. A re-vote is in order.

    VBobier Reply:

    That would be true, If this LV to LA route was a state route, since it’s not, then there is no need for such legislation, not for mere trackage rights, railroads run over other railroads tracks all the time when they don’t own all their own track over a particular route, it’s sop, standard operating procedure.

    synonymouse Reply:

    That is what I am saying: it would have to be a Nevada state owned and operated route. The unions who own Jerry would not allow a cheaper union on their territory. Or no union.

    The only way it could be privately owned and operated would be if it were entirely separate. Like the maglev proposal. Such a totally segregated scheme might even be driverless – unimaginable on DogLeg-bahn.

    Clearly the LV Rail people did not want to be identical with the CAHSR, thus the off-the-shelf equipment. Simply ain’t gonna fly.

    CALNEVAHSR would require new enabling legislation to replace Prop 1A and a re-vote.

    Eric Reply:

    So the unions killed XpressWest?

    synonymouse Reply:

    LV Rail could not deal with BART-style compensation packages and work rules – and that’s definitely what you can anticipate with anything the Burton patronage machine builds.

    Deserted Xprss would shortly crapout and end up in government hands and operation anyway. But picture hsr opponents might be able to find a liberal nanny judge who hates gambling and Vegas as capitalist greed incarnate and who would rule you need a re-vote. CAHSR would lose a re-vote.

    Besides which city is Barack and the national Democratic party likely to extend an expensive helping hand to: Sin City or Detroit?

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Besides which city is Barack and the national Democratic party likely to extend an expensive helping hand to: Sin City or Detroit?

    That’s actually the Obama Paradox ™.

    He personally has won races by appealing to the core of the Democratic base including organized labor and African-Americans. However, his handlers are much neoliberal, interested in getting the Hispanic vote at any cost and embracing the sort of “casino-style” financial bubbles that were endemic under Bush.

    Perhaps the greatest irony of the Obama Administration is that all but an upper echelon of cities (SF, Chicago, NY) are going to be worse off after he leaves office than before. He can’t get any traction because there’s too much pressure from the New York Times – reading wing of the Party to achieve immigration reform and to leave as much of the financial ponzi scheme under Bush intact….

    synonymouse Reply:

    I suggest it will prove Motor City over Sin City.

    VBobier Reply:

    Oh and one more thing, poppycock…

    synonymouse Reply:

    How about BART or LA light rail selling trackage rights?

    Or maybe the CHSRA could sell trackage rights to Amtrak to route the Super Chief thru Palmdale.

  8. morris brown
    Jul 18th, 2013 at 12:03

    From the XpressWest website.


    News Room
    July 17, 2013 – XpressWest Statement Release

    The United States Department of Transportation, via former Secretary Ray LaHood, suspended its review of XpressWest’s financing application pending before the Federal Railroad Administration’s RRIF program. Ray LaHood’s decision to suspend XpressWest’s loan application was primarily based upon his policy that all trains used for the XpressWest project must be 100% manufactured in the United States. As most people know, satisfying a 100% manufacture in America standard for XpressWest’s trains is not required in the RRIF loan rules and not commercially possible because there is NO high-speed train manufacturing base in the United States. XpressWest has suggested a realistic approach given the current high speed rail manufacturing market and allows the project to proceed in a responsible manner.

    ALL FUNDS supplied by the USDOT WILL BE USED to purchase construction materials made in the United States and will be spent creating 80,000 American jobs to build and operate the project.

    Notwithstanding the USDOT’s position, XpressWest (a private railroad company) will continue its plans to develop the first true high speed passenger rail system in the United States. XpressWest has always, and will continue to work with an International high-speed group from North America, Asia and Europe. These companies are expert at developing, constructing, operating and financing high speed rail projects throughout the world. The United States high speed rail market is in its infancy and the international high speed rail community is ready, willing and able to get XpressWest on-line now and launch a new industry in America.

    We look forward to working with Anthony Foxx – the new United States Secretary of Transportation and our international partners to launch a new American industry. XpressWest has already welcomed Mr. Foxx to his new position and is confident Mr. Foxx understands how to accomplish the goals mandated in the Administrations’ Vision for High Speed Rail in America.

    (site has many of the published articles on the subject, including the redacted letter from LaHood. I sure would be nice to see the full letter and see what the FRA and XpressWest are trying to hide. )

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    Right on

  9. trentbridge
    Jul 18th, 2013 at 12:52

    Q. How do you “raise” $1.5 billion from pirvate investors for an unbuilt railroad?

    A. Promise them that they will have $5.5 billion to spend “loaned” from the Federal Government before they touch a dime of their onw money.

    Color me cynical but private investors are not “foamers” they are hard-headed business people.

    There ain’t no bank account marked “Xpress West” with $1.5 billion in it. It’s all pledges – like NPR.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Not according to Jerry Brown and the Cheerleaders – there is a line wrapped around the corner of private investors foaming for the DogLeg.

  10. Keith Saggers
    Jul 18th, 2013 at 14:46


    swing hanger Reply:

    866 car order “total”. Justifies building a new factory along with the possibility of future orders from European markets, as well as the Crossrail project. OTOH, it’s a much more uncertain climate for a builder to set up a factory in the U.S., when the orders are for considerably fewer quantities (for projects that proceed at a snails pace and subject to political shenanigans).

  11. John Burrows
    Jul 18th, 2013 at 21:53

    Once Republican resistance to high speed rail, (particularly high speed rail in California), is subdued and high speed trains are running from San Francisco to Los Angeles—could something like this happen here??

    From ENGLISH.EASTDAY.COM, July 10, 2013—“Rush for rail tickets as skies locked out”

    “It was another chaotic day at the city’s 2 airports after 57 more flights were canceled and over 100 delayed because of heavy rainfall and thunderstorm in north and southeast China.

    On Monday some 60 flights were canceled between Shanghai and Beijing.”

    “The Beijing-Shanghai route, one of the busiest in the country, has been the worst hit since Friday when thunderstorms and bad weather battered the capital.”

    The airlines asked passengers to reroute their flight ticket, or take the bullet trains to Beijing.

    But the Shanghai-Beijing High Speed Railway tickets were sold out early in the morning as too many stranded flight passengers rushed to the Hongqiao Railway Station to buy the tickets.

    Long queues were seen at the ticket counters at the railway station yesterday evening—Many Beijing-bound passengers left disappointed.

    Tickets to the high speed train have not been easy to get for a month now due to the troublesome weather. Some 20,000 passengers take the train to Beijing from Shanghai every day.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Something like this would happen in this country back in the late 1950s and early to mid 1960s, when we still had something resembling a decent rail network. It caused railroaders of the time to wish those air travelers would think of trains as something to use other than when the weather turned bad.

    One railroad that did capitalize on air troubles was the Seaboard Coast Line (merged successor to Atlantic Coast Line and Seaboard Air Line, the “air line” in the railroad’s name referring to its straight “air line” segment of some 65 miles and other tangent sections, too). At a time when hijacked airliners being taken to Cuba, the railroad ran an advertisement that read, “If you want to go to Miami without a stopover in Havana, call us.”


    This railroad’s service is the predecessor to Amtrak’s current New York-Florida operations.

    Interesting to note in that captured newspaper page a story just below about the next test flight of the Boeing 747.

  12. morris brown
    Jul 19th, 2013 at 18:04

    From Las Vegas CBS-TV

    I-Team: XpressWest Keeping Mum on Projected Ridership


    A lot of interesting material here. FRA would not release any ridership data and neither would XpressWest.. Apparently only $500 million, not $1.5 billion from private sources had been raised.

    Again it sure would be nice to see the full, un-redacted letter from LaHood.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    XpressWest estimates that it will carry around five million round trip passengers in the first full year of operation,[Wikipedia

  13. Ted Judah
    Jul 19th, 2013 at 20:28

    New Metro Board Members Don’t Mention HSR

    Frustrated readers of this blog from Southern California will see that the more things change, the more things stay the same.

    Roger Christensen Reply:

    The 3 new Metro Board have been carefully selected to nurture the 3 enclaves of Valley, West LA, South LA. Parochialism, as usual, will reign.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Just as with Antonovich boosting Palmdale.

    Mark Reply:

    Except Antonovich represents pretty much the entire northern half of the County of Los Angeles, including Santa Clarita…not just Palmdale. If Santa Clarita was clamoring for the HSR train as much as Palmdale was, maybe thinking would shift, but the city staff and leadership have seen the proposed routes through the City and want nothing to do with it.

    As usual, Syno has a very weak understanding of what’s actually going on with this project in LA County.

  14. morris brown
    Jul 20th, 2013 at 07:41

    XpressWest Las Vegas Train: Where are the Venture Capitalists?


    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Ah, good old Wendell Cox. . .nothing to see here.

    Of course, Cox, as always, ignores the huge subsidy the highway system gets from general tax revenue. Cut that off, force the motorist to pay his way strictly out of direct user fees, just as is supposed to be required of a railroad, and watch how quickly things will change!

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    In short, the investors know the game is rigged; unrig that game, and see just what happens.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    So you admit that XpressWest won’t pay back capital and operating costs?

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Not necessarily, but the rigged game will make it much more challenging than it should be, and investors are also really very, very conservative with money. The Dagney Taggarts of Ayn Rand’s world who are willing to gamble great fortunes on a railroad, even one with things like Reardon metal for track, are as much fantasy figures as hobbits and the Easter bunny.

    Put it another way–does the highway system pay back capital and operating costs directly from user fees? Would you go into business in competition against someone who could undercut your prices by 30% or more because they had a rich uncle keeping them in business and covering their astounding and astronomical losses, giving them a huge price advantage that they didn’t earn?

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    well the loan will be granted (or hopefully not granted) in this world. Where cars rule. So the chances of making money while paying back the capital is somewhere south of 0%.

    I think it would be a less than 50% chance they even get the whole line built. When the costs overrun (and they always do). who are they going to get more money from. Not private sources.

    Joey Reply:

    in this world. Where cars rule

    Only in America.

    When the costs overrun (and they always do)

    Only in America. And usually because of mismanagement on the part of the government officials in charge of the project. I would expect that a private entity would do better.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Barcelona’s Line 9 ran >3 times over budget.

    Joey Reply:

    Okay, not only in America, but the exact conditions which consistently lead to cost overruns here aren’t found many other places. And the L9 is still a bargain by American standards.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Thankfully, we are discussing an American Train Line proposal with American Government money. So my point stands. Thanks for agreeing

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Actually, contra what Joey says, cost overruns in the US aren’t higher than elsewhere.

    Also, the data you’re channeling about rail cost overruns (i.e. Flyvbjerg’s work) is 20 years old, when overruns were more frequent in the US than they are now, and deals mainly with urban rail. The same is true of ridership shortfalls: in the 1970s the models weren’t as good as today. See PDF-page 10 here for trend.

    Joey Reply:

    Look, I’m not arguing that we should ignore local conditions and political realities, but you act like the U.S. exists in isolation (“in the real world…”) and that anything anyone else does is invalid.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    … anything not Real America ™

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Will cars continue to rule? They suffer from several shortcomings:

    (1) Congestion, and not just in cities. Call it too much of a good thing. End result is that the car no longer is “freedom,” as it was seen going back to at least the 1930s.

    (2) Performance limits. The problems aren’t the cars–some could be quite fast, going back to Stutz and Duesenberg days of the 1920s (oh, and those machines were CLASSICS!) The problem is the performance of drivers, and their limits in things like reaction time. Self driving cars can get around some of this, but you still have to have them run in a world, at least for the time being, with driven cars, so their performance will be limited to that of the traffic around them. There is also the question of reduced performance in bad weather, as in snow. A railroad normally doesn’t or shouldn’t have that problem. All this assumes the self-driving car is capable of handling things like not being able to “see” the road, as when it is covered with snow or is a dirt road without clearly marked boundaries.

    (3) Energy or fuel cost. This is only going to go up, no matter how much oil we can get out of the ground. A big part of this is that institution you love so well, the free market. It’s global, which means we compete against the Chinese, everybody in Africa, and everybody in South American, and wherever, for our own oil, even if our own oil never leaves the country.

    (4) Highway financing. This is connected with the energy equation above. Make cars more efficient, or build them to not use fuel at all (electric), and your highway revenue situation gets even worse than it is now, and the subsidy gets bigger still. Come up with a new revenue model, and it will–WILL–cost more, be more expensive, will be noticed by the motoring public. You’ve made comments that I want to make driving more expensive. I don’t have to want that. Wanting is isn’t necessary The cost of driving WILL go up because it HAS to go up, because we have neglected to maintain things properly–and that is starting to catch up to us.

    (5) Discomfort on longer trips. Even a self-driving car is a tin can that can get cramped if you’re in it for any length of time. Nicer to either have something much faster (air), or better, something faster that also gives you decent food service and has space to get up and walk around a bit.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    So compare those shortcomings to public transport shortcomings.

    1. Having to arrage your schedule around the scheudle of the service
    2. No one seat rides
    3. Walks of .25-2 miles on both ends depending on level of service
    4. no place for storage beyond a backpack. i.e. if you have 10 bags of groceries how does that work.

    it goes on and on

    Like I said, its over. As the milenials have kids they are going to buy cars and that little trend is going to stop.

    Joey Reply:

    Schedules wouldn’t be such a problem if there wasn’t such a myopic focus on peak frequency, and it’s not a terribly difficult problem to solve. Honolulu’s new automated metro is planning 10 minute headways during all operating hours (and as little as 3 minutes during peak hours). Automation is a huge benefit because they can run shorter trains (2 cars to begin with) more frequently without increasing operating costs much.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Like I said, its over. As the milenials have kids they are going to buy cars and that little trend is going to stop.

    You mean, smaller, cheaper to go with their smaller, cheaper houses that will be parked at their local transit hub to take mass transit into job centers.

    1990 and 1950 are both in the past. Transit, especially in cities like San Diego and San Francisco that have resurgent white populations, is going to play a bigger role than it did 20-30 years ago. However, it is true that as the Millenials age, there will naturally be some suburban/exurban growth from “defectors” who leave the transit-dense cities.

    The difference is that in 1990, “defectors” would not have cared about anything except the size of the house for the price, and the school district. Now transit lines are going to be a growing currency in real estate as witnessed in places like La-Mor-inda in the Bay Area, Folsom in the Sacramento region, Culver City and South Pasadena in LA County.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    25-year-old Millennials today drive less than 25-year-old Boomers did in 1980 and less than 25-year-old Silents did in 1960.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    It is a question of being used to. I have lived for 50 years without a owning a car, and never really had problems.

    1. Arrange schedules, yes, you have to plan a bit. But even without schedules, don’t you have more or less your personal schedule (leaving at the same time for work etc.)?

    2. What’s the problem with not having one seat rides? Of course, a coordinated schedule service is helpful.

    3. And so what?

    4. You don’t buy 10 bags of groceries (meaning for the whole week); you buy for the day or two. And then, there are shopping carts, and I have even seen people using a suitcase with rollers when they got heavy stuff.

    It is a different lifestyle, for sure.

    Ah, yeah, when you need a car, you have saved sufficiently by not owning one that you can easily afford either a taxi, or rent a car for special occasions.

    Ted Judah Reply:


    Remember that car ownership increased dramatically during the 1950s.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    So compare those shortcomings to public transport shortcomings.

    Cars have only been around for a century. People lived full and rewarding lives before that. The one who don’t own cars now do too.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    its not about if one person (i.e. Max) prefers public or private transport. It is about the majority, or in this case the plurality.

    90+% of US households have access to a car. The people have voted with their behaviors.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Do you really want to compare the lives of Americans 100 years ago to their lives today? I dont think you want to go there.

    Joey Reply:

    The people have voted with their behaviors.

    And also with their votes

    Joey Reply:

    Of course there are many examples of transit taxes which have been passed and many which haven’t been passed. But the fact that any (and in fact a significant number) are passed is at odds with your thesis that Americans want nothing to do with mass transit.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The youngest house or apartment I’ve lived in was built in 1914. LIfe was almost the same as it is now.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The people have voted with their behaviors.

    If the only thing on the menu is burgers or burgers you’ll order a burger.
    If the only thing the zoning allows is single family houses on lots no smaller than a quarter acre or quarter acre or larger lots with single family houses on them chances are very good that you’ll buy a single family house.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Magical thinking, John. Read the stats Alon provided.

    We are going into a world of far fewer cars. In fact, we’re going into a world where cars will be for the rich, only.

    Face facts, John.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    1. Having to arrage your schedule around the schedule of the service

    Hmmm, that sounds like work, where a person called a “boss” has a good deal to say about where and when you’re supposed to be somewhere.

    2. No one seat rides

    So? Transfers between Metro trains is easy, easy, easy in Washington. Ditto for transfers from MARC trains to Metro trains and the bus system, too. Easier than driving in the traffic around Washington and finding a parking space.

    3. Walks of .25-2 miles on both ends depending on level of service

    Easier than finding that parking space, and perhaps paying for it. . .and I need the exercise anyway.

    4. No place for storage beyond a backpack. i.e. if you have 10 bags of groceries how does that work.

    That was never a problem, I don’t know anyone who goes for big shopping trips by bus or trolley. On the other hand, grocery stores, including supermarkets, have always been in walking distance to where ever I’ve lived (more a matter of circumstance than planning), and there is another vehicle called a bicycle that, with baskets and panniers, can carry a surprising amount of cargo. And then there are the cargo bikes some people have.

    The point isn’t that some of us want to outlaw cars. Hell, I’ve never taken that position. Rather, we should have a variety of tools for movement; call it having the right tool for a particular job.

    In contrast, there are people who would just as soon see any form of transport besides cars go away. I know, I’ve met some of them, a few of whom thought I was a Communist!

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    “The youngest house or apartment I’ve lived in was built in 1914. LIfe was almost the same as it is now.”

    I currently live in a modern house–built in 1925. Compared to my parents’ house in a trolley suburb that was built in 1899, and another house we’d lived in built in the 1840s, it’s a modern house!

    Most television programming today stinks; it’s no wonder the main networks are having troubles. Interestingly, though, there are a couple of radio stations around here (one in Hagerstown, the other a public station in Washington) that run the old radio shows of the 30s, 40s, and 50s. Neat! Especially when you listen on either an antique radio or a replica of an old radio!

    Personal favorite programs–“Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar” (crime show, Johnny Dollar is an investigator looking into various forms of insurance fraud), “The Great Gildersleave” (what a wonderful gasbag he is, and in contrast to Mr. Peavy, the most un-excitable person you’d ever see), and the radio version of “Gunsmoke,” which stared William Conrad as Matt Dillon (different, sort of cranky, irritable interpretation of the character–maybe he doesn’t get enough sleep, being the only lawman in Dodge City). . .Edgar Bergen and Charley McCarthy. . .fun, all of it, at least for me.

    Who was it who called radio “the theater of the mind?”

    Oh, back to buildings. . .

    There are plenty of buildings in use around where I live that predate the Civil War, including a court house that’s notable as the site where John Brown was tried for treason in 1859. I’ve attended court sessions in the same room. And it’s not the oldest structure around; quite a few other buildings, including occupied houses in this area, predate the American revolution of 1776!

    jonathan Reply:

    Step #1: make heavy goods vehicles pay their actual cost. Road damage goes up as the 4th power of axle load. Require hub-odometer and mileage-based user fees. Although state boundaries make that a much more difficult proposition than in a country with no road borders ;)

    Let’s see _that_ one get past the Republicans and truck lobby.

    Derek Reply:

    Oh, the trucking lobby hates the weight-mile tax. So now, of course, truckers pay less than their fair share for the roads, passing the costs onto everyone else, and have raised the price of diesel fuel, more or less killing the market for diesel-powered passenger cars.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Perhaps Reid will be assuaged with additional highway funds earmarked for his constituents.

  15. John Burrows
    Jul 21st, 2013 at 00:05

    The White House may have no hangup about funding ExpressWest in principal but they must at least be thinking about the “D” word.

    In the event of Default, which would do the most political damage—

    Early default— To explain to each voter just before the 2014 Congressional Elections how for just a fraction of $5.5 billion we all now own a fairly high speed railroad between Las Vegas and Victorville upon which construction has actually begun.

    Later default— To explain to each voter just before the 2016 Presidential Election how for a little less than $5.5 billion we all now own a railroad between Las Vegas and Victorville that can be completed in another year or so if some more money can be found.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    Dunno-maybe you should ask Henny Penny

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    or Chicken Little

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    Seriously, there is nothing in La hood’s letter of suspension saying the project is not viable. that would obviously make the whole exercise futile.

    John Burrows Reply:

    Before La Hood wrote that letter, I would bet that Obama, being a good politician, did some serious triangulation and concluded that if the $5.5 billion loan were approved he would find himself in a place where the winds were not very favorable, and worse yet, in a place where the sky did indeed appear to be weak enough to fall.

    Nathanael Reply:

    There is no chance whatsoever of default before 2016. I’m not sure you understand how financial shenanigans work. If you’re funding a giant scam which is going to default, it’ll last at *least* four years before blowing up.

    So, this political analysis makes no sense.

    John Burrows Reply:

    So even if there were early signs of trouble on the line my “political analysis” does not work for 2014.

    However, if ExpressWest were to start unraveling by Nov. 2016, that would be bad news for Democrats. And if it does default or otherwise get into trouble this bad news will almost certainly extend to the 2018 elections and probably beyond.

    ExpressWest might succeed—Las Vegas gets close to 40 million visitors every year and even allowing for the drive to Victorville, there might be enough riders to make a profit. But if it doesn’t succeed that $5.5 billion loan is going to become a real issue.

    From a political standpoint the Democrats stand to lose more than they will gain. If ExpressWest succeeds, the Obama Administration can take credit for committing $5.5 billion to successfully finance what is, in the short term at least, primarily an energy efficient way for tourists to travel from Victorville to Las Vegas. If ExpressWest doesn’t succeed, then the Democrats have a $5.5 billion (excuse the word) boondoggle on their hands.

    There is a long term possibility here that might change the thinking a bit: Las Vegas is around 300 miles from Phoenix. If ExpressWest becomes profitable because enough passengers are willing to drive 80 miles or so to Victorville, park their cars, and then ride the train another 185 miles to Las Vegas, then maybe a 300 mile line from Las Vegas to Phoenix would become much more likely and we would end up with a three state high speed rail network.

  16. Keith Saggers
    Jul 21st, 2013 at 15:36

    “I would bet that Obama”, how much?

  17. D. P. Lubic
    Jul 21st, 2013 at 22:39

    From “Destination/Freedom” (National Corridors Initiative):

    It Is Time For “Smart Trains” (FRA regulations, with additional links)

    Are Express Trains Worth It? (Alon Levy)

    And other items:


    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    And from Bruce McF, on the subject of Energy Return On Investment:


    Keith Saggers Reply:

    In a move driven by the desire for new equipment on the Acela, but with implications for high speed rail in California, Amtrak is going to ask the Federal Railroad Administration to allow it to purchase and use standard HSR trainsets rather than the artificially heavy ones that current FRA crash regulations require

    this blog 1/6/13

  18. Reedman
    Jul 22nd, 2013 at 09:10

    The UK, Hitachi trains, and Europe. I am curious on how the $5 billion from private investors gets paid back to them.


    Keith Saggers Reply:

    link broken

    swing hanger Reply:

    Google news search will get you around the paywall.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    Thank you

  19. Wells
    Jul 24th, 2013 at 11:54

    Here’s a good word from the Northwest:

    “Engineering gone bad from the Pacific Northwest”

    We can give thanks, us grouchy old contruction workers and truck drivers, that the CRC project (Columbia River I-5 Bridge) has been “shelved” for now, about 2 years (I think). Marine Drive and ‘Expo–Hayden’ local road are shovel-ready. Cost $450mil.
    Credit Kitzhaber for Oregon still ahead in its planning.

    OTOH, du-du-duin! Washington State highway & transit DOT agency projects are infernally suspect. Especially the deep bore tunnel (DBT) which incurs many high risks for worst case scenarios going wrong. Worst soil conditions. Wrong tunnel type. Seawall techique NOT recommended for underground water channelling, siltration, collapsable voids, problems that worsen unpredictably. Vulnerable building foundations damaged beyond repair. Forced Demolitions. Limited replacements. Seattle faultline in earthquakes is high risk for damage and collapse. Indeed, unperceived cavernous voids collapse and buildings above collapse much like happened Bengali.

    I am grateful the CRC was shelved because Wsdot poor engineering, is apparent on the DBT worse than imaginable. Others would be grateful if you help stop the DBT and its related street projects.
    Art Lewellan Portland

    Joey Reply:

    Many people are glad CRC was shelved because it was primarily a massive highway expansion which didn’t need to happen.

  20. Wells
    Jul 24th, 2013 at 12:06

    Here’s my latest fix for the California HSR proposal:

    Electrify the Bay Area Peninsula, electrify through Altamont/Ace all the way to Sacramento.
    This electrification is more ideal an MOS (minimally operable system) than Madera-to-Fresno.
    Purchase Talgo XXI (or that type) HYBRID locomotive and smoother riding Talgo coaches.
    Run diesel/electric Stockton to LA County.

    Talgo/America produced the World’s 1st True HSR during/after WWII. The Talgo Wisconsin plant produced (Made in USA) a new control cab locomotive component. Imagine, state of the art control cab, rejected by Governor Walker, first thing in office, “GET that train OUT of MY state, now!”
    When 200mph systems have limitations, why cancel the project of a more practical system?
    BART problems are traced to management in my book.

  21. synonymouse
    Jul 24th, 2013 at 13:09

    BART’s core issues stem from Bechtel’s gross engineering and planning errors in the sixties. BART’s ongoing atrocious management and labor problems are endemic to the Bay Area. This is inevitable under a uniparty patronage machine government. Public affairs inherently tend to go to seed under these circumstances. See Mexico.

    As far as any fixes to CAHSR you would have to get them past Jerry Brown. This is the same guru who fired the smartest guy in the room and then moved heaven and earth to send the first contract Tutor’s way. With this track record project failure is a given.

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