California’s Erie Canal

Dec 12th, 2013 | Posted by

Over at The Atlantic Cities, Eric Jaffe endorses the call for California to fund high speed rail itself. And he reminds readers that there is precedent for such an approach, referring back to a November 2011 post he wrote:

There is a parallel to be drawn here in rail history. In 1835, Boston became the first U.S. rail hub, sparking an interest in the new mode that swept across the young nation. That feat was achieved because a few local visionaries, recognizing they could not rely on money from higher levels of government, went out and raised enough to pay for some pilot lines themselves — certain that in time the railroads would prove their worth. It may be time for California to do the same.

Boston’s attempt to jumpstart railroads was subject to the same kind of attacks that we see being leveled at the California high speed rail project. Similar attacks were made on a project I see as being even more of a parallel: the Erie Canal.

In the 1810s, New York mayor DeWitt Clinton championed the long-discussed Erie Canal as a way to connect New York City and the Hudson River Valley to the fast-growing regions of Western New York and to the Great Lakes hinterland. The plan aroused intense opposition from those who considered it a waste of money, spent on a hope and a prayer, leading to charges it was “Clinton’s Folly.”

Such opposition led to the federal government withdrawing its promises to help fund the project. In 1816 President James Madison vetoed a bill that would have funded the federal contribution to the Erie Canal. Clinton became governor of New York in 1817, and got the legislature to approve funding to build the canal. New York was forced to go it alone, and did so.

The benefits were enormous. Historians contend that the canal was the crucial factor in giving New York City the competitive advantage over Philadelphia and Boston in the 19th century, as the canal gave NYC direct access to the huge agricultural output of the upper Midwest. Neither Boston nor Philly had that, and because New York got there first, they got to keep the spoils.

We are living in a political era that is increasingly resembling that of the Early Republic. Today’s Tea Party resembles very much the Jacksonian Democracy, particularly in its vehement opposition to any federal funding of “internal improvements.” Prior to the 1860s, proposals for the federal government to fund internal improvements were routinely killed by Congress or the president. This dispute was one of the key factors that led to the creation of the pro-infrastructure Whig Party out of dissatisfied members of the anti-infrastructure Democratic Party in the 1830s. After the South seceded, giving pro-infrastructure Republicans huge majorities in Congress, and for over a hundred years since, it was never any question of whether the federal government should fund infrastructure projects – everyone agreed the answer was yes.

Until now.

New York built a century of prosperity by digging the Erie Canal. Traffic on the canal peaked in 1872, 50 years after it opened. It, and a successor canal (the New York State Barge Canal), dominated shipping from the upper Midwest and Great Lakes region until the 1950s when the St. Lawrence Seaway opened. That’s 125 years of successful service by the state-built canals of New York.

California faces a similar crossroads. It is one of the globe’s leading economies, but the rising cost of oil and carbon emissions threaten its position as well as threaten to introduce huge new costs. High speed rail may not have quite the impact of the Erie Canal, but it could be close, especially as it opens up the Central Valley for significant new investment and economic activity while saving the coasts money as well.

The federal government is reverting to the bad old ways of the antebellum years, at least when it comes to infrastructure funding. It’s time for states like California to stop waiting for Congress and move ahead on its own.

  1. jimsf
    Dec 12th, 2013 at 21:52

    yes. lets fund it ourselves. raise your hand if youve had it up to here with washington dc.

    Spokker Reply:

    I agree that the federal government should have no say in California’s development of high speed rail. Any money you take from Washington comes with strings attached.

    That being said, I do not trust the leaders of this state to properly implement HSR in California anyway.

    synonymouse Reply:

    That Amtrak joint trainset purchase deal certainly seems to corroborate your distrust of the Feds.

    CaliforniaDefender Reply:

    The CHSRRA has certainly not proved that it can deliver HSR on time and at budget. Why should we trust them to do so if only CA taxpayer money is on the line?

    VBobier Reply:

    Agreed, California should fund it ourselves, New York state built the Erie canal, can We here in California do as much? I think We can, CA could be it’s own country as this state is powerful.

  2. EJ
    Dec 12th, 2013 at 22:16

    Analogies! I got your analogies! Real cheap!!

    A 170 year old canal built to move bulk commodities is totally comparable to a modern high speed passenger line!

    jimsf Reply:

    he said. missing the point.

  3. Alon Levy
    Dec 13th, 2013 at 03:12

    The benefits were enormous. Historians contend that the canal was the crucial factor in giving New York City the competitive advantage over Philadelphia and Boston in the 19th century, as the canal gave NYC direct access to the huge agricultural output of the upper Midwest. Neither Boston nor Philly had that, and because New York got there first, they got to keep the spoils.

    This statement requires more references than “historians contend.” I’ll buy that the official history of the city contends that, but economic historians have mixed views. Ed Glaeser’s history of New York traces New York’s growth to favorable geography and greater investor confidence. It’s closer to the US population center than Boston and closer to the ocean and to Europe than Philadelphia; by the end of the 18th century New York and Philadelphia were much bigger than Boston, but New York was closer to the ocean than Philadelphia, which meant New York publishers could obtain British books to pirate faster than Philadelphia ones, centering the media industry in New York. It also remained loyalist during the War of Independence, and Glaeser argues that this gave British investors more confidence in the city than in Philadelphia and Boston, which they disparaged as centers of revolution.

    It can be easily checked that New York proper was larger than Philadelphia proper already by 1790, and that from 1790 to 1820 grew much faster than both Philadelphia (city as well as county) and Boston.

    Another good piece of evidence that mid-19th century New York wasn’t all that connected to the Erie Canal is its position in the Civil War. If it had been primarily a shipping center for the Midwest, it would’ve been stridently anti-slavery, since that was the dominant mood in the Midwest. Instead, it was pro-slavery and its mayor wanted the city to secede and join the Confederacy, which is in line with its actual role as a center of shipping Southern cotton. (I’m basing the statement on the city’s Southern link on a 2006 New York Historical Society exhibit on the city’s role in the Civil War, and that on the Midwest’s role in abolitionism on Marx’s analysis.)

    Lewellan Reply:

    Here’s one rough hewn quote (with a response) taken from Roberts half-plagairized call for federal and private investment in CAHSR (as is, no adjustments), so says an experienced rail advocate from Portland Oregon:

    (roughly hewn) “California is a leading global economy. But, the rising cost of oil and carbon emissions threaten that position. High speed rail (compared to the Erie Canal in importance?), opens up the Central Valley for new investment and economic activity while saving money.”

    I do NOT know why this restructured sentense makes no more sense editted than in uneditted form.

    The Gilroy/Antelope Valley routes ‘induce’ more sprawl.
    The Altamont/Tejon routes ‘address’ travel needs of existing sprawl.
    Thus, Robert’s suggested economic activity can take one of two directions:
    Gilroy/Antelope Valley car-dependency from station area sprawl, or build
    Altamont and skip Antelope via Tejon. HSR “stopovers” in Stockton/Merced/Madera/Fresno/Bakersfield for the (5-hour) trip SF-to-LA.
    Those “stopovers” are called “economic activity,” so why disparage their potential?
    The Gilroy route is rural, quiet, streambed surrounded with hillside settings. The shrill passing of HSR plus high impact concrete viaduct and tunnel obstructions to natural passageways is justly objectionable.

    Joe Reply:

    “The Gilroy/Antelope Valley routes ‘induce’ more sprawl”

    I would expect some coherence yet this criticism is just silly.

    The gilroy station is expected to be in the city downtown at the current transit center and rail station location. Plans are to build up the downtown area. This is called infill. I filling an old city dating back to Spanish period and built up on a train line. This is not Spraaawwwllll inducing development.

    Sprawaaaallll is bad. So where was the concern when HW 101 was expanded from 2 to 4 lanes between San Jose and south county? Not a peep. Cars get a free pass.

    Rail upgrades to existing transit centers like Gilroy are criticized by opponents sprawl – that’s phony baloney.

    We are adding people to CA, 38.5m of us now and need alternatives to cars. We need to infill and a station at an existing transit center is low impact.

    Lewellan Reply:

    McMansion Acres and gated Farmville Estates are in the planning cycle already. Expect suburban sprawl PLUS its traffic along once rural roads, widened, and little local economy to support new residents who drive everywhere. The Altamont/Peninsula corridor electrified would spur infill there more ideally than through Gilroyville.
    My position: Density and economy Diversity can be achieved in most urban/suburban settings.
    Suburbia should grow local job/occupations to reduce long-distance travel & transport.
    HSR need NOT achieve speeds over 135mph.
    This cuts cost in half. The need for speed is greed.

    Get over it. 135mph and a 5-hour trip.
    Take a train ride. Slow down. Figure it out.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    5 hour trip means the people who want speed will fly and the people with cars will drive.

    Lewellan Reply:

    Worth repeating: The need for speed is greed.
    A 5-hour trip will just as likely serve travellers who’d otherwise fly or drive.
    To Sacramento, it’s 4.5-hours.
    Still, this is ‘speedier’ than the current 11-hour Coast Startlighter trip.
    And more speedier than having the whole project shelved because of high cost and impact.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    No it doesn’t, because it eliminates the possibility of a morning arrival if leaving at a decent hour.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It’s perfectly normal to have a combination of fast day trains on the high-speed track and an overnight train on the legacy track. France and Spain do that. Even at HSR speeds, a morning arrival in LA leaves SF at 6 in the morning, which is only decent for people with severe jet lag.

    Lewellan Reply:

    Most LA-SF trips will include at least one night’s stay. There’s no great need for a 3 hour trip (nor a magical 2hr 40min trip time). A 5-hour trip is reasonable, more do-able, serves more people via Altamont, costs less in capital investment and ticket prices. Those who want to go faster, can fly.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    those who want to do a 5 hour trip will just drive.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Philadelphia was the biggest metro in 1790 and 1800. It was a bitty little thing wedged in between it’s sprawling suburbs. New York County’s population didn’t surpass Philadelphia’s until 1830.

    While informal stock trading had been going on in both cities what became the Philadelphia Stock Exchange was founded in 1790 and what became the New York Stock Exchange was founded in 1792.

    Both New York and Philadelphia had easy access to shipping. If day’s sail was going to be important to who could pirate what Boston should have been the place. It’s closer to Europe than either New York or Philadelphia. It doesn’t matter much when the reproductions leeched have to be set into type by hand and the fast distribution method is horseback.

    People in New York ignored the mayor just as easily in 1860 as they do in 2013. Does Bloomberg’s supports for stop and frisk say anything about New Yorkers’ opinion of it. Cotton traders were aghast that the embargo of the South happened. The rest of traders were thrilled because stuff that had been floating gently down to New Orleans from the Midwest had to be diverted somewhere on the East Coast. And there were all those war profits to be made.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    New York County surpassed the urban population of Philadelphia County before 1810, yeah. Either way, New York was growing faster than Philadelphia starting in the 1780s.

    Philadelphia doesn’t actually have as easy access to shipping as New York, since it’s located far up Delaware Bay. New York is closer to the ocean. Boston is even closer to Britain, but the connections to the rest of the US were much slower by sea, whereas Philadelphia was only 70-80 km closer than New York to the South by sea.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Unless the people at the Census lied to the people writing the Wikipedia articles New York County had less population than Philadelphia County until the 1830 Census. Philadelphia ended at Vine Street and you were then in Northern Liberties. Or Philadelphia ended at South Street and you were in Southwark. It was an itty bitty thing that spilled over into neighboring towns. New York was growing faster but it wasn’t bigger until sometime around 1820.
    People who can navigate sailing ships to London don’t have much of a problem navigating to Philadelphia.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yes, but the urban part of Philadelphia County was overtaken earlier. Philadelphia County is almost six times bigger than Manhattan, so it had more rural residents before it became fully urbanized.

    As for sailing ships, the straight-line water distance from points east to New York is about 300 km less than to Philadelphia. That’s a couple days’ sailing, and about a day of early steaming.

  4. TomA
    Dec 13th, 2013 at 04:40

    Interesting side note – one of the differences between the US and CSA constitutions is language forbidding federal funding of internal improvements.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    The reason for that is because in order to pay for internal improvements the Whigs wanted to levy tariffs on products that would enter the United States. Southerners opposed the Tariff because they did not export as many finished goods as the north. The South prefer to have cheaper imported goods and no internal improvements as opposed to higher tariffs and more internal improvements.

  5. Paul Druce
    Dec 13th, 2013 at 07:35

    The Erie Canal’s success was entirely due to its effects on freight, not passengers, same with almost every railroad and certainly every canal. Nor was every canal successful or a good idea, as the eventual creation of the Pennsylvania Railroad can attest.

    If you want to pump up internal inprovements, need we remind you of the sheer corruption of the Union Pacific (and, to a lesser extent, that of the Central Pacific)? Though at least their corruption involved building something unlike that of CAHSRA’s.

    JJJJ Reply:

    Passengers are the freight of today.

    We’re a service and technology economy. He need to move people, like coal.

    JJJJ Reply:

    “We need to move people, not coal”

    I need more coffee.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Uh, no, freight remains freight. An argument about internet data might have some validity, but “people are the new freight” not so much, especially as an argument for HSR. Service jobs are local jobs, they do not involve HSR distances.

    VBobier Reply:

    Agreed, to your first statement, people are like freight in regards to money, it’s something to haul that generates income, the more the better…

    And I agree coal should not be hauled, but until it’s not, coal profits should be taxed, just like is done with oil.

    John burrows Reply:


    John burrows Reply:

    Not used to my granddaughter’s I-Pad.

    John burrows Reply:

    Speaking of coal—-

    In England they recently celebrated the 200th birthday of “Puffing Billy”, one of the first commercially successful locomotives. Over a period of 35 years Puffing Billy made money for its owner by carrying coal.

    200 years later in the USA railroads carry something like 70% of the billion plus tons of coal that we dig up every year. If we keep digging up a billion tons of coal per year for the next 200 years, I would guess that most of it will still be carried by rail.

    Hopefully we will find a way to leave most of our proven coal reserves (250 billion tons plus) in the ground—Burning that much coal gives you about a half trillion tons of CO2, an amount that is not insignificant when it comes to global warming.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The Erie Canal’s success was entirely due to its effects on freight, not passengers, same with almost every railroad and certainly every canal.

    You’re wrong about railroads. In fact railroads’ main source of income in the early years was passengers rather than freight. See for example the table on PDF-page 34 of this manuscript about the Railway Mania, as well as discussion on PDF-pp. 50-51.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Those are British railroads though, competing against a quite extensive prior existing system of canals and rather more accessible water transport than were the railroads of America. Do you have any data for American railroads? Everything I’ve ever read has suggested that freight was predominate in America, though it’s hard to find data for that old. Best I can find with a quick search is Central of Georgia whose revenues in 1840 were 70%, 27% passengers, and 3% mail.

    <a href=""Though a very quick scan of this suggests alternately

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Fixed second link

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    No state can declare bankruptcy. There is no federal law that allows it

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Sorry, on wrong string

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Your second link, on page 174 (one below the one you link to), has a table of 6 New England railroads, and their revenue from passengers and freight. In all cases passenger revenues are higher, by factors ranging from small (Boston and Worcester, Boston and Lowell) to nearly a full order of magnitude (Eastern).

    In addition, in the early years the New York Central was passenger-only, since it paralleled the Erie Canal and was therefore barred from carrying freight.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    For what it’s worth the Erie Railroad was predominately freight from its beginning. Definitely an interesting thing that I’m going to try data diving to see.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    So too the B&O, but cost of freight was significantly higher than cost of passengers. For instance, in 1845, B&O passenger & mail operating ratio was 28.9%, for freight 70.4%. Quite the difference from today!

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    the Erie passes through lightly populated … hinterlands…. and initially it’s eastern terminus was the thriving metropolis of Piermont.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    What Adirondacker said. Early railroad passenger traffic was mostly local. As the railway mania manuscript shows, average distance per passenger was quite short: passenger numbers greatly overshot projections in the 1830s and early 40s, but average distance was much shorter than expected, so passenger-miles and revenue were about the same as the projections. The six New England railroads that Paul linked to are all quite short, a few tens of kilometers each. The Erie is much longer, with longer distances between significant towns, of which the largest, Binghamton, was far smaller than Providence, Worcester, or Lowell.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    the canal freezes over in the winter isn’t much good for anything besides ice skating. The predecessors to the NY Central had to pay canal tolls, apparently rescinded in 1851. The Harlem was the first one to connect to Albany, something about Commodore Vanderbilt suppressing competition to his river boats coming into play. But the Hudson freezes in the winter too and building railroad happened anyway. The railroads had been flitting between Buffalo and Albany for decades and between New York and Albany for over a decade by the time the NY Central emerges.

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    I’d be interested to see an analysis (if one exists, which it probably doesn’t) of the extent to which rules that barred competition during the canal season and forced railroads to pay canal tolls helped the Erie Canal. Would it have been such a success (or a success at all) without these anti-competitive regulations?

    On the other hand, I did read in a (gated, unfortunately) paper that some of the Erie Canal imitators (PA’s Main Line, for example) eventually paid back their investments by the ’50s, even if they fell into trouble after the Panic of 1837, which was news to me – I thought they were all unmitigated financial disasters to their government investors.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Probably? There was an all-rail route between Albany and Buffalo only by 1841 (and it was ungodly slow – it averaged 18 km/h, vs. 33 for the London and Birmingham at opening), and the regulations requiring the railroads to pay canal tolls were removed in 1851.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    When the alternative is a canal boat that moves at the same rate as the mule towing it, it only taking a day to get from Albany to Buffalo looks good. Who knows if it was through service or the kind of thing where you took the standard gauge-ish railroad for 60 miles, got off walked four blocks to the wide gauge railroad, went 60 miles got off, walked across the street to the standard gauge etc.

    John burrows Reply:

    If I am not mistaken, the first successful passenger rail line where passenger cars were pulled by locomotive for the entire distance, opened in England between Liverpool and Manchester in 1830. The expectation of the backers was that the line would be primarily for freight, which the trains would be able to move more quickly, more efficiently and for less money than could be done by canal or by wagon. The transportation of passengers was less important to the bottom line.

    Five years later the line was carrying 500,000 passengers a year, and most of the profit was being made from carrying people rather than freight. You might think of this as an early example of “Build it and they will come”.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yes, and note that the line is short, at about 50 km. The Railway Mania was based on the assumption that if you build it they will come at all scales, but this wasn’t true at longer scales. Only a handful of the successful early lines were long, such as the London and Birmingham and the Great Western.

    Incidentally, in the Mania people believed in the importance of direct express lines, so they built a lot of direct lines bypassing intermediate cities, with branch connections to those cities. These performed the worst, since most passenger traffic was in fact local. But an I-5 racetrack for CAHSR with a branch serving Fresno is totally the way to go…

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Especially since building 50 miles of HSR track just for the traffic to Fresno is going to be so cheap.

  6. Rob Dawg
    Dec 13th, 2013 at 08:38

    Since everyone is hep to analogies:

    That said, passenger rail is not analogous to either cargo canals or freight rail. CAHSR has its own advantages and disadvantages.

  7. John Nachtigall
    Dec 13th, 2013 at 09:09

    Undoubtedly the Erie Canal was a success and DeWitt Clinton deserves credit for having vision beyond the critics. The difference is that he had vision AND the ability to pull off the project. Since we are giving examples here are a few

    my favorite

    In 1959, the construction of Sydney Opera House started before either drawings or funds
    were fully available. The initial budget of seven million Australian dollars was a
    political, low-balled budget designed for project approval before the coming elections.3
    Eventually the Opera House was opened in 1973, 10 years later than the original
    planned completion date, at a cost of 102 million Australian dollars. It holds the world
    record for cost overrun at 1,400 percent and this was for a scaled-down version of the
    original design. This figure does not include 45 million dollars allocated in 2002 in part
    to bring the building more in agreement with the architect, Jørn Utzon’s original plans.

    You suffer from selection bias. Everyone remembers the investments that work, we tend to forget the ones that didn’t work. But that alone is not a reason for not taking a chance.

    The reason CAHSR is a bad bet has to do with the competence and vision of the people in charge. If you are going to take a risk, you have to convince Jerry Brown, Private companies, or more generally “the people with the money” that you are worth taking a risk. Part of this getting a return (if I invest $1 will I eventually get $1.10 or $5) The bigger part, however, is convincing them you are capable of pulling it off.

    I don’t trust the people in charge of this project to take 70 billion and return a functioning train. They have yet to prove they can build 29 miles in a way that is compliant with the constraints of the project (prop 1a law being the biggest of those constraints). But even more telling is there inability to handle even the parts of the project within their complete control. Obtaining proper approvals, staffing appropriately, and scheduling in a realistic manner are just a few of the tasks they have completely booted.
    Second, this is not a good return on investment for society If I invest 70 billion in local transit you would get a much higher reduction in CO2, many more riders, and generally improve the lives of citizens much more. If you were to rank the projects you could do with 70 billion, this would not be at the top of the list for any result (environmental, transportation, societal good, etc.)
    So in conclusion, no I don’t think CA should fund the project, not only because I don’t think it is a good return on investment, but also because the group we are trusting the investment with has proven so far to be completely incompetent and incapable of even basic project management. They cannot be trusted to return with a functional HSR system if given 70 billion dollars.

    Joe Reply:

    The Sydney opera house is an interesting example.

    Besides being an internationally recognized landmark for Sydney, it is world class venue for events. I’ve been there for one in 2001. I doubt the city regrets building it or that it’s a white elephant or anything but a draw for tourists and other visitors to Sydney.

    1400 percent is huge but in dollar amounts was it a massive expense? The total cost was 102m in 1973. Ten years late.

    They’d build it again in a heart beat.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    The project was a disaster.

    Joe Reply:

    Proving the Project and the Product are different.

    The product is a national landmark – city and national pride.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    And would still be of the project had been managed well. It isn’t mutually exclusive

    JOE Reply:

    It seems exclusive in your example. How many people knew the project was 14x over? It’s a international landmark and source of national identify for Australia.

    Do they have no shame in Australia? Is this 14x cost overrun not a black mark on their national identify ?

    Try a different example.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    How many Americans are aware of the cost overruns of the Interstates? Hell, how many people deploring the lack of vision today and the degeneration of infrastructure compared to the heroic postwar era know about the cost overruns of the Interstates?

    CaliforniaDefender Reply:

    By Joe’s rationale, cost overruns don’t matter, even if they are 1,400 times the original estimate. It’s a good thing people like him aren’t in charge of the CA HSR project. Oh wait …

    On second thought, we’re in good company when it comes to large infrastructure projects and the false promises made to get these projects started. Good link John: History is repeating itself.

    Joe Reply:

    They are 14 times.

    So the poster child of cost overruns is a landmark for Australia and a source of city and national pride.

    We need better examples guys – try something with buyers’ remorse.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Mirabel Airport.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Look at the 1st 2 links.

    Harrisburg incinerator…bankrupted the city
    UK health IT project. All that money and it does not work

    Here is a 3rd

    Jefferson county Alabama sewer system…also forced them into bankruptcy

    All 3 have buyers remorse…all 3 had no useful contribution

    What do I win?

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Here is a 4th.


    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    and a 5th

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    I think you’ll soon be able to add in “Positive Train Control”.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yeah, Switzerland and Denmark are such basket cases with ERTMS.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    North-South Line in Amsterdam, although Wikipedia scrubbed the citation saying the line shouldn’t have been built.

  8. synonymouse
    Dec 13th, 2013 at 09:47

    I cannot grasp the analogy here; maybe if this ca. 1830 project had incorporated some “Stilt-A-Canal” then it might ring true for me.

    A better water-based analogy would be the Owens Valley Aqueduct as both it and the DogLeg were and are developers’ schemes.

    The posts seem to betending to the more bizarro. I am waiting for one on Kim Jong Un decreeing HSR in his workers paradise.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It was actually a stilt-a-canal. It crossed rivers on aqueducts.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Very good, Alon. I was wondering about that.

    But that was appropriate and necessary infrastructure – with PB we are talking gratuitous, signature stilts.

    synonymouse Reply:

    And of course we are not talking about decibel ratings or subsurface vibration. Pittoresque carte postale

    My grandparents old house in Hamilton, Ohio backed up to the Miami and Erie Canal. Bullfrog City. No homeless encampments.

  9. synonymouse
    Dec 13th, 2013 at 09:50

    The Uniparty will have to redo its business model to rely more on payola from crony corps, contractors and consultants.

  10. synonymouse
    Dec 13th, 2013 at 10:10

    Palmdale day after tomorrow?:

    Be patient with the advert and note you can hear the RENFE hsr train at quite a distance.

  11. JJJJ
    Dec 13th, 2013 at 10:37

    Very interesting point.

  12. Lewellan
    Dec 13th, 2013 at 12:09

    jimsf tortles: “Lets fund it ourselves. Raise your hand if you’ve had it up to here with washington dc! adding, “The federal government should have no say in California development of high speed rail.
    Any money you take from Washington comes with strings attached.” and “I do NOT trust the leaders of this state to properly implement HSR anyway!” and “That Amtrak joint trainset purchase deal certainly seems to corroborate your distrust of the Feds!”

    Howz that fer a proper interpretation of things said, eh?

    Go Talgo XXI hybrid 135mph tops for a 5-hour trip, 4.5-hour to Sacramento.

    Non-electrified through the valley except at urban hubs and through short tunnels.

    Pick Plan B 4 California….
    PLAN B — blended — full length operation.

    Tejon NOT Antelope
    Altamont NOT Gil-Roy
    Electrify to Sacramento.

    Skip Madera to Fresno for later better plans to emerge.

    CAHSR guys/gals, you ain’t that good, so slow it down baby.
    Talgo XXI MADE IN USA circa WWII -50’s. 1st TRUE HSR ’tilt’ done right.
    Made in the USA for the USA, gets by on 135mph tops, not bad.
    Screw you, Bombardier french canadians. I saw your name on Turbo go down.
    That snail is fast.

    synonymouse Reply:

    So you want to scrap Prop 1A and write new legislation?

    Rob Dawg Reply:

    “So you want to scrap Prop 1A and write new legislation?”

    The evolution of supporters from cheer leading Prop 1A to feeling trapped by 1A has been educational. We are all stuck with the terms of 1A and the courts have been beyond explicit that they will not “fix” a proposition.

    2704.09. The high-speed train system to be constructed pursuant to this
    chapter shall be designed to achieve the following characteristics:
    (a) Electric trains that are capable of sustained maximum revenue operating
    speeds of no less than 200 miles per hour.
    (b) Maximum nonstop service travel times for each corridor that shall not
    exceed the following:
    (1) San Francisco-Los Angeles Union Station: two hours, 40 minutes.
    (2) Oakland-Los Angeles Union Station: two hours, 40 minutes.
    (3) San Francisco-San Jose: 30 minutes.
    (4) San Jose-Los Angeles: two hours, 10 minutes.
    (5) San Diego-Los Angeles: one hour, 20 minutes.
    (6) Inland Empire-Los Angeles: 30 minutes.
    (7) Sacramento-Los Angeles: two hours, 20 minutes.
    (c) Achievable operating headway (time between successive trains) shall be
    five minutes or less.
    (d) The total number of stations to be served by high-speed trains for all of
    the corridors described in subdivision (b) of Section 2704.04 shall not exceed
    24. There shall be no station between the Gilroy station and the Merced
    (e) Trains shall have the capability to transition intermediate stations, or to
    bypass those stations, at mainline operating speed.
    (f) For each corridor described in subdivision (b), passengers shall have
    the capability of traveling from any station on that corridor to any other
    station on that corridor without being required to change trains.
    (g) In order to reduce impacts on communities and the environment, the
    alignment for the high-speed train system shall follow existing transportation
    or utility corridors to the extent feasible and shall be financially viable, as
    determined by the authority.
    (h) Stations shall be located in areas with good access to local mass transit
    or other modes of transportation.
    (i) The high-speed train system shall be planned and constructed in a
    manner that minimizes urban sprawl and impacts on the natural
    (j) Preserving wildlife corridors and mitigating impacts to wildlife
    movement, where feasible as determined by the authority, in order to limit the
    extent to which the system may present an additional barrier to wildlife’s
    natural movement.


    That’s what it took to get a “yes” vote. Talking about $98b, sub 200mph, 4+ hr systems is not going to pass a second public vote. Wouldn’t have passed then either. If it cannot be done better to admit it now.

    synonymouse Reply:

    A very good point. And “it cannot be done” may be one of two reasons Kopp and other litigants seem to be obsessing on the blend and ignoring the mountain crossing.

    1. The do not want to out Prop 1A as inherently infeasible. I suggest in the case of Kopp he still wants “genuine” hsr but built to the provisos of Prop 1A.

    2. They do not want to give PB-CHSRA any ideas about a deus ex machina that does restore 2:40. That would be the trump card of Tejon. Ironically that is of course what Van Ark had in mine – the equalizer up the sleeve. Remember the argument that Palmdale must be served does not also insist that Mojave be served. In this context the clandestine study of Bear Trap Canyon makes sense. It certainly does appear that CAHSR has its back to the wall in court in March and when it could be endgame why worry about the Tejon Ranch Co. and Disney squealing?

    I rather doubt the Judge will be impressed with a game plan supposedly compliant that avoids laying out in detail the mountain crossing and its effect on travel times. IMHO Prop 1A is specifically written to outlaw piecemeal and “we’ll come up with something later”.

    Jerry Reply:

    (4) San Jose-Los Angeles: two hours, 10 minutes.
    Now it takes eleven (11) hours.
    What a tremendous improvement.
    I’m all for it, even if it takes 2 1/2 hours from San Jose to Los Angeles.

    wdobner Reply:

    As was mentioned in the last thread where you broached this subject, restricting the top speed to 135mph is the wrong way to go about achieving a 5 hour travel time. You’ll end up building expensive mountain crossings to support 125+mph operation over the mountain passes to deliver a subpar product. You’re not going to save much money building for 135mph as opposed to 200-250mph. And whatever you construct is going to need to be upgraded to provide a Prop 1A-compliant service.

    On the other hand, building a 200+mph rail line from Palmdale to Tracy gets you a 5 hour SF-LA service with minimal improvement to the line over Altamont. And it allows everything constructed at this point to be utilized for the eventual 2 hr 40 minute service after the Bakersfield-Burbank and San Jose-Fresno gaps are closed.

  13. Stephen Smith
    Dec 13th, 2013 at 15:27

    Kinda surprised nobody has yet brought up the rash of state bankruptcies in the 1840s caused by Erie Canal imitators.

    joe Reply:

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention the CA constitution prevents CA from declaring bankruptcy. We are by law bound to pay our debt.

    And HSR Critics already tried to accuse HSR of bankrupting CA and ruining our credit. We are now running billion dollar budget surpluses.

    Try comparing HSR to the Sydney Opera House.

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    I never said anything about California HSR, I think it’s an awful analogy! I’m just saying that for most of the states in the early 19th century who tried it, government-subsidized internal improvements were a disaster.

    Joe Reply:

    One wonders how many non sequiturs it takes to fill Saint Albert Hall.

    Erie canal is an example if state investment. Ca isn’t going bankrupt. The state should invest in itself if the Feds retreat. We are a massive economy compared to the HSR cost.

    F35 is a trillion dollar failure. Our banking sector is unregulated. I’d focus Gubbernent Sux essays on the sure thing failures.

    Ca population is 1/9 in the US so we are on the hook for 100b of this cost which is more than HSR.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    The Erie Canal is an example of a successful state investment. Other examples have been given of unsuccessful state investments. There is no guarantee tat CAHSR will be a success and as I explained above the authority in charge gives no confidence in their ability to pull it off.

    CA is not going bankrupt, but it does have limited resources, as does every government, so we should spend the money on projects with good return on investment for “social good” and HSR is not anywhere near the top of that list.

    Other projects or sectors failing or not failing has nothing to do with this. It’s not a game of taking turns. “You got a trillion dollars for your stupid fighter planes so I call dibs on a HSR system”. HSR needs to be decided on its merits. You complain of non sequiturs and then finish your post with one. The examples were given to prove that not all investments work

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    what’s the ROI on highway?

    joe Reply:

    OC’s toll raods require 1.75 B additional taxpayer dollars for by issuing these bonds and extending the tolling a road to 2053, well past the time the current investment crumbles and will need to be rebuilt. OC needs to lower their interest payment, (refinance) and extending the payback period.,0,1100196.story#axzz2nTM9lVvy

    The bond issue will extend the time that motorists must pay tolls on the Foothill-Eastern’s highways by 13 years —from 2040 to 2053 — and add upward of $1.75 billion to the corridor’s total interest payments by the time the bonds mature in 2053.

    adirondacker12800 Reply: the tolls are too low?

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Those are not tax dollars being used for the toll roads.

    joe Reply:

    Clip and Save.

    Tolls are not Taxes. It’s a perfectly reasonable excuse for building roads unable to meet their ROI.

    We have public need being met by public infrastructure, the Toll Road, at risk of bankruptcy. They are extending the toll for 13 more years at 1,7 billion more cost and it’s okay because its not a tax.

    Public Infrastructure, Private Investment

    The San Joaquin Hills (SR 73), Foothill (SR 241) and Eastern (SRs 241/261/133) Toll Roads were the first public highways to be constructed in Orange County since 1987 when the Costa Mesa (SR 55) Freeway was extended by four miles. Remarkably, The Toll Roads – which are owned and maintained by the state of California — were built with virtually no taxpayer dollars.

    Thank god the private sector can save tax dollars – they call them a tolls. A toll increase is not a tax increase.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Correct, tolls are not taxes. And if the toll roads go bankrupt, as they should have been allowed to do imho, taxpayers will not be on the hook for any of the bonds used to pay for their construction.

    joe Reply:

    “taxpayers will not be on the hook for any of the bonds used to pay for their construction.”

    We sure are on the hook – these are state owned and maintained roads. What do you think will happen with a bankruptcy? This Toll Road becomes a Freeway?

    A bankruptcy court is going to decide what happens, not any citizen or representative. The road is an asset. I think it’s far from over if they default.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    The ROI on highways is huge. They are the primary means of transport in the biggest economy in the world. They provide an immense public good. Read my post, I was very specific that the ROi I was referring to was societal good. There is not a thing you do, a thing you touch, a thing you occupy that was not made possible but he road network

    Joey Reply:

    Plus leveling entire neighborhoods to build them, cutting off local access between the two sides, noise pollution, and air pollution (climate change and direct effects on the human respiratory system).

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    He says typing on a computer delivered on the road system, eating food delivered with the road system in a home that was built with materials transported with the road system. Most probably paid for with a job that he commutes to with the road system.

    The dense developments you so crave are possible because of modern farming methods using internal combustion engines and an efficient road system capable of transporting food thousands of miles at a cost so low that you can afford fresh fruit and vegetables year round.

    The road system is a net benefit, to argue otherwise is insanity

    Joey Reply:

    Perhaps I’m complaining more about intracity highways than intercity highways. Other first world nations have highways, but they are narrower and go around rather than through cities. Roads are necessary, and indeed, no goods distribution system would be possible without local roads, but the 8-14 lane monstrosities we see here exist solely to allow long-distance, one-person-per-vehicle peak commutes. They do nothing good for the cities they pass through and are only justified by poorly planned development patterns.

    And as for efficiency, rail freight is perhaps 5x as efficient as trucking for transporting goods over long distances (in terms of ton-miles per gallon) (and energy efficiency improves further with electrification, at the cost of additional capital investment). You still need a local delivery system, but that doesn’t necessitate urban freeways (or freeways of any kind for that matter). The same goes for passenger travel on heavily trafficked corridors – sure there are a lot of trips for which cars are the only option, but once you have a very large number of people traveling between two points, trying to serve them with roads (or air) is incredibly cost inefficient.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Make up your mind. It is the intracity highways that level neighborhoods and it is intercity highways that are used for long commutes and you claim to hate both but then say they are needed??

    Rail is a great option for freight and is used extensively. But for passengers, it has a lot of disadvantages ing he US. Cities here are generally not walkable so you need a car when you get there. So even if you travel by train you need to rent a car which can be much more expensive than just driving

    Not to mention the density problem. People like to compare the density of US cities to the density of entire EU countries, but the truth is that the vast majority of the US land mass is very sparse. Roads are the only efficient system. So take a road like I-25. It runs north/south along the front range of the Rockies and even though the driving distances are great sit he only efficient way to move people. They are studying HSR but since no city is walkable along that road even if you took a. Train when you got to your destination you would have to spend a fortune on a rental.

    Then you have highways like 101 in the Bay Area. You can’t build a train system to run within a 1/2 mile of every destination on the greater Bay Area. So you have to use a highway to get people close and then surface roads to complete the journey. So how would you replace the 101 which is an urban freeway you claim is not needed.

    Cars are just too efficient for individuals. I can begin when I want. I can go home when I want. And I can go anywhere at any time with no effort. Trains will never overcome that advantage.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    You can go when you want anywhere you want if where you want to go is a place few people go to at a time few of those people want to go there.

    Joey Reply:

    Cars are just too efficient for individuals. I can begin when I want. I can go home when I want. And I can go anywhere at any time with no effort. Trains will never overcome that advantage.

    Okay, so you can take a car from anywhere to anywhere at any time. The problem is that a lot of people want to travel between the same places at the same time – this is when roads become incredibly inefficient, in terms of ROW width per passenger per hour or units of energy consumed per passenger-mile. Why do you think urban freeways are always so backed up?

    Cities here are generally not walkable so you need a car when you get there.

    A lot of places in the US are not walkable (jaywalk across a couple of expressways to get to the grocery store 1/2 mile away?). Whose fault is this? Why is this an outcome we should take for granted for new development or maintaing existing development?

    And this is already changing. Higher density, livable streets, and traffic calming are succeeding in America’s largest cities (how many protected bike lane projects were even under consideration a few years ago?).

    Then you have highways like 101 in the Bay Area. You can’t build a train system to run within a 1/2 mile of every destination on the greater Bay Area. So you have to use a highway to get people close and then surface roads to complete the journey. So how would you replace the 101 which is an urban freeway you claim is not needed.

    Change policies for new development and adjust existing infrastructure. Encourage new development closer to transit hubs. Making walking or biking a viable alternative for the last mile (and tackle America’s obesity epidemic in the process). Get police departments to actually prosecute drivers who injure and kill law-abiding pedestrians and bicyclists.

    joe Reply:

    Then you have highways like 101 in the Bay Area. You can’t build a train system to run within a 1/2 mile of every destination on the greater Bay Area. So you have to use a highway to get people close and then surface roads to complete the journey. So how would you replace the 101 which is an urban freeway you claim is not needed.

    VTA runs bus service parallel to 101 the El Camino Real, the 522 express and local 22. The VTA 22 frequency is 12 minutes, 20 minutes and worse case ~45 minutes all night. The 522 expresses the same route.

    As Joey suggests – change polices. CA is allowing Infill on El Camino Real. This Sears Shopping complex is now gone to make way for upscale infill

    The development is also within walking distance to Caltrain’s San Antonio stop.

    Rents on the newly finished development Phase I, I am told by a MTView city employee, range form 3500 to 6500 a month.

    It’s serviced by the 522 and 22 and Caltrain.

    Cars are just too efficient for individuals. I can begin when I want. I can go home when I want. And I can go anywhere at any time with no effort. Trains will never overcome that advantage

    There are limits. most along 101 where Caltrain runs cannot drive to work reliably. Commute times push average speeds down to 25 MPH and about 30-40 MPH in car pool lanes. With auto accidents, it gets even worse.

    That’s why car free living costs 6,500 / Month.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    The reality is the cities are not walkable. You can complain it should not be that way but it is the current reality. Outside of the ton 10 cities there is no chance for them to become walkable. Do you think Kansas City or St. Paul is getting walkable any time soon. Not to mention the Weather. Without extensive mass transit subways like New York no city is going to be practically walkable or bike able in the winter in the north. Be realistic

    That El Camino bus takes twice as long to get me where I want to go as a car, I have to wait for it so that adds to the trip length again. Then you have to walk the last 2-5 miles depending on how far off the 101 your employer is. No one is going to choose a 2 hour commute using buses and walking over 40 min door to door in a car, I made the commute from Sunnyvale to Menlo Park for many years on 101 both before and after the dot com bust. I am not walking through East Palo Alto to get to work every day when I have the option of driving.

    People don’t care about the inefficiency of cars because for the individual they are very efficient. Only on the policy level can you get theoretical improvements. But for those improvements you have yo inconvenience everyone. Without a fully bout out network that has stops within 1/2 a mile of everywhere (NYC subway) you are not going to replace cars

    Joey Reply:

    Walkability is bad, but it’s changing. We’re seeing pedestrian-friendly streets, protected bike lanes (in Memphis of all places), denser development, and streetcar/other transit projects (voter approved even) in all sorts of otherwise car-only cities. That doesn’t seem to support the thesis that Americans only care about driving.

    And yes, you’re never going to replace cars fully with transit (I think I said that already). The important fact is that a lot of people are going between the same places at the same time (hence peak congestion). So given that what we have today is not adequate, why not serve all of those identical trips with transit leaving roads clear for the low volume trips? Particularly when it takes so much more space to serve them with roads. It takes upwards of 6 lanes of highest to equal the peak capacity of two light rail tracks and more than 24 to equal the capacity of two rapid transit tracks. Obviously this is not a 1:1 cost comparison but it is apparent that rail transit gives you more capacity for the same expenditure compared to highways.

    Joe Reply:

    “That El Camino bus takes twice as long to get me where I want to go as a car,”

    Try to Park that car, add the time and cost.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Walk ability is not changing in any significant way for the vast majority of the country. A bike lane here and a combined development there don’t have any real effect. Without massive capital investment US cities have been built assuming cars, you can’t change that now.

    Your missed assumption is that there is a group of people going to the same place at the same time. They are measly going in the same direction at the same time. When I travel from my apartment to my place of employment there is most likely no one else that is going to the same place. Even if you build a light rail line parallel to 101 with no way to get to or from the station except walking or buses people are not choosing that option over cars

    And joe, it costs me 0 min to park my car, Both my home and work have dedicated parking. So that bus takes at least 2x

    Joey Reply:

    So the 40000 people who get off at Embarcadero BART every weekday should be told they’re wasting their time because they don’t all live within 1/4 mile of each other. Got it.

    Joey Reply:

    And re: walkability – how many protected bike lanes were there five years ago? How many streetcar projects? The change is slow (when isn’t it?) but the trend is definite, particularly in larger cities but also in smaller ones too. Not everyone wants to live in exurban tract homes anymore, and housing in walkable areas is selling for quite a lot of money.

    joe Reply:

    ” Even if you build a light rail line parallel to 101 with no way to get to or from the station except walking or buses people are not choosing that option over cars”

    I didn’t describe or suggest such a project. We use the VTA 22 and 522. It sure beats getting to Palo Alto by car.

    So stick to reality – car centric malls in SV are torn down. Multi-story living and upscale shopping are built to accommodate pedestrians and a walkable lifestyle. Rents for new units run at least 3-6K per month. This is located on VTA 22/522 corridor and near Caltrain – just like the other expensive, multistory infill in MTview and Palo Alto.

    This is where the money goes because it is what people want.

    And in legacy Gilroy we are repainting crosswalks thicker, drawing bike lanes, engineering flashing cross walks and bulb-outs to improve pedestrian safety. It’s part of making our town a walkable city. You did know that where I live in “suburbia” is very walkable. Just a bit less than my Noe Valley residence. We’re slowing cars down.

    Agencies are even removing a popular California tradition — the free right turn — at some intersections where drivers could previously turn right on red without stopping. And they are extending many curb corners into the street, in tear-shaped configurations called “bulb-outs,” to make it safer for pedestrians to cross, though in places they have to remove or shorten a lane of traffic to do so.

    It’s the latest in a growing trend to slow down drivers and boost safety on heavily traveled roads where cars compete for space with pedestrians.

    joe Reply:

    One of many studies showing a growing interest in ditching car dependence.
    Cleveland here:

    And WADC area
    New research shows that a growing number of homebuyers are interested in walkable, transit-served communities, and are willing to sacrifice a bigger house for a better neighborhood.

    The NAR study, which surveyed 2,000 people nationwide last February, found that 47% of respondents would like to live in a downtown, an inner-city residential neighborhood, or a suburb with shops and amenities within walking distance. Meanwhile, Kannan’s research found that 23% of Americans surveyed want to live within walking distance of rail transit.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    it costs me 0 min to park my car

    And how many minutes to drive to the parking space from the street? And from the parking space to your destination? Designed well, the bus or trolley car drops you off within feet of your destination.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    1. Not everyone is on board with walkable, bikeable cities


    2. Those 3-6k per month apartments were exactly the kind of gentrification you were opposing last blog post. Do you get dizzy bouncing back and forth? A few new developments does not change anything. Wake me when you can get from a specific spot in Sunnyvale to a specific spot in Palo Alto with mass transit to within 1/2 a mile. Just because they run a bus on El Camnino from 1 city to the next does not make it more convenient than driving.

    3. Adirondacker. My garage is attached to my home and my parking space at work is 20 feet from the door. So the answer is still 0 min. I live and work in areas that are not going to have “door to door” transit service. Unlike Google Buses which are door to door and if my company offered I would consider. Until then, driving for me (and 90+% of the rest of the US population)

    joe Reply:

    ” Those 3-6k per month apartments were exactly the kind of gentrification you were opposing last blog post. Do you get dizzy bouncing back and forth?”

    Come-on. They are not gentrifying an old neighborhood – so no. This was a 1950’s Sears, I used to shop at BTW, one story stores and large parking lot. Displaced for livable space and shopping – less parking, more infill and building up along a VTA’s most used bus line. MtView also builds affordable housing so this isn’t displacing people.

    The Caltrain Stop at San Antonio near this was the OLD MILL Shopping mall. That was torn down in the 2000s to put up town homes and the new Caltrain stop. That’s also okay by me. I’m okay with tearing down malls and parking lots.

    Joey Reply:

    1. Not everyone is on board with walkable, bikeable cities

    Of course not, but these battles are happening to a much greater extent than they were five years ago.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    My garage is attached to my home

    Eewwww. Why would you want a dirty smelly car hauling gallons of volatile flammable fuel inside your house? Ewwww. I keep mine in the stable, creative reuse since there aren’t many horses around anymore.

    my parking space at work is 20 feet from the door.

    Most people won’t park in the handicapped space.

    (and 90+% of the rest of the US population)

    The Census bureau says less than 50 percent of the population drives alone to work and less than 20 percent carpools 50+20 is 70 which implies the more-than-30-percent are doing something other than using an automobile.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    John, re:

    an efficient road system capable of transporting food thousands of miles at a cost so low that you can afford fresh fruit and vegetables year round.

    Does anyone ever transport anything over thousands of miles by road, rather than by rail or ship? Hell, CSX transports fresh orange juice from Florida to New Jersey by rail, trucking only the last mile (or 50 miles).

    There’s a huge difference between “cars are needed for some things,” and “cars are needed for everything that they are used for.”

    More broadly, I also think people who make binary statements like “people used to like driving and now they don’t” are assholes of gigantic proportions. So are the people who say 80% of Americans live in urban areas and then immediately foist the issues of dense neighborhoods on them, as if Sugar Land, Texas is the same as the Mission District. There was a shift in majority preference; it’s not the same thing. And the 80% of the US that’s urban includes both people who identify as urbanites and people who identify as suburbanites, who are often in direct opposition to each other, as can only be expected of a group that’s diverse enough to include 80% of America.

    Some people, having convinced themselves that something (like cars or cities) is necessary at least some of the time, want to enforce it on everyone because everyone has to be the same. Unified behavior and unified culture sound enticing; mostly they’re about destroying cultures you find inconvenient. So in the early 20th century, patrician WASPs began to enforce suburbanization and subsequently cars on everyone, because they despised white ethnic cultures and wanted to forcibly turn the Italians and the Jews into proper Americans. Afterward they also did it to create a unified white identity that could maintain a political majority against blacks.

    So, kindly, don’t tell me a technology is necessary in a few narrow circumstances. I don’t give a crap. It’s just like how you don’t give a crap that New York, whose media and banking a huge proportion of Americans consume, needs its subway system, or that a civilization requires cities and that they invariably have old neighborhoods.. People don’t have to have the same culture, the same commute mode, whatever. Farmers can keep their tractors; this is irrelevant for urban trips.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    I think we mostly agree Alon. Although i think you are underestimating the amount of transport on trucks. My hometown happens to have a Target distribution center (for the surounding 5-6 states) and while you would think that at least incoming stuff would be on rail cars it actually arrives and leaves on trucks despite having access to rail. There is no dount that freight on rails and ships are a big part, however.

    My point is that regarless of what anyone thinks about cars, the current infastructure is based on them and to change now is a huge cost will perhaps some added benefit. I also think that the anti-car people underestimate the huge convinence that cars allow the individual and if you want individuals to chage their habits you would have to overcome that and I dont see mass transit (except in limited circumstances) overcoming that.

    Derek Reply:

    …regarless of what anyone thinks about cars, the current infastructure is based on them and to change now is a huge cost…

    I don’t think anybody is suggestion we should tear down any infrastucture just to build new infrastructure for a different mode of transportation. But the natural state of an unpriced freeway is congestion, so as long as the freeways remain unpriced, eventually we’ll have to add new lanes or build alternatives. You two are arguing about which of these is cheaper, but they’re both very expensive for taxpayers, especially in metro areas.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    CSX transports fresh orange juice from Florida to New Jersey by rail, trucking only the last mile (or 50 miles).

    And to Cincinnatti and someplace in California. It’s not particularly “fresh”, it’s lightly processed and kept in a state of suspended animation. Who knows how it gets from the packaging plants to the retailers. Truck are involved in the last mile. And probably things like getting from Jersey City to the supermarket distribution centers all over the Northeast. ( and similar in the Midwest and West Coast ) RailEx has daily trains from the West Coast hauling produce and temperature sensitive things like wine. And occasionally things from the East coast westbound. Their press releases, last time I looked say they are exploring possibilities in the Southeast and Midwest.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    i hate to break it to you Derek, but you have to expand the roads regarless of toll status or not.

    Lets say roads were dynamically tolled as you advocate. And it is working just like you claim. So it is uncongestged and everyone has moved their driving habits and now it is perfectly balanced at 100% capactiy. So if the road is designed for lets say 1000 cars and hour then you get 24,000 cars a day because that is the capacity. and lets say the average toll is $10 for those 24000 cars a day (some hors more, some hours less, but average $10)

    But now the population grows so more capacity is needed. In addition more people want to use the road but cant afford the $10. So the only way to increase capactiy is to build more road. Demand increases (due to population growth) and supply is fixed (at 24,000 a day) so the resulting cost keeps going up.

    In short, just because it is perfectly balanced does not mean there is enough overall capacity. If you really need an 8 lane road to move everyone around and you only have 4 then you have to add capacity. So unless you think that all roads are exactly the right size needed now you have to build more road, even in your ideal system.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    So? And if the railroads keep the trucks off the road the roads are available for uses that have a higher ROI.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    No state can declare bankruptcy. There is no federal law to allow it. Just municipalities.

    If HSR cost 14x the original estimate but gets built totally (full track, no hybrid, all cities served). Would you consider it a win?

    Joe Reply:

    If what?

    Let’s keep it real.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    You said that the opera house was worth the 14x cost overrun because the product was worth the project mismanagement. I was wondering of you felt the same about HSR. Are you willing to build HSR at any cost?

    Eric Reply:

    The projected cost of the Sydney Opera House was about $70 million (in 2013 US dollars).

    The projected cost of CAHSR is 1000 times that.

    Seems more discretion is called for in the latter.

    joe Reply:

    The lessons from the Opera House are
    1) The Project to build the Opera House had no impact on the resultant Opera House. Australia is happy, proud of the product, the Opera House. There’s no buyers remorse.

    2) Ratios are misleading – 14x is a huge multiplier because the denominator in the ratio is very small, less than 10 million. It’s a gimmick – which is why the Opera House was picked.

    3) It’s an irrelevant example chosen for the 14X multiplier – what lesson – specifically with construction or design can be learned? They offer none.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Then use the other 4 examples given. How about that incinerator in Harrisburg, Never worked right, bankrupted the city. Not all projects work

    joe Reply:

    “Not all projects work”
    If only there existed some project accountability office that could review CAHSRA for best practices …..

    “bankrupted the city.”
    Capital: Sacramento
    Population: 38.04 million (2012)
    Gross domestic product: 1.813 trillion USD (2007)

    The total HSR project cost is less than 5% of the annual state GDP.

    A good rule of thumb for a mortgage is 3x annual gross income. Yes, I know governments are not like family budgets, I’m just trying to figure out what we go bankrupt because of a common rail project. Japan’s been doing this since the 1960s.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    GDP isn’t the same as the income available to the state government. Some of the state GDP is federal taxes, and most has to remain private. Compare it to the state budget, and then ask yourself if it’s that important to the state.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Japan has debt mores than 200% of GDP. Now who is using a poor example.

    That said, CAHSR would never bankrupt the state. It could easily be a huge useless investment, however.

    A moot point regardless because they are not getting money from the Feds and the state does have the guts to raise taxes to support it. Court case or no they need 30 billion for the 1st IOS to “show” everyone how great it is, They don’t have the money

    joe Reply:

    “Japan has debt mores than 200% of GDP. Now who is using a poor example.”

    You did again John.

    “GDP isn’t the same as the income available to the state government. …. Compare it to the state budget, and then ask yourself if it’s that important to the state.”

    GDP is what I see used to evaluate the size of debt – not annual budgets. BTW Paul Krigman estimates, states like CA will gain ~1% in GDP from the ACA – federal payments and cost savings.

    Again GDP is what determines the =degree of debt burden, not annual state sending or a state budget.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Joe. You are the one who compared the cost to GDP to start with (less than 5% remember).

    Now comparing to GDP is wrong…whatever.

    Keep ignoring the point. Not all projects are worth it and there is no source of money regardless of the court case or not

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    What projects are worth it and how do those projects provide comparable capacity and speed compared to HSR?

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Here are a couple of better ideas

    A 70 billon investment in local transit (light rail, streetcars, buses) would reduce CO2 emissions way more because the vast majority of travel is local. Also have more riders and a much bigger impact on people’s lives plus a much bigger reduction in car traffic and the need for new roads. HSR is only scheduled to reduce traffic 1% when it is finished.

    Second, I imagine all the programs that were cut during the budget crisis what their money back. Schools (secondary and college), elder care, disabled services, the list is quite extensive. Any extra money that is available they want “back” instead of it going to new transport projects. I can see the protests now. Picking a super train boondoggle over the poor and indigent.

    Third, Jerry seems pretty intent on building some water infrastructure so given the choice and the structural problem with prop 1a and the uphill slog in the courts he may choose to cut bait

    jonathan Reply:


    Regarding your first point: I don’t think anyone will disagree with your first point. But CA hasn’t voted for that, and it has voted for HSR. So how is your point relevant to HSR?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Reducing CO2 is a different question. So is hauling people from suburb to the city or suburb to suburb. What project or projects provide the capacity that HSR is going to provide?

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    It’s not about replacing the project 1 for 1. HSR is competing against every project that wants 70 billion, not just medium distance transportation projects. The question was what projects are worth more than HSR. I gave you 3

    Ted Judah Reply:

    God help you if you spend 70 billion of the State General Fund on local transit, welfare programs, or the water bond.

    It’s a mistake to pit a 20 year capital project against California’s short term spending needs. Companies that make that sort of error in the private sector often don’t survive.

    John Nachtigall Reply:


    The answer to your question is airport expansion…at a fraction of the cost

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    If HSR doesn’t get built alternatives will have to be built. Which ones do you want?

    John Nachtigall Reply:


    I am not pitting them, the government is. If you think they don’t compete for the same dollars I think you need to read the news more often. The legislature is already agitating to use the surplus and it is not for HSR

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    yes paving over a chunk of San Francisco Bay to build another airport is going be really really cheap.

    Joey Reply:

    No metro or regional rail? Would those sorts of things be too effective?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Joe, re:

    GDP is what I see used to evaluate the size of debt – not annual budgets.

    What you’re saying is only true of debts of sovereign states. The US federal government has the ability to tax the entire US economy to pay interest on the debt. A state government can’t tax the entire economy of the state, because first some of the economy of the state already funds the federal government, and second because it’s easier to move between states than between countries the Laffer maximum tax revenue is much lower. Subnational governments also pay higher interest rates than sovereign states with their own currency.

    We know that on the national level tax revenues are maximized at a top income tax rate of 80% give or take a few percent, and there is almost no disincentive effect until 50%+. On the state level, it’s different – there are no barriers to trade or migration between states, so a state that raises taxes too much will see people flee to other states, much like a city government that raises taxes in response to reduced tax base coming from white flight. The studies that find no such effect from state tax hikes focus on small tax hikes, rather than the large increases that may be required to pay Japanese debt levels if interest rates rise to normal-growth rates. There’s also more risk of having to pay normal-growth interest: if the US has debt at 100%+ of GDP, then it’s probably because its economy is depressed, so interest rates are low, and if it’s coming out of depression then interest rates rise but growth can reduce the debt burden; but if California has debt at 100%+ of GDP, then it can be that California’s economy is depressed but the national economy isn’t, and then interest rates will be higher.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    And John, re:

    The answer to your question is airport expansion…at a fraction of the cost

    You need to provide some reference if you’re claiming that airports cost a fraction of what HSR costs per unit of capacity. The cost of expanding runways and gates and modernizing terminals at airports relevant to urban travelers is in fact quite high. See for example the cost of the proposed Heathrow third runway.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Denver international cost 5 billion

    So you build 4 (1 for each major city) at 20 billon and you end up 50 billon ahead

    Expanding existing terminals is even cheaper at a little over 1/2 billon per terminal

    You build them outside of the cities and provide train transit to the airport with Long term parking at the train station. Add another 2-3 billon and you are still much better off than HSR

    People not in the metro areas continue to drive to their destinations because tha infastructure is already in place

    Joey Reply:

    And where exactly in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, or San Diego, is there space for something the size of Denver International?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    a 90 minute bus ride to the airport, an hour for security and an hour and half for the flight isn’t competitive with taking the train. Unless you think the train system serving the airport is going to built by elves using pixie dust and the parking garages by gnomes.
    Denver International was built decades ago. Expanding terminals at LAX is costing a cool billion. And where are you going to put the new runway at LAX?

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    We don’t need a DIA equivalent in Los Angeles for flights between northern and Southern CA, not for a very long time. There is plenty of capacity at Burbank, Ontario, and Long Beach. San Jose and Oakland can also handle more flights. Do we need more international capacity? Maybe. Plenty of room at Palmdale.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    building the high speed line to Palmdale airport is going to cost how much less than building the high speed line through Palmdale to get to Bakersfeild

    Ted Judah Reply:

    There’s actually *too much* capacity now at the “reliever airports” statewide. The only locations seeing growth in airline traffic in California today are SFO and LAX. Every other airport is losing passengers.

    LAX is also facing pressure from being too concentrated on Asia. It’s now much easier to run nonstop flights from Denver, Dallas, Seattle, etc to second tier cities in Asia. In the end, LAX is going to end up as California’s Schipol to San Francisco’s Charles De Gaulle.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    You don’t have to build outside city, that is just 1 option. You also don’t have to expand the existing facility, that is just anothe option

    As for the land, that is what they use emanate domain for.

    I used DIA because it was the lat major airport built in the US. Any airport expansion in CA is going to be much smaller than that. So the cost estimates are going to be less than 5 billion, but I didn’t want to be accused of shorting it.

    In shortly,expanding airports is much less than 70 billion, the proof that Alon requested

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    As I have noted here before, airport “expansion”, i.e. increase in capacity, can take place without additional runways. Burbank hosts predominantly SWA 737s. The 737 has grown from an 85 seat plane to the latest version with up to 215 seats. SWA has in fact reduced their number of flights this past year while maintaining the number of seats offered. Thus there is room for more flights here, SJC, SMF etc. I have always been extremely dubious about the oft quoted need and cost of additional runways and freeway lanes. I have no doubt that the former are not required and a modern public transit system in the urban areas would probably take care of the latter.
    (Just returned from Las Vegas, 4 hours each way with pit stop.)

    Elizabeth Reply:

    The Bay Area developed a plan to increase capacity of airports, mostly through efficiency and redistributing demand

    Joe Reply:

    “Significant redistribution of air passenger traffic from SFO to OAK and SJC;

    Increased use of Sonoma County Airport to serve local air passenger demand;

    New Air Traffic Control Technologies that have a high likelihood of implementation;

    A robust Demand Management Program at SFO; and

    High Speed Rail (HSR) initial segment from San Francisco to Orange County. (Scenario B could also meet regional aviation capacity needs if HSR is not implemented in the timeframe of the study.)”

    Note expanded service at San Carlos Airport which is creating noise impacts in Atherton and Palo Alto.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    The extent to which capacity has been cut back over last decade with various mergers and decreased biz travel is staggering.

    There is a great graphic here that shows changes around the country.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    When I said “airports relevant to urban travelers” I was specifically excluding the Denvers and the Naritas. DIA works because Denver is so far away from any city people might want to fly to that people will schlep, and also because Denver is small enough that it’s not too much of a schlep. Building or expanding an exurban airport in LA is going to add at least an hour to the door-to-door travel time for most travelers because LA is bigger and more congested, and this means people would rather drive. If I’m not mistaken, the car vs. air modal split on LA-SF is 50-50, so this extra hour is meaningful to many travelers. If you’re trying to use Denver as an example of how much an urban airport expansion will cost, does it mean I get to use the Central Valley HSR budget to project the cost of HSR on the Peninsula?

    joe Reply:

    “The extent to which capacity has been cut back over last decade with various mergers and decreased biz travel is staggering.”

    Not sure where the Biz travel stats come from – AA is a legacy airline with pensions and high operation costs.

    Capacity increases are not keeping pace with increases in passenger travel. Planes are packed.
    Airline capacity (expressed in available seats) has increased more slowly than the increase in airline passenger travel.

    Low-cost carriers represent a growing portion of the domestic aviation market. This change has been accompanied by decreasing fares.

    Network carriers have responded by shifting capacity to international markets and by reducing employment to cut costs

    Because the airlines have accommodated the surge in passengers with only a minimal increase in the number of seats, aircraft are flying with fewer empty seats.

    The low-cost carriers vigorously added capacity while the network airlines reduced domestic flight operations to reduce costs. Annual available seats on low-cost carriers increased by 24%4, from 182 million in 2000 to 226 million, in 2004, and passengers increased by 27%, from 124 million to 158 million, during the same period.

    At the same time there have been changes in the domestic aviation pricing structure reflecting the growing impact of low-cost carriers and other factors. Widely available, relatively inexpensive air fares have contributed to the increase in passenger travel

    Packed planes and crappy service – this degraded airline industry would benefit HSR service in CA.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    does it mean I get to use the Central Valley HSR budget to project the cost of HSR on the Peninsula?

    but but but people in LA who want to go to SF can just take the HSR train to the Palmdale airport fly to Fresno and take the HSR train to San Francisco. Because the trains to the airport were built by elves using pixie dust and the exact same line built to connect to the line from Fresno to Bakersfield is going to be built by people using concrete and steel. Just like the extra highway lanes to the airport were built by pixies using fairy dust.

    schlep to DIA

    Is probably much more pleasant than the schlep to JFK or LGA. Or IAD or BWI or ORD or…. And most of the people using DIA do it on foot as they walk from one gate to another to change planes.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Way to keep moving the goalposts.

    The original statement was that airports could be expanded for a lot less money than HSR (70 billion). That is a true statement

    I actually agree the existing facilities are not near capacity. An airport like Ontario has a lot of capacity. I never said to build it in Palmdale. And even if expansion cost 3 billion per airport it would still be cheaper by an order of magnitude.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    So people who don’t want to use Ontario are going to be enticed to use Ontario by building a new terminal? Building a new terminal isn’t going to make their trip appreciably faster. Or the trip from wherever they are to Ontario.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    John, don’t make an “even if” argument positing $3 billion as a lot of money when adding a third runway to Heathrow is PPP$22-29 billion. Like Palmdale, Ontario is irrelevant to a majority of LA-area travelers, and to the vast majority of people from other cities flying into LA. By the same token you might say that New York doesn’t really have a capacity constraint at JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark, because people can fly into Islip or White Plains. There’s a reason I said “relevant to urban travelers” in my first comment in this subthread. I know very well that it’s possible to build cheap airports in areas that are far from everything. It’s not surprising to anyone who’s looked at the cost of subway tunnels versus the cost of rail tunnels outside urban areas.

    I’m not moving the goalposts; I set up the goalposts very carefully from the start. Heathrow is the closest equivalent of LAX and SFO, and not DIA. LA isn’t Denver. If it tries building a new airport outside the built-up area to replace LAX, it won’t be like DIA. LA is so big that such an airport would be at least as far from the CBD as Narita, much more inconvenient because LA doesn’t have the concentration of activity around the CBD to enable a Narita Express equivalent, and probably as politically toxic as Narita.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    The scary part is that expanding LAX will be the cheap part.

    What is going to be expensive is upgrading SFO so that it can handle Charles de Gaulle level of passengers. LAX will be fine at the passenger load that it currently serves, but could use some improvements to make it safer and more on par with international hubs.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Going to invoke the Preemption Act of 1841 as well?

    Robert took some liberties with his view of history, but to conflate the Depression of 1837 with the American System is really irresponsible. I don’t think you actually know what you are talking about.

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    There were other factors, but transportation projects were, in the northern and midwestern states, far and away the biggest driver of state debts.

    joe Reply:

    You’re being grossly dishonest about cause and effect.

    It’s as if you’re auditioning for a job at some suck-up Private Think Tank or a commentary gig in Frobes Magazine.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    He had a blogging gig at Forbes. He was fired for pointing out that one of the US streetcar manufacturers (United Streetcar, I think) had no past experience building streetcars, which was true, but got the company flaks to complain to his boss.

    joe Reply:

    That is truly terrible. I did not know.

    jonathan Reply:

    IIRC< before that he wrote a few articles for Reason.

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    I had a three-month internship there after college. They put up with me but I think they found my pro-urban and pro-rail opinions unsettling. Nick (the one with the leather jacket) killed one of my pro-congestion pricing articles. I also wrote a bunch of dumb foreign affairs blog posts there, if you’re looking for something to discredit me with (I guess that’s what internships are for? that’s when I decided I wasn’t gonna write things not about real estate/transpo/land use).

    Joe Reply:

    “I used to say to our audiences: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

    I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked (1935), ISBN 0-520-08198-6; repr. University of California Press, 1994, p. 109.

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    If making a lot of money was my goal, do you really think I’d be working in journalism…?!!?!?! I’ve done real estate PR freelance jobs before and it pays like 3x what I make now.

    Joe Reply:

    And if I wanted to make money I’d accepted a kob with boeing in 84 and not undertaken a graduate degree in ecology.

    We all have conflicts and motivations tied to our interests and employers.

    I’m trying to figure out why a urban capitalist doesn’t look for root causes. the panic of 1837, banking bubble and deep depression that followed was the root cause if the bankruptcies. That financial crash was the incubator for the credit ratings agencies.

    Any serious generalizing about govt taking on debt to finance infrastructure needs to account for the financial and economic conditions in 1840.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Did states without much infrastructure debt also go bankrupt?

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    See pdf page 5 of this paper on state debts in the 1840s. Transportation projects were responsible for the vast majority of state debts in Georgia, Illinois, Indiana (majority, arguably not the vast majority), Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. (NY surprises me…was that Erie Canal spending, or were there other projects there too?)

    And I never said that the Panic of 1837 was caused by internal improvement debts, I said the state bankruptcies were.

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    Also interesting to note: while the Erie Canal was a financial success, the feeder canal system to less populated/industrialized parts of New York state was not. (cc: Palmdale, Central Valley)

    joe Reply:

    I did a bit of a refresh on American history and the many panics we’ve had before regulating the banking sector and, as you knew, there is no causal link between the infrastructure investments and the 1837 Panic and recession.

    The panic and recession damaged the states’ economies. Their ability to pay debts were undermined by the unregulated fiance and capitalism. It’s not infrastructure – things governments build to benefit the people of the US. Unregulated capitalism failed.

    The 2008 collapse of the fiance sector and recession put a lot of people out of work. They lost homes an cars and retirement. It’s wrong to blame people for taking on debt and failing when they lose a job. The root cause was banking. The people who got bailed out with taxpayer money are the problem now and were the problem then.

    Where do you work again?

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    there is no causal link between the infrastructure investments and the 1837 Panic and recession.

    Your reading comprehension is very, very poor. I never said there was.

    joe Reply:

    I’m quite good at reading and comprehension actually.

    See, I’m not auditioning for a commentary gig at Forbes or some Think Thank. I have no personal career interest in making excuses for deregulating finance, to big to fail banks, or wealthy executives.

    Cause and effect.

    The 1837 Panic caused a economic recession and banking failure. The economic collapse undermined these States’ economies. Personal debt and State debt – for any investment – would be at risk in this recession.

    The lesson is financial markets need regulation. We have a long history of economic failure due to the unregulated finance.

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    You and your straw man seem like you’re having a pretty lively debate, so I’ll just bow out and let you two sort this out.

    joe Reply:

    Reading comprehension…Now strawmen

    Maybe this isn’t you.

    I’m currently biding my time with this (entirely unremunerative) blog until I can find a job in journalism or thinktankdom somewhere on the East Coast (or in any field, any place, really…).’

    Stephen now writes for on urbanism at

    If not I apologize for mixing you up with someone in the tank – you’ll apparently write anything for a buck.

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    Yeah, that’s me. (Or was, a few years ago.) Where you go the part about writing about financial regulation or too big to fail, I have no idea – I’ve only ever written about land use and transportation.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    you’ll apparently write anything for a buck.

    And you’ll obviously write anything, anything, no matter how nonsensical, just because your motor cortex can form English-like words on a keyboard.

    Anonymous, brainless troll.

    joe Reply:

    You referred to state bankruptcies of 1840 and linked them to state Public infrastructure proejcts.

    The Panic of 1837 was the root cause, not infrastructure debt. Any debt wold be at risk in that unregulated, free market. — but you never wrote the root cause was infrastructure debt.

    Kinda surprised nobody has yet brought up the rash of state bankruptcies in the 1840s caused by Erie Canal imitators.

    Root cause of the bankruptcies was a national depression 1837 to 1843 brought on by a bubble in the unregulated market.

    joe Reply:

    “And you’ll obviously write anything, anything, no matter how nonsensical, just because your motor cortex can form English-like words on a keyboard.

    Anonymous, brainless troll.”

    I have no interest in branding my name or exposing my family to erratic, emotional hotheads.
    When Robert Sutton’s “No Asshole Rule” appeared in the Harvard Business Review, readers of this staid publication were amazed at the outpouring of support for this landmark essay. The idea was based on the notion, as adapted in hugely successful companies like Google and SAS, that employees with malicious intents or negative attitudes destroyed any sort of productive and pleasant working environment, and would hinder the entire operation’s success.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Pretty sure the focus on positive attitudes is to prevent workers from complaining that the boss is micromanaging and overworking them.

    Eric Reply:

    Alon: Pretty sure you’ve never worked in a corporate environment. A “no asshole rule” would be very welcome at my company. And I’m a bottom rung employee, not a manager or any sort.

    Joe Reply:

    “No asshole rule ” book

    – Is a reminder of how to behave at work with peers and subordinates – for all of us.
    – illustrates the risk of branding yourself online and leaving a record to be misused by employers.
    – Applies to some more than others – a few traits listed in book are often on display here in the comments and found elsewhere with a simple google search.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    This paper doesn’t quite tell the whole story.

    Infrastructure improvements were necessary to support population growth. The difference was that in the South, you had navigable rivers that made a project like the Erie Canal obsolete. But also, keep in mind the Erie Canal also spurred its own demise because as port growth in New York increased, Baltimore felt threatened enough to experiment with the B & O. And by extension, the feds were preoccupied with roads, hence the “National Road” project that rang through Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.

    So, yes there were defaults on bonds that states used to build infrastructure improvements in the 1840s. But again, that was merely because federal policy was to use land sales to spur growth in those territories who by becoming states could issue the debt.

    That’s why I hope CAHSR isn’t the 21st century Erie Canal. Because if that’s true, there’s no hope for it anywhere else in the country. Another technology will end up triggering yet another economic bubble which will end in catastrophe.

    As it is, I think that American need to be prepared for an economic consolidation along the lines of the Long Depression 1873-1893 that will concentrate wealth in a handful of US metropolitan regions (Bay Area, Atlanta, Chicago, New York) and leave the rest of the country behind. HSR is a powerful tool to keep the nation united despite this sort of stratification. The system is easiest to build on the coasts, but in time need to be extended to most of the nation.

  14. Travis D
    Dec 13th, 2013 at 18:14

    So the first rulings allowing eminent domain to proceed happened today.

  15. D. P. Lubic
    Dec 13th, 2013 at 21:39

    In other news, who says Americans don’t ride trains?

    “In normal times, The Empire Builder is perhaps the premier long-distance train operating on the Amtrak network, offering scenery that unfolds like a novella of the American West, a lifeline to the northern plains, and quality onboard amenities. However, as of late the train has become beleaguered with delays to an epic extent. The crude oil boom in North Dakota, almost in the middle of the Builder’s 2,000 mile journey, is causing unprecedented levels of freight traffic along the BNSF corridor, stretching the capacity of the track to the limit.

    “This, combined with the anemic condition of Amtrak’s long distance services—hindering any kind of redundancy of crews or equipment—has resulted in an average delay of 310 minutes, or a little over five hours. Despite that the Empire Builder is a very large passenger train, it is quick and nimble when compared to the mile-long freight trains with which it shares the tracks. Thus, amidst the more frequent traffic, the Builder has found itself on sidings waiting for passing freights to a ludicrous degree as of late.

    “In an attempt to reset the train on its normal schedule, Amtrak is running the train every other day, instead of daily, until December 15th. Amazingly, despite this extraordinary inconvenience, the need for transportation is so desperate along the route that the train is still running remarkably full of passengers. This is further evidence that our national network trains are valuable transportation assets that need increased and sustaining levels support.”

    I wonder what the Republican-Tea Party bunch would say about this development–full long-distance passenger trains in a place you shouldn’t be seeing them, according to orthodox population density thinking.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    yet another subsidy to oil companies? And it’s nothing write home about. North Dakota’s annual Amtrak ridership is the same as a busy New York City subway station’s daily ridership.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Well, you do have a case, but it’s still interesting that the Builder apparently does have ridership–in a place where there should be nobody riding at all!

    I wonder what double-daily service (day and night trains) would do.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    The Empire Builder alone generates about 2/3 of the entire Acela passenger miles.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    But only 13% of the revenue. It is a wonderful argument of course for expanding the capacity of the Acela and it’s frequencies, luckily Amtrak is doing the former with at least a 33% increase in their RFP.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Lose lots of money.

    EJ Reply:

    Why would nobody at all ride it?

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    And other news from the midwest:

  16. Donk
    Dec 13th, 2013 at 23:05

    I have a question that I may have missed: What happened to the $950M part of the bond that was supposedly divvied out? Are these funds being spent or are they also going to be held back?

    Related question: Is anything useful going to get built with that money?

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Don’t count on it. Once using Prop 1A funding for the bookends is struck down by the Court, expect this list to change as Brown will need to round up more votes for the Bakersfield to Palmdale segment. I would be surprised to see highway and road projects (i mean busways, excuse me) to entice Republican members in the Senate.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Prop 1A funding for Bakersfield to Palmdale struck down by the Court because it cannot meet 2:40.

    synonymouse Reply:

    absent a base tunnel

    Clem Reply:

    It’s kind of hard to change a list after most of the money’s been spent.

    synonymouse Reply:

    And why would the Judge throw out the bookend and blend if he had not let the Tutor contract continue? Methinks too late and too politically unpalatable as to likely generate an appeal if ruled out.

    Sure would like to fast forward to March to see what obtains. But I think we know now why they are studying Bear Trap surreptitiously.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    Most of the bookend spending is not the $950 million (which AFAIK has not challenged) but an allocation of $1.2 billion from the core $9 billion ($8 billion after planning and admin) HSR construction funds.

    It is important to note that the Tutor contract wasn’t blocked under part 1 of the lawsuit, which is a very narrow/ different legal standard than part 2 of the lawsuit which is supposed to be jury trial in the spring.

    The CHSRA filed motion last week to try and say part 2 was unnecessary – not sure if they understand that that part is more about whole program, including fed funds, rather than just funding plan.

    The judge during the last hearing was pretty clear that he wanted to deal with the federal $$ during that part.

    It has not been reported, but he issued the initial ruling two weeks early. Based on the hearing, this was an attempt to be nice to the Authority to give them more time over holidays to rethink plans. Not clear that hint is being taken.

    synonymouse Reply:

    If part 2 is unnecessary why even take up the case? Ergo no judicial oversight, no compliance enforcement; Prop 1A is voided and PB-CHSRA gets carte blanche.

    I speculated the ruling might come before Thanksgiving just to clear up affairs before the holiday. Everything about CAHSR decisions seems so flaky. They seem to systematically rely on everyone they have to deal with, the public in particular, is so stupid and malleable they will believe anything. Like they are not going to be getting NEC 160mph neo-Acelas but a special souped version. Yeah sure.

    Like dropping a Bugatti 1200 brake horsepower v-12 into a Toyota. Bugatti’s are rated for 230mph.

  17. John Nachtigall
    Dec 14th, 2013 at 07:50

    On a separate note the big showdown at the Google Bus was staged by the protestors

    Because nothing says credibility like faking an argument to make an entire class of people (on this case tech workers) look bad.

    Only in SF would they still try to make the guy a hero after he is turned out to be a fake.

  18. James in PA
    Dec 14th, 2013 at 12:25

    Eire Canal song.

    Maybe someday there will be a High Speed Rail song.

    …we’ve hauled some techies in our day,
    surfing on Google and drinking Latte…

    James in PA Reply:

    …and we know every percent of grade,
    around the ranch and the dog-leg…

    Low platform, everybody down,
    low platform, we’re coming to a town.

    And you’ll always know your neighbor
    And you’ll always know your pal
    If you’ve ever accelerated on the High Speed Rail

  19. Robert S. Allen
    Dec 14th, 2013 at 13:21

    HSR to Bay Area: make first phase just to San Jose (cross-platform transfers to Caltrain and Capitol Corridor). Next phase: Upgrade Amtrak East Bay Route to an Oakland Rail Hub station under the BART trans-Bay line to San Francisco. (BART trains about every 4 minutes, running time 6-10 minutes to all four downtown San Francisco stations.) No HSR money to tunnel in San Francisco, electrify Caltrain, or cross SF Bay on the way to Sacramento. Better, safer, cheaper, more reliable.

    Clem Reply:

    A tunnel to San Francisco is sort of a straw man. The current plans do not require one, so it’s not much savings.

    Better? Requires transfer to reach key destination.

    Safer? Sure, if you spend lots of money to grade-separate the east bay route, money that would be better spent on the peninsula.

    Cheaper? Need to acquire right of way from SJ to Oakland, key parts of which are now earmarked for BART. Peninsula ROW already owned by counties, paid for by state. East bay grade seps and track upgrades as well as electrification will easily top the $1.5 billion (itself an outrageous amount!) for peninsula electrification.

    More reliable? Unless we’re talking about extremely expensive dedicated infrastructure, it’s going to be a blend. East bay blend is no better than west bay blend.

    The best way to reach Sacramento is via Dumbarton / Altamont.

    synonymouse Reply:


    And you to wonder about such expensive dedicated infrastructure with CAHSR stuck with “Son of Acela” trainsets good for 160mph. I don’t believe the cheerleaders have grasped the true extent of the snookering Brown and Richards have just received from NEC-Amtrak. Two different designs shoehorned into one bid is just nutty. Even Boeing-Vertol called for building one design. Obviously NEC wants to save money by ratcheting down design parameters. 60mph is a significant uptick entailing a lot more than just bigger motors.

    Clem Reply:

    I was always dubious about California hitching its cart to the front of Amtrak’s horse.

    jonathan Reply:

    that’s really putting the cart before the horse!

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Allen’s a Bechtel True Believer from the age of the dinos. Save your breath.

    Reedman Reply:

    Variation On A Theme:
    Initial HSR ends at San Jose.
    If Caltrain can’t handle the traffic to/from SF, build the 5.1 mile BART extension from Berryessa (where BART will reach in 2016) to Santa Clara (with it’s planned stop at SJ Diridon/Arena).

    FYI, Rod Diridon will be receiving the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council Of University Transportation Centers

    Clem Reply:

    Avoiding the peninsula entirely (and taking BART from SJ to SF) would take well over an hour. Nice.

    synonymouse Reply:

    And you would need new enabling legislation to replace Prop 1A.

    I could see this happening if the blend and bookends were thrown out(seems unlikely). Local pols might be suddenly more interested in and motivated to go for a revote.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    not to worry. President Romney is sure to veto any funding. what am I saying. It would never get out of the Senate, which the Republicans retook in the Romney landslide.

    Clem Reply:

    I see your point, but where’s the federal money? It seems to have dried up after just $3B.

    Emmanuel Reply:

    Avoiding San Francisco would be the worst proposal. Just push Caltrain off the plan. They should help themselves. If anything we need HSR in the metropolitan areas.

    jonathan Reply:

    Except the Joint Ppwers Board (Caltrain) *owns* the right-of-way. How exactly are you going to get HSR into downtown SF without going at least partway up the Peninsula?

    Jerry Reply:

    jonathan – True they ‘own’ the ROW. But what do they charge Union Pacific to use it??
    I heard it’s just a dollar a year.

    jonathan Reply:

    you’re missing the point. Even if you assume the route changes to Altamont, and the Peninsual “blend’ is only from Redwood City north, HSR *still* has to run to the TBT over Caltrain tracks.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    1. Change JPA membership so that Caltrain is managed by BART.

    2. Invest in expanding BART instead of upgrading Caltrain on the Peninsula.

    3. Sell ROW to High Speed Rail Authority.

    joe Reply:

    Caltrain ROW is electrified. HSR runs blended. Caltrain capacity is shifted to HSR. Caltrain operations are given to CAHSR operator.

    BART expands from the south into San Jose and north to Santa Clara. They run BART as a subway along RT 82 which has the most used VTA bus 22/522. BART extends to Palo Alto and into San Mateo/Menlo Park along Rt 82, El Camino.

    Amanda in the South Bay Reply:

    Again, WTF is it with Santa Clara. Santa Clara Caltrain Station is a lightly used station surrounded by not a lot (thought I expect you to make the arguement that SCU deserves its own stop).

    jonathan Reply:

    I’m assuming he means northward into Santa Clara county… though with Joe, it’s anyone’s guess.

    As for giving Caltrain to an HSR concessionaire… that’s just crazy talk. Why would an HSR concessionaire have any interest in a two-bit short-haul commuter lnie? Different trainsets, even (thanks to the Very Special people at Caltrain) a different signalling system…

    joe Reply:

    Amanda was asking about the City of Santa Clara.

    I can understand why “BART expands from the south into San Jose and north to Santa Clara. “

    Would be confusing. Next time I’ll explain I meant north.

    joe Reply:

    Here’s BART’s vision. Santa Clara Station.

    That station puts BART near both El Camino Real/RT 82 and Caltrain’s ROW.

    In any scenario it would be a transfer point for Caltrain and is currently the stop for the San Jose airport shuttle.

    If HSR uses the Caltrain ROW and Caltrain runs as a commuter line, BART and the locals might realize that running BART along El Camino Real as a Subway would supplement Caltrain and service a major corridor along the peninsula to Palo Alto.

    jonathan Reply:

    BART subway under El Camino? What are current BART-extension costs? About Half a billion a mile? Just who is going to *pay* for that?

    Joe, you should form a collective with Synon, and get bulk discounts on whatever he and you are smoking.

    jonathan Reply:

    The arrogance displayed here is really rather stunning. After excoriating residents of PAMPA for asking for a trench, Joe is proposing a BART subway under El Camino, from San Jose to Palo Alto.
    Pot, kettle, black.

    Hm. Is it possible that such a BART route would admirably serve Joe’s personal commute route?
    If so, the hypocrisy is … priceless.

    joe Reply:

    Take chill pill.

    I’m not advocating, I am speculating – like when I speculate you’ll go off rail. I don’t advocate it. I just expect it.

    Any BART extension along El Camino will be a subway. The Berkeley BART subway was paid by Berkeley. BART would be paid with some local dollars, not an entitlement.

    Donk Reply:

    Seriously, everyone has their panties in a bunch today.

    Amanda in the South Bay Reply:

    As someone who has actually taken the 22/522 many, many times between Santa Clara Caltrain and Diridon, this plan is totally bonkers. Again, the route from Diridon to Santa Clara Caltrain makes no sense except as a bus alignment. You might as well have the VTA run BART for that distance. It only makes sense if you envision BART eventually taking over the Caltrain ROW northwards. It’d be a gold plated monstrosity for SCU students (not local coummuters who take the 22/522).

    joe Reply:

    Maybe you could explain WHY it’s bonkers.
    The route from Diridon to Santa Clara Station is in the tentative VTA/BART expansion plan.
    They probably do envision running along the ROW.

    I’m guessing the blended HSR system doesn’t allow BART access. That there’s profit in running trains between major stations along the ROW and CAHSRA Operator wants that money.

    So the other major plan for improved transit is on El Camino.

    VTA wants to turn the 22/522 service into Bus Rapid Transit, with dedicated lanes.

    Since that’s not going to happen – too many cities to coordinate and hard to take car lanes away – I think that’s the route any BART extension would follow.

    Maybe that means they forgo the Sanata Calara station and run to El Camino from Diridon directly. Maybe not. That’s the only way I see BART going forward and the El Camino corridor is being built up.

    Amanda in the South Bay Reply:

    Its bonkers because very few people now take the 522/22 from Diridon to Santa Clara Caltrain, and even fewer are going to be taking Caltrain north to Santa Clara Station. Its a very expensive way to duplicate much cheaper and efficient VTA service. And if you want to expand rail in Santa Clara County, extending VTA light rail is a better idea than BART under the Alameda/El Camino. But really, its just a way for BART to encroach on Caltrain’s turf. And once again, there’s little of interest actually around Santa Clara Caltrain Station.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Amanda, after spending 45 seconds looking at the schedules for the two bus lines, something that has a 50 passenger bus running every 5 minutes just screams that it needs to be replaced with a subway. Which could run once an hour and have the same capacity. with everyone seated.

    Elizabeth Reply:


    It should be noted that the average passengers on the bus at any one time is about 5.
    Don’t make the mistake of assuming that service levels here correspond to demand.

    Joe Reply:

    You guys rock.
    I don’t know how mass transit expansion turns into counting current trips between Dirdion and Santa Clara stations. Really ?

    I’m not sure what the impact of Santa Clara’s ambitious expansion will be in ridership. We know Palo Alto depends on the 522/22 and Caltrain to mitigate the upcoming hospital expansion. No problem looking forward for anticipated traffic. We know a city council member is worried about Caltrain limited capacity TODAY and the impact pushing mass transit trips into auto trips.

    Tell the VTA to leave the 22 alone. Oppose BRT and BART. Add that to opposition to HSR and Caltrain expansion. I’ll be driving if necessary, paying a HOV toll or whatever. I appreciate the added lanes for HOV and entry exit for the freeway.

    Maybe residents will barricade the streets to stop the surge in auto traffic. Someone may make it into a French musical.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    I’m really not kidding. (Btw if anyone from VTA is reading: something is broken with your website – search does not show up anything after about 2007 – and anything before that can only be viewed through google cache)

    El Camino is definitely a transit worthy corridor, but not at the expense of the entire rest of the region.

    VTA has had farebox recovery that is so low, it would probably make sense just to make it free, fire most of the accounting department and not have to worry drivers about dropping off money.

    In response to this, they did an analysis. On an absolute ridership basis, the El Camino routes had 20% of the entire system’s ridership.

    The El Camino is longer than any bus route should be however so really it is about 5 different routes stuck together.

    A better metric is riders per rev hour- under which it does okay but still nowhere close to what you would expect and part of its performance is that it had much better service than other routes. There is service every 6-7 minutes along the route and the 522 is really fast as it can magically turn lights green for itself- peak boardings per hour of revenue service for local and rapid service are about 35 people. You do the math.

    Instead of really thinking deeply about the problems and revisioning bus service as more of a network and feeder system to other transit services, the decision was made to throw even more resources at the bus routes with decent service and further starve the cross routes. This is truly a way to find a local maximum, not a global one.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    Joe –

    I don’t think you and I are actually that far off on objectives. And BTW I las pilatas so much I made a pilgramage there.

    My point is that BRT is a great tool but the next effort should be on network and marketing the existing service – this will have a much bigger long term payoff on lots of levels. El Camino service is relatively so much better than everything else that we should be very carefully looking at places where some $$ could make a huge difference. In SC, a lot of these are about east -west connections.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Speaking of El Camino Real (aka Mission Street), the Muni 14/14L/14X buses lines have over 40000 boardings per week day on 8 miles of El Camino Real, in addition to the the parallelling BART line’s 64000.

    So yeah the combination of VTA’s 522 (with 5200 daily boardings!!!! woo hoo) and 22/etc (about 10000 as far as I can determine via VTA’s daily-ever-more-b0rked web site; only Google’s cache preserves anything) and parallelling Caltrain (3000) on 18 miles along El Camino between SJ and Palo Alto is like, totally the same thing.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It should be noted that the average passengers on the bus at any one time is about 5.
    Don’t make the mistake of assuming that service levels here correspond to demand.

    so running the subway train every ten minutes would mean each current passenger would have a subway car all to themselves?

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:


    I don’t think VTA’s focus on the least basket-case of its basket-case routes is necessarily the wrong one at present.

    If you want to beef up east-west connections, well, you have the problem that there is nothing with which they connect.

    If Caltrain were running every 15 or 30 minutes on a clockface schedule and core Santa Clara BRT routes were running likewise, and if there were fare integration and convenient and fast barrier-free transfers, then there’s no doubt that E-W circulators feeding into and connecting with the spines would be the way to go.

    That was a significant part of the Peninsula/Santa Clara part of which MTC was legally forced to model (and then ignored despite superiority by ever metric, in favour of proven failure business as usual.)

    Joe Reply:

    El Camino is a State Route and, in the peninsula, had strict restrictions on growth placed by the state — until now. Despite the intentional restrictions to restrict traffic, by limiting infill, it is the most used bus line in the VTA. Richard of course knows this being a supreme life form with large cranium. He fails to mention it because it is assumed readers also know why there were differences between the two segments of El Camino Real.

    Developments such as the new upscale multistory at San Antonio and El Camino exemplify the changes expected with the lifting of infill restrictions.

    There’s the 5 story 500 El Camino Real development in meno park and other infill going up along the route. This is an area of the route that readily had traffic backups and grid lock now, pre development. These expansions are approved assuming many trips will use Caltrain and Bus.

    It is time for the locals to accept and encourage transit or they will get driven over by cars. It’s explained all in the EIR for each project. These will generate more trips, more residents, more cars.

    Elizabeth Reply:


    can you point me to the infill restrictions that you mentioned?


    joe Reply:

    And here’s WTF Santa Clara explained by City recognized developments.

    There are others proposed

    jonathan Reply:

    Joe, just who is going to *pay* for this multi-billion-dollar BART monstrosity? Not MTA, because MTA now requires cost-benefit analyses. Even the current BART extension wouldn’t pass a cost-benefit analysis, which is why MTA decided to not apply them to “already committed” projects.

    Numbers matter!

    jonathan Reply:


    Do you understand “F*** off and die”? There is no way, repeat NO WAY that San Mateo County is going to let BART rape (er, “manage”) Caltrain, not after the BART-to-SFO fiasco.

    Why would anyone who uses Caltrain want a slower, more expensive, vastly less convenient (fare-gate-ridden monstrosity) instead? To be blunt, if people who ride BART think it’d be kewl to “ring the bay’ for *their* convenience, then *they* can pay for it. Not the Peninsula, who already has Caltrain.

    (Hmm, do you have a history of suggesting here that OPM should pay for your transit? Or am I thinking of someone else?)

    Clem Reply:

    Is anybody else put off by this sort of language? Say what you would say to Ted if you were face to face.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    I didn’t take offense. I interpreted it facetiously.

    Unfortunately for jonathan, San Mateo County doesn’t have enough votes to stop SF and Santa Clara imposing their will.

    Politics aside, there’s not much reason to have anyone but BART manage the Northern California Unified Service, and hence CalTrain, come 2017. It’s the irrational sort of jonathan-esque paranoia that simmers in the Bay Area which occludes the ability of jurisdictions to consolidate and actually reduce overhead and waste.

    Or as Tolkien said:

    One Ring [the Bay] to rule them all, One Ring [the Bay] to find them,
    One Ring [the Bay] to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

  20. joe
    Dec 15th, 2013 at 23:35

    That purely political decision overrode years of analysis by the earlier commission and its consultants, who had identified Interstate 5 and the Altamont Pass as the least expensive and highest-ridership route. How did the switch happen? Power brokers in the Legislature and Silicon Valley and mayors of Central Valley and Antelope Valley cities pushed their narrow self-interests, and the authority’s board of directors succumbed to that political pressure.

    Funny that the Central Valley, Antelope Valley, Silicon Valley and San Jose are narrow self interests. One might, if they understood CA, think these were large sections of California between LA and SF.

    jonathan Reply:

    The author is …. misinformed and misguided, at best.

    Private capital investing in an infrastructure project with a payback period of several decades? Long track-record of similar “private” investment in HSR resulting in bankruptcy (or equivalent ‘debt restructuring”/ bailouts, as in Taiwan). It’s just not going to happen.

    Mind you, Clem is equally delousional on that score, so it’ snot like Stuart Flashman is the only one.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Yes, “the Central Valley, Antelope Valley, Silicon Valley and San Jose are narrow self interests” in that they insist on imposing AmBART requiring extensive and ongoing subsidy by the rest of the State. The purpose of CAHSR as laid out in Prop1A is to build genuine hsr that is self-supporting and state of the art, not commute ops for a cherry-picked minority of the population.

    Good article overall but kinda short and lacking details on incorporating at the very minimum Bako. And does not mention the embargo at Tejon.

    synonymouse Reply:

    And the part of “Silicon Valley” that is Pachechotastic is San Jose whereas north of there really focuses on an upgraded Caltrain and would like Altamont-Dumbarton.

    Tony D. Reply:

    Wow, it must be a cold day in hell, because I actually agree with Flashman. Hey, if you could split HSR in Fremont (with one line going south to Diridon/SJ and another crossing the Dumbarton to SF) then I’m all for an 1-5, Altamont alignment.

    Joe Reply:

    Flashman is trying to drum up business servicing the new set of lawsuits over changing the Alignment.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Sue, Palmdale, sue.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Tony D., welcome to 1999. That is a most excellent plan! Why didn’t we think of that back then? Oh right … we did.

    “Unfortunately”, PBQD — by an amazing coincidence. precisely the party behind the HSR-via-Los-Banos public-fiscal catastrophe — is also completely responsible for the BART-Fremont-to-SJ catastrophe, and they’re usurping over the required rail right of way that would be required by any remotely affordable or justifiable passenger rail line between Fremont and SJ.

    So, no. There’s no possible way, not in a hundred years, to justify two separate, very lightly used, extremely expensive, incompatible rail lines in that corridor. (One cheaper combined rail line wasn’t justifiable either on any economic or environmental basis, but for purely political reasons the pill could have been swallowed.)

    Think now rather about how to build a BART-HSR transfer station at the point where the Altamont-Fremont-Dumbarton-SJ line will pass underneath the zero-ridership BART line, because that’s the only way it’s going to happen.

    Stupid, yes, not the best outcome, no, but we have the very most stupid people in the world making sure that only stupid and stupendously expensive outcomes are allowed.

    PBQD killed HSR to San Jose. Make no mistake about it.

    The good news, such as it is, is that a couple-stop BART ride on largely empty trains to a BART/HSR transfer station in Fremont isn’t going to be much slower or less convenient than getting from all over SJ sprawl hell to a single SJ HSR stop at Cahill Street.

    synonymouse Reply:

    And San Jose has only itself to blame. They wanted cacophonous cattlecars.

    Tony D. Reply:

    First of all, your an idiot for bashing San Jose! Does LA also constitute “sprawl hell?” Second, upgrading/making ACE HSR (which has been studied and is planned) would make Diridon/SJ a terminus for any Altamont alignment; sorry. Lastly, the Silicon Valley BART extension will primarily serve the thousands of Alameda Co. commuters who now brave 880 on a daily basis. HSR Altamont/SJ would be more intercity/long-range commute in nature vs BART to SJ. You want to have an honest discussion about alternatives to the current scheme that’s fine; you want to bash my hometown with some “Frisco” style arrogance I’ll come back at you hard!

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Tony D.,

    Just realism. Most work and residences are nowhere near the freeway cluster that is “downtown” SJ.

    The SJ BART extension, like all BART extensions, has zero to do with serving commuters. It is about serving BART contractors. The ridership will be dismal, as it always has been and always will be, on all of the extensions. Just realism. Just the facts.

    I don’t know and don’t care what your “hometown” might be. And if you do, you’re a chauvinist idiot. People aren’t in control of their birth place.

    Anyway, you and your “hometown” are getting one insanely expensive, unjustifiable passenger rail line. A second one isn’t on the cards, neither from Los Banos nor Altamont. So, how are you going to make lemonade out of the cyanide-laced Kool Aid that PBQD has force fed you? A BART/HSR transfer station sounds as good as it gets to me. (And best of all, PBQD will be just the guys with the local “expertise” to design and build it.)

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Ridership is influenced heavily by land use. In San Jose, it’s possible density will vindicate all the new PB sponsored development. In Southern California, however, I am not so certain.

    Tony D. Reply:

    Thanks Ted. And FYI RM, any Altamont HSR would basically be a heavily upgraded/modernized ACE system. And guess what Richard: TERMINUS IN SAN JOSE! Sorry ;)

    jonathan Reply:

    Tony, if HSR-over-Altamont is “basically [be] a heavily upgraded/modernized ACE system”, then it would not be HSR. Not HSR. Period. If “HSR”has to share tracks with dinosaur FRA-compatible ACE trains up the hill, then it’s no longer HSR. That’d make the Peninsula “blend” seem like a cake-walk.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    at the 2010 Census the population density of San Jose was 5,358.7
    At the 2010 Census the population density of Los Angeles, the city not the county, was 8,092.3, Burbank was 5,959.3

    joe Reply:

    San Jose City includes some of the last open space in the area, Coyote Valley. The aggregate density number – an average – is not representative of the City. Coyote Valley is beautiful. It would be a shame to lump it in with the San Jose zoned for housing.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    there’s no parkland in LA. Or wide swaths of industrial land with low residency rates. It’s all just cheek to jowl housing making any comparison to the navel of the Universe that is San Jose invalid.

    joe Reply:

    A more reasonable approach would look at density and zoning / plans in communities and neighbourhoods near the proposed system.

    I’m not convinced LA uses aggregate data to design their transportation systems.

    As for SF, I think if that’s a good model to follow with rider-ship then understand its unique advantages, many close stations in the city and shared fare system.

    EJ Reply:

    Adi, please google “Santa Monica Mountains.” Just to get you started.

    We get a lot of your type out here – fleeing the grime and snow of New York, but you come out here and suddenly you think you’re an expert on all things West Coast – it’s a bit wearying. I mean, I think NYC is fascinating and all, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time there, but I don’t go and lecture people from who live there about the way things are.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    EJ, Adirondacker was being sarcastic. Of course there’s parkland in LA, and industrial land. There are also some very low-density residential areas, such as Santa Monica Mountains, which drag the city’s average density down but aren’t relevant to transit planning since approximately nobody lives there.

    Joe, it’s not just aggregate planning. Downtown LA is bigger and denser than downtown SJ, which is about as large and dense as downtown Providence and downtown Burbank; consult the On the Map tool I link to in another comment in this thread. LA’s Koreatown and SF’s Little Osaka are in a near-tie for densest neighborhood in the US outside New York; check any table of census tracts by density – I’d provide a link but I grabbed the data years ago, before the Census Factfinder redesign.

    The Wilshire corridor specifically has high residential and job density and several secondary employment centers, providing bidirectional demand. Its bus ridership is one of the highest in the US, about 40,000 per day if I’m not mistaken, but the bidirectional demand makes it as strong as 50,000+ corridors with unidirectional demand like Geary in SF and Utica and Nostrand in New York. And for the record, I believe Geary, Utica, and Nostrand are all good and underrated subway corridors, and have nasty things to say about the process that led Nostrand and Geary to get pretend-BRT instead and Utica to get nothing. Several other potential corridors in LA have reasonably dense development along them as well, such as Whittier and Vermont, although they’re not as promising as Wilshire.

    When I visited LA at the beginning of this year, I stayed in Hollywood, near the Red Line, and the development looked as intense as in medium-density New York neighborhoods with subway access and reasonable ridership, such as Sunnyside. It wasn’t Manhattan, but I don’t need to leave New York, or even go to Staten Island, to find neighborhoods less dense than Hollywood. Mid-Wilshire looked like the less busy parts of Broadway on the Upper West Side, north of Lincoln Center.

    joe Reply:

    “Downtown LA is bigger and denser than downtown SJ, which is about as large and dense as downtown Providence and downtown Burbank; ”

    I realize the obvious.

    If one wants to evaluate the BART system in San Jose then use data for the relevant parts of the city.
    Also factor in the city’s pan to expand and develop the areas where they are encouraging transit. Not even project has to be built in reposes to growth – if the city is NOT dense enough then one might think this is their opportunity to zoner and develop communities around the planned satins.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yes, the TOD approach. I’m skeptical, for two reasons.

    1. The Bay Area isn’t Vancouver. It’s not even Northern Virginia. In the past, its TODs have not amounted to much.

    2. The Bay Area has many rail projects to complete first to areas that are already dense: Geary, something to speed up N-Judah, a second tube, DTX plus Caltrain modernization. Vancouver, too, connected the Expo Line to the preexisting dense city of New Westminster – the TOD just further intensified the New West station and added development at the intermediate stations. (Yes, Vancouver is also building things in the wrong order, but at least the Evergreen Line is mostly above-ground, reducing costs, while BART to San Jose involves extensive tunneling.)

    Without the TOD, you’re falling back on downtown SJ itself, which is a secondary destination. It’s fine to use these as outer anchors (you know I support more local transit investment into Burbank), but not when it’s 70 or 80 km from the primary CBD of the region. That’s the distance from Boston to Providence or Worcester, from Washington to Baltimore, and from Philadelphia to beyond the outer termini of the Regional Rail lines. Without the TOD, it’s not realistic to expect Milpitas to have 15,000 weekday boardings and downtown San Jose to have 12,000 – they’re way too far to generate that kind of SF-bound traffic, and way too auto-oriented to generate that kind of transit usage as job centers.

    joe Reply:

    Rider-ship like Richard refers would require copying SF’s model that lets MUNI Pass holders use BART and drive up ridership at SF BART stations.

    The SFMTA offers Muni+BART within San Francisco “A” Pass: Provides unlimited rides on all Muni service, including cable cars, and travel between BART stations (within San Francisco only).

    Richard’s often comparing BART SF a local urban system with BART the regional system. Different payment and station locations.

    BART needs to add some Stations close together in central San Jose and offer a Monthly VTA/BART Pass for riders can use the system with VTA in the city.

    The infill part is easy – Richard’s seeing it first hand in SF. He’s just being a dick.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    San Jose needs a downtown as a destination to make using the train an attractive alternative more than it needs integrated fares.

    joe Reply:

    What’s the equivalent down-town destination in SF?

    SF has a series of stops parallel to MUNI stops and then additional stops running into the Mission (16th and 24th – should had added one at 30th) and beyond to Glenn Park & Balboa Park. The Misison and onward later have no competitive MUNI service – the surface J isn’t competitive.

    The cost to ride is the same as MUNI with the pass.

    Frequent close geographic stops and integrated pass.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    um um Downtown?

    Joey Reply:

    And when exactly is it that Alum Rock is going to get density even remotely comparable to SF’s Mission district?

    joe Reply:

    Joey – how do they compare now?

    joe Reply:

    @adirondacker12800 I’m not sure what is downtown SF so tell me the BART stop. I infer you mean Civic Center but that can’t be right. Maybe you’re thinking of The Castro?

    @joey Note Mission District already has two BART stations. I hope it has higher density.

    Joey Reply:

    It had higher density long before the arrival of BART.

    joe Reply:

    It did have high density before BART. San Jose was once a small town too.

    I don’t have an experiment to compare San Jose to SF exactly – I do know a fair comparisons would factor in the existence of a both BART and a nearby subway on Market.

    San Jose, despite all the moaning, is not going away. They’ve done dumb, car centric things over the years but so has every city including SF. SF had the bizarre advantage of having their freeways removed by earthquake.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    San Francisco has the advantage of being built-before-automobiles-were-widespread.

    jonathan Reply:

    BART doesn’t even *have* any stations in central San Jose yet. And they’d cost billions apiece. And any ridership they’d get, will cannibalize VTA light rail. But apparently, that’s beyond you.

    BART in SF gave urban transport, with short stops, to an already-existing urban density. That doesn’t exist in “downtown” San Jose.

    synonymouse Reply:

    LA holds the original patent to “sprawl hell”.

    And please call it Frisco lots more. Home of 13 undocumented noshows.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Downtown LA is far bigger than downtown SJ: check the census job density tool, On The Map.

    Donk Reply:

    Hey stop bashing LA, my hometown.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    You must have a better secret decoder ring.

  21. Ken W.
    Dec 16th, 2013 at 11:51

    Why doesn’t CAHSR talk with USPS, FedEx, DHL or UPS for some additional funding? Who says HSR can only carry passengers? Let FedEx and UPS donate $1 billion dollar each and give them exclusive use of one or two rail car sets can be dedicated for bulk packages and mail. Imagine the tremendous cost savings these couriers will get if they are able to use the trains themselves to shuttle packages and mail between LA and SF than big rigs or planes.

  22. Reality Check
    Dec 16th, 2013 at 15:17

    Front page story in Palo Alto’s not-available-online Daily Post today:

    Caltrain crisis: too many riders

    Caltrain is rapidly heading toward a “crisis” brought on by ridership overwhelming its capacity to carry passengers, Palo Alto City Councilman Pat Burt warned.

    “There is a very significant conflict going on here that has not been talked about publicly,” Burt told his fellow council members last Monday.

    The problem is that Caltrain can’t add enough trains to carry all the people who want to use the commuter railroad. And that’s an important problem to Palo Alto, which is increasingly relying on Caltrain to help reduce automobile traffic.

    “We plan our transportation demand management around Caltrain and yet it’s so limited … they’re capped at six trains per hour in peak hours,” Burt said, referring to an agreement Caltrain made with the High-Speed Rail Authority. That agreement says that Caltrain will limit its trains so that high-speed rail can use the same tracks for its trains.


    If high-speed rail does fail, Burt said Caltrain might still find a way to pay for electrification and modernization. But whatever happens with funding, Burt said Caltrain should consider adding cars to its trains and lengthening train station platforms as a way of increasing capacity.

    “I think it is the best way to go, it’s not cost free to lengthen the platform and add more trains, but it is essential,” Burt said.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Of course, Caltrain is going to predominate as it has vastly more paying passengers. And they are affluent and vote local.

    PB-CHSRA is only on the Peninsula to provide money and help fend off invasion by the Empire of BART.

    Joe Reply:

    Palo Alto should stop stalling and add housing as required by law. They are delinquent complying with the state requirements. Residents want the jobs but refuse to expand housing to accommodate the new workers.

    synonymouse Reply:

    PAMPA was not born yesterday. The current bubble will bust in time. Companies will leave. How much silicon is left in Silicon Valley?

    You already see the signs of virtual rustbelt decay in places like Vallejo. PA is smart to protect its ivory tower enclave as the rest goes to ghetto.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Vallejo went downhill because they closed the naval shipyard. If you really believe the reason California’s high school educated workforce is struggling is because of the color of their skin and not changes in the job market since 1960 or so, please advise us otherwise.

    Donk Reply:

    Why are they limited to 6 tph? Why is the Bay Area so inept? You guys gotta get your shit figured out.

    jonathan Reply:

    Because with the Authority’s trains, and not double-tracking enough of the corridor, ~10 tph is all there’s room for.

    Isn’t CBOSS special? And pray tell, just how do we fix the f***-up governance of Caltrain?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    There’s parts of it that are single tracked?

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    A competent rail operator could easily run Caltrain’s level of “service” on a largely single tracked route. And do it blind-folded, with both hands tied behind its back.

    But with America’s Finest Transportation Planning Professionals on the job they can’t even make it work acceptably with two or more tracks corridor-long.

    But CBOSS will fix this, for sure. Just sign this check for a quarter of a billion dollars … nah, on second thoughts, just leave the amount blank so it can be filled it in later. Trust us!

    Donk Reply:

    I’m not just talking about the Caltrain being inept – the whole Bay Area is inept. LA has it pretty well figured out with transit, and even San Diego is getting there. Maybe this is because each is one large county with one dominant city that calls the shots. Maybe the Bay Area needs to merge into one large county, centered in San Jose (just for Richard’s sake). Then all of the decisions can be made by one unified body based on the needs of San Jose and all lines can lead to San Jose.

  23. Joe
    Dec 16th, 2013 at 15:52

    And that’s an important problem to Palo Alto, which is increasingly relying on Caltrain to help reduce automobile traffic.

    Palo Alto has already green lit development assuming ready access to unlimited Caltrain service. Stanford hospital expansion is one such multi billion dollar expansion which earned the city millions in traffic mitigation dollars. Now it’s going forward along with 101 expansion that can funnel more cars to their side streets. Now Caltrain might not be there.

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