San Francisco Chronicle: “HSR must go forward”

Dec 2nd, 2013 | Posted by

Once again we’re seeing that in the wake of Judge Michael Kenny’s unfavorable ruling for the high speed rail project, longtime institutional supporters are still backing the HSR project. This time it’s the San Francisco Chronicle editorializing that the project must go forward:

But the decision doesn’t cancel the entire project nor does it stop construction due to begin next year on a 30-mile, first stretch of track between Madera and Fresno in the Central Valley, paid with federal money….

California’s plan – now wobbling from the judge’s ruling and slumping public support – must be revived if bullet trains have a future in this country….

Some critics are determined to send the project back for another statewide vote, noting that it has changed in some respects, such as adjusting the Peninsula stretch to use Caltrain tracks. But it would be a mistake to start over – any plan of this magnitude is going to require adaptation….

A project this enormous was never going to be easy to build. The cost and planning concerns must be answered – the judge’s concerns are legitimate – but there is no escaping the future problems of air and road traffic, pollution and geographic inequities this system will help alleviate.

High-speed rail must go forward, judiciously and expeditiously.

Obviously I agree with this. The Chronicle understands the underlying reasons for HSR remain strong and compelling, so we have to figure out how to get this right rather than how to abandon it and just let our economy shrink due to oil dependence and global warming impacts.

There is increasing consensus that something has to be done about the financing plan – not because the critics are right, but because the situation in Congress is hopeless, at least until the Tea Party is tossed from power. This is a very positive sign, because it means there will be support from editorial boards, advocacy groups, and other key stakeholders for the new funding sources that will be required to replace the lost federal contribution.

  1. Clem
    Dec 2nd, 2013 at 21:10

    Any “lost federal contribution” (federal funding accounts for $42 billion of the current $68 billion plan) can only be replaced with a combination of state funding and private capital. That may turn out to be a very big hole to fill. The current $68 billion plan already relies on $13 billion of private capital, so the bidding starts there… so how do you attract $20 billion of private capital?

    The entire viability of the system depends on direct access to the LA Basin, so I think (as you know) that the only way to think big is to punch directly through Tejon pass and to do it first, immediately after the 30 miles in Fresno are built. Don’t bother extending to Bakersfield; start in San Fernando and move north.

    Once the mountain crossing is done, the rest of the system will practically build itself.

    The route I described uses quite conservative 3.5% grades and ends up requiring about 27 route-miles of tunnel (versus nearly 40 route-miles for the Palmdale detour). More aggressive grades of 4% or even 5%, which are quite within the realm of technical feasibility, could shorten the amount of tunneling to 15 route-miles or less, with equally drastic reductions in bridge lengths. Stuff really starts to pencil out.

    Palmdale can get a spur, moving onward to Victorville and Las Vegas.

    It’s not time to drive HSR to starvation; it’s time to put it on a diet. Go lean and mean!

    StevieB Reply:

    How long would it take to “immediately” build from San Fernando through the Tejon pass? 20 or 25 years is my estimate.

    Clem Reply:

    No way. There are going to be a bunch of short tunnels, up to ~6.3 miles with 3.5% grades and possibly quite shorter with steeper grades. 20 years is what it takes to dig something far more complicated like the Gotthard Base Tunnel. Crossing the Tehachapis and San Gabriels is going to be challenging, but these ain’t no Alps. If they want to, they can do this in 10 years including environmental clearances.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Cool, that was my estimate.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    Clem: Too much common sense, will never sell. I’ve always felt that you should take on the toughest challenge first.

    Lewellan Reply:

    Dedicated advocates for high-speed rail OPPOSE the current plan because the basic engineering of too many segments is objectionably substandard. The Central Valley segment from Stockton to Bakersfield need NOT be electrified, nor are speeds faster than 125mph necessary on any segment. At these, ahem, safer speeds, trip time increases from 3hrs to 5hrs, not bad considering the Amtrak Coast Starlighter trip time is 11 hours. The same number of trainsets per hour can operate at the lower speed.

    The Tejon route from LA County to Bakersfield is 34 miles shorter than the Antelope Valley Tehachapi route and has fewer miles of expensive viaduct and tunnel. The Antelope Valley and Gilroy/Los Banos routes were determined by political interests associated with car-dependent suburban sprawl development and pretentious dreams of 200mph commuting.

    The ACE Altamont route serves major population centers suffering terrible traffic. Electrifying that route and then Stockton to Sacramento creates a 3rd HSR corridor (SF-to-Sacramento). Electrifying the Peninsula is a good investment as are track upgrades in LA County. Electrifying 30 miles between Madera and Fresno is suspiciously unproductive.

    Opponents know the best way to kill HSR is by making it too expensive to build. Wisconsin Governor Walker killed the modest speed HSR system first thing in office, nevermind that its TALGO trainsets were originally engineered in the USA during and after WWII. You’d think he would’ve been proud to support this low-cost HSR, but obviously his true loyalty is to automobile-related business interests and drill-baby-drill Neanderthals.

    jimsf Reply:

    that’s the problem. just consider the opposition and lawsuits involved with getting row

    Joey Reply:

    Getting ROW is an issue with either route. Actual land acquisition has barely even started in the CV.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Bring in Herrenknecht and the other Europeans, the Japanese, etc.

    Buy the blinking Tejon Ranch. Or threaten to.

    Clem Reply:

    The Tejon Ranch Company is small potatoes. $700M market cap << $20 billion mountain crossing

    synonymouse Reply:

    Is there any substance to the rumor that crops up occasionally that Disney is involved in the opposition to Tejon?

    I have heard they run their part of No. Fla. like a barony, using every dirty trick in the book.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Orlando? Try Anaheim:

    [Anahem City Council Member Lucille Kring] also sent an email to her supporters stating that she never thought the city’s mega-resort, Disneyland, “ran this city,” but that she changed her mind given the large amount of money Disney spent on the race. She said in a recent email she has since changed her mind again and discovered that Disney doesn’t in fact run the city.

    Kring justified her shifting stances, saying she changed her mind once she learned more about them. Regarding the hotel subsidy, she said its a better deal for the city.

    Others have argued that she changed her positions only after Curt Pringle and other business interests helped her raise money to pay off personal campaign debt.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    The main disney issue (besides getting service to anaheim) involves the development of the disney ranch studios.

    This is along the 14 north of santa clarita on the way to Palmdale. One of the first things that happened was a decision to tunnel under it. In my thinking, it would be in their interest to have hsr go straight down grapevine with improved commuter service up the 14 – will help get employees to their job.

    My experience however has been that politicians who want A over B are very good at somehow convincing people to argue for things that are not in their interest.

    Neville Snark Reply:

    This is very interesting: The Chinese have said they’re up for funding HS2 (1st stage London-Birmingham); Cameron has said he supports the idea. How now, Brown?

    Andy M Reply:

    Some mumblings about how what good chums the Chinese and we have become do not make a firm commitment to funding. One of the problems with borrowing money from foreign governments is that they are often not content with the financial returns but also use that money to gain political influence and leverage, meaning the government of the receiving country ceases to serve the best interests of its own people and seeks more and more to dance to the tune that its financial backers dictate. This is one of the reasons that 70 + years of aid and loans to third world countries have only made things there worse.

    Neville Snark Reply:

    yes i hear that, but how is that any different from private firms, especially ones that are ‘domestic’ in name only? (a serious question, not a snarky question). A least China is more inclined to see it as *long* term investment. Or one would think.

    Observer Reply:

    One sure fire way to finally decide which pass to use is to let private investors decide: Tejon or Tehachapi. Believe me – the decision will never be questioned again.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Jerry would not believe them, just as he would not believe Van Ark.

    Gotta get this thing back on the ballot.

    Clem Reply:

    That’s exactly what I’ve been advocating, and I’m fairly certain what the answer will be.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    I wouldn’t be.

    The Chinese financing for Desert Xpress obviously would have preferred connecting to HSR in Palmdale.

    Denis Douty, as we know, liked Tejon but only because he wanted to bypass the CV en complete.

    Maybe we should poll Renfre, JR East, DB, the Koreans and Italians to see where they all stand. And remember they are sovereign investors, not private ones. No one is issuing commercial paper at 6% when a county in California with 10,000 people in it can issue $100 billion in general obligation debt at 3%.

    Just ask William Mulholland.

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    JR East was fully privatized more than a decade ago and is now owned by a bunch of Japanese banks and other assorted shareholders – ain’t nothin’ sovereign about it. (In fact, I think the government of China actually has more of a stake in it than the Japanese government at this point.)

    Observer Reply:

    The San Joaquin Valley populous can not be bypassed such as using the I-5 corridor would do. HSR on I-5 would bypass all major cities outside S.F. and L.A. You would have little more than a business shuttle between S.F. and L.A.; everybody else would have to settle for conventional service. Voters in California would never support their tax dollars going for what would basically be a business shuttle; at least that is the way HSR opponents would campaign against (just ask the Howard Jarvis group). It is amazing that I-5 proponents do not understand this.

    Clem Reply:

    What is amazing is when I-5 via Tejon is conflated with I-5 via the Central Valley. They are separate, and one does not imply the other. I am only advocating for the I-5 mountain crossing; I am ambivalent about the CV alignment (except for the 220 mph through downtowns part, which I think won’t work)

    Observer Reply:

    What would cost less? 220mph trains through downtowns or 220mph going around cities with trains that are only going to stop in affected cities going through downtowns?

    Joey Reply:

    You have to look on a case-by-case basis. Fresno is large but a station loop can be built with not too much additional track. But trying the same thing in Bakersfield would need a lot more track and grade separations.

    J. Wong Reply:

    Seems like Bakersfield isn’t really interested in a downtown station anyway (which is stupid imo) so let them have a greenfield station with 220mph trains.

    Observer Reply:

    Keep in mind that west of Fresno where the bypass would go you have have lots of republican minded farmers. May be better to leave well enough alone.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It’s America, not France or Japan. If the government wants to build something and the farmers don’t like it, the farmers can only sue for more money.

    Also, re Fresno, since it sprawls almost exclusively to the east, a station tangent to the urban area can be built 5-10 km away from downtown, vs. ~40 in Bakersfield.

    jimsf Reply:

    suggesting bypassing fresno to outside the city reaaly reeks of elitism. since fresno is not a place many of you would be caught dead in, its ok to speed up your trip and let the little people drive to the outskirts

    Joey Reply:

    This has less to do with cutting trip times and more to do with not exposing residents of Fresno (the ones you’re worried about) to deafening noise from express trains, and keeping construction costs at reasonable levels, urban construction costing what it does.

    I will reiterate though – Fresno is one of the easiest places to build a station loop.

    Tony D. Reply:

    Interesting Clem..

    Emmanuel Reply:

    Also note that we are the only HSR project that actually expects a big portion to be private investment. Why on earth would anyone invest $20 billion in something that won’t return a profit for 20 years?

    synonymouse Reply:

    LA to San Diego is such a strong route it could attract private investment. Why are the gems being ignored in a proof of concept starter? Fixed mode rail is always expensive and must focus on the choicest routes.

    Joey Reply:

    LA to SD is a strong enough route that it could probably be made operationally profitable with about the amount of funding which has already been committed to the HSR project. Not that there’s a change of any of that funding being reprogrammed, but it’s an interesting thought exercise.

    Observer Reply:

    Make it L.A., S.D., and add in Tijuana. Remember, that border crossing is the busiest in the nation. If anything could attract investors, it would be that.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    To say nothing of the higher costs of maintaining facilities for a border crossing at which 2-hour wait times are considered normal.

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    Not the only one.

    joe Reply:

    That’s a fair comparison – standard HSR is like maglev. I see a future for you in corporate shilling.

    Stephen Smith Reply:

    You’re right – maglev is much, much harder than HSR.

    nick Reply:

    re the above info about HS2 in the UK the answer may be the Chinese although whether you consider this to be private or govt funding is a moot point !

    morris brown Reply:


    Coming from you, I can only conclude that this is pure sarcasm.

    Clem Reply:

    No, if you had me pegged as an opponent of HSR you had it wrong.

    Donk Reply:

    Agreed. The only problem is getting the Tejon study done so we can actually start building it if/when we do have money in the bank. Clem should be given a $20M kickback and hired as project manager. He can probably find at least $5B of waste in the first two days on the job so the $20M will be well worth it.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    What happens to the tunnel length under the Tehachapi option if you go to 4% or 5% ruling grade? Could it drop even further than the Tejon tunnel length drop?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Also, on a different note, if the ruling grade is 5%, then Las Vegas can be served on the I-15 route through Cajon, without tunneling. It requires compromising on curve radius, but at 5% the trains aren’t going to be running anywhere near full speed anyway, so might as well also build 1 km curves (=160 km/h at Frankfurt-Cologne total equivalent cant, or 180 km/h at Talgo/E5 cant deficiency + Tokaido cant) instead of 4 km ones.

    5% also starts making routes across the Appalachians look much better. (Also across the Hudson Highlands, but even at 3.5% it’s just a few km of tunnel, versus something like 50 between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.) The Shasta route and Denver-SLC would also become easier to build, but still suck on the grounds of not connecting to large enough cities at HSR-relevant distances.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    Looking up patents and technical info for Zahnradbahnen. Engaging the cogs at 150mph will be a sight to see.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Forget cogs – there are adhesion-mode railroads climbing 7% grades every day on Swiss mountain routes. For the reliability of HSR, 7% is too much, but 4% is done in Germany, and 5% may also be possible on EMUs with highly-redundant systems and all wheels powered (=Shinkansen).

  2. jimsf
    Dec 2nd, 2013 at 21:12

    like I said. the project will move ahead as planned.

    VBobier Reply:

    Agreed Jim.

  3. synonymouse
    Dec 2nd, 2013 at 21:33

    The Chron’s idea of a well-planned and well-run rail line is Muni. Runs, intermittently, for the benefit of the employees.

  4. morris brown
    Dec 2nd, 2013 at 22:24

    State Senator Mark DeSaulnier, Chair of the powerful State Transportation and and Housing committee.

    Question: what are the chances of HSR being built on a scale of 1 to 10?

    DeSaulnier : a 1


    See: Editorials in the Contra Costa Times, San Diego Union Tribune, San Jose Mercury News and many others.

    VBobier Reply:

    Guys a blue dog and this tripe reporter shows bias, the reporter and drek doesn’t even mention the fact that the project is still proceeding forward on Federal Funds(a lie of omission is still a LIE), then the elected drek goes on to say the state is short 300 Billion for our highways(I don’t know if this is true or not, but He’s a blue dog, a bad penny), so far there has been a ballot measure proposed to fix that with a raise in the Vehicle License Fee hike, which is supposed to raise $3 Billion a year, mentioned on the Fresnobee, this is something I heard on the TV news today.

    joe Reply:

    What are the chances of Mark DeSauinier being in a leadership position on a scale of 1 to 10?

    Senate President pro Tempore, Darrell Steinberg (D) Supports HSR.
    and California State Assembly Speaker, Assembly Member John A. Pérez
    and President of the Senate, Lieutenant Governor, Gavin Newsom

    BTW Contra Costa Times and MercuryNews are the same company, Media News Group, and run each other’s stories and even sports reporter blogs.

    nick Reply:

    breaking news just in – opponent of cahsr claims project will be cancelled. newsworthiness 1 out of 10.

  5. morris brown
    Dec 3rd, 2013 at 08:39

    Ken Orski:

    A Major Setback for California’s High Speed Train

    Ken is an extremely well respected transportation consultant and analyst, who has on numerous occasions testified before Congress.

    Observer Reply:

    Seems to be very old school, and typical republican thinker when it comes to transportation policy.

    Observer Reply:

    Not that there is anything wrong old school thinkers. I just prefer more out of the box thinking – we need more more this.

    synonymouse Reply:

    It would appear the strategy here is to compel the FRA to reiterate strongly its support of PB-CHSRA to the extent of virtual blanket support. Elevated to dazed and confused Cheerleaders. This is excellent as these bureaucrats never bothered to study or rate the viability of the DogLeg and now they are going to guarantee themselves implicated to the teeth in a major PR fiasco.

  6. Emmanuel
    Dec 3rd, 2013 at 12:53

    Interesting concept on a train that never stops:

    I think while this idea sounds nice, it won’t be economical and it looks very risky and stressful for passengers. You would have to build a second separate rail for the whole transfer for all stations. I doubt it would work and don’t get me started if something goes wrong.

    Jerry Reply:

    A very very interesting concept Emmanuel. Thanks.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Two minutes for the trains to sync up speeds, determine that it’s safe to extend the gangway, dock, open the doors, transfer passengers, close the doors and undock? Two minutes at 225 MPH hour is 7 and half miles. And you need an acceleration track and deceleration track. And then some extra track to have the time for when everything doesn’t work perfectly or the passengers are a bit slow. and some way to get the transfer vehicle to the other side so that it can do the same thing for passenger coming back to the station.
    If I remember correctly the study NYSDOT commissioned for Albany to Montreal service projected a time penalty of four minutes for a station stop on a line with 150 MPH service. So the elaborate system would save four minutes with 150 MPH speeds.

  7. Ken
    Dec 3rd, 2013 at 13:37

    If people don’t like HSR, they can just move out of CA. Why should the rest of CAnians who are in full support of HSR be log-jammed due to a bunch of aging old Baby Boomers who are going to be dead in the next 20 years anyway?

    David Reply:


    Jesse D. Reply:

    I hear Arizona’s nice this time of year. It’s where all the old duffers that don’t want hurricanes move to anyway.

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