Bad Political Analysis Makes for Bad HSR Criticism

Jul 14th, 2014 | Posted by

James Fallows’s series on California High Speed Rail continues at the Atlantic, where he offers this effort to fairly summarize the critics’ case against the project. Here’s what he sees as the top anti-HSR arguments:

The main claims are:

• A high-speed rail system might be great in theory, but the realities of this plan fall far short.

• It will cost too much, take too long, use up too much land, go to the wrong places, and in the end won’t be fast or convenient enough to do that much good anyway. And, from some people,

• It’s an old-tech band-aid to a problem that really calls for a “disruptive”-tech fundamental solution, from self-driving cars to the Elon Musk-style hyperloop.

I agree with this, to a point. These tend to be the surface justifications and rationalizations. There are the underlying criticisms that are less overtly articulated, but animate those above objections:

• NIMBYism. We’re seeing this in Florida as neighbors fight the All Aboard Florida project, and have seen it with rail projects in LA that everyone agrees are good (like Beverly Hills’ freakout over the Westside Subway). There are a lot of people who just don’t want this thing in their backyard, and as we learned on the Peninsula in 2009, they are willing to do whatever it takes to torpedo HSR.

• Anti-rail attitudes. You can see this driving each of the three points Fallows cites above, an attitude that rail is either an inherently bad idea or not something that can ever succeed in California. As Fallows noted when he started his series, California HSR resembles closely the systems he used in China and has seen elsewhere. All the evidence so far has shown that California’s system will have the same success as seen in China, in Spain, in France, and elsewhere. But for those who are just ideologically opposed to rail, nothing will convince them until the system is already up and running.

Then there’s another category of criticism, which is really best described as concern trolling. It’s from folks who say they support HSR but think that the way this project is being built will somehow undermine its fortunes with the people of California.

So far the polls indicate that isn’t happening, as PPIC found in March that a majority of Californians support high speed rail. But this type of anti-HSR attitude persists. Fallows posted a long excerpt from one person making this kind of criticism:

I am very supportive of a high speed rail network in theory; very few people I have talked to are not. Driving between Los Angeles and San Francisco is a good 8 hours, while by plane it is a 45-minute hop, plus the two hours and massive frustrations of the airport; neither option is optimal. People already commute two hours one way between the Central Valley and the Bay Area, daily. Outside of the reflexively anti-government types who would oppose any state project, most people can see the attraction of the idea.

However, the actual execution of the high-speed rail plan is what has gone and lost my support. While a high speed land connection between Los Angeles and San Francisco would certainly make money, the high initial investment is obvious. Shorter segments between San Francisco and Sacramento, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, or even Los Angeles and San Diego would make money almost immediately. However, none of those things is what they are building. Instead, they are building the line between Bakersfield and Merced, with the further extensions only in later phases at undetermined dates.

The line between these two cities would be, basically, useless; to attempt a simile to another part of the country, this would be as if the Acela didn’t go between DC and Boston, just between Trenton and Newark. Its actually even worse, since unlike Trenton and Newark, Bakersfield, Fresno, etc. have no public transit to speak of, and so the train would only be useful for stranding you at the train station. However, while they are still planning and seeking funding for the further portions, this is all the line will be, and knowing California, this situation will last for years (it’s already taken us six to even get to this point).

Building this section first, without connecting any major population center to any other, therefore seems like an investment with no hope of a return. In the meantime, the people already opposed to the system (which are particularly numerous in the Central Valley) will be joined by those opposed to government waste in general, who will point to a train that has already cost billions of dollars and still connects nowhere to nowhere, and say, “enough, pull the plug, this has been a waste of money.” Once that happens, the political realist in me has to acknowledge that there is no way promises of “but if we extended it further, it would actually work” would get any traction, and the idea would be dead. As I have remarked with my friends, only half-jokingly, if they wanted to kill the idea of high speed rail in California forever, they couldn’t have gone about it much better than this.

To this pessimistic political outlook, I could also add the accusations of mismanagement of the funds already spent, and the compromises that are watering down the project as it moves along (portions of the line are now not even going to be high-speed), but those are already documented by actual journalists. My main feeling, though, is that if they wanted this to work, they should have gone about it any other way than what they have.

This person bought the BS “train to nowhere” claim hook, line, and sinker. He or she makes repeated references to “political reality” and assumes that the decision to build in the Central Valley first has badly eroded public support for the system.

But there’s no evidence at all to back up this claim. In fact, the evidence suggests that the decision to start in the Valley has done nothing at all to dent public support for HSR, given that the level of public support found in the PPIC poll is about the same as what we saw on election day in November 2008.

Californians understand how phasing works, and they understand that nobody is actually talking about building HSR in the Valley alone and doing nothing else ever to connect it to the coasts. This person sets up a strawman, and Californians have already seen right through it.

His or her history of the project is also flawed, leaving out the fact that when the decision was made in 2010 to start in the middle and build outward, long-term federal funding still looked like a strong possibility. He or she makes it sound instead like the state and federal governments decided in 2010 to start in the middle and shrug their shoulders about what comes next, which is not at all an accurate statement about what happened.

In fact, just this month the state legislature began discussing how to get the tracks to the coast, as Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De León has started talking about how to build from Palmdale to Burbank. The state legislature also came up with billions in new funding for HSR via cap-and-trade revenues, which will help ensure that the tracks being built in the Valley aren’t stranded.

Uninformed, inaccurate political analysis tends isn’t going to help us get high speed rail built any faster.

  1. Joey
    Jul 14th, 2014 at 11:08

    O/T it looks like San Francisco has selected Siemens to build its new fleet of LRVs (another source with a less blurry picture). The price seems a little bit high for simple LRVs, probably bogged down by a lot of local requirements like the continued use of moving steps and the proprietary ATC system installed in the tunnels.

    Jon Reply:

    More renderings here:

    This is very good news. GTFO, Bredas.

    Joey Reply:

    Very exciting. I find myself even willing to overlook the project’s flaws on account of the fact that it means the Bredas will be gone.

    Observer Reply:

    Good choice. They will probably be made in California too – Sacramento.

    Joey Reply:

    That is confirmed. Siemens’s ability to build in Sacramento was a factor in their selection.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    got windows

    William Reply:

    I am curious that no Japanese builder qualify for the bid, especially the light-rail specialty builder Kinki Sharyo just won a large contract from LAMTA and would build an assembly plant in LA.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    I know the Bredas weren’t great (though they were a huge leap forward from the Boeings) but I kinda liked them, in their own way. They will always remind me of the SF I knew, from the late ’90s and the ’00s. The Siemens vehicles will surely be better, and they’ll be made in California as well.

    Jon Reply:

    You don’t have to ride them every day.

    I don’t have the link to hand, but Muni did an analysis that showed that something like 60% of subway delays are caused by mechanical failure of those ridiculous steps on the Bredas. Something like another 30% are caused by failure of the propitiatory ATC system. Fix those two problems and you might actually have a decent light rail system.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    Siemens definitely knows about adjustable steps (if I remember correctly, that concept has been invented by Düwag, which then got assimilated by Siemens), and there are several lines in Germany which need such steps.

  2. datacruncher
    Jul 14th, 2014 at 11:12

    Demolition of buildings in the Fresno ROW started this morning.

    Demolition crews made short work of the old Hollywood Bar on Golden State Boulevard on Monday, marking the first demolition statewide to make way for California’s proposed high-speed rail project.

    Pictures and more info at:

    The article says at least 6 buildings will be demolished this week including a former Del Monte plant.

    JJJJ Reply:

    Note that the demolitions are for the roads, not HSR. Theyre for under/over passes that Fresno has wanted over/under Union Pacific for decades anyway.

    datacruncher Reply:

    Not all of the buildings coming down the next 2 weeks are for overpass/underpass construction.

    The building today is south of the McKinley overpass footprint according to maps. It appears this parcel is part of the shifting of Golden State Blvd west to allow for the HSR ROW to use the current street alignment. Unless Fresno wanted to move the street (not just build an overpass) I’d say this one is HSR ROW related.

    datacruncher Reply:

    I just thought I’d add a map to show where today’s demolition work happened.

    The building demolished today is near the intersection of West and Golden State on the right side of this map. It is the triangle shape lot shown as FB-10-0046 or as parcel #449-180-10

    Jerry Reply:

    That map also shows a UPS facility. Does that mean it will also have to be torn down?

    Zorro Reply:

    I would think that is now a redundant UPS facility, one that has been replaced with a new UPS facility, otherwise UPS would not go along with the demolition I’d think.

    Observer Reply:

    I am thinking that they would just need enough ROW along Mckinley to build the overpass, and leave the rest of it alone. It seems it would not make any sense to tear the whole thing down just to obtain a little bit of ROW.

    datacruncher Reply:

    I’m also guessing that it is just a few feet of frontage being sought on that UPS parcel.

    The UPS site is listed in the HSR property acquisition plan as a “Partial Acquisition”, so probably just a few feet along McKinley as part of the overpass.

    flowmotion Reply:

    Looks like UPS will end up with much better freeway access. They might have lost a little land, but I’m sure they aren’t complaining.

    Observer Reply:

    The Del Monte packing house that will be torn down is for both an underpass and HSR, probably the first parcel for actual HSR.

    Jerry Reply:

    Fresno Bee article also reports that certified small businesses in Fresno County have more than $56 million for demolition work AND other items.

  3. Eric
    Jul 14th, 2014 at 12:04

    Building this section first, without connecting any major population center to any other, therefore seems like an investment with no hope of a return. In the meantime, the people already opposed to the system (which are particularly numerous in the Central Valley) will be joined by those opposed to government waste in general, who will point to a train that has already cost billions of dollars and still connects nowhere to nowhere, and say, “enough, pull the plug, this has been a waste of money.”

    I actually think that’s a rather insightful prediction.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    “In the meantime, the people already opposed to the system (which are particularly numerous in the Central Valley)” (citation needed)

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    With no evidence at all to back it up. That’s truthiness in its classic form.

    Judge Moonbox Reply:

    I think that a lot of people who use this critique aren’t saying that Fresno’s million people and Bakersfield’s 700,000 don’t qualify as major population centers; I think they want to exploit others’ ignorance or are ignorant themselves. I’ve read a fair number of articles in the Washington Post, and they seem to have a policy that you’re write as though the line could be from Alturas to Yreka. (The biggest exception is George Will, but I suspect that’s because he’s a syndicated columnist who’s carried in some Central Valley. papers, and they can’t depend on the Fresno Bee or whatever to edit out such a display of ignorance).

    There are already 6 round trips between the two cities; and if the CHSRA should call it quits after completing that segment, Amtrak would love to run many more San Joaquins over the new track because it would be more competitive than what they have now.

    joe Reply:

    It’s pretty bad.

    Milwaukee Wisconsin is just under 600k and Madison is 233K. The next two cities, Green Bay and Kenosha are about 100K each. They were suppsoed to get HSR ARRA funding.

    Top Three Iowa Cities (437k) are smaller than Bakersfield. The top 6 cities are 659 and still less than Bakersfield.
    Des Moines IA 207K
    Cedar rapids 128K
    Davenport. 102K

    It’s bullshit.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    Judge Moonbox: “There are already 6 round trips between the two cities; and if the CHSRA should call it quits after completing that segment, Amtrak would love to run many more San Joaquins over the new track because it would be more competitive than what they have now.”
    You really need to understand the realities of the existing San Joaquin service and its market. Very few passengers actually travel by train between Fresno and Bakersfield, and the majority of passengers using Bakersfield are connecting with the Thruway buses.
    After transfers between existing BNSF tracks and the new alignment time savings will be minimal in the context of the overall journey that most passengers make. You certainly could not justify the investment in the new line as a stand alone project. In addition you will lose a modest amount of revenue from two small stations.
    The real issue is not that either Fresno and Bakersfield are “significant” or important, and worth serving as part of a statewide HSR system, but whether alone they are big enough to generate sufficient business as a stand alone project. Common sense indicates that the former is true but the latter isn’t.
    And as to whether Amtrak would like to run more trains or not, the San Joaquin service is not controlled or funded by Amtrak. They do not make these commercial decisions. They are de facto a contract operator on behalf of the State, which in turn is in the process of transitioning many of the management functions to the San Joaquin Joint Powers Board. You really need to understand all these dynamics before you make comments about who would love to do this ir that.
    The HSR project is in a very fragile state, with public cynicism at a very high level. About the only way I can see it pulling out of the present nose dive is to build north from Burbank and show some progress to Southern Californians as soon as possible. Trying to pretend that the central section was the right place to start only reduces credibility further.

    joe Reply:

    ” Common sense indicates that the former is true but the latter isn’t”

    We call that common sense “BIAS” where I work.
    The Authority has a ridership model. GAO reviewed the ridership estimates and process.

    I understand it’s very very important to build commuter rail in SoCal and that HSR is your way to do it but caution, DeLeon was schooled by the CV Senators for his “tumbleweeds” stereotype.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    In 2009 when there were billions of dollars ready to drop out of the sky the parts you want to build first weren’t as far along in the process. The part in the middle needs to be built sometime and billions of dollars were ready to drop out of the sky so they took the opportunity to spend it.

    John Burrows Reply:

    According to Dan Richard, “The current Amtrak trains, rolling onto our track at Madera, will be able to open their throttles and go 110-120 mph with existing equipment, shaving 75-90 minutes off the trip”.

    It seems to me that a time saving on this order would, for most passengers going to Bakersfield, be more than minimal.
    1,400 Amtrak riders currently boarding at Bakersfield each day is not a huge number, but if Richard is right on the 75-90 minute time savings, that number could go up.
    This 130 mile segment is all that we will have to show for a number of years, and if it does get a lot of use instead of getting a lot of rust, it could bump up the popularity of HSR in California. A doubling of passenger traffic at Bakersfield during the temporary operation of diesels on this segment might do wonders for HSR in the eyes of the public.

    An afterthought—If Amtrak trains do operate over this segment at speeds of up to 120 mph, how will that compare with travel times between other cities in the USA?
    It would be ironic and at the same time really sad if in the early 21st century, the fastest train travel in The United States was between Fresno and Bakersfield.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    94 miles between Philadelphia and Baltimore in 58 minutes. Ya better hurry up because by the time trains start to run on new track in California Amtrak is likely to have new trains and better track between Philadelphia and Baltimore.

    Donk Reply:

    Here is what will happen: Ridership on Fresno-Bako will increase to well higher than current Amtrak ridership. However, people will compare that ridership number to numbers for the fully built out system and will constantly criticize it. Then once another segment gets added to the Bay or Basin, ridership numbers will be out the roof and the criticism will be silenced.

    This is what always seems to happen when a new rail line or portion of a new rail line opens in SoCal. For example, the Expo line was getting lambasted by the press its first two months of operation when it was only partially completed. I haven’t heard any criticism of the line since it blew past ridership numbers shortly after Phase I was completed. The only criticism now is that it is too slow.

    John Burrows Reply:

    I was wrong— it’s 1,400 passengers using the station each day which would amount to about 700 boardings

    Judge Moonbox Reply:

    Here’s what I don’t understand: why should the Initial Construction Segment have to stand on its own? I live in Baltimore, and part of my daily commute is on a Metro line that didn’t make sense on its own, but was built, and after it was started other segments were cancelled. Should Baltimore have filled in the tunnels when it was clear that it would be the only part that would be built?

    I don’t understand why passengers originating/terminating in Oakland or Sacramento can’t be counted in the ridership between Fresno and Bakersfield, nor those connecting to buses south of Bako.

    If a couple in Bako contemplates spending a weekend in San Francisco, would they be impressed by a 6 hour, 40 minute trip (including the bus transfer to Emeryville) getting a 75 minute speedup or would they not because that only constitutes a 27% time savings?

    If I understand the bit in California law that Amtrak can’t sell tickets to passengers whose entire journey is by bus, then would Thruway #5872 (leaving Fresno at 6:00am) must have enough passengers to points south of Los Angeles to stay in business. Speed up the line, and you would probably have plenty of passengers to LA to justify running a train over the segment.

    I attributed the decision to use the new tracks to “Amtrak” because they are the public face of intercity rail service. You’re right that the ultimate decision would be made by an official at a state agency.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    (1) An hour on a trip of that length is not minimal;

    (2) If the CHSRA closes up shop, that doesn’t mean that the corridor stops being usable for a HSR system … the corridor continues to be available as a part of a longer distance system; and in any event,

    (3) With ongoing funding now secured, the CHSRA is not going to close up shop after finishing the ICS, so “if CHSRA closes up shop after the ICS” arguments can be retired.

  4. Trentbridge
    Jul 14th, 2014 at 15:47

    Your majesty – building more and more ships to trade with the colonies in North America is pointless. As my colleague just said- it would be a “galleon to nowhere”. North America is an empty continent – except for the local native population and our colonies are a constant drain on the Exchequer. And do we get thanks? No – we get endless complaints about taxation – as if the redcoats pay for themselves and the British Navy is free to our colonial friends. The most obvious use of your majesty’s funds would be a tunnel to France – built at Dover and going to Calais. The French have excellent wine, cognac, and cheese and the place is already populated with civilized people – unlike our primitve relatives in the colonies across the Atlantic.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Constant drain? Nah, the UK made a killing out of ethnically cleansing coastal Native American tribes to make room for slave plantations.

    (I wish so much that people in the US stopped comparing their Transformational Projects to imperial colonization schemes. Things like the colonization of the Americas, and after US independence the westward move with Manifest Destiny, involved mass murder of the people already in the area. Comparing things to them is about as appropriate as comparing your scheme to boost rail capacity to the rail capacity of early-1940s Poland.)

    Trentbridge Reply:

    Wow aren’t you the stickler for historical inaccuracy! The point was that North America was FAR from England and not that heavily populated but France was NEAR and full of Frenchmen. Just as people argue here that Fresno is FAR from San Francisco and Bakersfield is FAR from Los Angeles whereas San Jose is NEAR to San Francisco and San Diego is NEAR to Los Angeles and thus deserving of more investment. Do you want a diagram, too?

    Obviously not a huge Monty Python fan, I take it!

    Alon Levy Reply:

    No, I understand your point perfectly well. I object to the analogy you’re making, both on a practical level and on a conceptual one.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    To be honest, the Zionist movement in the US is often quick to say that no nation is built without some being displaced. And its not as if Europeans would play nice with Caucasians in the New World either. Americans resort to the imperialist metaphors because obviously we think the world is better off with us than without us.

    But even if you don’t buy that, colonialism is fused with the Englightenment in American traditions, unlike Europe. Americans are told that there are far darker chapters in our history than the 18th century.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It’s a miracle when you can get American Zionists to actually admit displacement took place. I just saw someone in my Facebook feed claim that Jews are the indigenous inhabitants of Israel while the Palestinians were recent migrants. A lot of people buy that Joan Peters crap.

    And yeah, the whole experience of imperialism is different in the American psyche from the European one. The American empire was land-based, like the Russian one, and involved massive settlement of the white population, which makes it both look and operate very differently from the maritime colonial extraction of the European empires. So in the UK, you won’t really find people openly expressing admiration of the colonization of India, except professional trolls like Niall Ferguson, whereas in the US, the westward expansion, which proportionally to the indigenous population was if anything deadlier, is still part of the national consensus of Great Government Projects. Ruling over a many times greater indigenous population makes you feel like you’re an intruder; ethnically cleansing a smaller population into reservations lets you forget they exist.

    joe Reply:

    Biology if you know any you might see the world differently.

    Try re-reading these.


    EJ Reply:

    Ah, so now we know what kind of “scientist” you are…

    joe Reply:

    I doubt it EJ.

    Alon’s comment is deeply ignorant of the history, economics and biological differences between UK-India and UK/US in North America.

    Ruling over a many times greater indigenous population makes you feel like you’re an intruder; ethnically cleansing a smaller population into reservations lets you forget they exist.

    14,000 years separation left North American peoples vulnerable to disease. Eurasian peoples were already exposed to the same diseases and did not undergo depopulation and collapse of the civilization.

    Death happened on both sides. Europeans were vulnerable to old world diseases brought back Americas and thrived in the warmer climate (Malaria and etc). They continued to come and many died. No accounting for those losses.

    Joey Reply:

    Oh, so you think events like the trail of tears, dozens of deliberately broken treaties, and the occasional direct murder of civilians is a function of biology?

    Donk Reply:

    Joey, your comment doesn’t have anything to do with anything. Thanks for participating.

    joe Reply:

    No. I did visit starved rock state park IL this 4th and brought my son.

    In IL it’s taught and we try to understand how midwestern tribes were decimated and driven to the west by eastern Indian tribes which had advance weapons bought from the English. Indians fought over access to beaver and for land and just plain cruelty.

    EJ Reply:

    Yes, it does. He’s arguing that if you don’t want to sound like a racist, you might pay attention to history as well as biology.

    EJ Reply:

    Indians fought over access to beaver and for land and just plain cruelty.

    Oh, good one. Do they also teach you about how a large number of African slaves brought to America were originally purchased from Africans, so blacks are really responsible for slavery? That’s another one racists have a lot of fun with.

    Donk Reply:

    That’s ridiculous. Is there anything you can talk about without sounding like a racist? Most of the indentured servants that were brought to Colonies, especially to the south, died of Malaria and were not productive. Many of the native that were forced to work as slaves also died of Malaria. The African slaves had lower death rates from Malaria, since malaria was already endemic to West Africa. Same reason why Europeans couldn’t colonize West Africa and many Carribean islands. Same reason why Napolean’s French Army couldn’t take Haiti.

    What is wrong with talking about European’s dying from Malaria?

    EJ Reply:

    I mean, of course, the Nazis weren’t the nicest guys, but have you ever read the Old Testament? Hell, the Jews killed thousands of people, and that’s just the ones they admit to!

    Donk Reply:

    EJ, why are you coming at this with so much anger? The fact is that both Africans and Arabs had a role in slavery as well as Europeans. Nobody rational uses this to imply that the Europeans weren’t at fault. It sounds like you are trying to hide the facts.

    BTW, a great book with a fantastic insight into the Arab slave trade in East Africa was Into Africa, about Livingstone and Stanley:

    joe Reply:

    They taught me that ignorance is not limited to one side of a debate.

    Can you describe the migration of native tribes such as the Miami with your politically correct truths.

    I suggest starting with wikipedia- fix it as you see ft. Then you can cleans our state parks.

    During historic times, the Miami were known to have migrated south and eastwards from Wisconsin from the mid-17th century to the mid-18th century, by which time they had settled on the upper Wabash River in what is now northwestern Ohio. The migration was likely a result of their being invaded during the protracted Beaver Wars by the more powerful Iroquois, who traveled far in strong organized groups (war parties) from their territory in central and western New York for better hunting during the peak of the eastern beaver fur trader days. The Dutch and French traders and, after 1652, the British fueled demand. The warfare and social disruption contributed to the decimation of Native American populations, but the major factor were fatalities from infectious diseases for which they had no immunity. These are believed to have reduced the populations by ninety percent.

    A 90% mortality rate is racist. surely the American peoples were as resistant to disease as South Asians. Also, they never ever killed other tribes. It’s the 3rd law of robotics.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Hey, if we’re trolling about black complicity in slavery, then let’s talk about how the biggest black entity involved in the slave trade, the Kingdom of Kongo, had converted to Christianity and its rulers took Portuguese names.

    Fair’s fair.

    Donk Reply:

    Joe, I read 1493 – that was a fantastic book. The parts about malaria/yellow fever and the guano islands were particularly fascinating. Also fascinating that many of the Chinese had it as bad or worse than Africans.

    joe Reply:

    Yes. Thanks.
    “Seasoned” takes on new meaning.

    EJ Reply:

    I doubt it EJ.

    Scientific Racism isn’t hard to spot. It’s been around for well over a century. As if European colonists dying of malaria is somehow equivalent to the deliberate near-extinction of multiple peoples.

    No accounting for those losses.

    Oh, yes, who is going to speak for the poor, hard-done-to white man?

    joe Reply:

    Try to explain it. What is the racist part?

    Europe had a reserve of people to send to the new world and did even though many died.
    American peoples didn’t have that reserve population or centuries of immunity.

    European/African/Asian pests and diseases came with them and when established, further eroded native peoples.

    India had no such exchange in biological material and thus no depopulation and no collapse of civilization.

    Deliberate extinction is bad economics – the European powers would love to have native peoples working for them but nature did not comply. They sent their poor seeking fortune and many died.

    Donk Reply:

    Exactly. The first choice was to use European indentured servants as laborers. The second was to use natives to work the fields. The third was to use Africans. These choices were all based on economics. When they cleared the fields and built farms, Europeans and natives dropped dead each summer. They would have loved to have more native workers that could work the fields instead of having to spend extra money to bring in African slaves.

    The mass deliberate displacement/extinction of natives happened later, well after the early colonial days.

    EJ Reply:

    They figured it out right quick, then, since the first African slaves were transported to the Americas by 1502. This was of course after Columbus had enslaved numerous natives and tried to ship them back to Europe – most of them died though.

    joe Reply:

    “They figured it out right quick”
    A trip to one of California’s historic missions shows it continued for centuries.

    What happened here and in India was different because of biology. The Americas were separated from Eurasia for hundred of millions of years and the human populations separated by 14,000 years.

    Donk Reply:

    EJ, what is that supposed to mean? Do real scientists not read these kinds of books? Are they supposed to read journal articles about every topic instead?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I’ve read 1491. What’s your point? I’m not talking about 16th-century smallpox and measles* outbreaks. I’m talking about things that happened in the 18th and 19th centuries, to the population descended from the survivors of the original outbreaks. In the 19th century, diseases no longer had the power that they had in the 16th century, for the same reason that post-Black Death outbreaks of bubonic plague in Europe no longer had the power of the original pandemic. The separation between the Columbian Exchange and the US’s 19th-century westward push is more than that between the Black Death and the Thirty Years’ War. So when e.g. California’s indigenous population went from 150,000 on the eve of the Gold Rush to 25,000 by the beginning of the 20th century (link), this is not the same as when half the Inca population had died before any Inca saw a white man. The Black Death cut the population of some regions by a factor of 3, and so did the Thirty Years’ War. Fortunately, nobody views the Thirty Years’ War positively as part of their national mythology, so nobody feels the need to argue that Württembergers just didn’t have acquired immunity to the bubonic plague.

    But more to the point, you’re completely misunderstanding my comment. It’s not about why people died or how many. It’s about how dominant groups view their relationship with the rest of the world in different circumstances. When the non-dominant group is right there, people will view it differently. I don’t think it’s controversial to point out that, since the US has always had a significant black population whereas Europe didn’t until recent immigration, American anti-black racism worked differently from European anti-black racism, and so did the national reaction to it. In the 1970s, Europeans could plausibly tell themselves they had no anti-black racism; Americans could not. The colonial issues are the exact opposite: Western Europeans directly ruled vast lands abroad populated by nonwhite foreigners, whereas Americans and Russians expanded overland and quickly established white majorities.

    *Smallpox is more famous, but measles was the second biggest killer. Please vaccinate your children.

    joe Reply:

    Black death first appeared under Justanian the Great in 542 AD. There were outbreaks several times afterwards.

    The 1300’s plague was the second large occurrence and of course 700+ years later.

    It’s pretty fucken deadly now.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    There were no pandemics affecting Europe from the 8th century until the Black Death. While the Plague of Justinian was probably bubonic plague as well, over the centuries, the pathogen evolved. A study published in Nature quoted in Wikipedia’s article on the Plague of Justinian says,

    “This implies that the medieval plague was the main historical event that introduced human populations to the ancestor of all known pathogenic strains of Y. pestis. This further questions the aetiology of the sixth to eighth century Plague of Justinian, popularly assumed to have resulted from the same pathogen: our temporal estimates imply that the pandemic was either caused by a Y. pestis variant that is distinct from all currently circulating strains commonly associated with human infections, or it was another disease altogether.”

    What we see in European history after the 14th century supports this. Bubonic plague remained deadly, but was no longer capable of cutting a region’s population by a factor of 3+. It would periodically kill off 10-20% of the population in a city, and very rarely kill off more: Wikipedia says 14% Italy-wide in the first half of the 17th century, and half of Naples – bearing in mind premodern cities had horrific background death rates, so they’d have higher mortality rates from a plague than rural areas. In other words, people started acquiring immunity.

    Eric Reply:

    “The Yamasee War was one of the most disruptive and transformational conflicts of colonial America. It was one of the American Indians’ most serious challenges to European dominance. For over a year the colony faced the possibility of annihilation. About 7% of South Carolina’s white citizenry was killed,”

    If the Europeans had in fact been annihilated, somehow I don’t think Alon would be complaining about ethnic cleansing by the natives…

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Next paragraph, same link:

    “The origin of the war was complex. Reasons for fighting differed among the many Indian groups who participated. Commitment differed as well. Factors included land encroachment by Europeans, the trading system, trader abuses, the Indian slave trade, the depletion of deer, increasing Indian debts in contrast to increasing wealth among some colonists, the spread of rice plantation agriculture, French power in Louisiana offering an alternative to British trade, long-established Indian links to Spanish Florida, the vying for power among Indian groups, as well as an increasingly large-scale and robust inter-tribal communication network, and recent experiences in military collaboration among previously distant tribes.”

    I saw the Real Pirates exhibition last month, about Sam Bellamy’s journey. After he shipwrecked, there were a handful of survivors. The white ones got a trial – most were executed, but some convinced the jury that they were pressed into piracy by force and got acquitted. (If I remember correctly, 6 were executed and 2 were acquitted.) The indigenous survivor got no trial, but instead was immediately sold into slavery, the typical fate of blacks and Indians who were caught.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    Clearly the diseases must have been spread by the early railroads, and the slaves transported by same, else why would we be reading about it on this blog?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Don’t blame me, it’s Trent who made the analogy of HSR to colonization.

    Although, while we’re at it, the transcontinental railroads were crucial in the destruction of the Plains Indians.

    Eric Reply:

    1. Nowhere in that long comment did you deny the accusation you were replying to…
    2. Are you complaining that indigenous pirates were sold into slavery, but white pirates were “only” executed?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    1. Nope. Just saying that it’s not the same thing that the white settlers did.

    2. I’m complaining that indigenous people of all trades were sold into slavery (that’s why so many chose piracy), whereas white people were not. White pirates got a trial, and could be acquitted.

    joe Reply:

    Mediterranean ships of the Ottoman and Italian/Spanish/Malta used slaves and these were peoples of the Mediterranean/Europe/middle east/N Africa (AKA Caucasians) unlucky enough to be captured by raids or in war.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Different continent, different century. In mainland North America, too, it took most of the 17th century for the slavery system to racialize.

  5. Ted Judah
    Jul 14th, 2014 at 17:44

    Opposition to HSR is pretty straightforward: the Republican wants no instrument that strengthens the power of urban areas and the lack of need to drive. HSR threatens the idea that we can have this gigantic middle class powered by cheap housing and cheaper gasoline.

    In the end the only way America is going to survive is by making home ownership and middle class living not dependent on petroleum, both directly and indirectly.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    …you’re making it more of a conspiracy than it actually is. There’s a simpler explanation: HSR disproportionately benefits urban areas, and within them it disproportionately benefits city centers. Political movements that are rooted in rural areas and exurbs have no real need for it, so to them it’s wasteful spending.

    Observer Reply:

    Look what is going on in D.C. though. Everything is at a virtual halt – total dysfunction The way the congress works now is laughable; it is like watching TV wrestlers with their phony scripted monologues. I have always respected their beliefs; but you do not bring things to a halt with no infrastructure spending at all. The key to good government is the ability to compromise; they have lost all sight on this to the point of total blindness.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    You are expecting Republicans are engaging in rational thought. I’m not going to go look up the Krugman piece where he notes that George Will after writing a column about how trains turn us all into socialists and it’s a plot by communists to do that, was seen getting off the business class car on a Regional Amtrak train.
    It’s “trains for UnReal Americans, trains bad” … or is it Real Unamericans….

    Observer Reply:

    Actually I think democrats are to blame also. Democrats still have not gotten over their fear of Ronald Reagan. Before Ronald Reagan democrats were more willing to actually fight for labor and the environment. After Reagan, they lost it, and they have yet to recover. Democrats may talk a good game as candidates; but once they get into congress or the respective state houses, they discover where the big money is, and they then get this mumness about them.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Except for those pesky pesky people in Martinez and Davis.

    Joey Reply:

    New express service along a different does not preclude continued or improved local service along the existing route.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    You are correct that Baby Boomers were homogeneous enough politically that Reagan and Clinton both ended up fashioning a very unrealistic dichotomy that distorted the amount of sacrifice either side would face.

    There is no conspiracy–the same reasons that an affluent Germany and divided Britain haven’t embraced HSR in Europe to the extent the Catholic countries have is also driving GOP resistance here.

    Michael Reply:

    Ted, I think Germany has embraced HSR, but has built it in a different way, to bypass slow sections, as Germany is very multi-centric. France is Paris. England is London. Germany is like here (US) but much smaller. Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, Rhein, Stuttgart, Hamburg, and other cities are all centers in their own right. They just don’t build HSR from end to end, but around the slow spots. Their initial lines, Hanover-Wurzburg and Mannheim-Stuttgart, cover most of the distance from one end of the county to the other, and were built across country that required many tunnels and high viaducts. They use the HSR to collect long-distance trips from all over.

    Observer Reply:

    Britain also has their HSR plans.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Well, I guess HSL-Zuid goes through North Brabant, so it technically serves Catholics… but people in Holland would be very annoyed if you referred to them as Catholic. They even went to war over it a couple centuries ago.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Will clearly doesn’t think trains are bad; he rides them. He thinks people who advocate for trains are bad, and writes a column for people who think trains are bad.

  6. Paul Druce
    Jul 15th, 2014 at 14:30

    City pair ridership on the Capitol Corridor makes it fairly clear that Altamont would best serve the Bay Area.

    Joe Reply:

    Look at Caltrain.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Except for those pesky pesky people in Martinez and Davis.

    Michael Reply:

    Davis is a university town and Martinez is where a lot of the connecting buses meet. Davis is close enough to Sacramento that it could be the end of a HSR line extended west from Sacramento.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    so people in Davis don’t count because they live in a university town. Like the ones in Palo Alto?

    Michael Reply:

    Not my point. The opposite. Ridership is strong because college student take the train to get home, or even commute. Returning from Sacramento on a Friday afternoon, the train becomes packed with kids in Davis, on going south on the San Joaquin, in Stockton, because that’s where the bus connection meets the train. Care to discuss my second point, about Davis being connected to Sacramento HSR sometime in the distant future, when HSR gets there?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Seeing that there are more people in the Bay Area that implies there are more parents in the Bay Area for the students to go home to. How does having a high speed connection to Sacramento get someone home to Oakland fast? Or someone at UC Berkeley to UC Davis?

    Michael Reply:

    Because the Altamont connection at full speed brings trains faster into the Bay Area than the current Capitols route. Not Berkeley, not Oakland, but Hayward south, Livermore/Pleasanton/San Ramon, San Jose, Peninsula, San Francisco. The Capitols route from the Benicia Bridge to Richmond is slow and very expensive to realign. I’d assume that Capitols would remain to serve the current stations, because it is a different market, but Davis, because of its ridership, as I’ll say for the third time, could support an extension of HSR service west from Sacramento.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Throw in Sacramento—Davis and Altamont HSR with BART connection in Livermore and Fremont offers hugely better service than Amtrak snail train (or than anything on offer from PBQD) to 46% of the existing market.


    [Cue incoherent word salad bleating about Piscataway. Maryland, and Mineola.]

    joe Reply:

    Between the U Davis Aggies and Sacramento state workers commuting back to their affordable SF homes, it’s a transportation gold mine.

    If there were only a University along the Pacheco route or places people wanted to be/go/visit.. I

    Neil Shea Reply:

    Or Emeryville or Richmond or Berkeley or Suisun City — or really most of these pairs. So how do you draw your conclusion? Certainly we need to keep the present service in place for those 6 top destinations.

    Meanwhile by all means let’s invest in the HSR connectivity route between SJC and Stockton/Merced, and leverage it in the early years, as part of Nor Cal Unified Service. But let’s not assume the NIMBY battles will be easy even for medium speed.

    After we get the mountain gap closed BFD-Palmdale-BUR, let’s get full speed track built to Sac, improve Altamont and build Pacheco.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    I think he got into synon’s stash of peyote—

    This data argues pretty hard that SF to Sac would make an excellent ICS too. That Sac-SJ demand is also outta sight.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    So how do you draw your conclusion?

    Addition followed by division.

    God only knows what technique you use.

  7. morris brown
    Jul 15th, 2014 at 18:49

    In an interview, State Senate leader Kevin deLeon has this to say about the use of Cap and Trade revenues for HSR.

    He said state bond money and federal dollars committed to the project should be used for construction of the line in the Valley, and the cap-and-trade cash should go toward construction in Los Angeles and the Bay Area.

    Using cap-and-trade money for high-speed rail construction in the Valley could violate criteria set up in Assembly Bill 32, the state’s landmark emissions-reducing law.

    “By laying down track in the Central Valley, you won’t realize those immediate carbon reduction goals for at least 10 years, and that’s why it would be quite possible that litigation will tie up those dollars,” de León said. “Therefore, I don’t think that it would be prudent that we use those cap-and-trade dollars in the Central Valley, but rather we should do so at the bookends.”

    I strongly suspect the Chair Dan Richard would not agree with this statement and certainly this does not fit with what Robert has been preaching.

    joe Reply:

    Too bad you didn’t read where DeLeon apologized for his lame remarks.

    joe Reply:

    Hilarious timing Molrris

    After ‘tumbleweeds’ comment, de León uses Fresno visit to tout work for Valley

    He even brought a “humble pie” to an editorial board meeting with The Fresno Bee. (Turns out, it was peach.)

    De León also seems to understand that the Valley has a competitive state Senate race. As the incoming state Senate leader, no need to give incumbent state Sen. Andy Vidak ammunition in his 14th State Senate District battle against Democratic Party challenger Luis Chavez of Fresno.

    On Tuesday, Chavez — a Fresno Unified trustee — was with de León during his Roosevelt High visit.

    So, de León’s message is now this:

    “I think that high-speed rail is a good thing for California. I think high speed rail is a good thing for the Central Valley, and San Joaquin Valley specifically.”


  8. datacruncher
    Jul 15th, 2014 at 19:10

    Kevin de León spent today in Fresno, much of the visit was a mea culpa for and clarification of his “tumbleweed” remark about HSR construction in the San Joaquin Valley. He even bought a “humble pie” (peach) to his meeting with the Fresno Bee editorial board.

    He did try to clarify his stance on HSR plans.

    “I think that high-speed rail is a good thing for California. I think high speed rail is a good thing for the Central Valley, and San Joaquin Valley specifically.”

    He said state bond money and federal dollars committed to the project should be used for construction of the line in the Valley, and the cap-and-trade cash should go toward construction in Los Angeles and the Bay Area.

    Using cap-and-trade money for high-speed rail construction in the Valley could violate criteria set up in Assembly Bill 32, the state’s landmark emissions-reducing law.

    “By laying down track in the Central Valley, you won’t realize those immediate carbon reduction goals for at least 10 years, and that’s why it would be quite possible that litigation will tie up those dollars,” de León said. “Therefore, I don’t think that it would be prudent that we use those cap-and-trade dollars in the Central Valley, but rather we should do so at the bookends.”

    But de León may still need to learn to be careful with his comments.

    As for those “tumbleweeds” and “middle of nowhere” comments, de León admitted the blowback caught him off guard.

    “It was an artful comment,” he said. “… it was a tongue and cheek comment.”

    But he also said “the funny thing about it was that I literally meant in between Fresno and Bakersfield because the population is not very high.”

    So now he comes across that its tumbleweeds between Fresno and Bakersfield? I wonder how Visalia and Hanford will feel about the clarification.

    joe Reply:

    DeLeon’s an arrogant fool. Just say sorry and move on.

  9. datacruncher
    Jul 15th, 2014 at 19:17

    Fresno County supervisors make no decision on opposing high-speed rail
    Fresno County supervisors pushed off a vote Tuesday on reversing their support for California’s high-speed rail project, delaying a symbolic decision by two weeks to get more information.
    Read more here:

    Roger Christensen Reply:

    Jeff Morales kept his cool with the sputtering inept Supervisor Poochigian. Fun viewing on Channel 30 news.

    joe Reply:

    Morales said a reversal of the supervisors’ support for high-speed rail would have no direct effect on the agency’s federal grants or funding plans, or on selecting a site in the San Joaquin Valley for a heavy maintenance facility for the train system.

    But “actions have consequences,” he added. “When people talk about private investment, a very chilling factor for private investors is hearing things about not supporting the system.”

    Morales told supervisors that about a dozen companies have expressed interest in providing private investment into the rail system as it develops.

    Donk Reply:

    This is great. What buffoons.

    Observer Reply:

    Poochigian does not have the votes.

  10. Carol Jenkins
    Jul 20th, 2014 at 08:30

    First, for you naysayers who say I’m a NIMBY, I am not. I support HSR in CA, particularly in the metropolitan areas. However, I wonder how many of you would actually support it if your property were in the way of the route and actually had to deal with HSRA. HSRA has refused to speak to residents and make any offers. HSRA has refused to negotiate with property owners at all. HSRA representatives have stated they will not offer any $$ for property devaluation, only if they directly sieze a property for the route.

    Our area, Acton, CA, relies heavily upon individual water wells…most of us do not have County piped water. HSRA has stated they will not make any considerations for wells or the aquifer when they tunnel through our area. They will not make any offers for disruption of wells or water supplies for residents.

    If you had your total investment in your home threatened (without any assurances from HSRA) would you support them taking or tunneling through your front yard? I am betting not so much.

    HSRA needs to work better with communities they impact on. They need to make assurances and spend some $$ protecting and compensating the homeowners and property owners they will impact, then they would have more support for the project.

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