New York Times Asks Wrong People Why HSR Is Struggling

Aug 7th, 2014 | Posted by

Rather than ask a bunch of HSR experts about the reasons why President Obama’s high speed rail plans are struggling (answer: Republicans), the New York Times asked a bunch of HSR critics and opponents. It should be no surprise that the resulting article misses some important points:

While Republican opposition and community protests have slowed the projects here, transportation policy experts and members of both parties also place blame for the failures on missteps by the Obama administration — which in July asked Congress for nearly $10 billion more for high-speed initiatives.

Instead of putting the $11 billion directly into those projects, critics say, the administration made the mistake of parceling out the money to upgrade existing Amtrak service, which will allow trains to go no faster than 110 miles per hour. None of the money originally went to service in the Northeast Corridor, the most likely place for high-speed rail.

Notice how the article dismisses by far the most important two reasons for HSR’s slow pace to instead make the rather odd argument that Obama erred in not pouring all the money into the Northeast Corridor.

The problem is that was exactly what President Bill Clinton did in the 1990s. His high speed rail plan wound up focusing solely on what became the Acela, at the expense of building other lines across the country. The NEC deserves true HSR, absolutely. But there’s no way to build a national network by focusing solely on that route.

Of course, in 2009, President Obama never thought that he would be unable to add further federal funding for HSR. I’m sure that pouring more money into the NEC was something they always intended to do – until Republicans came along to undermine HSR at every possible turn.

The Times article goes out of its way to distort President Obama’s intentions:

Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin, all led by Republican governors, canceled high-speed rail projects and returned federal funds after deeming the projects too expensive and unnecessary.

That was their surface justification, and even those claims were false. Those Republicans governors killed those worthy, affordable projects out of ideological spite.

“The Obama administration’s management of previously appropriated high-speed rail funding has been as clumsy as its superintending of the Affordable Care Act’s rollout,” said Frank N. Wilner, a former chief of staff at the Surface Transportation Board, a bipartisan body with oversight of the nation’s railroads.

When Mr. Obama first presented his vision for high-speed rail nearly four years ago, he described a future of sleek bullet trains hurtling passengers between far-flung American cities at more than 200 m.p.h.

“Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail,” Mr. Obama said in his 2011 State of the Union address. “This could allow you to go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it will be faster than flying — without the pat-down.”

Comparing HSR to the ACA is ridiculous. But so too is the portrayal of Obama’s HSR plan here by the Times. They make it sound like connecting 80% of the population was some irrational, gargantuan task.

In reality, most Americans live in urban areas that are not far from other urban areas, certainly under four hours by high speed train. The distances from, say, Chicago to St. Louis, or Dallas to Houston, or Atlanta to Charlotte, are about the same as distances in European or Asian nations with successful HSR systems.

Notably, the Times article completely ignores the fact that China built an entire nationwide HSR network, in a country about the size of the lower 48 states, in the same time as Obama has been president. Obama’s plans weren’t flawed, if anything they weren’t ambitious enough. But they would have worked out fine if Republicans hadn’t sabotaged them from day one.

Unfortunately, the Times misses these points in part because most of the people they quoted are critics who are at best weak supporters of HSR in general:

“The idea that we would have a high-speed system that 80 percent of Americans could access in that short period of time was unadulterated hype, and it didn’t take an expert to see through it,” said Kenneth Orski, the editor and publisher of an influential transportation newsletter who served in the Nixon and Ford administrations. “And scattering money all around the country rather than focusing it on areas ripe for high-speed rail didn’t help.”

Orski is simply wrong here, and he should know better. The money wasn’t “scattered all around the country,” it was indeed focused on areas ripe for HSR, where existing passenger rail lines saw growing ridership and where population size resembled those of the European lines. The routes in Florida, Wisconsin, and Ohio that the Republican governors killed were all ripe for high speed rail. To say otherwise is to not understand how HSR works.

The Times then quotes Jeff Denham saying the private sector should do this, even though it’s virtually impossible for the private sector to raise the capital needed to build an HSR line. Ironically, the very lines that the Times and Denham praise for being privately funded are lines that Obama wanted to fund:

Mr. Lawless said that the 240-mile Dallas to Houston route was ideal for high-speed rail and that it would make travel times between the two cities faster than by car and competitive with airlines. “Given the traffic, the growth occurring and the dynamics of the Texas economy, plus the movement between the two metro areas, the demand for this project is very substantial,” Mr. Lawless said.

That is exactly the same rationale and basis for the other routes in Obama’s plan (which included Dallas to Houston), yet the Times doesn’t grasp that rather important point. Instead they turn to an anti-HSR voice to make the amazing claim that the US will just never have a national HSR system, unlike the rest of the developed world:

Still, even if the California, Florida and Texas projects all succeed, transportation experts say it is unlikely that the United States will ever have the same kind of high-speed rail systems as China or Europe.

C. William Ibbs, a professor of civil engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, said countries with successful high-speed rail projects had higher population densities, higher gas prices, higher rates of public-transportation use and lower rates of car ownership. “So it wouldn’t make any sense to have a high-speed rail train in most areas of the United States,” he said. “The geography is different and other factors are just too different.”

Ibbs is also deeply opposed to HSR, despite all the evidence in favor of it. His statistical claims are factually wrong – many parts of the US actually have similar densities to European nations with HSR. Spain found that most of the people coming to their initial AVE line between Madrid and Sevilla came from the automobile. Ibbs is also wrong that you need density, high gas prices, low car ownership, and high gas prices to make HSR work. After all, the Acela is profitable and has high ridership even though the Northeast Corridor doesn’t fit the criteria Ibbs laid out.

The only reason why President Obama hasn’t had more success with HSR is because Congressional Republicans have refused to give that success to him. Simple as that. The Times had to go out of its way to tell a different story, one that the evidence just doesn’t support.

  1. Reality Check
    Aug 7th, 2014 at 21:27

    “The only reason why President Obama hasn’t had more success with HSR is because Congressional Republicans have refused to give that success to him.”

    Give? Shouldn’t that be “have actively worked to derail that success“?

  2. Reality Check
    Aug 7th, 2014 at 21:31

    Santa Clarita Officials ‘Strongly Oppose’ Surface Route for High-speed Rail

    “They held a scoping meeting to get public comment regarding certain routes that they’re proposing,” said Mayor Pro Tem Marsha McLean. “One of the routes is through Sand Canyon… However, that is not the preferred route for us here in Santa Clarita. We prefer the direct route from Bob Hope Burbank Airport to Palmdale, bypassing Santa Clarita and the communities of Acton and Agua Dulce.”

    Santa Clarita City Council members have requested an additional two miles that would take the rail system away from Sand Canyon to avoid homes, Sulphur Springs Elementary, Pinecrest Elementary and Vista Canyon, said Michael Murphy, intergovernmental relations officer for the city, in an earlier interview.

    “Based upon information which we have received to date, this potential alignment will be less disruptive to residents of the Santa Clarita Valley and unincorporated areas north of the city of Santa Clarita, including Agua Dulce and Acton,” read a letter written by Mayor Laurene Weste to Rail Authority officials.
    “While the city council understands that the environmental review process demands a thorough review of a variety of alternatives, we strongly oppose the proposed surface alignment, as it has the potential of eliminating homes and devastating neighborhoods, two local schools and an approved job center in the eastern area of our community,” Weste continued.

    synonymouse Reply:

    PAMPA will have whatever Sta. Clarita is drinking.

    JCC Reply:

    Your reply is witty enough for someone is usually smoking the wacky tabacky.

  3. joe
    Aug 7th, 2014 at 21:43

    NYTimes blew it in 2011.
    Times even forgot to put fresno on their awesome map of the train to no where.

    And earlier edition of this article had this one paragraph with a glaring contradiction.

    Instead of putting the $11 billion directly into high-speed rail projects, they say, the administration made the mistake of parceling out the money to upgrade existing Amtrak service, which will allow trains to go no faster than 110 m.p.h. None of the money originally went to service in the Northeast corridor, the most likely place for high-speed rail. Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin, all led by Republican governors, in the meantime canceled high-speed rail projects and returned federal funds after deeming the projects too expensive and unnecessary.

    The funds returned went primarily to CA’s HSR System.

    Jos Callinet Reply:

    I am really rather baffled why the New York Times, considered one of the nation’s most liberal and left-oriented newspapers, and generally supportive of Democrats, has gotten the HSR story so wrong and mixed up – besides “not knowing better than to seek out HSR’s doubters and naysayers” rather than, as Robert said at the start of this entry, go to those most in the know about the subject.

    My suspicion is – the New York Times is selling itself out to the highest bidder rather than striving to report the news impartially and researching its sources diligently. If so, this is quite a loss to our country, as I’ve considered the New York Times one of the last bastions against the onslaught of Fox News-style reporting.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    I don’t know if you saw my comment below, but there’s precedent for skepticism about high speed rail in New York State:

    A moderate Republican governor fed the public an innovative plan to decrease existing service using high speed rail that required a partnership with Amtrak. The latter pulled out, and New York was left with a bunch of rolling stock rusting on the tracks.. Sound familiar at all?

    The other, decidedly more tin foil explanation is that the Times is usually good barometer of where the Jewish vote stands on major issues. And with the hometown girl, Hillary Clinton, running for President in 2016, this *could* be an indication that she wants nothing to do with HSR and will abandon federal funding for it….

    Eric Reply:

    The New York Times gets most things mixed up.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    New York Times: “This money should have been spent where it would have built trains that the members of our editorial board could ride on a regular basis.”

    I’m SHOCKED that the New York Times writes a piece that spotlights people who think that all the money should have gone to systems that run through New York City.

  4. joe
    Aug 7th, 2014 at 21:51

    Ibbs is also wrong that you need density, high gas prices, low car ownership, and high gas prices to make HSR work.

    I’m sure the Japanese-Texas HSR investors will appreciate Ibbs sage advice. He is a professor after all. Why someday he might even write a scholarly article on trains, or geography or population density.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Do you think NYC would receive the Japanese Texas-style. DeBlasio and his unions?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    No, the Japanese are proposing the Boston-DC corridor skip over the high speed rail nonsense and use mag-lev instead.

    Eric Reply:

    Only if we pay them a brazillion dollars (they’ll let us borrow some of the money in the short term). Texas HSR they would pay for themselves.

    joe Reply:


  5. les
    Aug 7th, 2014 at 21:52

    I’m starting to wonder if the Koch Brothers or Murdoch bought the times when I was sleeping.

    Here is a site that rebuts the Times article quite nicely.–blog/150-million-passengers-later-media-still-inching-along

  6. les
    Aug 7th, 2014 at 21:56

    I particularly liked this piece:
    “Which brings us to the fundamental conceptual flaw within the piece: even with the most skilled oversight, $11 billion can never buy a national high speed rail system. Heck, even if the Obama Administration had invested all $11 billion in the Northeast Corridor, we’d still be $106 billion short, and the New York Times’ reporters would be no better off. It took the U.S. half a century to build a national network of highways, at a cost of over $227 billion (not including the $600 billion in associated costs not covered by “user fees”), adjusting the 1991 estimate for inflation. The Times article compares and contrasts the U.S. system to China’s—but China has spent $500 billion on rail in the past decade. The very title of the piece, complaining that the $11 Billion stimulus has not bought us a high speed rail system, and worse of all, implying that it should have, imparts a critical misunderstanding of the issue, and does the public a disservice.”

  7. MarkB
    Aug 7th, 2014 at 23:51

    One place where Obama went wrong way back when was in using such a loose definition of “high-speed” that practically anything over 79 mph qualified. Had he talked instead about “improved conventional service and demonstration lines for high-speed service of 185 mph and higher” (or something similar) I think he’d have had one fewer PR battles to lose.

    TomA Reply:

    Yeah – I think thats true. The question is – could he have gotten even the modest money he did get, if he nationally had sold it as such. Was the HSR hype necessary to get the money, or could your honest approach have sufficed.

    joe Reply:

    Opposition parties oppose. They concoct excuses to oppose. Whatever is done, it will be argued it was wrong. And the arguments flip flop over time. Consistency isn’t necessary.

    They’ll sue the president for not immediately implementing all aspects of the the health care plan they oppose.

    There’s a PR problem with his birthplace, Hawaii or Kenya. Maybe he could have done something different.

    Woody Reply:

    “For improving Amtrak, $8 Billion.”
    Damn that would have been a tough sell.

    I agree there’s been a blowback to the hype.
    But I’m not sure what Obama could have said.
    “Higher Speed Rail” or “enhanced rail” or

    But Amtrak has improved a lot already
    using the funds that came from over-hyping.
    Some Stimulus money went to quickly rebuild
    96 damaged railcars, and with the added
    capacity Amtrak’s passenger count set
    records five years in a row.

    It also hurts now that many of the big projects
    have yet to kick in. A Billion for St Louis-Chicago;
    not in 2014 and I’m not looking for it in 2015.
    More than half a Billion for Michigan service,
    Pontiac-Detroit-Dearborn-Ann Arbor-Kalamazoo,
    maybe a faster time in FY 2016. Nearly a Billion
    for Cascades to increase frequencies by 50%,
    slice 10 minutes off the run time, and raise the
    on-time performance from its disgraceful level,
    due in 2017. Half a Billion on Raleigh-Charlotte
    to save 30 minutes and add another frequency.
    Double-tracking about 20 miles west of Albany
    to break one of the worst bottlenecks in the
    whole network, by 2017. New bi-levels cars
    in the Midwest and California, new electric
    locomotives on the NEC, new sleepers etc
    for the NYC-Florida trains, coming along.

    When these major projects do come on line,
    Amtrak’s ridership will jump another million
    and more, and the Obama-Biden-LaHood work
    wil look pretty good after all.

  8. joe
    Aug 8th, 2014 at 07:20

    Give Your Input at Upcoming CA High Speed Rail Scoping Meetings

    Streetsblog Los Angeles readers are encouraged to attend and give input on these projects. The agency is interested in numerous aspects of alignment and also station access issues, including walking, bicycling, and transit-oriented development. What would “location-sensitive parking” look like at Union Station? CAHSRA needs to hear from you.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    Burbank to Palmdale looks to be the first in line for Los Angeles County. Though that segment is on a relatively fast track, it will still take through the end of 2015 to complete and approve the environmental studies.
    At about 6 p.m., there was a 40-minute presentation by CAHSRA Southern California Regional Director Michelle Boehm. Boehm touted her agency’s involvement in numerous L.A. County activities that are laying the groundwork for HSR’s arrival. CAHSRA has a role in: the Regional Connector, Metrolink capital, positive train control, double-tracking, grade separation and run-through tracks planned for Los Angeles Union Station.
    HSR is planned to run non-stop between Burbank Airport and the Palmdale Transportation Center. There are two routes currently under consideration. The first is on the surface, along existing rail tracks that more-or-less parallel the 5 Freeway and the 14 Freeway. The second would be a tunnel under the San Gabriel Mountains. Boehm expressed some enthusiasm for the latter, as it would shorter and faster, though it is likely to be more expensive.
    Streetsblog LA

    Clem Reply:

    The format of the meeting was mostly open house, with CAHSRA representatives responding to the largely white, elderly audience both individually and in small groups.

    Why are white elderly people seemingly the only ones involved in rail planning?

    Eric M Reply:

    Because everyone else is working. LOL

    joe Reply:

    Caltrain held a meeting to discuss eliminating service to Gilroy.

    It was 6PM at the Senior Center. Two of the three trains that carry commuters back to Gilroy arrive at or after 7 PM. Those who attended took the day off work and let the Rep know it.

    Woody Reply:

    Sounds like the Rep drove to the meeting
    and never glanced at a timetable. LOL.

  9. Ted Judah
    Aug 8th, 2014 at 07:32

    Just so people are aware– the NY Times is not that supportive of state-sponsored high speed rail. It’s not all their fault–the State of New York bought high speed trains in the late 90s to connect NYC and Albany and they literally rusted on the tracks.

    Journalists don’t often think like scientists. They presume success happens automatically without any experimentation or mistakes. Progressives have to master this narrative, or skeptics will always undermine the good government can do.

  10. letsgola
    Aug 8th, 2014 at 09:06

    “Of course, in 2009, President Obama never thought that he would be unable to add further federal funding for HSR.”

    Substitute anything for “add further federal funding for HSR” and you pretty much have a summary of the Obama Administration. Why they couldn’t see that they’d be unable to accomplish further policy goals is beyond me; the GOP plan to block everything was perfectly obvious at the time.

    les Reply:

    the GOP didn’t take over the House until after the stimulus was enacted.

    Zorro Reply:

    The GOP/baggers won the Nov 2010 election and have set the rules as a majority party since 2011.

    Judge Moonbox Reply:

    The Republicans did have a superminority in the Senate, apart for a few months between the time Al Franken was seated and Ted Kennedy died. The stimulus bill passed narrowly because 3 Republicans: Olympia Snow, Susan Collins (both of Maine) and Arlen Specter (PA, later switched parties) put the country’s health above following Rush Limbaugh’s order, “I want Obama to fail.”

    If the Republicans had promised a straight up or down vote (If Obama had been prepared to fight for a straight up or down vote), there would have been a much stronger stimulus bill and the economy would be a lot healthier now.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    It’s true that the Republicans had been using the Senate before seizing the House in 2010. But that obscures the harsh reality that the GOP has been barely able to control its members since the mid 90s. The dot com bubble and War on Terror muted the Populist wing of the GOP before reappearing I. The 2006 immigration debacle.

    My wife has even asked me recently why all Democrats seem to have great ideas but execute them poorly while Republicans are terrible at coming up with good ideas but can implement them at will. I didn’t have a good answer other than its a trend I have experienced first hand.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    *reappearing in the 2006 immigration debacle.

    Judge Moonbox Reply:

    For 44 years, I’ve been listening to Republicans whine about how “liberally biased” the media is.

    For 44 years, I’ve watched the Republicans act as though they had nothing to fear from the media exposing their misdeeds.

    Something I haven’t witnessed is for a Republican to warn other Republicans that a proposed course of action would give this purported enemy too much ammunition.

    If the GOP can maintain discipline against those who actually believe their victim card, they’ve shown more self-control than the Democrats have ever been able to muster.

    Eric Reply:

    Republicans have many ideas, like privatizing Social Security and eliminating Medicaid, that they have completely failed to implement.

    I don’t think they are any better at getting their ideas passed than Democrats. Each side is strong enough to torpedo the other side’s ideas, and no stronger.

    Travis D Reply:

    The answer to that is quite simple: Democrats are pragmatists while the Republicans are ideologues. The Democrats are always looking for consensus and input to refine ideas. Republicans just pick an idea and put 100% effort into implementing it even if it is absurdly stupid. One side dithers and tends to get little done while the other either succeeds spectacularly or takes everything down in flames.

    joe Reply:

    I agree with the generalization but it’s outdated now.

    I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of bickering going on in the GOP right now on what’s the right idea.

    Impeachment for example. They can’t get this story line straight.

    Speaker Bohner has failed several times to get enough votes including the immigration bill he put on the floor and could not pass before the recent recess and he has a majority to pass any law they want.

    Many GOP leaders are being challenged in primaries and Cantor’s out.

    Eric Reply:

    that’s because the republican party has been invaded by the Tea Party who are masquerading as Republicans. They won’t kick them out of the GOP so they can form their own extreme right party, because then they lose the majority to the democrats, and would actually have to negotiate in order to get stuff done. The two party system we have is breaking down under this problem, and congress is only marginally able to function.
    Those GOP congressmen need to ask themselves…are they Republican Party or Tea Party?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The people who go out and vote in the primaries are the people who decide what direction the party is going to go.

    joe Reply:

    It’s a two party system so the tea party invaded the GOP from where?

    The Elite have lost control of the Party. That populism is called the Tea Party.

  11. Judge Moonbox
    Aug 8th, 2014 at 17:19

    Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin, all led by Republican governors, canceled high-speed rail projects and returned federal funds after deeming the projects too expensive and unnecessary.

    What’s weird about that statement is, they seem to have forgotten Chris Christie. Wasn’t he a Republican governor; and hadn’t he opposed a high speed rail project?

    When I first saw that statement some years ago (I can’t remember who wrote it.), they included the phrase, “freshly minted,” as though Christie’s having been in office for a whole year somehow made his opposition irrelevant.

    I think what motivated that author to omit Christie was that including him would have made it obvious that the Tea Party had a war on rail projects, and if CC had been put in, people would see that Tea Partisans had killed an indisputably worthy project.

    For the NY Times to stick with the “3 governors” meme shows laziness at best, and likely an unwillingness to question Obama’s enemies.

    Joey Reply:

    ARC was primarily a commuter project – it would have benefitted the Acelas insofar as it would have freed up slots in the existing tunnels, but it was mostly for NJT.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    So is Gateway, so it the tunnel to the Transbay Terminal or run through tracks in Union Station in Los Angeles.

    Ted Judah Reply:


    Ted Judah Reply:

    Chris Christie isn’t a Republican! There, I said it!

    Every member of the GOP like him is either found summering on the Maine coast or in a cemetery. The Republicans have the Midwest in the bullseye for 2016. The amount of campaign cash a race gets will be determined by lines of longitude alone. The 2014 Senate is falling into place to do this.

    I mean, the GOP are putting their convention in Cleveland for God sakes. The DNC might as well select Phoenix and bait Joe Arpaio into instigating a police riot.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Congratulations, you’ve bought into his hype about how moderate he is.

    The reality is that his policies include cutting government programs to avoid raising taxes, busting public sector unions, and vetoing gay marriage. Ideologically, he’s a mainline Republican. But he also happens to be far more personally authoritarian than the average.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Alon, you have it backwards. The L.L. Bean GOP never liked unions or raising taxes either. The main difference is that Nelson Rockefeller and Christine Todd Whitman and Lincoln Chafee all realized that some regulation and redistribution of wealth keeps the urban masses off your back.

    Probably the classic triumph of elitist conservative ideology was James Bryant Conant selling the idea of “equality of opportunity” to liberals upset at the tendency of Ivy League universities to avoid diversity. The far right of today’s GOP are nihilistic populists better suited to fight for the Confederacy in the Civil War than serve in Congress. Their ideology is fear and nothing but.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The only redistribution of wealth Christie favors is upward, or sideways toward his cronies.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    There’s s some distribution of wealth to those who are not wealthy … for instance, if some Wall Street traders should lose a bucket of money because they did something stupid or engaged in unindicted criminal fraud … those formerly wealth people should clearly have some wealth distributed in their direction.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Those people are still pretty wealthy. If you’re capable of losing fifty million dollars in a year because of a bad investment, you’re definitionally wealthy.

    Lewellan Reply:

    Judge Moonbox sir, beg you read on:
    Who wouldn’t rather take the train and save an hour, sitting, sipping, reading, enjoying any view (actually) at the more sensible Talgo Hybrid speed? A Talgo trip is 5 hours, 4.5 hour to Sacramento and Fremont BART. Unfortunately, rail lines “expand” in heat and will expand in the Valley. This increases situations where speeds WILL BE LIMITED. Therefore, a bit slower for that reason and too many other reasons to mention will be offered here; as if their mention guarantees their honest understanding, hah!

    The heavier locomotive at the slower speed is more apt to remain on curves.
    The lighter faster all-electric cabs are more apt to leave tracks.
    Anyway, that’s my perspective on things yet too many here have responded,
    in my professional opinion, less than honorably. Altamont is just better, period.
    OTOH, Tehachapi is good too even if Tejon probably would be more reliable.
    Thus, the Bakersfield/Lancaster/Palmdale (more direct) rail connection to reach
    Las Vegas/Salt Lake/Denver probably makes more sense; you have me bamboozled.
    Just don’t stretch the truth too much. HSR is going to happen. California’s got it nailed. YEA BROWN!

    joe Reply:

    Lewellan’s comments belong on bottles of Dr. Bronner’s magic soap. It’s a perfect fit.

    I’d replace “talgo” with “peppermint”.

    Lewellan Reply:

    My posts are more crafted than casual thus too unusual for peanut gallery denizens.
    How could their careful phrasing not deserve some respect?
    If only discussion forums served their intended function,
    a fair hearing of viewpoint. Altamont is the more productive investment, period.
    Anyway, have a good summer, though it won’t be easy to justify the poor IOS.
    I’ll be busy trying to kill Bertha Wormkiller, the bore tunnel highway under Seattle in mud.
    Inappropriate soil conditions entirely, especially with high earthquake threat.
    It’s a more important project than this CAHSR tomfoolery. Keep up the good work.

    Zorro Reply:

    Altamont isn’t happening for HSR Lewellan, not in this universe at least.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    “My posts are more crafted than casual thus too unusual for peanut gallery denizens.”
    Its rather that much of the material that they are crafted from appears on closer inspection to consist of BS.

    Lewellan Reply:

    Why am I not surprised your same NIMBYish reply is repeated without a thought
    expressed to defend specific considerations. NO, forget it. YOU guys are bS-artists.
    I read near all good argument for Pacheco/Palmdale and found compromise.
    The decision regarding Altamont vs Pacheco should be removed from private interests,
    including those here who pretend to speak for everyone. Not hardly. I don’t need your respect.
    Your rude replies are a testament to your competence, or lack thereof, Smartass Central.

    Eric M Reply:

    Since you posted the same uneducated post twice, I will respond to both of them.


    “Unfortunately, rail lines “expand” in heat and will expand in the Valley. This increases situations where speeds WILL BE LIMITED. Therefore, a bit slower for that reason and too many other reasons to mention will be offered here; as if their mention guarantees their honest understanding, hah!”

    Google Continuous welded rail and stressing to “rail neutral temperature”.


    “The heavier locomotive at the slower speed is more apt to remain on curves. The lighter faster all-electric cabs are more apt to leave tracks. ”

    Google super elevation.

    Please do some reading how modern railroads operate today because your comments are so far in left field, I’m not sure whether you are joking, or that uneducated.

    Joe Reply:

    Train systems are engineered for local conditions. Long term projected temperatures will increase in both magnitude (hotter) and persistence ( aka heat waves). Multiple days at unusually higher temps is are coming. That’s going to stress infrasturcture including rail.

    Lewellan Reply:

    “Google Continuous welded rail and stressing to “rail neutral temperature”.

    Portland’s MAX welded rail line reduces speed past 90 degrees. Heat expansion.

    “The heavier locomotive at the slower speed is more apt to remain on curves.
    The lighter faster all-electric cabs are more apt to leave tracks. ”

    “Google super elevation”

    No, you google ‘super elevation’ and put a simple answer in here your own words.
    The somewhat heavier ‘modern’ passenger-rail locomotive has more resistence to leaving the tracks.
    And the tracks in heat will expand. You wrote nuthing but an insult. And you say I’m uneducated?
    I respect participants here, but not those who won’t respect my perspective.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    yes trains in Japan go flying off the rails whenever it gets hot. or in Taiwan

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Also in Italy and Spain. Man, they probably are going to be building trampolines for the Turkey project, to bounce the trains back onto the HSR track in the summertime.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    …I’d guess they are going to need catapults in Saudi Arabia….

    Eric M Reply:

    Insult, really??? Those references were for you to LEARN, not be spoon-fed. You seem to not like responses that lead you to facts. Well, here is your spoon feeding in layman’s terms for you:

    Yes rail does heat up and expand and it also contracts when cold. That is why continuous welded rail is stressed to “rail neutral temperature” for the area the tack is laid. It is either cut and stretched, or heated and cut. This way there is not an over-exaggeration of rail movements. Also, securing to crossties which are firmly in ballast, or fasteners in slab track hold the rail movement under extreme stress to a minimum.

    As for <a href=""super elevation (cant). There you go, formulas and all. Also, aerodynamics play a role on high speed train sets, for down force and cross-drafts. No need for unnecessary heavy equipment just to keep the trainset from “leaving the tracks” in curves. Technology has evolved.

    You want people to respect your perspective, but you keep pushing false information. When someone comes along and gives you direction for facts related to your perspective without spoon-feeding you, you call it an insult and wont do you own homework. If you apparently cant take your blinders off and be more open minded when information is presented to you, you don’t belong arguing your “perspective” laboriously.

    Eric M Reply:

    As for super elevation (cant).

    Eric M Reply:

    Rail neutral temperature

    High speed rail superelevation

    High speed rail track geometry

    Lots of reading for you Lewellan. Now was that so hard to search?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It’s just awful the way Shinkansen behave in the heat….. It does get hot in Japan now and then.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Interestingly, both of these are to the benefit of HSR operating on dedicated track, superelevated for high speed operation, and to the disadvantage of Talgos operating on conventional rail shared with freight:

    “Unfortunately, rail lines “expand” in heat and will expand in the Valley. This increases situations where speeds WILL BE LIMITED.”

    … which will be more common on the lower class track than on higher, and …

    “The heavier locomotive at the slower speed is more apt to remain on curves. The lighter faster all-electric cabs are more apt to leave tracks.”
    … which gives the advantage to the HSR running on track elevated for its purposes rather than borrowing track elevated for the purposes of freight.

    This is one of the sources of confirmation bias … when collecting arguments to support a conclusion decided in advance, there is a tendency to accept arguments which seem to support the conclusion, even if on closer examination they contradict it.

    Lewellan Reply:

    “This is one of the sources of confirmation bias … when collecting arguments to support a conclusion decided in advance, there is a tendency to accept arguments which seem to support the conclusion, even if on closer examination they contradict it.”

    A confirmation bias is in practice equally between advocates and opponents. All the more reason to upgrade existing San Juaquin freight and Amtrak as the low-cost 1st Phase with Talgo and electrify where ‘far’ more productive. I’ll give the Tehachapi a fair hearing, but Altamont is the better 1st Phase obviously were it not for your own confirmation bias.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Its true that confirmation bias is distributed across all groups on all side of a public controversy, but not true that its uniformly distributed throughout the population.

    For instance, in this particular comment, you assume that I have a preference regarding the northern approach and the southern approach to the Bay Area, because doing so fits into your “both sides do it equally” story, despite the fact that I don’t have a substantial preference either way.

    Lewellan Reply:

    I appreciate the reminder on confirmation bias. I’m have long ben aware of the bias and try to find balance between conflicting interests. It took awhile, but recently I figure either Tehachapi or Tejon would be fine. My confirmation bias found middle ground for compromise. OTOH, Tehachapi is no more ready to break ground than Tejon. Whichever route can be most feasibly engineered is fine with me.

    As for heat expansion of rail limiting the 200mph alternative (note the word ‘alternative’),
    it’s still a concern to be fairly addressed. Maybe varying between 20 and 110 degrees seasonally won’t be a problem. Other nations no doubt went through rail trial periods with adjustments and corrections.
    I’m not so sure the USA can actually build a 200mph system. If the best we can do is a slow pokey 125mph Talgo dual-mode tilting coaches, that’s a good start. Aim for faster later. Find compromise.

  12. datacruncher
    Aug 8th, 2014 at 17:39

    Kings County To Appeal HSR Ruling To State Supreme Court
    August 7, 2014
    California’s Third District Court of Appeal reversed a Superior Court ruling last week that has, to date, halted the sale of Prop 1A state bonds to finance the bullet train. The court decision was a blow to litigants from Kings County who vehemently oppose the project.

    Now Kings County staff attorney Colleen Carlson says a decision was made Tuesday by the Board Of Supervisors to appeal portions of the ruling to the California Supreme Court.

    joe Reply:

    More Of A Win?

    Despite the setback Kings County Counsel Carlson said after “reading the 49 page decision we are looking at it as more of a win than at first.” Carlson says the Authority can’t spend Prop 1 money on construction until all their ducks are in a row” even though the appeal court said challenges to plans to spend money are not yet timely and the rail board can finalize their specif plan and not have to redo it.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Without the cap and trade money, this would have been a bigger issue. The cap and trade money is not sufficient on its own to complete the IOS, but its certainly sufficient to complete the state match of the ICS, and if the current situation of the GOP holding rail funding hostage breaks down once Obama leaves office, would certainly be enough for a more realistic state match of additional stages. And once the intended use of the Prop1A bond money is for the stage that completes the IOS to begin operation, the basis for the argument that Prop1a bond funds cannot be used falls apart.

    Obviously CHSRA is going to continue trying to gain a judgement in favor of spending the bond money sooner rather than later, but its not a catastrophe for the project if they fall short at the first attempt.

    john burrows Reply:

    Not sure about this—But if it became necessary couldn’t CHSRA borrow what is necessary to match all of the available federal funds and agree to repay with future cap and trade proceeds.

    Joe Reply:

    I think they can borrow against CnT funds. Construction will produce jobs and revenue. The system will improve the CV. CA wins.

    What struck me about the Kings Co is how losing badly was really a win. It’s just the most inane thinking. I hope CA never builds another state project in Kings County.

    The largest employer in Kings Co, by revenue, is the government.

    Donk Reply:

    It’s ridiculous that Kings County, a county that basically produces nothing valuable for our state, can have such a large impact on the state’s future. This is the same as how AL, MS, LA etc. congressmen think they have a right to dictate spending priorities in the country, when they are a financial leach on the rest of us.

    joe Reply:

    The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation operates three state prisons in Kings County.


    he F/A-18F Super Hornet can frequently be seen soaring through the skies above Kings County, as pilots from Naval Air Station Lemoore practice their maneuvers.

    The Navy first deployed the Super Hornet at NAS Lemoore more than a decade ago. Today, there are about
    175 Hornets and Super Hornets home-based in Kings County.


    Of course, it’s not all fun and games. The F/A-18F requires about six hours of maintenance for every one hour in flight. A single fighter also costs more than $60 million to produce.

    Observer Reply:

    There are now private investors that are interested in possibly funding the project. I am wondering if financing can somehow be arranged through or in conjunction with them; then using CnT funds along with operating revenues to repay the funds. I think that we are barely beginning to scratch the surface in this area.

    Observer Reply:

    scratch the word operating, make that generated revenues to repay the funds.

  13. Keith Saggers
    Aug 9th, 2014 at 10:02

    Aug 5, 2014, 2:49pm PDT UPDATED: Aug 6, 2014, 1:41pm PDT
    Private investors warming to California bullet train
    Eric Young
    Reporter-San Francisco Business Times

    Private investors are starting to express interest in funding part of California’s planned bullet train, giving a boost to the $68 billion project.

    Nine companies, mostly large construction, engineering and infrastructure firms that have worked on high-speed rail elsewhere, have written letters saying they are interested in financing part of what would be the state’s largest-ever infrastructure project.

    “We would be very interested in participating in the competition for the construction and financing of California high-speed rail projects,” reads part of a letter from AECOM, a major engineering firm.

    Other companies writing to bullet train planners include Grupo ACS, Sener, Vinci Concessions, Siemens, Railgrup, Sacyr, Acciona Concesiones and Astaldi SpA.

    The California High-Speed Rail Authority said it expects more companies will step forward. “We fully expect this is just the first wave of private interest,” said Ben Tripousis, the northern regional director of the High-Speed Rail Authority . . . .

    It is still too early to know what kinds of investments the California High-Speed Rail Authority will want from private funders. The state might ask private companies to provide loans that are paid back with interest. Or the state may want deals where private companies get a concession to operate a part of the bullet train for a period of time

    Ted Judah Reply:

    You can’t help but wonder if a member of the Legislature from Santa Clarita isn’t going to push through a bill similar to Jerry Hill’s blended option for Palmdale to Burbank. Yes, I realize there are differences between Metrolink’s Antelope Valley line and CalTrain.

    Nevertheless, I still get the feeling more investment in the bookends is premature.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    Ted: That’s an extraordinary statement, even for you. I suggest you come down and take a ride on the AV line and see for yourself. Investment in the bookends improves regional rail which benefits the population by improving mobility. That’s not “premature”, that’s more sensible use of funds than building a segment which will be used eventually but will lie fallow for a decade.

    jimsf Reply:

    just looking at the sked, it seems sparse, and at two hours, the travel time seems a little long for such a short distance. how about hourly and a 90 minute trip time.

    Joey Reply:

    Great! Do you have trains that can tilt 45° and pass through each other?

    … or failing that, the money for tunneling and double track?

    Jon Reply:

    We need to see a lot more detail on what CAHSR and Metrolink are proposing to do with Burbank – Palmdale once it’s been constructed. Previously CAHSR said that service couldn’t start until Merced – Burbank was complete, as any service on a shorter line would require a subsidy. Is that still the case? If so, why expedite Palmdale – Burbank over any other part of the IOS, if the entire IOS needs to be complete before service begins?

    If Palmdale – Burbank will be used before the IOS is complete, how will they provide service while remaining in compliance with the no-subsidy rule of prop 1A? Will the operator be XpressWest, who would surely make a subsidy on Burbank – Las Vegas, but would be unlikely to price Burbank – Palmdale at an attractive price for commuters?

    Or would it be Metrolink, who would require a subsidy, and so would put CAHSR in a tricky spot legally? Metrolink would have to buy new mid or high speed electric trains for the line. Would they abandon service after Merced – Burbank opens, or would they continue to provide commute runs while some other operator provides long distance service? Perhaps after phase one is complete, they would combine the Palmdale – LA section with the “consolidated” option for LA – Anaheim, and run a commute train with stops at Palmdale, Burbank, LAUS, Norwalk, Fullerton, Anaheim?

  14. jimsf
    Aug 10th, 2014 at 11:27

    Meanwhile, I just returned from a 2000 mile intra state driving trip which included, sac-tahoe-sac-santa cruz-sf-sac-visalia-palm springs-universal city-palm springs-hollywood-san jose-visalia-sac including US 50, I-80, I 680, ca 17, ca 85, i 280, us 101 norcal, us 101 socal, hwood fwy, the 10 the 210, the 5, the 99, ca 111, ca 89, and NV 28

    one, the states highways are entirely inadequate to handle the needs of our nearly 40 million residents. Im not sure where everyone was going, but there was congestion at every turn for the duration of the trip.

    two, there is currently no alternative.

    It would have been nice to have some speedy and convenient options, and two, along with hsr, we still need some major investments in the state highway system, especially the “CA” state routes.

  15. datacruncher
    Aug 10th, 2014 at 13:18

    Conservation Groups Launch Legal Challenge to Cut Carbon Pollution from Aircraft
    Conservation groups today filed a notice of intent to sue the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to reduce global warming pollution from aircraft engines. The notice, filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth, notes that EPA has failed to reduce this pollution even though a federal judge ruled nearly three years ago that it must address aviation’s fast-growing carbon emissions. Earthjustice is representing Friends of the Earth in the suit.

    “The airline industry’s massive and fast-growing greenhouse gas pollution poses a dangerous threat to our climate,” said Vera Pardee, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “The EPA has to stop dragging its feet and start pushing airlines to curb their damaging carbon emissions.”

    Aviation accounts for about 11 percent of carbon dioxide pollution from the U.S. transportation sector and is one of the fastest-growing sources of carbon pollution, rising three to five percent a year. Carbon emissions from global aviation will quadruple by mid-century without action.

    The Notice of Intent to file suit is here for those that wish to read it:

    Eric Reply:

    I have no doubt the carbon out of the airlines is generally increasing…but how about the carbon per passenger?
    if the demand for increased efficiency keeps up, I’d love to see the X-48 design become reality

  16. datacruncher
    Aug 10th, 2014 at 13:19

    Trade Short-Haul Air for High Speed Rail and Help the Climate

    One alternative for reducing carbon emissions worth pursuing in the U. S. would be assessing a small fee on domestic airline travel, and using the revenue to expand high-speed rail. By promoting and improving high-speed rail, this would make a less-carbon-intensive means of travel available and more affordable to more Americans.

    Such a fee could be weighted to discourage short-haul air travel, particularly flights shorter than 300 miles. According to numbers from the Environmental Protection Agency, those flights are nearly twice as carbon-intensive as intercity rail, producing 0.275 kg of CO2 per passenger mile, versus 0.144 kg per passenger mile for the equivalent train trip. (Longer flights are less carbon intensive because take-offs and landings, which burn the greatest amount of fuel, are a lesser proportion of the overall trip).


  17. Reality Check
    Aug 10th, 2014 at 23:35

    CHSRA plans to use cap-and-trade cash to accelerate work on Palmdale-Burbank

    Rail authority CEO Jeff Morales, in response to requests and concerns from legislators, is asking the agency’s board to adopt a policy steering future cap-and-trade money — potentially billions of dollars a year — toward development of the proposed Palmdale-to-Burbank section of the statewide rail system and other improvements in the Palmdale-Los Angeles rail corridor.

    “It is the authority’s commitment and intent … to use these funds to accelerate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and put new emphasis on improvements in urban areas,” Morales wrote in a memo to the board.

    Palmdale-Burbank is “a key segment that could be accelerated by cap-and-trade proceeds as they become available,” Morales said. “This strategy would allow the authority to build from two directions simultaneously” to complete a $31 billion operating segment between Merced and the Southland.

    The cost to build the 520-mile, San Francisco-to-Los Angeles system is forecast to be about $68 billion. No cost estimates have been made for future extensions of the routes to Sacramento and San Diego.

    Joe Reply:

    Construction in the Central Valley will be more dependent on federal money.

    majority leader Kevin McCarthy could easily direct funds to his district.

    StevieB Reply:

    California will move forward on its ambitious high-speed bullet train from Los Angeles to San Francisco without seeking any additional aid from federal government, Gov. Jerry Brown said.

    Mr. Brown said, “It’s well within the capability of the state of California … We get federal help for our roads and our bridges…but right now the Republicans, under Mr. McCarthy, have decided that it’s better to treat high-speed rail as a political football, than as a great civic opportunity.”

    jimsf Reply:

    The republicans will never win in california again.

    J. Wong Reply:

    I wouldn’t say “never”, but it is unlikely unless they change something like maybe being open to immigration.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Some of the national Republicans are – for one, the entire Bush clan, and other people from Texas. The California people are insane, though.

    Joey Reply:

    Sounds like someone’s getting antsy about the chances of that segment ever being built…

  18. les
    Aug 11th, 2014 at 09:21

    its amazing what a big fat 0 the Republicans are offering for help with their state transportation efforts.

  19. Donk
    Aug 11th, 2014 at 14:03

    Great rebuttal to the NYT article in Time

    Jerry Reply:

    Thank you Donk.
    It leaves egg on the face of the NY Times.

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