2014: The Best Year Ever for California HSR?

Dec 31st, 2014 | Posted by

2014 was the best year for California high speed rail since at least 2008, when voters approved the Proposition 1A bonds. But there’s an argument it might have been even better than that. Let’s take a quick look back at the year that was.

Cap and trade money secures California HSR’s future. The June decision to give 25 percent of the cap and trade revenues each year to high speed rail was a game changer. It ensured that the project would have long-term financial support – delivered by Prop 1A delivered $9 billion to the high speed rail project. Federal stimulus added another $4 billion. But California’s cap and trade system could add $10 billion or more in total to the system. That’s still not enough to get the entire system built from LA to SF. But it is a stable, long-term source of revenue that will help bring in new money.

Just how much money HSR will get from cap and trade isn’t quite clear, as the Sacramento Bee’s David Siders reports. But it has unlocked new interest from the private sector:

Talks between the rail authority and prospective private investors have picked up in recent months, benefiting both from the cap-and-trade announcement and a series of favorable legal rulings.

Among companies that contacted the state when cap and trade materialized was Sener Engineering and Systems Inc. which called cap and trade “a turning point” for high-speed rail.

Spain’s Sacyr USA said in a letter that ongoing funding represented “the signal the private sector has been waiting for as it shows the state is committed to getting this project done and moving it forward now,” and ACS Infrastructure Development Inc. predicted “this commitment by the state will in turn motivate private sector involvement in the financing and development of the program.”

The approval of cap and trade for HSR has been a crucial political signal to the private sector that California government is committed to building high speed rail and is putting in an additional stake to help get it built. That’s especially valuable in an era when the Tea Party controls Congress and flatly refuses to spend any more federal money on HSR, despite its proven record of success.

HSR supporters win at the ballot box. Jim Costa may have had to eke out a narrow victory in Fresno, but the big news is Jerry Brown’s 20 point drubbing of Neel Kashkari in the race for governor. Kashkari thought he could win by rallying the public against the “crazy train” – only to discover Californians actually support it (see next item), or at least aren’t interested in seeing it die. Fresno mayor Ashley Swearengin lost her bid for Controller, but that was because she made the mistake of running as a Republican. Her campaign at least had the nice effect of getting Betty Yee, a fantastic elected leader and Swearengin’s Democratic challenger for Controller, to endorse HSR. The result is, as I described it in October, that California now has a pro-HSR political consensus.

Polls show majority of Californians backs HSR. A March PPIC poll found that 53% of Californians support high speed rail, a crucial element of that pro-HSR consensus. Some in the media still claimed that HSR was somehow unpopular with the electorate, but the numbers don’t lie.

CHSRA racks up big court victories. California HSR didn’t just win big in the state legislature and at the polls. 2014 was also the year it overcame its legal hurdles, probably for good. It’s not clear yet which is the bigger legal victory: the October ruling from the State Supreme Court upholding an appeals court decision that saw the CHSRA prevail over Kings County, or the December ruling from the Surface Transportation Board that their approval preempts CEQA and thus calling into question present and future litigation against HSR based on CEQA – and most of that litigation has been rooted in CEQA. This project will probably face lawsuits until the day it opens, given the litigious nature of California NIMBYs and HSR opponents. But after 2014 it’s hard to see how those lawsuits can succeed. No wonder Bakersfield chose to settle.

California pundits come around to supporting HSR. Recognizing the trends, pundits are beginning to realize that HSR really is a good idea – and that it is really going to happen. I really liked Joe Mathews’ article at Zócalo from November, pointing out that Southwest Airlines isn’t actually a cheap and easy travel option within the state any more – and therefore, HSR makes a lot of sense. The LA Times’ George Skelton reached a similar conclusion just before Christmas, realizing that HSR travel is much more desirable and comfortable than the cattle call that has become modern air travel. Yes, HSR supporters have been making these same points for over six years, but better late than never that good people like Mathews and Skelton realize we were right.

Overall, 2014 has been a fantastic year for high speed rail in California. And 2015 will get off to an even better start with the groundbreaking in Fresno on January 6. It took a lot of work to get to this point, and there’s plenty more to come, but HSR is finally free of most of the obstacles it had to face in the years after 2008.

Finally, thanks to all the blog’s readers and commenters. You can look at the upper right of the site and see that posting has dropped off a bit since the site’s peak activity in 2009-10, but I plan to keep this blog around as long as there is an interest in reading about high speed rail in California.

  1. synonymouse
    Dec 31st, 2014 at 14:07

    A revote on Prop 13 would likely reject the plan. That’s why every effort is made to prevent it from being placed on the ballot.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    You mean Prop 1A, right? Or do you think Prop 13 would get repealed as well?

    synonymouse Reply:

    You caught me good on that one. I don’t think it was a Freudian slip but rather the bad cold or flu I am experiencing.

    I believe there would be a good market for a home test to determine what the hell virus one has caught. It is probably an expensive and time consuming test at this point. I am assuming a rhinovirus symptoms are itchy, runny nose and sneezing. This was not like that, so maybe it was H3N2. Be nice to know.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Everyone makes typos; I just wanted to be sure it was a typo rather than a comment about Prop 13.

    Jerry Reply:

    Maybe there could be a good market for a home test to determine if something is a typo or a Freudian slip.

    Observer Reply:

    A computer APP is bound to be developed for that.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    The signature threshold will be pretty low in 2016–maybe you and Tim Draper can get it on the ballot…

    synonymouse Reply:

    Very unlikely as the business GOP tacitly supports hsr as pro-developer.

    Otherwise we would have seen a well-financed effort to put it on the ballot heretofore.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    You can’t use paid signature gatherers anymore as it is. And the signature threshold is going to be low, so you could always run a ballot measure to clarify Prop 1a.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The plastic bag manufacturers just spent $2mil to gather signatures to put a ballot measure on to overturn the State ban .

    Max Wyss Reply:

    And have they been successful?

    Ted Judah Reply:

    They might be, but there is a limit as to how soon you can verify the signatures.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    Is there a time span during which the signatures must be gathered and verified?

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Yes. The exact rules are at Sos.ca.gov if you want to check.

  2. Alon Levy
    Dec 31st, 2014 at 14:20

    Surely, 2008 was a better year.

    beetroot Reply:

    Don’t call him Shirley.

  3. les
    Dec 31st, 2014 at 14:37

    I’m curious to how cheaper petro and nat gas are going to impact C&T?
    Cheaper => more usage => more C&T revenue?

    Observer Reply:

    I guess it may depend on the CO2 emissions allowed, the number of permits issued, and the minimum set price??

  4. john burrows
    Dec 31st, 2014 at 18:07

    Indirectly some more possible good news for high speed rail on this last day of 2014—

    I pretty much disregard polls except when I like the results, and I like what today’s Gallup and Rasmussen polls are showing. For the first time in a while Obama’s approval rating is breaking even in both polls. Rasmussen has his approval at 49% and disapproval at 49%. The Gallup poll has approval and disapproval both at 48%.

    This development, particularly if it proves to be an indication that an increasing majority of Americans now approve of our president’s
    job performance, may or may not be of some future help to high speed rail in California and the rest of the country, but it’s not going to hurt. Obama has been a strong supporter of high speed rain and it’s good to see indications that his lob approval rating is trending upward.

    Observer Reply:

    And now that the republicans will hold the house and senate, their poll numbers will likely get worst; and Obama’s poll numbers could get better.

    joe Reply:

    Between Gov Brown and The President, CA’s Central Valley polls will need to tread carefully. They have the bully pulpit and Brown’s kicking off the groud breaking ceremony the day after he is inaugurated.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Barack and Brown are lame ducks. The Central Valley pols live there and got elected there.

    2016 will be very close, I think. Hanging chad time. My card is Hillary vs. Mitt.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Current polls have Hillary crushing all likely Republican contenders.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    They did in 2006 too.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    No, they didn’t. A lot of them showed Hillary running behind Giuliani et al.

    Zorro Reply:

    California ballots don’t use punch cards, only punch cards make chads…

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Nobody uses punch cards for Federal elections anymore. Since it would cost more to use something else for Federal elections and keep on using punch cards than just using the machine they use for Federal election almost all local elections use them too.

  5. Useless
    Dec 31st, 2014 at 20:21

    A profile of nine rolling stock companies that intend to bid on California HSR rolling stock competition.

    Italy’s AnsaldoBreda;
    SunGroup/CNR Tangshan;
    Hyundai Rotem;

    Kawasaki has no chance since California would be the first efSET customer and California will have to bear all the risk. CNR faces Siemens lawsuits. CSR faces Kawasaki lawsuits. AnsaldoBreda and Talgo depends on Bombardier. Rotem is not clear which model they are bidding with, KTX-II or HEMU-430X.


    Useless Reply:

    Oh, Talgo is bidding in California with AVRIL(Bombardier free) and not 350. That’s quite a risk as this is a developmental prototype and Californa could end up being the launch customer like Kawasaki efSET. At least the rival HEMU-430X has a launch customer and California will not be the launch customer.

    jimsf Reply:

    happy new year.

    Just go with alstom AGV

    Zorro Reply:

    Agreed, Alstom holds the record for speed, so I’d prefer them to the others.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    If you want French loading gauges and platform heights.

    ComradeFrana Reply:

    This again?
    Modifying an existing EMU train design for 20-30 cm wider loading gauge is relatively easy, and certainly not to the point where the finished product couldn’t still be called AGV.

    Oh, and you do realize that the AGV is actually a high-floor train, right?

    Max Wyss Reply:

    Be aware that whatever product is chosen, it won’t be usable just as it; the chosen product is a platform, and based on that platform, the product for California will be built.

    That’s why, for example, Siemens has the Velaro-E (for Renfe), the Velaro-D (for Deutsche Bahn; maybe even several variants), the Velaro-RUS (for RZD), and so on. The trains are still the same platform, but you can not send one to another network and assume that it will be operable just so.

    With some few exceptions, you can’t go to a rolling stock maker and haul your vehicle from their yard.

    Clem Reply:

    Yes but how else to express one’s disdain for European trains? Narrow and stubby and not made of stainless steel, pah!!!

    Max Wyss Reply:

    You mean well designed, elegant, made of aluminium (the right way), and running…

    That’s indeed a problem to find a way to express it…

    Jonathan Reply:

    Yes, it’s difficult to go to a rolling-stock manufacturer and “haul your vehicle from their yard”.
    *Unless* the vehicle is built to your track-gaugel; within your loading gauge; has compatible signalling with your signalling system; and *is certified to run on your track by your regulatory authority*.

    That “homologization” is the time-consuming part. Even when it doesn’t require idiocy like painting an “F” (for “front”) on one end of the train-set, and US-steam-era grab irons on a streamlined 350 km/hr train. :)

    Max Wyss Reply:

    FWIW, in Europe, there is often a rather discreed 1 and 2 sign near the cab door on a locomotive, indicating that it is cab 1 and cab 2. In the time before integrated data loggers, cab 1 was the one with the registrating speedometer. But as the concept of a locomotive with TWO CABS is so rare in the US, this subtle labelling is totally new…

    But when a manufacturer has dealt with the EBA (and thrown in the RFI Cesifer), the FRA certification is a holiday trip.

    swing hanger Reply:

    jimsf, I happened to ride the AGV for the first time today, on the hsl between Rome and Naples. Some good sustained running at 300kmh, far superior in acceleration, ride comfort and interior noise compared to the(earlier) TGV models. Thought I’d just give my impression.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I’m less worried that AnsaldoBreda uses Bombardier technology and more worried it uses AnsaldoBreda technology.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    That article is a typical Schurrnalischt product; kind of something but full of errors…

    Anyway, the deal for the Frecchiarossa 1000 is that AnsaldoBreda is earmarked for some assembly and then doing maintenance under the control of Bombardier (it is essentially their local partner). It could also be that they have been doing the homogolization for Italy (something normally extremely tedious, but helpful if you have a local partner, knowing the “game”).

    And we still don’t know who will be buying AnsaldoBreda; is it Hitachi, or is it CRRC (the merged product of CNR (shortlisted for AnsaldoBreda) and CSR)? CRRC definitely has more cash at hand, but Hitachi is (and has been) eager to expand to the European market. We’ll see.

    Zorro Reply:

    CSR and CNR agree to Merge, to become CRRC

    The deal was reportedly finalised at board meetings of the two companies in Beijing on the previous day. Under a draft proposal submitted for approval by the State Council on December 3, CSR would acquire the shares of CNR, which would then be delisted on both the Hong Kong and Shanghai stock exchanges. The combined company would be renamed China Railway Rolling Stock Corp, to be known as CRRC.

    les Reply:

    I like riding Talgo 8s on Seattle-Portland line. Not super high speed (125mph) but a good product nonetheless.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    If by “good product” you mean “locomotives so top-heavy that the tilting trainset’s maximum cant deficiency is lower than what’s achieved in France with non-tilting sets,” then sure, the FRA Talgos are good.

  6. Michael Allen
    Dec 31st, 2014 at 20:45

    Hi Robert!

    Your blog has done an incredible service to the citizens. Keeping us well informed. And explaining with facts, reason, and logic that most of the opposition to this project was based in mindless idiotology, untruths, and nonsense. Bravo for a job well done.

    Also, please don’t stop BLOGGING! We need your insight and perspective all the way to the end. I live near one of the LA to San Diego stations and will be a loyal reader for years to come.

    And finally, something on the new high speed rail line needs to have YOUR NAME on it. For all the work you have done, I really think you deserve the Robert Cruickshank – Ontario Station. Or some other stop along the way. Of course the politicians probably won’t support an entire station named after a mere citizen / advocate / blogger, but I think it is well deserved. And if not a station, at least a MAJOR bridge. And what a legacy that would be for your son and his children. :-)

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Hah, thanks, but I don’t need anything quite like that. There are plenty of others more deserving. I’ll just be happy to ride from SF to LA in under three hours!

    Michael Allen Reply:

    Well, you are modest. But how about an honorary business class seat on the first train from the SFV. And you could do a live video blog, and post the video for those of us who won’t be up at 6am in the morning for that first train. :-)

  7. Observer
    Dec 31st, 2014 at 21:19

    California’s HSR system will have to traverse three mountain passes: Pacheco, Tehachapi, San Gabriel Mountains. Which of the high speed trainsets offered can best handle steep grades; surely that has to be a factor?

    synonymouse Reply:

    Get the cheapest; it is going to the scrapper anyway.

    Observer Reply:

    Also, I am not sure about this, but I believe that one of the reasons Siemens Velaro was chosen over the Alstom AGV for the new Eurostar trains was because it can handle more power loads than the AGV?? Also, the Seimens Velaro seems to be doing very well in Spain between Madrid – Barcelona, as are Talgo’s trains. As far as I can tell, this would be the area with the most similar conditions to California. So there are many factors that the CAHSRA will consider.

    Just a note: Spain is on course to replace the TGV trainsets that first started running between Madrid – Seville in 1992. I imagine they will consider the Talgo Avril.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    I suspect that one of the reasons is that the Velaro may be easier to be certified than the AGV, as it already has (in the form of the ICE-3) certification for France and the Netherlands, and the certification process for the DB Velaros intended for London services has been going on at the time of the decision. The AGV does not have those certificates (and you may expect one to two years to get all of them).

    Joe Reply:

    What about trains used in italy which also has mountainous terrian? These two are listed and can achieve 220mph.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    My reference was for the Eurostar order (comparing Velaro with AGV, and maybe Zefiro (which was kind of vaporware at the time). And of them, only the Velaro already had a certification process for the involved countries (France, Belgium, Netherlands, HS1, Eurotunnel, and Germany) going on. (I am not even sure whether the AGV has the formal certification for France; so far SNCF has not ordered any AGVs.)

    The Italian high speed trains mentioned are used only on the high speed lines, and their immediate feeders. As both have distributed power, they should, however, not have much problems over the mountain passes, at the according line speeds.

    Clem Reply:

    Mountain passes favor trains with distributed traction, so that’s a hit against the Talgo. You need to be able to start on a 3.5% grade, on wet rail, with one inverter pack out of service.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    A long-known example is that the German ICE-1 are not allowed up the Geislinger Steige between Stuttgart and Ulm (2.25% grade, minimum curve radius 285 m) when only one power car is operational (or if they are allowed, it has to be assured that there will be no signal stop), because a single power car would not be able to get the trainset running after a stop (well, maybe, with a good driver, but it would take ages). Here, it is the combination of grade and curve radius.

    Michael Reply:

    And some picturesque hillside vineyards, if I remember correctly. All being bypassed by the “beloved” Stuttgart 21 project in favor of tunnels and chasing the Autobahn.

    Happy Silvester!

    Max Wyss Reply:

    The Geislingen Steige bypass has nothing to do with Stuttgart 21. They are totally independent projects.

    And from what I read, the bypass would nevertheless not be suitable for the typically underpowered freight trains in Germany, which means that they will still be sent up the old line, using uncoupled helpers, and being limited to 60 km/h…

    Happy New Year…

    Michael Reply:

    I guess I’ve just quaffed the DB’s Kool Aid about Stuttgart 21. Thanks.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    If it comes to shorten trip time between Mannheim and Ulm, both the Geislinger Steige bypass AND Stuttgart 21 together would get best results. Even if they turn around an ICE in 5 minutes, that’s more than 2 minutes in the new station, and the yard area is shorter too, meaning that the trains can speed up quicker.

    Observer Reply:

    The Siemens Velaro-E advertises that it can travel steep gradients of up to 40%.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Not 40%, but 40.

    Observer Reply:

    Thanks for the clarification.

    Observer Reply:

    Anyway, based on Siemens experience with the Velaro-E in Spain, I would think that they should be able to offer a particular good variation for California; literally off the shelf almost. Would be made in Sacramento to boot.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    Well, the Velaro D is currently doing 4% between Frankfurt and Köln.

    If they get the order, they probably may reuse some tooling for the Velaro RUS because of the bigger loading gauge.

  8. Michael
    Jan 1st, 2015 at 12:01

    Here’s a worldwide perspective on China’s high speed rail push. If you follow global rail news, the switch to rail for China-Europe is underway, along with the successful entry into the European rail modernization business.

    Jerry Reply:

    An Orient Express for freight.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    Even now, with many segments not completed, it takes less than half the time for a container by train than by sea, and it is safer.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    But that’s via the Trans-Siberian, not via an all-standard gauge route through China, Central Asia, and Marmaray.

    Eric Reply:

    Wouldn’t you expect Marmaray to be full of passenger traffic at some near date?

    And why would you go that far south anyway? You’d have to deal with major geological and political difficulties on any possible route between Turkey (the Asian side) and China. Just stay in Russia, it’s much flatter and more stable (except for the Ukraine border which you can bypass). Who cares if existing Russian railroads are a different gauge. If you want high speed, then you need a new alignment anyway. If not, you might as well transfer your containers from train to train where the gauge switches.

    Eric Reply:

    Even for south China to south Europe, the great circle route take you well north of Turkey.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    I think it isn’t via Transsib, but the current fastest route is via Urumqi – Kazakhstan – Russia – Belarus Poland. Changing the bogies at the border between China and Kazakhstan and then again between Belarus and Poland is a bit tedious, but routinely done. There may also be time needed for “paperwork”, which needs that there is not that much time left. OTOH, it may also be possible that the containers are simply transloaded (not a very big deal with the right equipment). This route, north of the Caspian sea and the Black sea has the advantage to go through politically more stable areas than the southern route, which would go through Iraq, Iran, and Turkey, and in Europe have to go through Bulgaria-Romania-Hungary.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    I agree on the route but believe China also wants high speed passenger trains to Europe, Kazakhstan is now operating talgos from Astana to Almaty, in China HSR is operating east to Urumqi.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    west to Urumqi

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The great circle route from Moscow to Beijing is 3600 miles, 5,800 kilometers. It’s 2,600 miles between Boston and Los Angeles. 20 hours at 300 kph average speed not top speed. I don’t think so.

    Eric Reply:

    Yeah, I’ve never understood how this can be justified as a passenger route. Maybe a 20 hour overnight train is more comfortable than an 8 hour flight, but that’s not enough reason to build 6000km of new high speed tracks.

  9. datacruncher
    Jan 1st, 2015 at 16:53

    Symbolic groundbreaking Tuesday in Fresno for high-speed rail project
    By Tim Sheehan

    The California High-Speed Rail Authority expects that millions among the traveling public will want to ride its sleek, 220-mph bullet trains between the Bay Area and the Los Angeles Basin when the system starts running in the early 2020s.

    But Tuesday’s ceremonial groundbreaking in Fresno for the controversial rail project — considered one of the largest public works efforts in California history — will be an invitation-only affair for about 1,200 dignitaries and guests. The festivities are set for noon at the northeast corner of Tulare and G streets, the site of a planned high-speed train station in downtown Fresno.


    datacruncher Reply:

    And a quick Twitter comment from Sheehan about covering HSR:

    Holy smoke, did I really write 70 #highspeedrail stories in 2014? It’s sure to keep me busy in 2015, too!

    Observer Reply:

    Well, I will looking forward to his article on the groundbreaking ceremony, to see what new information can be gleaned from the many speakers.

    Jerry Reply:

    And the article reports that the original schedule, “called for construction to commence in September 2012.” OK, they’re just 27 months behind schedule.

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