What Texas Reveals About HSR Opposition

Apr 5th, 2015 | Posted by

When Texas Central announced their high speed rail proposal, they threw more than a little shade at California’s project:

“We are not the traditional state-run railroad,” Robert Eckels, the company’s president and a former Harris County judge, said at a high-speed rail forum in Irving on Tuesday. “This is designed to be a profitable high-speed rail system that will serve the people of these two great cities and in between and, ultimately, the whole state of Texas.”…

If we start taking the federal money, it takes twice as long, costs twice as much,” Eckels said. “My guess is we’d end up pulling the plug on it.”…

The relatively flat, sparsely populated land between North Texas and Houston makes the project more doable than similar plans that have been proposed in the Northeast or California, Eckels said. One approach that could reduce costs considerably is using existing rights of way for freight rail to build the new track. For the system to work, the high-speed trains would have to go over, under or around car and pedestrian traffic and couldn’t cross other tracks, Eckels said.

This was 2012, the height of HSR denial, and you can see Eckels referencing some of the primary attacks on California HSR: it’s inherently flawed because it’s government-funded, it’s not designed to be profitable, Texas’s geography is different so it can be built faster and cheaper.

There are other arguments in the “Texas can do HSR better than California” genre, as this piece from 2014 shows:

1. Both DFW and Houston have relatively compact downtown business areas. You can walk to a lot of the places you need to go, and both downtowns are well served by taxis. Los Angeles is a massive, metastasized sprawl. You can cab around but it’s going to cost you. San Francisco is less spread out, but because of the hills it’s no fun to walk, even short distances. (Houston sprawls with the best of them, but most of the business traffic goes straight downtown.)

2. Interstate 45 in Texas is flat and low density. This would make construction and engineering less complicated and acquisition of land rights much less problematic.

3. Texas isn’t eaten up with environmental zealots. Trust me, as soon as they find an endangered mugwort, the California bullet train will come to a screeching halt while the state conducts 10 years of environmental studies.

Of course, the notion that DFW and Houston are more compact than SF or downtown LA is absurd. Yet surely this author was correct to say that land acquisition and environmental approvals would be easier in Texas, right?

As it turns out, it isn’t. Not only were the attacks on California HSR flawed, so too were the arguments as to why Texas HSR would be done better. In reality both projects are facing the same obstacles, suggesting that there are common elements to HSR opposition across the country. Therefore, California’s project isn’t unique, or badly planned, or poorly run. It was merely the first to encounter these routine obstructions.

Purple City had a good roundup recently of problems that Texas Central has encountered, and the list should sound familiar to anyone who has been paying attention to California HSR:

The initial opposition to the line was spearheaded by a young couple with a small patch of farmland in the path of a high-speed bypass of some curvy BNSF track. This is the most understandable form of NIMBYism, and in response TCR got out in front of the release of the Federal EIS to announce that they preferred the Utility Alignment, a straight shot that would parallel existing pipeline and power transmission easements.

Here’s common obstacle number one: NIMBYism. The above example cites rural Texan NIMBYism, but we also just saw an example of urban Texas NIMBYism. No matter where you propose to build an HSR route in the United States, the people who live near it are guaranteed to freak out and insist the project be moved far away from them.

It’s not just that NIMBYs don’t want it in their backyard. HSR tends to arouse stronger opposition than other forms of infrastructure because it is unfamiliar to most Americans, and this is true in California as well as Texas. They don’t see the project as necessary, they don’t understand its purpose or value, it’s alien and unusual and something they don’t think they’ll ever use.

Further, unlike a freeway which might have an interchange in their area, an HSR line is going to only have a few stops along the entire route. So for a farmer along the HSR line, the project does seem like an intrusion from which they’ll never see any direct benefit. That’s only going to intensify opposition.

However, by this point the opposition had coalesced in the form of HB 1889. Sponsor Will Metcalf says he thinks rail is a waste of money when we need more funding for highways, although he hasn’t stated how canceling a privately-financed railway will accomplish that goal.

This is the second common obstacle: right-wing political opposition. There’s a lot going on here, so I’ll break this obstacle into smaller pieces.

Part of this is the right-wing belief that rail is never a good use of money. Notice that the Republican legislator cited above doesn’t seem to care whether or not the money is public or private. Since at least the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan issued an executive order halting new rail starts and slashed funding for urban rail, opposition to passenger rail has been conservative dogma. You can cite stats at them until you’re blue in the face and it won’t matter, because conservatism is, like most political movements, rooted in values and not facts and figures.

Why are conservatives anti-rail? One reason is because it’s seen as something only urban Democrats want and use, a thing that suburban conservatives are forced to subsidize. There’s all sorts of things factually wrong with that assumption, but again, it matches the movement’s values, so the facts don’t matter as much.

Grist’s David Roberts gets at another aspect of right-wing opposition to efforts to reduce CO2 emissions:

The scale of response necessary to adequately address climate change is utterly outside the ideological frame of reference of the right….

Conservatism seeks to preserve the status quo, which in the U.S. means oil, coal, suburbs, consumerism, and inequality. As I’ve written before, there is no plausible conservative solution to climate change. There is no “small government” way to reduce emissions far enough, fast enough. There’s no “small government” way to build up defenses against the disasters that climate change will bring, or to clean up after them. There’s no way to tackle climate without grappling with oil, coal, suburbs, consumerism, and inequality.

Roberts is not only making an important point here that conservatism is about protecting a suburban, small-government status quo. It is also about protecting a status quo that is dependent on oil. Conservatives think oil dependence is a good thing. They cheered wildly when Sarah Palin said “drill, baby, drill” in response to the 2008 gas price spike. I’m sure there will be a few conservatives and Republicans who post a comment saying they don’t share that view. That’s fine, but such people are in the clear minority on the right.

When it comes to high speed rail – a passenger rail project, popular in Europe, being built in California, backed by liberals like Barack Obama, touted for its benefits for the environment and the climate, intended to help reduce dependence on driving, and seen as threatening to an oil-based sprawl economy – it pushes all the right-wing’s buttons in ways that few other pieces of infrastructure can.

Not all HSR opposition is right-wing. But the right is the political home of HSR opposition, and even self-described Democrats have been cheering on and sometimes working with people like Jeff Denham when they decide he’s their best chance at stopping the HSR route being planned for their backyard.

Overall, based on what happened in California and what is now happening in Texas (itself a replay of the Trans-Texas Corridor fight from a decade ago), we can put together a general theory of HSR opposition: Whenever an HSR project is proposed, regardless of the details of where it will go and who will pay for it, you can expect that people living next to the route as well as right-wingers and Republican elected officials will come out against it.

It would be easy to have a little schadenfreude at the expense of the Texas HSR project, after all the smug attacks they threw at California. But I want to see that project get built just as much as I want California HSR to get built. I hope that the project’s supporters now understand that California HSR didn’t do anything wrong at all, it just ran into the same opposition that Texas is now experiencing.

Unfortunately for Texas, they’re not in as strong a position to overcome that opposition as is California. If the strongest political opposition to HSR comes from the right, that doesn’t hurt California HSR so much since the right has no power in the Golden State. Democrats back HSR and so the project has been able to overcome its obstacles.

NIMBYism is a very strong force in California, but because the state has a strong progressive politics and is governed by Democrats, other concerns – job creation, traffic reduction, climate change action – can and are trumping the NIMBYs. Once again, those countervailing forces don’t exist in Texas, at least not quite as strongly. We only need to remember the fate of the Trans-Texas Corridor to see that.

Finally, governments can persevere in the face of public opposition. That’s both a strength and a weakness of government, for obvious reasons. The private sector, however, is going to have to ask itself whether it’s worth it financially to persevere when opposition continues to organize. That may be another reason why Texas HSR, for all its promise, may yet find it struggles more than has California HSR.

Still, let’s hope it gets built.

  1. Jerry
    Apr 5th, 2015 at 22:07

    Texas talk as usual – all hat, no cattle.
    “Can be built faster and cheaper” – All talk, no action.

    trentbridge Reply:


    Jos Callinet Reply:

    Texas may be heading for a “cattlestrope”!

    Jos Callinet Reply:

    If so, this won’t be the last time we’ve “herd” of it!

    nslander Reply:

    Get Texas mooving.

  2. Ted Judah
    Apr 5th, 2015 at 23:35

    Great article, but I would have started with a different premise. I would have pointed out that the reason the Texas project is struggling just as much if not more than CAHSR is because high speed rail is actually part of a larger “blue state” strategy which the GOP Congress opposes but still needs to use as a sort of bogeyman. It’s also the reason that they use the Northeast Corridor as a straw man against more funding for HSR in California.

    The point about NIMBYism is well taken, but so far local landowners haven’t really had much success.

    Jos Callinet Reply:

    Texans in support of their HSR plans must NOT “cow-tow” to the NIMBYS!

  3. Alon Levy
    Apr 6th, 2015 at 04:10

    And yet Texas has full funding for the line, whereas California isn’t even close. California’s problem is not the Silicon Valley NIMBYs. It’s lack of money, compounded by the fact that it has made alignment choices that significantly raise costs. And in Texas… the Purple City link explains exactly how the latest attempt to legally stop HSR is doomed to failure.

    You have this tendency to exhibit pessimism bias about any place you don’t identify with. I’m not sure why. You tweet every poll that’s negative to Labour in the UK and the Liberals and NDP in Canada, you’re practically crowing about the impending Vancouver transit referendum defeat as some sort of culture war against Jarrett Walker, you actually used the expression “betrayal of socialism” to refer to the Swedish Social Democrats, and now the sotto voce “Texas HSR will have problems” line that you’d never use for California. Why is that?

    Tokkyu40 Reply:

    The route is controlled by more than where the costs are. Revenue is also important, so the route is going where customers are. And since most of the traffic will probably be between the San Joaquin Valley and the endpoints, that means the route 99 corridor.
    There might be some argument over whether the best route to Palmdale is the I-5 or Tehachapi, but the mandate says the train is going to Palmdale.
    Everyone has their own idea of the perfect route, but no one has the route that everyone agrees is perfect. I’m in favor of the route that’s good enough and draws the most passengers.

    synonymouse Reply:

    “…the mandate says the train is going to Palmdale.”

    There is no mandate; just some influence peddlers with juice downtown. FailRail.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    … most of the traffic will probably be between the San Joaquin Valley and the endpoints,

    Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter

    Alon Levy Reply:

    How many extra passengers are drawn to the Millbrae tunnel?

    joe Reply:

    “And yet Texas has full funding for the line, whereas California isn’t even close.”


    Texas hasn’t a penny. A private corporation claims to have the funds and seeks ROW. They have no ROW and face legislative opposition.

    Their business model is to service ~50,000 business users between two end to end stations.

    Already public officials are pushing for additional stations and extended track into city centers.

    Texas officials quoted about the rail line admit what you will not.

    A private and public funded system need to have different goals. A private system is profit driven and narrow interests and limited service. Public should be a public service and server broader interests.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    50,000 fares a day for 240 business days a year is 12,000,000 fares.

    EJ Reply:

    You do like bringing the FUD about this project. They’ll get the ROW the same way a public project would – buy it or use eminent domain. Ultimately there isn’t much that public officials can do to force them to build track where they don’t want to.

    And as Alon says, the Purple City link explains why the legislative opposition won’t amount to much.

    Joe Reply:

    They do not yet have the ROW.

    Texas house bill 1889 would make it impractical to acquire the ROW.

    Things California does not have in hand are treated as obstacles. Things at Texas doesn’t have an hand are a assumed completed.

    There is a commitment in the media at least, for a $10 billion system.

    The 10b is for two suburban stations. All this scope creep with city cire and added station at college station TX blows beyond the 10b cost commitment. Glad to know Alon can assure us they have all the money for a To Be Design system.

    JJJJ Reply:

    “Texas has full funding for the line”

    Is this a fact?

    Useless Reply:

    Yes, because it is the Japanese government bank funding this project.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    There’s a lot in this comment to respond to…

    Texas has “full funding”? Really? I do not believe that is true.

    I’m coming from a consistent place. I believe neoliberal economic policies are failures in practice, as well as from a values perspective. I mock Labour because they are going to lose a chance at government because they won’t fight austerity harder. I mock the Canadian Liberals for the same reason, though if you think I’m anti-NDP, you haven’t been paying close enough attention.

    I especially believe neoliberal policies are inappropriate to apply to transit. I wouldn’t even say my beef is with Jarrett Walker, it’s more with the legions of market urbanists who constantly cite his book as justification for transit austerity. When it comes to transit, we need more of it, everywhere, subsidized if need be, and running empty buses on milk runs through low density neighborhoods if need be – if we aren’t willing to do that then we are not serious about addressing climate change.

    I don’t know where you get the idea I’m crowing about the Vancouver transit referendum, I think it would be horrible if it fails. If it does, I blame Christy Clark and the BC Liberals, as well as everyone who didn’t show up to vote in the 2013 election.

    As to Texas HSR, how much clearer do I have to be? I want it to succeed. But it is not going to succeed if its backers continue to draw the wrong lessons from California’s experience. Their obstacle isn’t government or environmentalists, it’s their own GOP-voting residents. If the Texas HSR people can’t figure that out, their project could die, as it is actually in a weaker position than California HSR given the politics.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    At a time of a growing economy it’s unreasonable to expect Labour to maintain the 10-point lead it had at the peak of the recession, but that’s beside the point. I’m not criticizing you for saying “Labour isn’t fighting austerity harder.” I’m criticizing you for pessimism bias. It’s gotten better ever since the Labour-SNP coalition was proposed, but beforehand, you’d link to outlier polls showing Tory leads, and as far as I remember to none showing a large Labour lead. As for Canada, you should want the Liberals to have to rely on the NDP for a majority, and yet you keep linking to 308’s polls during the times the Conservatives are ahead but not during the times the Liberals are ahead. You were never this pessimistic in the run up to the Congressional election last year.

    Texas is a similar issue. I’m not criticizing you for overblowing the NIMBYs’ importance. You are, but so does nearly everyone else in the urbanist and transit blogosphere, and it constantly drives me up the wall. Streetsblog’s paeans to the Sadette-Khan autocracy come from the same place. That’s not what I’m complaining about, not here; it’s the “the NIMBYs could stop Texas HSR” angle. You don’t write that way about California – you emphasize how the project will be built and the NIMBYs should work with the state and not against it.

    A third example, which I just saw a few hours ago: on Twitter you linked to the Swedish fare dodgers’ union, approvingly. Would you ever link to an American one approvingly (or an American toll dodgers’ union)? How about a fare-dodging smartphone app?

    As for Jarrett and the market urbanists, first, it’s not just the money. There are issues that are largely orthogonal to money, like stop consolidation, infrequent one-seat rides vs. a frequent grid with transfers, service simplicity, clockface scheduling. Sometimes, these also save money, e.g. faster service due to stop elimination, but other times, it’s the opposite: sometimes, you’d save money running your buses every 17 minutes rather than every 15 – but running a bus every 17 minutes means passengers will never remember when it comes, so they’ll keep missing it. And yet, there was that exchange in which you mocked stop consolidation as a matter for brogrammers or something.

    A lot of the issues with California HSR are similar. The Millbrae tunnels helps agency managers, not passengers. The Palmdale detour is at best a wash for passengers – it slows too many people down. Pacheco guarantees there won’t be any useful service between SF and Sacramento (yes, yes, Altamont overlay). The plans for Caltrain actually make regional rail service worse, because they zap the overtake locations. The plans for Transbay limit HSR and Caltrain capacity severely.

    But when it’s in the US, you don’t say “they should build both Pacheco and Altamont,” or “they should build both Tejon and Palmdale,” or “they should just redig Transbay and throw in a second tube for good measure.” When it’s a political environment you’ve been part of, you think in terms of the options politicians offer, and you tend to endorse their judgment. It’s like you flip between the mainline Democrats in the US and the left edge of Syriza/Die Linke/PCF elsewhere for some reason. It’s as if something about the way the center-left works in functioning social democracies ticks you off. Maybe it’s that the rhetoric uses is designed for a political environment in which the center-right is reasonable and can be negotiated with, or maybe it’s this association of foreign knowledge with elitism. If it’s the former, then whatever. But if it’s the latter, you really need to stop, because the US is so far behind that basically every good idea about transit improvement is going to be imported from elsewhere.

    beetroot Reply:

    “When it’s a political environment you’ve been part of, you think in terms of the options politicians offer”

    That is called being human. Don’t you think it’s a bit elitist to assume that everyone can/should have the kind of international outlook that you, as a world traveler, have developed?

    joe Reply:

    “But if it’s the latter, you really need to stop, because the US is so far behind that basically every good idea about transit improvement is going to be imported from elsewhere.”

    And every good idea is not going to be imported. His holds nationalistic views – we suck.

    There’s no reason to suggest our system is limited by our ideas. The country had a large mass transit capability and we went away from it for the automobile. We have different priorities and political interests driving our system – it’s not that we are stupid or lack good ideas.

    Zorro Reply:

    And We all can thank the President Reagan for that.. Among other things that is.. I’d rather Carter had one, the Iranians helped Reagan get elected, once He was POTUS, the hostages were released soon afterwards.. How convenient…

    Zorro Reply:

    That should be ‘I’d rather Carter had won’ and not Reagan.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I do not think, nor have ever said, that Americans are stupid. That the US is decades behind on transit does not mean Americans are stupid; it means the US just needs to import technology and ideas from abroad to catch up (of which HSR is just one of many). Americans are perfectly capable of importing successful ideas and improving on them, as individuals. What the US lacks is the institutional culture for that, and the derision of internationality as elitist is a prime example.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Don’t you think it’s a bit elitist to assume that everyone can/should have the kind of international outlook that you, as a world traveler, have developed?

    No. It says a lot about the US that only foreigners and international travelers ever think in terms of how the rest of the world does it. You go to London, and people compare themselves with Paris all the time, and vice versa. You go to pretty much any core European country, and the railfans will tell you exactly how things work in various countries. You go to Israel, and people are forced to have an international outlook because they grow up with such a huge cultural cringe about their politics and institutions that there’s even a phrase “unbroken country,” which is contrasted with things that are “only in Israel.” (“Only in Israel” is probably a borrowing of “only in America,” but the American original is usually about whimsy things, whereas the Israeli version is both about whim and about corruption.)

    I’ve had conversations about health care with Canadians who have never lived outside Canada. Of course, they all professed the superiority of their system to the US’s, but they also recognized their own problems and told me that Canada should reform its health care to be more in line with the French or Swedish systems. In the US, when I was talking to progressives about French health care around 2008, they practically viewed it as trolling; unless they were Ezra Klein, they didn’t really know anything beyond “other developed countries have universal health care.”

    Even on the level of culture, Americans are irredeemably insular. In most countries, foreign films and television shows are subtitled. In countries with large historic markets, like France or Germany or the Hispanosphere, they are dubbed. In the US (and largely also the UK), they are almost never shown at all: when there’s a successful foreign film or show, Hollywood will remake it in English, usually setting it in the US, as has happened to several Nordic Noir procedurals. Hell, Hollywood sometimes remakes British shows/movies.

    I guess that in most countries there’s an elitist aspect in that it’s more educated people who have a more global perspective. But in the US, it’s not – nobody thinks globally. In Europe, and I think also Japan, the main predictor of how many languages you speak is your education level. In the US, it’s what generation immigrant you are, because native-born Americans with native-born parents are almost always monolingual. It’s not a matter of education. It’s a matter of whether you think the world is round or flat.

    Donk Reply:

    Good topic. I guess the question is who/what is to blame for this? I don’t like movies or books about America, since I grew up here and already have learned enough about America and am more interested in other places – but I don’t even know where to look to find a good foreign film. The ones that are available are usually only the ones that people in charge assume that Americans are interested in that are inevitably about the same places or topics – French love story, the holocaust, rich British people – what about the rest of the world!!!

    I’ve traveled a bunch to random places in the world that most Americans would be terrified of and I prefer to read about international events and stories in “non-traditional” places. Unfortunately, even NPR usually only has stories about the same places, since that is where they station their media correspondents – Paris, Rome, London, Jerusalem, and Beijing (borrrring!!!).

    But I can’t even discuss history or current events with most people from places other than America, Western Europe, Israel, China, or Japan, because most people don’t travel anywhere else because they are scared to (or don’t care to?), because they rarely hear stories about these places on the news, or because they don’t even really have access to movies about these places.

    So it seems to me that other Americans make the decision for most other Americans about which places in the world they are going to learn about. Look at history books in school. In my generation all we learned about was the American Revolution, the Renaissance, Lewis & Clark, the Civil War, Civil Rights, WWI, and WWII, and we got these topics on repeat over and over again.

    Maybe somebody has done market research and has decided that Americans only want to watch Desperate Housewives and American Chopper, and if they have a taste for anything foreign, they will watch Downton Abbey.

    Donk Reply:

    I meant “with most people ABOUT places other than America…”

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The Lives of Others is really good, but it’s European. Majid Majidi’s made some amazing movies that got exported. (I generally think people tend to underrate Iran. For what it’s worth, it also has very low infrastructure construction costs.)

    Shows about British aristocrats are just… no. Downton Abbey is terrible. The one place where Americans do sort of have a cultural cringe is this perception that British upper-class twits are smart. Sigh.

    There’s something I proposed on Twitter 1-2 weeks back, that Hollywood fund movies made in random developing countries. So much of Hollywood’s revenue is exports anyway, and given an American marketing budget, a Filipino movie with Tagalog dialog won’t do worse in those markets than an American one with English dialog. Arthouse films are already in all sorts of languages (Majid Majidi, again), but movies that require first-world budgets for special effects and such tend to be done only in the first world.

    Literature is somewhat more accessible (but American high schools underteach translated works), and there you do see an education gradient in the US, in the sense that American literati have read books translated from Russian, Turkish, Spanish, Japanese, and Portuguese. Not so much Indian or African languages, though, since the authors in former colonies tend to write in the colonial language. The third world deprecates its own culture, just like the first world deprecates its culture.

    Donk Reply:

    I’ve seen Lives of Others – that was mainstream enough to be on pay per view a while ago. Never heard of Majid Majid, I should check him out.

    The only cable news outlet with real international coverage is Al Jazeera. But of course I live in a Republican stronghold (San Diego), so they don’t carry it. Not that I watch cable news anyway, or have cable anymore. BBC thinks they are an international news outlet but they are way too surface level and basically suck. And they waste too much time repeating themselves and talking about “sport”, and go overboard trying to talk about oppression (they have swung the pendulum too far).

    joe Reply:

    “Even on the level of culture, Americans are irredeemably insular. In most countries, foreign films and television shows are subtitled. ”

    Because the global language today is english – you anti-American dumbass.
    Subtitling is probably due to economics, not superior language tolerance on non english speaking peoples.

    Secondly you fail to acknowledge geography and politics. European countries are small or are in close proximity and the EU allows easy passage across borders. Thats why they know about other countries and work “abroad”.

    We have a massive hispanic population, free Spanish TV and many jobs now require or favor bi-lingual speaking.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Not that the subs vs. dubs issue is that relevant, but the US basically never dubs live-action. I actually like how the few times they show foreign movies in US cinemas, they’re subbed. The issue isn’t about how to translate a foreign movie; the issue is that in the US, and to a large extent also in the UK, they don’t show foreign movies, and if there’s a successful movie or show made in a language other than English, they’ll remake it.

    As for borders in close proximity: the US has Mexico and Canada in close proximity, and yet, there are multi-hour waits at San Ysidro, and populist backlashes against I-69 because ZOMG Mexican customs officials in Kansas, and restrictions on foreign investment, and near-total ignorance about Canadian health care among people who haven’t lived in Canada.

    Finally, yes, the US has Hispanics. That’s why I said multilingualism in the US depends on immigration status rather than education: 1st-generation immigrants are usually bilingual and if not then it’s because they haven’t learned English, 1.5th- and 2nd-generation immigrants are almost always bilingual but usually not very literate in their parents’ language, 3rd-generation-and-up immigrants are almost always monolingual. The same pattern exists in Europe and Israel, but people also learn foreign languages they don’t have ethnic ties to – English, obviously, but in the smaller European countries more educated people also learn French or German.

    Jerry Reply:

    If you speak three languages you’re tri-lingual.
    If you speak two languages you’re bi-lingual.
    If you speak one language you’re an American.

    Peter Reply:

    That’s trite crap. I know plenty of people who are not Americans who only speak one language. Plenty of Germans only speak German, plenty of Italians only speak Italian (and one Italian who only spoke English, until he finally bothered to learn German after he had lived there for a decade), etc.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    What Peter said. It’s not that Americans are always monolingual and Europeans are always at least bilingual. (That said, something like 55% of Continental Europeans are at least bilingual.) It’s that in Europe, it’s expected that an educated person speak at least two languages, ideally at least three, whereas in the US, it’s not.

    joe Reply:

    Peter’s calling out the stereotype bullshit.

    San Jose has signs and ballots printed in:
    Español Spanish
    中文 Chinese
    हिन्दी Hindi
    日本語 Japanese
    ខ្មែរ Khmer
    한국어 Korean
    ภาษาไทย Thai
    Tiếng Việt Vietnamese

    60.6 million people who speak a language other than English at home in 2011.

    Almost two-thirds (37.6 million) spoke Spanish. This places the U.S. as the fifth largest Spanish-speaking country in the world –not the second one, as it is usually said— after Mexico (117 million), Spain (47.2 million), Colombia (47 million) and Argentina (41 million).

    My son has Spanish 50% of his public school time.

    Then we know europeans have other reasons to be multi-lingual.
    Belgium has three official languages.
    French, Flemish and German. They are “cosmopolitan” because of a history of war and occupation.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The second or third language that European speaks is English….

    synonymouse Reply:

    @ Jerry

    There’s a big difference between knowing another language and your native tongue. When I watch French TV(like France 2 JT)I pretty much understand everything and they go fast. But let them interview someone on the street and especially someone young, fuggedaboutit. I pick up on a word here and there.

    Of the Romance languages I like French, Latin and Portuguese. Italy should have kept Latin even tho it is a challenge. Something about Spanish, even with the perfect spelling, that just does not cut it for me. Way too soft – no nasal vowels. Hey and the French are regularly expropriating words straight from English, which is a great idea since everything usually derives from Latin anyway. The other day an announcer on France 2 used “realize” in the same way we do. I always thought about that; “se rendre compte” is a damn long way of saying “realize”.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Screw Latin. People went awry when they stopped using Proto-Indo-European.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    The European standard of multi-lingual education is in some sense more a provincial tradition than a progressive one.

    American (and European) students would be far better served by learning Spanish, Russian, Arabic, or Chinese along with English than French, Dutch, or Swedish.

    TomA Reply:

    The movie thing is simple economics.

    People almost surely inherently like movies that aren’t subbed or dubbed. Im guessing that the case in Germant, France, the US, China, and everywhere else

    But there arent alot of German speakers. There are alot of English speakers worldwide.

    So you get a great movie idea from abroad. You remake it hear and sell multiple times what you would dubbing/subtitling it. Then you can sell it overseas to all of the people who speak English as a second language.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Actually, when I brought up the point of offshoring movie production to developing countries, one of my Twitter followers noted that in Brazil, people prefer American movies to local ones. In Israel it’s the same. Not everyone is culturally chauvinistic the way Americans (and Chinese) are; in many parts of the world it’s if anything the reverse. Likewise, in Japan and South Korea, people watch American movies as well as local movies; local studios don’t have the budgets to compete with Hollywood, but they do have budgets to make good action and popular drama. Within Europe, things get exported between countries quite a lot: Nordic Noir’s popular in Britain (where it’s sometimes remade in English) and Germany. Here it’s expected that people watch movies subbed or dubbed from multiple languages and read books translated from multiple languages. In the US, it isn’t.

    joe Reply:

    You write: “Not everyone is culturally chauvinistic the way Americans (and Chinese) are;”

    But “in Brazil, people prefer American movies to local ones.”

    So they are self loathing and chauvinistic.

    Miles Bader Reply:

    I don’t know about Brazil, but in Japan it’s more of a budget issue. There’s a prolific local movie industry that is quite good at many movie styles, except that they don’t do so well with the sort of mega-expensive action-explosion-CGI-blockbuster that Hollywood specializes in these days. The latter, however, is a very popular genre….

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The market for entertainment in English is big enough that they can scare up a budget for a remake. And the market for something in Afrikaans is so small ……that they make it in English. Or the market for something in Catalan. Or…

    beetroot Reply:

    I should have said unrealistic rather elitist. I agree with what you say about Americans, but you don’t put it in the context of America having been the richest, most powerful, most hegemonic country in the world for the past century. I would entirely expect the citizens of any country like that to be insular and inward-looking. When you’re the best, and you’re told repeatedly from birth that you are the best, is it any wonder that you wouldn’t put the energy into looking beyond your own borders? I guess what I’m saying is that you seem to expect too much from Americans. We act exactly like the citizens of the most powerful country in the world would be expected to act – self-interested, inward-looking, and uninterested in other countries or cultures. And I, personally, would expect those traits to only be magnified when the citizens of that country are faced with challenges to their power and hegemony. We’re only human.

    Jerry Reply:

    We are indeed, unique.
    Only TWO countries in the world still do NOT use the metric system of weights and measures.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I don’t know that it’s unrealistic, to be honest. Part of it is a matter of high vs. low expectations. But also, there’s a vague sense in the US that other countries do it better, sometimes – e.g. everyone on the Democratic base believed that of health care before Obamacare and nearly everyone still believes it, but still only Ezra Klein actually went and checked what various other developed countries do. With transit, it’s the same – everyone who has an opinion knows that the US is more motorized than other developed countries. But people still resist the idea of figuring out in detail what staffing levels are, how to integrate schedules and infrastructure, what technology is typically used for fare payment (hence, Jay Walder-style wheel reinvention), which funding mechanisms tend to produce prudent spending, etc.

    The worst provincialism is always that of the center: the US globally, New York within the US, Paris within France, etc. It sucks to deal with the moment of reckoning, when the center loses influence, but it’s not something that can be postponed indefinitely.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    It’s not provincialism…it’s called palace intrigue. In any seat of power, there inevitably become more and more sideshows that twist the reigns of power into fits.

    I had a professor in college who gleefully pointed out that many universities were much better over the centuries rehashing and recycling incorrect doctrine than defining newly discovered truth.

    Necessity is the mother of invention, after all.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Pacheco guarantees there won’t be any useful service between SF and Sacramento

    Why wouldn’t there be?
    If Altamont allows all sorts of oggly mutlidirectional goodness so does Palmdale.

    Joe Reply:

    I am continually amazed at how important Sacramento San Francisco trips are. The current alignment guarantees improved and useful service between San Francisco and San Jose.

    Robert S. Allen Reply:

    SF-Sacramento service would be far better with an intermodal transfer station in Oakland at the I-880/7th Street interchange, where BART crosses over the UP/Amtrak/Capitol Corridor rail line. It’s six minutes from there to San Francisco’s Embarcadero BART/Muni station, with 16 trains per hour. Maybe a new Port Costa/Benicia tube for a shorter route by-passing the Martinez bridge.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    Yes, and later when a standard-gauge bridge or tunnel betw SF and Oakland is built, BART can run trains directly from TTC to Sac, continuing to Tahoe, and also to that other important destination, Stockton via downtown Livermore and Tracy. Per BART plans a lot can come together when the region finds a few $Billion for the needed new SF-Oak rail crossing, including additional HSAr routes.

    J. Wong Reply:

    Yeah, it’d be great having to transfer to BART in the morning at a stop between West Oakland and 12th Street with your luggage. Oh, there’s no room because the trains are all SRO. Oh, well.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    Well, BART may use Open Gangways between cars to increase capacity by 10% and let passengers better distribute themselves between cars as the vast majority of global transit systems have been doing for 20 years now, including off-the-shelf product. (H/T Yonah Freemark)

    What — BART already ordered its next generation of cars and did not incorporate Open Gangways?

    I guess they really want us to check the couch cushions for a few $Billion to build that next SF-Oak bay crossing. I am glad they are now open to standard gauge rail for that crossing, realizing the cost and flexibility limitations of Bart Technology when you have so many places to go beyond West Pittsburg and Pleasanton.

    (You all can see the reason that Mr. Allen continues to post about about a West Oakland hub despite the complete lack of capacity into SF is to nudge along support for an additional bay crossing.)
    MR. ALLEN: Would you confirm or deny that BART is open to standard gauge rail for that crossing?

    Peter Reply:

    Yeah, BART’s bullshit reason for not incorporating open gangways is that they constantly change train lengths throughout the day.

    I’m pretty sure Mr. Allen has no say whatsoever regarding BART policy. If he did, he wouldn’t be attempting to “influence” people on a blog, of all things.

    synonymouse Reply:

    This is true?: you will not be able to walk thru the Bombardier BART cars? That would mean they are thoroughly incompatible with the existing stock. You might as well go deeper into changing hardware, like the wheel profile, than going to plug doors, which may prove less reliable in the real world than sliding.

    You really have solid info that BART would go to standard gauge on a second tube? So Un-BART(as in UnAmerican). If that is the case, they should go to full preparation for driverless on the new line since it is incompatible with IBG. Might want to up the voltage while you are at it.

    Peter Reply:

    Lack of “open gangways” does not mean you can’t go from car to car. “Open gangways” means there are no doors between cars. Think of an accordion bus, but with better sound insulation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1lBhCRKd98

    synonymouse Reply:

    No travel between cars would impact crime control and evacuation, for whatever reason.

    synonymouse Reply:

    No doors would mean no protection of the cars’ interior. On heavy rail IIRC the doors could be blocked open but they were always there.

    Miles Bader Reply:

    That Transport-Politic article seems a bit bullshitty….

    It seems to be trying to draw some sort of stark contrast between the magic fairy wonderland of “open gangways” and the evil swamp of completely sealed cars…. But in reality there’s more of a continuum of car connection types, from truly sealed off cars, to cars with connecting doors that are slightly dangerous to use in motion (NYC), to cars with connecting doors that are completely safe (and can be left open with no issues), to complete open gangways that give the illusion of a single continuous train.

    The benefits accrue as you move up the continuum, not all at one point…

    Peter Reply:

    Well, Berlin’s U-Bahn and S-Bahn trains have been running trains without doors between cars for many years now without problems with “protection of the cabs’ interior.” What are you referring to? If you mean that the interior is open to the environment because there are no doors, then no, it’s not open. The transition between cars is still fully covered (and well insulated).

    These trains are “half-trains”, with four cars permanently coupled.

    synonymouse Reply:

    That’s Germany, not California. BART Muni-style union maintenance. If the accordion vestibule fails the interiors of the cars are open to the elements. You would have to place any detached equipment in the barn and BART does all open storage AFAIK.

    Reality Check Reply:

    @syn, how lame. If there’s a leak, and its rainy (CA mega drought, anyone?), park it inside or outside with a temporary tarp over the leak. Or just plug the leak with caulk or other sealant until a proper fix can be effected. You talk as if nobody has ever encountered and solved this problem before. It’s just a leak — not a complete disappearance of the entire “accordion” structure!

    It’s like saying motorists who don’t have garages can’t buy cars with sun/moon roofs, because if there’s a leak the car will be “open to the elements.” Oh, damn! Guess that kills that idea.

    Peter Reply:

    Apparently, synonymouse had not heard about Berlin’s 2009 S-Bahn meltdown, where, due to cost-cutting by DB, serious maintenance problems arose that caused a VERY large portion of the fleet to be taken out of service, resulting in a major service failure.

    Peter Reply:

    In other words, BART (or U.S. transit agencies in general) does not have a monopoly on shoddy work. And if S-Bahn Berlin can properly maintain the rubber vestibules between cars, then so can BART.

    Joey Reply:

    If the accordion vestibule fails the interiors of the cars are open to the elements.

    They don’t.

    You would have to place any detached equipment in the barn and BART does all open storage AFAIK.

    If you have semi-permanent 4-5 car trainsets then this doesn’t happen. Part of the reason it was rejected was BART’s stupid insistence on maintaining each car individually, despite the fact that the rest of the world has discovered that this isn’t the best practice.

    Miles Bader Reply:

    As you’ve probably noticed, synonymouse has a somewhat unique take on American exceptionalism: in his eyes, BART is incapable of doing anything good, to the point where he considers anything BART does as bad by definition…. ><

    synonymouse Reply:

    BART never fails to disappoint. Do you really think they would concede to standard gauge a second tube? Anathema.

    synonymouse Reply:

    @ Reality Check

    Muni did a lot of damage recently to #1 by letting it sit outside. They are spending a sum to have Brookdale rehabilitate it.

    I wish I could find that picture of the articulated bus, in I believe Cairo, with the packed passengers hanging out of ripped apart “accordion”. BART is definitely the 3rd world cattle transit of the day after tomorrow. We’ll see about those plug doors.

    Mega drought but it hailed quite a bit today.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Not sure about buses, but Cairo has about an order of magnitude more subway ridership than BART, on one half the route-length.

    When you say “third-world,” it’s helpful to know what conditions in the third world actually are.

    synonymouse Reply:

    You can see the cloud of smoke long before you can make out the bus.

    Peter Reply:

    Also, Cairo ≠ BART. BART isn’t even as bad as some eastern European countries. I know you have some kind of shtick going where BART is somehow the Antichrist, but seriously, get a grip.

    synonymouse Reply:

    BART would steal the Antichrist’s lunch money.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    It is, however, endlessly entertaining to see the sort of John Birch paranoia that synonymous displays to the People’s Republic of BARTLandia.

    Alan Reply:

    The decisions have been made. You lost. Get over it.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    …Because SF-Sac via Altamont is about an hour whereas SF-Sac via CC isn’t going to even come close unless you behead all UP shareholders.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Nobody is building Altamont.

    Clem Reply:

    Nobody is building the ARC tunnel either.

    Judge Moonbox Reply:

    “It’s as if something about the way the center-left works in functioning social democracies ticks you off.”

    If you’re using the way establishment Democrats submitted to the Republican refusal to give the Stimulus bill a straight up or down vote and then fall for the budget balancing mania (like cutting back on snow plowing long before the winter’s over) and the Labour refusal to criticize the Cameron government for its job-killing austerity program, we should ask, “Are these democracies functioning?” For 45 years, I’ve listened to Republicans whine about how the media’s liberally biased. For 45 years, I’ve watched the Republicans act like the media was on their side. Something I haven’t witnessed in all this time is for a Democrat in a leadership position to say that either they know it’s a lie or they’re masochistically begging to be humiliated. As for rail transit, a functioning democracy would not permit the party of Big Oil to put the Koch brothers’ profits ahead of energy conservation, reducing air pollution, revitalizing central business districts, reducing congestion, and providing mobility for the poor, elderly, and disabled.

    synonymouse Reply:

    If BART were really concerned about “providing mobility for the poor, elderly, and disabled” they would provide bathrooms and go driverless so they could lower fares.

    BART overpaid management and labour are just as self-serving as the Koch Bros.

    Richie businessmen a-holes; crooked machine bosses a-holes. What’s the difference? Larry Ellison any better than the Koch Bros? Or the superphony Warren Buffett?

    42apples Reply:

    “When it comes to transit, we need more of it, everywhere, subsidized if need be, and running empty buses on milk runs through low density neighborhoods if need be – if we aren’t willing to do that then we are not serious about addressing climate change.”

    Uh, you do realize that empty buses are quite a bit worse for the environment than full cars? And that the GHG emission benefits projected from SB 375 are quite small?

  4. Brian_FL
    Apr 6th, 2015 at 05:28

    Although the project here in FL is “higher speed rail”, there are some similarities (and some differences) with what has been seen in CA and TX. Here there has been NIMBYISM along the middle of the route north of West Palm Beach. Similar to the rural attitude shown in TX and CA: no stops, no benefits, only the noise and interference to existing life. Also, the recreational boaters are up in arms because they won’t continue to have what is basically unlimited access beneath 3 drawbridges along the coast.

    However, I would not paint with such a broad brush about conservatives when you say:

    “Part of this is the right-wing belief that rail is never a good use of money. Notice that the Republican legislator cited above doesn’t seem to care whether or not the money is public or private.”

    In Florida, we have had bipartisan support for the AAF project since it was first announced in 2012. In fact the only opposition comes from local pols on the Treasure Coast NIMBY area from both democrat and republican politicians there. Our very right wing governor supports this passenger rail project. He and others in state government have backed certain state supported projects that will facilitate AAF. Back in 2009-2010 with a majority republican state house, the republicans here supported the HSR project here. It wasn’t just Gov. Crist who supported that effort for HSR between Tampa and Orlando.

    My prediction is that if the initial route to Orlando is successful, the state of FL will financially assist AAF with any future expansion to Tampa.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Again, the same problems exists even for AAF. There’s the financing of the airport station in Orlando. There’s the collapse of state support for Tri-Rail. Governor Scott is a silent partner too, if he held up AAF as a example of the the GOP vision on infrastructure, it would have a chance.

    But notice Scott is running away, kicking and screaming.

    Beian_FL Reply:

    The Orlando station has been fully funded by FDOT and GOAA. Scott had the $213 million dollar request spread over both last year’s and this year’s state budget under FDOT. I just drove by the site yesterday and saw there was a lot of earth moving work going on. It is being built at this time. I would disagree on the Tri-Rail comment – the state is still funding Tri-Rail. Similar to Amtrak there have always been some state republicans that want to defund Tri-Rail yet never succeed at doing so.

    Scott has been public about his support of AAF and has used it here in FL as an example of private investment in rail transportation. He just hasn’t said much on a nationwide level about AAF. He even received flack from Crist (D) in the election campaign last year over Scott’s support!

    Brian_FL Reply:

    The Orlando station has been fully funded by FDOT and GOAA. Scott had the $213 million dollar request spread over both last year’s and this year’s state budget under FDOT. I just drove by the site yesterday and saw there was a lot of earth moving work going on. It is being built at this time. I would disagree on the Tri-Rail comment – the state is still funding Tri-Rail. Similar to Amtrak there have always been some state republicans that want to defund Tri-Rail yet never succeed at doing so.

    Scott has been public about his support of AAF and has used it here in FL as an example of private investment in rail transportation. He just hasn’t said much on a nationwide level about AAF. He even received flack from Crist (D) in the election campaign last year over Scott’s support!

    Jerry Reply:

    For an extra 3 or 4 more miles, the Orlando Airport Rail Station could connect to the local SunRail stop not far from the airport.
    And even an additional connector to Disneyworld.

    Brian_FL Reply:

    That is actually the plan: to bring sunrail to the airport. And a far less likely scheme is to build a monorail to I-Drive, Universal, and the convention center. FDOT and the local funding agencies (ie the cities and counties) are completing studies and beginning to apply for federal funding for the “phase 3” to the airport using existing OUC tracks/ROW for most of the distance.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Rick Scott’s Executive Budget not that long ago stripped all funding for Tri-Rail because he wanted the counties to pay for it. What he’s not eager to advertise is that it’s a give away to both FECR and CSX and that the dirty truth.

    There have been numerous proposals in California for similar services to AAF that have ended up in the graveyard too. It’s nothing unique to the Sunshine State.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    The same Rick Scott who rejected federal HSR stimulus funding?

    I get that Scott backs AAF, but perhaps that may still match my explanation. Texas is a deep red state. Florida is a purple state and Democrats still wield power. That could be the key difference that is enabling AAF to overcome the same obstacles.

    Fake Irishman Reply:

    Robert, I’m generally pretty on board with you and your arguments, but in Florida, Democrats are hurting as much at the state level as they are in Texas. The ledge is controlled by the GOP more than 2:1 and the governors has been GOP since 1998, albeit elected by much closer margins than Texas counterparts. Democrats don’t wield much power at the state level at all.

    Brian_FL Reply:

    Irishman has it right, republicans far outnumber democrats in the state house and senate. There is no Democratic Party leadership in Florida anymore. The FL republicans were responsible for the cancelled HSR going as far as it did before Scott killed it. The tea party surge in 2010 is what killed it. Mainstream FL republicans were all for the HSR project back then. It’s just that Gov Scott ran as pseudo-tea party candidate. He ran as an outsider to the Tallahassee crowd. There was a lot of animosity for 2 years within the FL Republican Party due to Scott’s actions his first year.

    Honestly, the real reason I think AAF will overcome the obstacles is that the company behind AAF, FECI and Fortress Investments has good connections in Tallahassee and DC. Developers rule FL and FECI is a development company first, railroad second.

  5. Name
    Apr 6th, 2015 at 07:39

    “San Francisco is less spread out, but because of the hills it’s no fun to walk, even short distances”
    have you actually experienced this?
    the fast neighborhood changes (at which you hint) combined with the variety of topography is why a walk in SF trounces most flatland walks. And the Pacific usually keeps the air cleaner. And there are only a few days over 95F…
    (which is why SF is ‘unaffordable’. market demand.)
    riding a bicycle over the hills, otoh…

  6. Name
    Apr 6th, 2015 at 07:44

    “The private sector, however, is going to have to ask itself whether it’s worth it financially to persevere when opposition continues to organize.”
    just buy enough of congress to push the pipeline bill through, ASAP. “first order of business”.

  7. les
    Apr 6th, 2015 at 09:01

    One thing that supersedes Texans conservatism is their pride. The thought that California is building such an enormous system before Texas can is gnawing at them like burrowing chaffs in their chaps. As the case for wind turbines in the past and solar in the not to distant future, so to will HSR become another feather in their cap, one more thing they can say they have outdone California with. They may not be able to attain the number of track miles as California but they’ll find a card to play such as train speed or some other parameter.

  8. Useless
    Apr 6th, 2015 at 09:27

    So it is not possible to build high speed rail in the US even if it won’t cost a dime of taxpayer’s money. Great.

    Do people not realize that the US infrastructure is falling apart and is seen as a joke when seen by outside world. Lawmakers need to travel to Asia and open their eyes.

    J. Wong Reply:

    “Do people not realize that the US infrastructure is falling apart”.

    Yes, they don’t realize it. To them everything about the U.S. was perfect circa-1960. Nothing needs to be improved or even maintained.

    EJ Reply:

    Please explain how you concluded that it’s not possible to build this project.

    Useless Reply:

    It takes single successful lawsuit to derail the whole thing. And the chance of success in court is much higher in Texas than in California.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Lack of Korean involvement is the issue.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Give Abe a few more years in power and there will be Korean involvement.


    Michael Reply:

    Yes, Korean BBQ is a threat to Texas BBQ. It has already won me over.

    Jerry Reply:

    High Speed BBQ,
    Good old fashioned slow speed mesquite flavored BBQ.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It’s been falling apart since Saint Ronnie told us it was falling apart.

  9. Derek
    Apr 6th, 2015 at 10:30

    No matter where you propose to build an HSR route in the United States, the people who live near it are guaranteed to freak out and insist the project be moved far away from them.

    It’s perfectly rational to oppose a project when doing so is easier and cheaper than dealing with the local consequences after the project is built. NIMBYs are a product of city and state governments that create the wrong incentives.

    Roberts is not only making an important point here that conservatism is about protecting a suburban, small-government status quo.

    Yeah, right. Conservatives are as supportive as central planning as they come, whenever it protects their values. This is why we have zoning laws, and why we use taxes to pay for freeways instead of user fees, and why we force property owners to build more parking than the market would otherwise provide of its own accord, and on and on. The difference between conservatives and liberals is that liberals don’t hide the fact that they’re a little bit socialist.

  10. Reality Check
    Apr 6th, 2015 at 11:00

    BART’s track troubles can’t be ignored

    BART is taking steps to slow down trains at more than three dozen hot spots where hazardous — and in some cases, deteriorating — track conditions could jeopardize the safety of thousands of riders.

    That includes a location in Concord that has been the site of two derailments in the past five years — including a February 2014 incident that left the front end of an empty, 10-car train dangling off the edge of the elevated rails.

    Track troubles on the 42-year-old system already prompted the shutdown beginning Sunday of the elevated stretch between the Oakland Coliseum and Fruitvale stations. It will be closed for an unprecedented 11 weekends spread out over the next few months while workers replace 1,000 degraded wooden ties and 3,000 feet of worn rail.

    Trains have been limited to 50 mph along that stretch since January, after a track tie crumbled as an inspector stepped on it.


  11. les
    Apr 6th, 2015 at 14:43

    Off topic but “The legislature has appropriated funds for CHSRA planning work for the Sacramento – Merced route segment.” With localized support to get the job done maybe California won’t have to worry about who the Governor is in 2018.


    Jerry Reply:

    Interesting summary of the minutes.
    Double tracking a 5.7 mile segment might add another train to the San Joaquin.

  12. Danny
    Apr 6th, 2015 at 15:18

    in the taverns in deepest-Red OC a lot of the guys get quite a bit more receptive to CAHSR when I mock Musk and compare the cost to an Apple stock buyback (or to massive freeway and airport expansion); in fact many of the biggest “I made it on my own” types are in construction, and are so excited about the piddly little Anaheim streetcar project they’re dancing in the (bar)stools: give them the right framing and suddenly they turn into Eisenhower Republicans!

    with the TXHSR you have “Red States do HSR better” conservatives colliding with both “tear up all tracks anywhere” conservatives and “I want a stop in a beet field” conservatives: as we see in both cases, anti-transit-ism hasn’t entirely taken over the conservatives/GOP

    that said, there’s absolutely a fact-resistant anti-infrastructure ideology in the GOP (and therefore in the broader political discourse): when George Will says that the fact that trains have schedules and that you sit next to someone else proves that they’re a Commie trick to train people into becoming sheeple, he’s not so much trying to convince anyone, but is reinforcing a broader atmospheric–that trains = social engineering; likewise Ryan and Sessions didn’t torpedo Federal loan guarantees for the Vegas train because they were genuinely afraid it’d go bust and that that would damage Washington; when people complain that there’s no local stops or that local service will show the train, they’re not mysteriously forgetting that trains typically come equipped with brakes and sidings, they’re building up a talking point–a rhetorical blunt instrument to be passed around every time HSR comes up

    so it’s not just that GM is paying off the think tanks to condemn everything that uses less oil, they’re building up a stand-alone ideology resistant to any contradiction by itself or by the facts; from a slightly different angle, the Duck Dynasty guys do seriously believe that north Louisiana sends more money to Washington than it gets, singlehandedly supporting NY, CA, MI, and IL all at once: the point is to both flatter them and generate resentment: we can see the national GOP has perfected this sort of identity politics where gays on subways can threaten them from a thousand miles away, because they fall together on the Other Side: they just gave $840,000 to that pizzeria because doing so is a marker of their identity now, sticking it to the nebulous “Them” who’s doing whatever makes you mad

    also interesting you mentioned the suburbs’ role in the GOP: I think politically we have to divide old suburbs from new: the 50s-70s ranchettes were all built in the zones vaguely accessible to the old Red Car (in SoCal) or the freeways; post-1990 burbs are far even from the freeways, extending along ever-widening parkways: the new burbs are in fact living Randal O’Toole’s dream, where everyone has walkscores of 4% and commutes two hours from McMansion to office park. And they’re starting to hate it: people are starting to think about how and where they live even if there isn’t the urbanists’ long-dreamt-of return to the core

    the suburbanites at the bar are starting to warm to urban transit: they want commuter rail to run more often, and profitability can take a hike (a day later they’ll gripe that Metrolink’s not turning a profit, whereupon I egg them on with talk of better headways and reverse commutes)

    we have to take into account all the various factions and dynamics within a state or party before we start ripping into them (and rip we should), but this is all stuff that can be used to build a broader HSR coalition regardless of all the fights in the HSR community: if we can make it about our rotting infrastructure or livability or even rural benefits rather than kneejerk identity we can use their own gripes to everyone’s mutual benefit

    Derek Reply:

    the new burbs are in fact living Randal O’Toole’s dream

    Not this one, of course.

    Danny Reply:

    now, keep in mind that Honduras is literally their ideal country

  13. Lewellan
    Apr 7th, 2015 at 09:15

    “Four critical things to make oil trains safer, three in Cantwell’s bill,
    (most regarding tank cars, speed, rail maintenance)…” infers Grist writer Ben something.

    Perhaps a 5th thing to consider:
    Oil terminals ‘must’ prioritize ideal rail operations. Unfortunately,
    BNSF North Portland and Hayden Island rail terminals are ‘most’ hazardous
    for coal/oil/gas terminal operation; too many Stub and 90 degree spurs.
    Vancouver terminal safer, but limits future rail operations. Both Ports replace “value added” goods shipment with “raw resource” whose hazardous operation prevent Port expansion. Director Bill Wyant making another mistake among many during his tenure?

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    Neither Grist nor Cantwell mention the antiquated braking system whereby cars at the rear of the train do not receive a brake application until too late to stop them piling into the cars in front.

  14. Reedman
    Apr 7th, 2015 at 17:17

    In New York, the MTA has its own highway police unit, and has implemented enhanced enforcement of the traffic rules at non-grade-separated railroad crossings.


  15. synonymouse
    Apr 7th, 2015 at 18:38

    Shanking FailRail:




    “How could it be that the home of Silicon Valley and (Jet Propulsion Laboratories) — doing incredible things like indexing all the world’s knowledge and putting rovers on Mars — would build a bullet train that is both one of the most expensive per mile and one of the slowest in the world?”

    Easy, Elon – stupidity and corruption.

    But here’s a very thoughtful article on light rail success, modo modo, in Phoenix:


    There’s a great line therein; see if you can find it.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Phoenix is actually a very different scenario…since it was the absolute last city in the US to embrace light rail.

    Originally, the hope of Mayor Phil Gordon was to revitalize the area in between downtown the airport while giving Tempe access to. But then when the economy crashes and Arizona lost population for several years, the system was actually reborn into what it is becoming now…a sort of link between the various areas in high demand like Silicon Valley, Scottsdale, Central Avenue, etc.

    It’s just a shame they built a huge new network of freeways before getting serious about light rail, they might have had something really special.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Arizona lost population for several years

    no it didn’t.

    synonymouse Reply:

    “…since it was the absolute last city in the US to embrace light rail.”

    No way – Columbus. And always will be.

    les Reply:

    how can a “light rail system” be judged by a single spur? the economy crashed and killed the LR development in its tracks; it is just now starting to pick up steam again. throw in the fact that places like Scottsdale want nothing to do with it and Phoenix burbs have blocks the size of midwest corn fields and one can see the challenges it faces. The only stations that work thus far are the P&Rs in Mesa and a few ASU stations. 5 more Mesa stations will be online soon and new spurs will come online in the next few years so there is hope the subsidies will come down. Subsidies were $8.00/rider initially and $5.00/rider a few 3-4 years back. they’re coming down slowly but surely.

    Elizabeth Alexis Reply:

    I’m in Phoenix somewhat often for work and it has been eye opening to see the support of the entire city for the light rail system- businesess/ hotels etc have bought in. The people mover from the airport now connects to the light rail station, which doubles as a secondary drop off spot for the airport itself.

    The Bay Area talks big about transit but we are so bad at actually doing it. VTA light rail- 10 million riders/ 40 route miles after 20 years Phoenix light rail – 14 million riders/ 20 route miles after 5 years.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Just putting streetcars on Geary would up the Bay Area ridership. But Ed Lee has drunk the BART koolaid.

    Jerry Reply:

    It’s always great to see and experience what other cities are doing.
    Both in the United States and around the world.
    It makes you realize that the SF Bay area deserves better.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    Agree with Elizabeth — Arizona folks started out in vociferous opposition to light rail but they now appreciate its success and realize its importance to the kind of jobs and infill development they want to attract.

    As mentioned, one exception is Scottsdale which offers one of the best routes in the region up Scottsdale road past all the shopping, resorts and restaurants, but they still fear it.

    Phoenix has a very ambitious expansion program/tax on the August ballot — not sure why August, it seems a higher turnout election would have better chance of success. It is vague about which new routes would be light rail and which BRT, but openness to BRT is good news.

    Meanwhile with air travel increasingly concentrated at the biggest airports, Tucson folks often now take an airporter bus 2 hours up to PHX Sky Harbor to fly. This would help support traffic on new rail service between the two cities — which could then have grade crossings eliminated and curves straightened to take <1 hour @125+ mph.

    Expanding transit options even in Arizona, who knew…

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The snowbirds have migrated north in August.
    Things are flat in Arizona. So they built nice straight ROW. Going for full HSR isn’t going to cost much more.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It is vague about which new routes would be light rail and which BRT, but openness to BRT is good news.

    On the contrary: vagueness about light rail vs. BRT is terrible news. BRT in the American conception of “bus that is billed as light rail” does not exist in other developed countries. In this part of the world, there’s no such thing as BRT, because the sort of treatments American cities brand as special, like off-board fare collection, a longer stop spacing, and low-floor vehicles, are installed on all buses. At most, they’ll let buses run in dedicated lanes together with streetcars, but that’s not being open to BRT – that’s letting ordinary buses use light rail infrastructure.

    In the first world, BRT as a concept exists in two notable non-US cases, Brisbane and Ottawa. In both, it is explicitly an open system, with many city buses interlining to a single busway, in the same way trains running on many legacy lines in France or Germany interline to the LGVs or ICE trunks. The route map looks very different from that of light rail, which cannot run through this way, and consequently doesn’t have so much branching; the only rail technology that’s similar in route design is the subway-surface system, but that’s not on the table in Phoenix.

    To continue what I said to Robert farther upthread, before other people turned it into an argument about patriotism, it’s nice that Phoenix is willing to invest in transit, but it’s setting money on fire, and as a result the political will doesn’t translate to high ridership. Sticking to North American examples, I would urge Phoenix’s transit planners to learn from the success of the bus grids of Los Angeles, Portland, and Vancouver; Denver’s use of modern commuter rail as a technology; and Vancouver and Northern Virginia’s use of TOD at transit stations. Outside North America, I’d recommend a look at standards for bus stop spacing, signal priority, dedicated lanes, and fare collection.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Phoenix has a bus grid.


  16. joe
    Apr 8th, 2015 at 00:56

    Palo Alto Electeds Oppose Dedicated Lanes for El Camino BRT
    January 12, 2015

    “A proposal by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) to establish dedicated bus lanes and remove more than 250 parking spaces on El Camino Real in Palo Alto is meeting vigorous resistance from city officials, who are questioning the assumptions behind the ambitious plan known as Bus Rapid Transit and calling for the agency to consider alternatives,” reports Gennady Sheynar.

    Yes we are doing things badly.

  17. Robert S. Allen
    Apr 8th, 2015 at 23:09

    Link Capitol Corridor, San Joaquin – and possibly ACE and Amtrak – with BART in Oakland, where BART crosses over the UP at I-880/7th Street. Make the BART part of this “San Francisco Bay Rail Hub” intermodal transfer station 4 tracks – like MacArthur. Include a regional terminal for inter-city buses. Should a catastrophe close either BART or the Bay Bridge, trans-Bay transit could survive.

    Zone the area for port and regional government offices (e.g., ABAG, MTC, BAAQMD). It would feature convenient rail and transit access for employees, the public, and the urban city cores of San Francisco, Oakland, and other Bay Area cities, as well as the state capital at Sacramento.

    Four downtown San Francisco BART/Muni stations, with 16 BART trains per hour, lie six to ten minutes away. With BART’s new fleet of cars coming soon, there should be ample room aboard its trains.

    Jerry Reply:

    So tell me.
    Why didn’t BART build a station there at the beginning??
    Instead of where BART built the West Oakland station 2,000 feet east of where you are always proposing??

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