Ralph Vartabedian Declares HSR A Failure Years In Advance

Oct 26th, 2015 | Posted by

Ralph Vartabedian, the high speed rail beat reporter for the Los Angeles Times, has repeatedly used his articles to attack the HSR project. These articles are routinely full of misleading and flawed statements and conclusions, each one more outlandish than the last. So I should not be surprised to see his latest, in which he decides the HSR project will be delayed and have cost overruns all because he said so:

State officials say the tunnels will be finished by 2022 — along with 300 miles of track, dozens of bridges or viaducts, high-voltage electrical systems, a maintenance plant and as many as six stations. Doing so will meet a commitment to begin carrying passengers between Burbank and Merced in the first phase of the $68-billion high-speed rail link between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

However, a Times analysis of project documents, as well as interviews with scientists, engineers and construction experts, indicates that the deadline and budget targets will almost certainly be missed — and that the state has underestimated the challenges ahead, particularly completing the tunneling on time.

This “Times analysis” is just Vartabedian’s opinion. That’s all.

Much of his article focuses on the possibility of building a single long tunnel under the San Gabriel Mountains from Acton to Sunland. Nowhere does Vartabedian explain that the California High Speed Rail Authority is studying the long tunnel only to placate politicians in Los Angeles County who have insisted they do so. Here’s all he has to say about the original alignment along Highway 14:

The state is considering a different route under the national forest that would instead require a tunnel of just 7 miles. It would take 31/2 to seven years to dig, based on the same advance rates. But that route faces significant political opposition.

Vartabedian spends most of his time discussing the engineering challenges of tunneling under the mountains and the obvious possibility that doing so could cause cost overruns. But the only piece of hard evidence he has that overruns are a serious possibility is the 2013 Parsons Brinckerhoff report:

The 2013 Parsons Brinckerhoff cost estimate showed increases in almost every phase of the project. The company reported higher costs for land acquisition, viaducts, tunnels, electrical systems and professional services, largely driven by difficult segments of track that would run through mountains from Palmdale to Bakersfield.

The document was never made public, and the state rail agency declined a Times request to provide it under the state’s public records act. The Times later obtained it from an engineer close to the project.

Lisa Marie Alley, a spokeswoman for the rail authority, declined to discuss details of the Parsons Brinckerhoff cost estimate, but she said it was “superseded” by the 2014 business plan several months later, which cited the $68-billion estimate.

So even the 2013 estimate isn’t straightforward and without question. But rather than act like a reporter and try to dig into the details of where these estimates are coming from and how the Authority and other in state government are addressing them, Vartabedian prefers to cite a bunch of critics to make the project look bad. It’s been the same approach he’s used for years.

The issue of cost overruns and project delays is real. It’s quite possible we’ll see both. Californians need to take a closer look at how the project is being designed and built in order to address those concerns. Vartabedian is still hoping he can kill the HSR project, and so we get a biased story instead of a more factual examination of where the planning process currently stands. It’s a missed opportunity for everyone.

  1. Brian_FL
    Oct 26th, 2015 at 22:21

    Robert, usually I agree with you on your take on Vartabedian but this time you are off base. You say it’s only his opinion. Yet he seems to have done his homework and interviewed respected technical specialists in the field of constructing tunnels. You claim these experts are biased critics against HSR yet you bring no supporting evidence to suport your claim.

    No matter why the tunnel route is being considered, if it isn’t politically feasible to construct the HSR line without tunnelling, why do you insist that the at grade option be included in this discussion? It appears that a tunnel will be required to reach LA. And that there are significant risks to the schedule and project costs in doing so. Why does the CHSRA not acknowledge this in their reports to the state?

    Your claim about the only piece of hard evidence of cost overruns being the PB report from 2013 ignores the reality that tunnel construction is historically fraught with unexpected issues and delays and increased costs. Where is your evidence to support your implied argument that all will go as planned? You accuse Vartabedian of not being a good journalist. Yet he has done his homework and tried to uncover facts. It is very telling that the CHSRA refused to release the report showing increased costs and tunnel construction difficulty and that the CHSRA did not allow him to interview their own tunnel experts.

    Alan Kandel Reply:

    Ralph Vartabedian also said that California high-speed rail construction began in July. Should we believe that, too? Actually, construction got underway on June 16, 2015.

    And there appears to be another contradiction. Earlier in the article he states “Doing so will meet a commitment to begin carrying passengers between Burbank and Merced in the first phase of the $68-billion high-speed rail link between Los Angeles and San Francisco.” Later, he writes: “They cut the budget to $68 billion by eliminating high-speed service between Los Angeles and Anaheim and between San Jose and San Francisco.” So, which is it? $68 billion in cost to construct San Jose to Los Angeles or $68 billion to construct San Francisco to Los Angeles? It cannot be both.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    How do we know his interviews with tunnel experts reflect the full range of expert opinion on the matter? Given his history it’s entirely plausible that he chose people who would reflect badly on the idea.

    I don’t mind a story taking a look at the idea of tunneling under the mountains and saying “hey, there’s a lot of risk here.” There is. But the way he framed it is unfair to the CHSRA, and deliberately so. He makes it sound like they’re recklessly going ahead with this, when as I understand it, they had to be pushed by elected officials in LA County to study this and did so with reluctance.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Vartabedian’s claims don’t pass the smell test. Pretty much every tunnel is drilled much, much faster than Vartabedian’s supposed “fastest” rate.

  2. morris brown
    Oct 26th, 2015 at 22:27

    A new thread, how refreshing:

    Robert writes:

    This “Times analysis” is just Vartabedian’s opinion. That’s all.

    But it isn’t just Vartabedian’s opinion; it is the opinion not of opponents but of tunneling experts.
    Brent Flybjerg is an acknowledged world expert on large infrastructure projects.

    He cites opinions from a number of leading experts on tunneling.

    Then we have the Authority which claims to be conducting most transparent project ever and yet ignores and fails to disclose the October 2013 report from its own contractor, and uses older (much more favorable) projections when it releases the 2014 Business plan.

    Furthermore, CEO Morales claims to be unaware of the October 2013 report, which was “leaked” to the Times. How possibly could Morales not be aware of this report?

    This is a brilliant bit of investigative reporting. The Times (a pro HSR newspaper), felt it warranted front page on the Sunday Times (circulation 950,000)and continued for about 21/2 pages.

    The article has spread like wildfire though print and online media all across the country.

    The full article as printed in the Sunday Times (Oct 25 2015) can be viewed and downloaded at


    Joe Reply:

    The analysis is 100% the LA times work. They even take credit for it.
    No expert calculated total project duration with 10 ft a day rate. That’s the author’s construct.

    Brian_FL Reply:

    Joe, did you not read the article? An expert in tunnelling projects from MIT projected that the overall tunnel boring rate would be 10-20ft per day. And this estimate was supported by an engineer associated with this project who estimated 10ft per day would be a more realistic number. This is not the Times or Vartabedian dreaming up these numbers. In fact, the article gave two estimates, one based on the 10ft per day and the other assuming 20ft per day. So will it be 7 or 14 years for the tunnels alone? And how does that relate to the public statements from CHSRA that the line will be open for business by 2022? The original proposed route along SR14 would take 4-7 years.

    I read the article, please tell me where the Times takes credit for the calculations?

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    Read the quotes carefully. “can be as low as” etc. etc. Pick the worst case and extrapolate it, that’s journalism. Not sure why all the sturm and drang about this. When they have done the test drilling and reviewed the core samples the engineers will have a better idea. Right now we really don’t know whether tunneling is feasible on each of the given routes and what it will cost.

    Brian_FL Reply:

    It is also good engineering and business practise to know what the worst case might be. Since a big part of the authority’s schedule for construction and operation of the IOS South depends on this section that includes tunnels, you would think that they would not continue to use the 2022 date. I would rather see them give out more credible schedules and numbers than continue to tell the taxpayers that all is good. You said it yourself, no one knows if any of the proposed routes are feasible.

    Joe Reply:

    It is not good practice to understand the worst case. It’s good practice to understand risks. No good project for project manager is going to take a worst-case scenario oh and bring that forward.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Vartabedian isn’t even talking about the actual worst case. He’s making up fantasy worst cases, as noted below — for example, imagining that tunnel drilling stops on weekends (in reality it ALWAYS runs 24-7).

    StevieB Reply:

    Vartabedian also assumes that tunneling will proceed for 261 days a year at 5 days a week. The London Crossrail tunnels were tunneled 365 days a year.

    During Crossrail’s tunnelling phase, each TBM was operated by ‘tunnel gangs’ comprising of around twenty people – twelve people on the TBM itself and eight people working from the rear of the machine to above ground. The tunnel gangs worked in 12 hour shifts, tunnelling 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.

    Vartabedian eliminated 100 days a year of tunneling from his guess of completion time.

    Trentbridge Reply:

    Good point – no major construction project shuts down for weekends..

    Joe Reply:

    Can anyone validate the 10 feet per day rate that Ralph concocted. Why understanding is that 10 feet per day is the rate when crossing a fault zone which my cursory reading of the literature is a distance measured in meters to decameters.

    les Reply:

    For easy digging under Seattle:
    “Brenda completed her 1.5 mile journey digging up to 100 feet per day. The contractor, JCM, shoots for 60 feet per day, and Brenda was routinely digging 80 feet per day.”

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Bertha made 1000 feet in about 24 months. So 1.4 feet per day. Same Seattle.

    Joe Reply:

    The broken unit is Bertha – Right?

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    yep…its really not a fair comparison. Bertha is still broke so she may go under 1 foot a day soon enough

    les Reply:

    Yes it was pretty lame to only reference Bertha. She is a world record holder in diameter and WSDOT has done their share to contribute to its problems. Also, 4 other tunnels have been under budget and under schedule independent of Berthas woes.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    i meant it was not fair to Bertha…she is still not finished…she could get even worse.

    If you want a list of all the tunnel projects in the world that ended up over budget and off schedule we are going to need to get a bigger blog

    But rather than do that, I will just show you this


    3 of the 4 Seattle tunnel projects went over budget. (not all 4 under budget as asserted)

    Cheers to the person running the I-90 expansion one…54% under budget is a huge accomplishment

    les Reply:

    Of the 5 recent ones these two had no issues. And two others to northgate are doing good as well. To bad your going so far back to be relevant.

    les Reply:

    These will be breaking through to us district in couple months ahead of schedule.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    At the Gotthard Base Tunnel, northern section, with hard rock and depths up to 1000 meters, the TBM had an average of 18 meter per day, with a maximum of 56 day (which the manufacturer of the TBM claims to be a world record for a TBM of this class in this kind of rock).

    In other sections, more to the south, there was the necessity of extensive securing of the bore (horizontal layers of the rock), and that led to something around 6.5 meter per day; as soon as the rock was layered vertically, less extensive securing was needed, and the speed went up to 15 meter per day. Compared to the northern part, the rock is softer and grainier.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    It’s a pity we can’t drill in meters then. If we can only drill in feet we’ll get less than a third of the work done.

    Roland Reply:

    The Gotthard base tunnel took 22 years to build: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gotthard_Base_Tunnel#/media/File:Nrla_scheme.png. Given that the current rent seekers have yet to figure out an alignment, any date earlier than 2040 is unrealistic.

    Joe Reply:

    The slowest rate, 6.5 meters a day, is still faster than Ralph’s 10ft per day and about equal to his most generous tunneling rate of 20ft/day.

    StevieB Reply:

    Vartabedian estimated 20 ft/day with two tunneling machines drilling 10 ft/day from opposite directions. Shutting down tunneling on Saturday and Sunday for no good reason and using the longest possible tunnel choice he came up with 7 years of tunneling.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    @Paul Dyson: Maybe time to go metric in the US…

    @Roland: Those 22 years include planning and preparations. The actual digging took 12 years from start to break-through. And then, it took another roughly five years to finish and build trackwork and other equipment. This is all done, and they are doing full system tests, including high-speed running at 250 to 280 km/h. Official opening and handing over to the SBB is in June 2016, and from then on, there will be freight and passenger runs through the tunnel as system tests. It then may happen that a heavily delayed EC from Milano will be sent through the tunnel, in order to catch up with the delay. Scheduled operation will begin in December 2016.

    A note (just to be clear), the numbers I quoted are per TBM.

    Roland Reply:

    @ Max. What was the daily tunneling rate in the dynamite sections?

    Joe Reply:

    @Max thank you. Per TBM.

    @SteveB Ralph’s unreliable. I can infer the 24 day is 20 hour day drilling and 4 hour shift changes and maintenance. Possibly the 7 day week is all work: 5 days of drilling and 2 days of maintenance somehow mixed into the average 7 day work week. Not sure with Ralph who wants so bad to find fault.

    I did some very quick looking in literature to undrstand wtf is a “fault zone” and find it is an area measure in meters to decameters. That 10-20 ft a day rate is not for the full length but for areas where there is fractured and heterogenous rock. The delay is to swap drill heads and install securing bolts as he reported.

    So maybe the time includes maintenance and is 20×5 a week but the rate is for fault zones and that’s clearly NOT the full lender of the tunnel distance.

    agb5 Reply:

    Soft soil can slowly flow around a stopped cutter head and block it solid.
    That is one reason tunnel boring machines operate non-stop.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    Not only around a stopped cutter head… Again in the Gotthard Base Tunnel, they had a break-in of very soft rock. Fortunately, the other bore had already passed that location, and they could drill from there to make injections into the material in front of the cutter head to solidify the material.

    And there are other cases where soft material blocked the TBM for weeks.

    john burrows Reply:

    I think that “biased” is a better word than “brilliant” for describing Vartabedian’s article in the Times.
    The paragraph in his report that is getting the most attention is misleading.

    Vartabedian states “A confidential 2013 report by the state’s main project management contractor, New York based Parsons Brinckerhoff estimated that the cost of building the first phase from Burbank to Merced had risen 31% to $40 billion.”

    But according to the 2014 business plan which has been out for a year and a half, the cost has not risen 31%. The 2014 business plan estimates the cost of the Burbank to Merced first phase at $33.6 billion in year of expenditure dollars. If my math is right, and assuming that Parsons Brinckerhoff was also talking about year of expenditure dollars, then we are talking about a 19% increase, not 31%—-If you are trying to stir the cost overrun pot, 31% sounds a lot more compelling than 19%.

    Vartabedian goes on to say “And it projected that the cost of the entire project would rise at least 5%” If the price goes up by 5%, that would put the cost of the Phase 1 Blended Plan at around $69 billion which I don’t think would create that much of a buzz.

    john burrows Reply:

    Should be $71.5 billion. not $69 billion—Maybe I’m starting to show my bias.

    morris brown Reply:

    @john burrows

    From the 2012 business plan, page 21, the Merced to Burbank (San Fernando Valley) segment, the projected cost was $31 billion. The report said this had risen 31% — thus to $40 billion. At the time of the report (October 2013), the 2012 plan was out and the comparison was made to that report’s number, not the 2014 plan.

    morris brown Reply:

    @ john burrows

    If you compare the 2012 plan (page 21) and the 2014 plan (page21) you see that the Authority did not change the projected costs at all.

    I don’t know where the 5% number comes from. If the 2014 plan had reflected the $9 billion increase (31%) the report projected, that the $68 billion previous projection would have risen to $77 billion, which is an increase of 13% not 5%

    Joe Reply:

    Don’t forget to factor in the cost savings for the surface transportation boards decision to federalize the project. By avoiding the California environmental quality act, a project and shave years off the schedule because they won’t have nuisance lawsuits filed.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Year of expenditure dollars are bullshit and estimates in year of expenditure dollars change every single year. It’s not meaningful. Only estimates in “year XXX” dollars mean a damn thing.

    Alan Reply:

    A “brilliant” piece of journalism would compare the alleged HSR cost increase to the cost of tunneling to move the same volume of people through a highway tunnel. You know–real journalism. Give the reader enough information to render an informed opinion. Of course, since that comparison would no doubt undermine Vartabedian’s agenda, I’m sure that that was never considered. Shame on the Times’ editors for not insisting on a comparison of HSR costs vs. other alternatives.

    Ralph Vartabedian is starting to make Trey Goudy look like a pillar of integrity.

    synonymouse Reply:

    How can you have the audacity to even begin to critique Vartabedian’s report done by one man and on a shoestring after the absolute piece of mierda PB did on Tejon? Now that was a hatchet job for the ages and we suckers paid for it!

    Travis D Reply:

    The two are not even comparable.

    Vartabedian is an evil man who wants to impose an evil agenda. PB was asked for reasons to keep the route going through a major population center.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    He didn’t write a detailed expert analysis that looks at all the pros and cons. He interviewed a bunch of people who were critics of the proposed alignment under the mountains and decided they were right. And those critics might well be correct, but a good reporter would also seek out other independent experts who have a different view. Or, if none exist, then report that as well.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Did PB seek out any Tejon partisan’s opinion when it crafted its “analysis”?

    In effect it was also one man’s opinion – that of Jerry Brown acting as a proxy for the CEO of the Tejon Ranch Co.

    les Reply:

    You donate 250,000 acres and you can get your property bypassed too.
    “The Tejon Ranch Company have considerable investment in obtaining their EIR for the proposed project and as a condition of the approval have agreed to dedicate 90% of their 270,000 acre holdings for conservation. Impacts to the proposed project as a result of a high-speed train corridor could jeopardize the project and void agreements to establish conservation areas”

    synonymouse Reply:

    CnT to fund the purchase the Tejon Ranch as parkland.

    Meantime a stealth RICO investigation of the Ranch.

    les Reply:

    Who says they are willing to sale? Obviously they want their resort and also want it surrounded by a conservation area and DON’T WANT HSR near the property. CHRS does not have eminent domain for the 290,000 acres, so sorry but sale not happening. And the state wants to preserve the 250,000 acres. Why not when they can also have a viable HSR system with direct routes to Palmdale, Bakersfield and LV.

    You pony up 250,000 acres of prime real estate and I’m sure you can get your own station, with jacuzzi and martini bar to boot.

    J. Wong Reply:

    Tejon Ranch is a public company so it is always “for sale”.

    les Reply:

    I would hate to see them sell it, and with threats to renege on the 250,000 acre commitment, I don’t sense that the people who own shares would be interested in selling. If SF and LA were closer together, HSR could really use the corridor and I could see them being more aggressive, but that not being the case, the alternative will work fine.

    J. Wong Reply:

    As a public company shares of Tejon Ranch are traded on the stock exchange. If you want to buy the company, you just buy the shares on the publicly traded market. In fact, Clem has proposed that the state buy Tejon Ranch since it’s publicly traded value is less than the construction costs mitigating Tejon Ranch concerns.

    les Reply:

    I’m a conservationist at heart, and though I don’t know the area that well, the thought of exploiting it further for a transportation corridor doesn’t appeal to me, especially when there is a 2nd option that is functional and well supported.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The Tejon alignment is adjacent to I-5, functional and well supported transportation corridor with juice in place.

    Travis D Reply:

    I seriously wonder if you have autism. Your continued obsession with one minor engineering choice is truly bizarre.

    Clem Reply:

    It is the least minor engineering choice in the entire plan, which is to say it is a major choice. It fully deserves to be questioned.

    J. Wong Reply:

    It does deserve to be questioned but instead of just stating that @synonymous goes off on a rant that Gov. Brown is in the pocket of Tejon Ranch so naturally everyone assumes he’s crazy and discounts the reasonable part of his complaint. The simplest explanation is that the Authority decided to shut down Tejon itself for political reasons based on opposition of Tejon Ranch. There’s no reason for Gov. Brown to have been involved.

    Joe Reply:

    Palmdale was going to sue to keep the alignment running through the city of Palmdale. LA County wants the alignment through Palmdale including the new senate leader from LACounty. Senator Reid wrote a letter to the governor urging him to keep the alignment through Palmdale. Joe BFD Biden wanted the Alignment through Palmdale.Express West will be constructing a train system to connect our system near Palmdale.

    Why the focus on Tejon ranch????!!!

    J. Wong Reply:

    They were the primary block threatening the alignments both through Tejon and Bakersfield. Palmdale and Santa Clarita added on but weren’t significant.

    That said, it’ll be interesting to see what happens when Bakersfield is finished and the Authority still can’t get funding for Tehachapi. Tejon Ranch won’t have as much leverage as they did.

    Joe Reply:

    there are forces attracting the high-speed rail alignment and there are forces opposing the high-speed rail alignment. Vote was required in the legislature and as critics point out, they got just the minimum number of votes to pass the appropriation of funds.

    For the sake of argument lets assume the tejon alignment saves $5 billion. We have a choice between a unfunded project that would’ve been $5 billion cheaper than the project we’rebuilding with funding.

    I don’t understand why Tiana ranch becomes the focus of attention. The mysterious explanation and hidden cabal running our government appeals to a certain mindset.

    synonymouse Reply:

    It is not just $5bil now; it is the ongoing savings of a superior route.

    Bako to Burbank via Tejon is the best IOS you have got, the best starter. Even if it is the only segment built it has profound utility, more than anything from San Jose to Burbank, including the money losing commute op LA to Palmdale. What Palmdale needs is more like a standard gauge OC BART than hsr.

    Bako to Burbank is a viable leg for hsr service, not just commute.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Think about it – what if you want to go from Palmdale to Acton? HSR won’t do that. Palmdale needs an RER or modern version of BART.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    Good idea syn. But try getting through Santa Clarita.
    The problem with all the “my route is better” crowd is that they somehow think the residents along their route will roll out the red carpet and that there will be on obstruction, lawsuits, etc. For what my opinion is worth, the project we have right now is HSR in CA in our lifetime, warts and all. We need to make it happen, or decide that we have to live without it.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Your understanding of the situation on the ground in Sta. Clarita is invaluable. I am on the other side of the world from SoCal but I can visualize it in my mind’s eye. Please give us all your insight into the politics thereabouts, as I consider what’s going on there now as the “denouement” or crisis of CAHSR.

    Maybe buying the Ranch is the carrot here. It is a wild hair idea but could catch on.

    My pitch is simple, maybe some would say simple-minded. Take the concrete savings(literally)from the Tejon alignment and spend the $5bil or so on mitigations from Sta. Clarita to, what, Pacoima. Even if they manage to ram thru the Angeles long tunnels I doubt the burgs farther south will let up on their demands for lots of money, a lot more than CAHSR planned on or budgeted for, on tunnels, etc. in their backyards.

    They should have started with the southern mountain crossing. It is not that difficult to pick out as the crux. If rebuffed at Sta. Clarita et al, they would have had excellent grounds to go back to the Legislature seeking to tackle the problem of hsr from another angle.

    Joey Reply:

    I think the impact to Santa Clarita is overstated. The alignment could follow I-5 pretty closely, and the number of required property takes is relatively small. Of course they’d complain, but as far as the actual mitigations which would emerge from the planning process I don’t think it would be very much.

    J. Wong Reply:


    The Legislature authorized the release of money from Prop 1a bonds, but this is being held up by the Court telling the Authority that it’s business plan was inadequate. That said, there is still no funding for the southern crossing via Tehachapi so any claim of “funded” versus “unfunded” is a red herring.

    Back to the business plan. Why do you think the Authority board members were so upset by the responses to their call for interest? Without any definite commitments from private interests, any business plan is DOA. (It’s also why Clem asked whether any of the submissions mentioned Tejon; if a private firm thought Tejon mitigated risk, then that would support for it.)

    Also note that it isn’t just $5b in construction costs but around $72.5m per year operating costs. Over 20 to 30 years, that’s $1.45b to $2.1b, which is real money coming out of the pocket of any private operator.

    synonymouse Reply:

    I kinda get the idea that Sta. Clarita hates the idea of becoming a major transfer point. But problem is if you sit atop the major north-south route it is fated.

    joe Reply:

    For what my opinion is worth, the project we have right now is HSR in CA in our lifetime, warts and all. We need to make it happen, or decide that we have to live without it.


    Paul Dyson Reply:

    syn and joey: It doesn’t matter to Santa Clarita that the route impacts are relatively minor and can be mitigated, they have got themselves into such a lather that they can’t see straight. The irony is that the Mayor, who is leading the assault, was for a long time a major proponent of the OLDA elevated monorail/maglev that would have followed 5/14 through her city. Hypocrisy rules!
    RailPAC (and many others) always called for the mountain crossing (bridging the gap) to be done first, with “blended” upgrades into LAUS.

    synonymouse Reply:

    But if the SR14 alignment arises from the crypt Sta. Clarita will still be at least skirted and presumably have to be outreached and mollified.

    Joey Reply:

    Does Palmdale actually have any ground to stand on for such a lawsuit? I don’t doubt that they’d sue, but if the alignment was chosen in compliance with the CEQA, then I can’t imagine the lawsuit getting very far.

    synonymouse Reply:

    I suggest they were put up to threatening the lawsuit.

    J. Wong Reply:

    The only grounds Palmdale had to sue was the text of Prop 1a.

    Contra @synonymouse, they have every reason to sue on their own. But yes, not likely they’d win.

    Useless Reply:

    J Wong

    From an engineering perspective, all fault crossings must be made above ground at low altitude for a quick repair in case a big quake hits the SoCal and a track repair needs to be made.

    This is why the California HSR must pass through Palmdale and not the Tejon pass, because the fault crossings must be made at high altitude or through tunnels, which make quick repairs impossible and the CHSR would be shutdown for months and possibly years if the big quake was to strike the Tejon pass.

    J. Wong Reply:

    See The Truth about Tejon, Myth #3.

    All faults in Tejon can be crossed at grade. Also note that the Forest alignment for Palmdale currently being investigated by the Authority crosses a fault below grade.

    Useless Reply:

    J. Wong

    Just compare where the San Andreas fault crossings are made in the Tejon alignment vs the Tehachapi alignment.

    In case of the Tejon alignment, the crossing is in the middle of a deep mountain range where the access to repair crew would be difficult.

    In case of the Tahachapi alignment, the crossing is made on a flat plain and is easily accessible from Palmdale, so repair would be trivial.

    This is why Tejon alignment must be avoided.

    Eric Reply:

    “In case of the Tejon alignment, the crossing is in the middle of a deep mountain range where the access to repair crew would be difficult.”

    Why are you inventing this nonsense? Just look at the Google map in J. Wong’s link. The Tejon San Andreas crossing is right next to Interstate 5 as well as a local road. There are no difficulties in access to there.

    Useless Reply:


    The Tejon San Andreas crossing is right next to Interstate 5

    Huh? You think the I-5 is going to stay intact when the big one hits?

    J. Wong Reply:

    Huh? You think Palmdale and SR14 is going to stay intact with the big one hits?

    Useless Reply:

    J. Wong

    Huh? You think Palmdale and SR14 is going to stay intact with the big one hits?

    SR 14’s South bound should be fine.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Too bad there is no record AFAIK of how what is now Palmdale fared in the Ft. Tejon quake of 1857, which some consider the largest in the past few hundred years.

    J. Wong Reply:

    Why is SR14 or more importantly Palmdale infrastructure more likely to stay intact than I5? You have the expertise for this evaluation? No, I didn’t think so.

    Clem Reply:

    Useless. Tejon is lower (by several hundred feet) than Tehachapi. No faults are crossed in tunnels, and most importantly the crossings of the San Andreas and Garlock fault zones are well separated, away from the convergence zone.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Clem, how large is the infamous convergence zone; I mean in terms of magnified seismic danger?

    Cool picture of the San Andreas at Gorman:


    I did not know they called the fault crushed rock “gouge”. Probably not too nice to tunnel thru.

    Clem Reply:

    I’m not qualified to answer that. What I can say with certainty is that in PB’s study of a “representative” (ha ha) alignment over Tejon, the strict prohibition against crossing into any part of the Tejon Mountain Village development caused the alignment to deviate sharply towards the convergence zone (the jumble where the Garlock fault merges into the San Andreas fault), which was later cited as an argument against Tejon–because of increased seismic risk and sharp curves. #%$&ers.

    Elizabeth Alexis Reply:

    According to the last big report on earthquake risk in California (http://www.wgcep.org/ucerf3), the really big fault that is likely to go really soon is the southern San Andreas near Mojave. It is overdue and predicted to be large.

    synonymouse Reply:

    It would be so helpful to know the true impact of the 1857 quake but you have to assume it hit Palmdale really hard too, as it sits atop the fault.

    Add on the 1952 Kern Co. 7.1 and the fact that the passes parallel each other my conjecture is the seismic danger is roughly the same for both.

    Shorter means a smaller window of opportunity for bad things to happen.

    Useless Reply:


    Tejon is lower (by several hundred feet) than Tehachapi.

    That doesn’t matter because of tunneling.

    No faults are crossed in tunnels

    Once the big one hits, tracks on both sides of fault will be misaligned and will need to be realigned. Since tunnels cannot move, the flat ground distance between tunnels become critical as tracks become realigned.

    In your Tejon alignment model, the distance between tunnels of Garlock fault is very short, meaning a retunneling is required if there was a quake at the Garlock fault.

    synonymouse Reply:

    I do not remember any call for a tunnel under the Garlock Fault.

    Peter Reply:

    meaning a retunneling is required if there was a quake at the Garlock fault.

    More than would be required for a major quake along the fault crossed below grade for a Tehachapi alignment?

    J. Wong Reply:

    @Useless has no qualifications to make any of the statements that he does. He’s just pulling stuff out of his a**.

    Elizabeth Alexis Reply:

    Actually this is backwards. While the Tehachapi pass is lower than the Tejon pass, because of tunneling and the specific topography, a train route via Tejon is probably more than 1000 feet LOWER than Tehachapi.

    And because Palmdale is relatively quite low, Tehachapi requires an extra 1000 feet up and then down to get to Palmdale, and then another 500-700 feet up and then down to get through the San Gabriel mountains.

    Here is one recent profile of a route via Tehachapi – http://imgur.com/VeTBLoD

    The benefit of Tejon is that you go up and then down. It is still quite steep and would be an engineering feat, but you are not creating unnecessary complications.

    synonymouse Reply:

    And it is significantly shorter. The exposure to danger, both in space and time, is less.

    Clem Reply:

    For any of you wondering how the vertical track profiles, terrain profiles, grades, maximum tunnel lengths or fault crossings compare on Tejon vs. Tehachapi, please download this PDF comparison chart. This was before the Angeles National Forest tunnels, but the comparison still holds. Note the relationship of tunnel portals to faults.

    There’s really no contest!

  3. synonymouse
    Oct 26th, 2015 at 23:34

    Question: how do you enlarge a slip gallery that has used up all of its wiggle room.? Apparently BART has this problem in its East Bay hills tunnel. I mean BART has trains running in it all the time.

    Do you cut in from above? That would be in a National Forest in the case of the “Antonovich” tunnels. Hardly non-invasive. The chipmunks would have get out of the way of the backhoes.

    Last question: why mine thru a fault in the first place if you have a better alternative?

    les Reply:

    “As design for this alternative advances, every effort will be made to utilize existing service roads for construction and maintenance access where possible, but some re-grading may be necessary to meet access requirements to portals and other structures, as well emergency access/egress for first responders.”
    It will be interesting to see if they need to disturb any non-existing regress/egress, but I doubt it. Existing regress & egress is usually never an issue when it comes to regrading. They usually have about a 36′ easement from center (or there abouts).

    synonymouse Reply:

    So you are talking a surface easement paralleling the entire tunnel thru the Angeles National Forest?

    If I were an Forest fan I would be opposed too.

    les Reply:

    An easement that already exist and not one that requires an act of congress.

    les Reply:

    Given the winding nature of forest roads and the need for a straight corridor for HSR it will be impossible to match 14+ miles of track to Tejon without needing new easements.

    les Reply:

    and Chipmonks will be more than happy to have their pre-existing runways tidy up-ed.

  4. Eric
    Oct 27th, 2015 at 00:37

    “This “Times analysis” is just Vartabedian’s opinion. That’s all.”

    To quote another famous Californian:
    “Yeah, well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:


  5. agb5
    Oct 27th, 2015 at 02:36

    For comparison, the 35 mile long Lyon-Turin base tunnel is scheduled to take 10 years to complete, and they are using 16 advancement faces (8 tunnel boring machines plus drilled sections).
    The plan calls for 3 years of preparatory work, followed by 6 years of tunnelling.
    They also have some awkward rock, like coal, to get through.
    57km in 6 years averages 26m per day.

    Joe Reply:

    Well the LA Times factored in 3 to 7 m per day because the crack journalist took the fault zone tunneling rate and applied it to the entire project length.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Any faults enroute?

    agb5 Reply:

    There is plenty of faulty rock.

    During excavation of the access tunnel, a section with a diameter of 10m, deformation of up to 2m in diameter was observed over a period of a few days. It is impossible to use a TBM in that kind of situation. Those reaches require excavation traditional open-face methods.

    If we assume a typical 200 day French work week, they tunnel an average 33m per day.

    synonymouse Reply:

    But no faults?

    Nathanael Reply:

    LOTS of BIG faults. Alpine fold-thrust belt. Most of the seismic stress is released on super-deep faults. But there are faults at the level they’re drilling the Lyon-Turin tunnel through, too. They are typically inactive, but they are faults…

    synonymouse Reply:

    They have quakes pretty regularly in Italy but France? LaLa on the other hand…

    J. Wong Reply:

    Faults exist everywhere, @synonymouse, however they do vary as to their seismic activity.

    synonymouse Reply:

    My point is that seismic worries are much greater en la ciudad de nuestra senora de Los Angeles than a Paris.

  6. morris brown
    Oct 27th, 2015 at 05:06

    The credibility of the Authority is a key issue here. Their own contractor, PB, issues a report and it is ignored, hidden and not used.

    Morales claims he is unaware of the “leaked” report. Amazing isn’t it?

    The Board apparently not advised? The Board certifies the 2014 Business plan using the data that they are given. The 2014 Business plan is the vehicle the State Legislature uses for oversight.

    Chair Richard claims the Authority is building the project in the most transparent manner of any public project.

    The Authority’s credibility is punctured forever!

    Zorro Reply:

    That is probably cause the report doesn’t exist and is made up by Ralph Vartabedian, Morris.

    Alan Reply:

    Exactly. We only have Vartabedian’s word on that, and that means nothing whatever. The “report” could be nothing more than internal correspondence between PB employees–bouncing thoughts and ideas off of each other before being reduced to a final report.

    One also has to wonder why the unnamed “PB engineer” would be willing to risk career suicide by leaking a document to the press.

    Finally, if the document in whatever form is an internal PB document, it could be considered proprietary and not subject to FOIA. Of course Vartabedian, liar that he is, is not honest enough to acknowledge that possibility.

    morris brown Reply:

    @Alan @Zorro

    When the Oct 2013 PB secret report is produced, and it will be, I would hope you both will have the decency to personally apologize to Vartabedian for your outrageous innuendos.

    You do realize, I would hope, that his articles must pass through editor(s); so I guess your ridiculous assertions would imply they are also involved.

    Eric M Reply:

    Why should they apologize after all the slanderous articles written in the past by Vartabedian against high speed rail which lacked truth.

    And you Morris Brown should be the last person to accuse someone else about “ridiculous assertions”.

    ragingduck Reply:

    “When the Oct 2013 PB secret report is produced, and it will be”

    And if no such report is produced by the time the IOS is complete, will you apologize for wasting everyone’s time? Or will you have conveniently forgotten that you made such a statement?

    synonymouse Reply:

    If the taxpayers paid for it how can it be considered proprietary? We deserve a refund.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Wait – you’re saying there was a time that you, Morris Brown, believed the Authority was credible?

    Now that would be news.

    Mac Reply:

    Robert, I think we all “hoped” they were credible …. When the public started looking at reports and asking questions, it became obvious to the least educated among us that we weren’t getting the whole story. At one point, the HSRA had all the documents, quarterly engineering reports and updates online for public viewing. That stopped when the lawsuits began mounting. In fact, they changed their entire website address, removed many reports and other information that had been readily accessible. The links to those documents vanished forever. The new website is not user friendly and their site search engine is deplorable. Coincidence? Damage control? Now one must officially request information that was previously readily available. This is not transparency. This does not evoke trust.

    This is not just “Vartabedian’s opinion”. This is probably one of the better researched articles he’s written. Why doesn’t someone on this blog consider writing a researched article to unveil some of his “mistruths” if you think it is just “an opinion” (and a wrong opinion…in YOUR opinion) . I honestly would be very interested to read it.
    From my own experience, I find that the open public meetings only give us a slim overview of what is to come…costs etc. The last meeting I attended this Fall, I was told that the project was still projected to cost $68 billion…..even with seismic issues and the increased tunneling expected. I just stared at this HSRA representative incredulously. Nonsense! At least ATTEMPT to tell the truth!

    Travis D Reply:

    So because you think they are bad people you expect the worst. Hardly objective in its own right.

    Nathanael Reply:

    This is just Vartabedian’s opinion. Not an “analysis”. I’ve done analyses. This is handwaving by Vartabedian.

    Are there real problems? Yes… but Vartabedian is talking about fake problems.

  7. John Nachtigall
    Oct 27th, 2015 at 10:13

    The logic of this post makes not sense

    You start with this

    “So I should not be surprised to see his latest, in which he decides the HSR project will be delayed and have cost overruns all because he said so:”

    you end with this

    “The issue of cost overruns and project delays is real. It’s quite possible we’ll see both. ”

    So you agree with Vartabedian. You agree that the issue is “real” and it is “quite possible” they will happen. So what is your issue?

    He explores the detailed explanation for 1 possible delay. He is very clear that it is not just his opinion but also the opinion of the primary contractor and several outside experts. He never said kill the project, you filled that in.

    You can kill the messenger, but the facts don’t change

    – construction started ~2-3 years later than anticipated
    – Land acquisition is well behind schedule for initial construction
    – the money required for the 1st operational segment has not been acquired. Even with cap and trade it is about 10 billion short.
    – private investors have declined to participate at this time
    – the federal government has declined to give more money than already committed
    – the route is not set
    – lawsuits continue to delay the project
    – experts in large project management (Bent Flyvbjerg et al) have shown all of these issues lead to cost and schedule overruns.

    Be mad at the CAHSR authority, not the LA Times. The management of this project has been and continues to be deficient and that should be apparent independent of your opinion on CAHSR.

    Mac Reply:

    Well said.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    I believe those are mostly political problems stemming from people who oppose HSR in any circumstance, whether it’s in Congress or in Palo Alto. The CHSRA is doing a great job given the headwinds they face. And remember, this tunnel under the mountains *was not their idea.* Vartabedian makes it sound like it was.

    synonymouse Reply:

    They seem to be jumping at the chance, hoping to enhance their 2:40 credibility.

    Joe Reply:

    The sooner the Authority starts the study, the sooner they can finish, plan and complete the EIR.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Since politics is defined as “getting people to follow you and do what you want” then all problems are indeed political. So good project management would acknowledge the risks and mitigate them not kick them down the road. Of course it is hard, that is why you get paid. If there were no “headwinds” then it would run itself. Example…

    Land acquisition is unforgivable. It’s basic blocking and tacking of big project management and they have booted it form the start. It’s behind, it continues to be behind, and it is 100% within the ability of CAHSRA to do correctly.

    To actually build this system, you need

    – 100 billion capital supported by a by either the general fund or a dedicated tax stream well higher than 25% of cap and trade like a 1 cent gas tax for example. They can’t turn cap and trade into a bond right now because no one knows how much it will generate…gas tax is easy to calculate.
    – losen the restrictions in prop1a because they are unrealistic (no subsidy, time limits at without full buildout on bookends, etc,)
    – actual competence of execution

    But instead of working on any of those things they kick the can down the road, stall for time in the vain hope the federal government will convert to democrats overnight and everyone will stop reading prop1a. And the stuff they have total control over they still lag and mess up.

    We will agree to disagree, but regardless of anyone’s position on HSR, I don’t see how you can argue that management of this progrct has been “a great job”. Hell they have taken supporter (Palo Alto) and turned them into enemies

    Joe Reply:

    So good project management would acknowledge the risks and mitigate them not kick them down the road.

    You mitigate risks. Risk means it’s not yet happened and isn’t a problem.
    You don’t mitigate a problem.

    Mitigate doesn’t mean resolve – risk management has “accept” as a legitimate and good project management action as is “monitor”.

    Mitigations can be costly and it’s possible to burn more money to mitigate a risk than to monitor or accept the risk. Some risks are not within the project managers control.

    Clearly the project is going ahead without meeting your requirements. Texas HSR also fails to have all the funding line up and fails your criteria.

    Jerry Reply:

    Joe – what you say is true. But I smiled to myself when I thought you could almost substitute the word ‘litigate’ for ‘mitigate’ and your comment would probably be just as true.

    Joe Reply:

    By gosh that switch does work. Interesting coincidence.

    If the STB Federalized the project, that action removes all CEQA litigation forever. That’s a huge labor, time and cost savings critics have yet to acknowledge. Somehow Morris will not agree that’s NOT a good thing.

    Proof? Bakersfield settled their EIR lawsuit because of the STB decision, they said so, and they quickly cooperated agreeing to have the authority study a shorter, faster alignment Bakersfield thought was less impactful least they be stuck with the alignment initially selected.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    A good project manager realizes that a little prevention up front can prevent a lot of pain on the back end. and just because a risk has not happened yet does not mean it will not. Example. Land acquisition is hard. It will 100% have to happen and so it is 99.99% certain it will have issues. So rather than set up a robust process up front, in the time while you were waiting to decide if the courts are going to shut you down, they just sat around and then when they were cleared the half-assed the process with consultants and prayer

    So now they are hopelessly behind schedule, it is going to cost them money on a change order and people like me are going to publicly say “I told you so” and use it as further proof of the inability to manage the project. All because they didnt do a little bit of work up front to set the process and staffing correctly from the beginning.

    Yes, accept and monitor are 2 strategies…this project management team is using them too often and in the wrong places. I am straight up calling them incompetent, not theoretical, on actual ability. Who boots the construction date 2 years late AND does not have the land ready??? WTF???

    Clearly the project is struggling, regardless of my opinion (or yours)

    When you cant even buy the land in a timely manner, what hope is there to manage complex variables like city relations and choosing the route.

    PS: Texas didnt pass a law stating they needed the money up front. CAHSR did. self inflicted wounds are still wounds.

    Joe Reply:

    Risk is a probable event that warrents tracking — it’s a risk. If your policy is to mitigate all risks you’re a spending fool. You have no risks – your throwing money at every shadow like a chicken.

    The project has withstood a hostile congress, litigation and CEQA lawsuits. It had a favorable GAO assessment. It has Cap and Trade money that was not available when you began disparaging the project. They started construction, settled with Bakersfield with possibly a faster alignment and possible have negated CEQA oversight. LA wants their segment built and belended I the Pennisula has CARRD and NIMBYs scrambling.

    PS the law doesn’t define Initial Operating Segment. They can modify the plan with a word processors and comply.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    You can write in the plan all you like. In the end, they need the IOS up and running and making money to convince the private investors (who they are counting on for the last 20-30 billion) to invest. But they are 10 billion short of the money needed to build the IOS (however you define it) and if they build just a regular line with no electricity and no service to any city, guess what..no money earned either.

    The project has not “withstood” anything. They are short money, time and most importantly competence. They have not even reached the inevitable delays and cost escalation stage yet, because they are that far behind. Lob all the nasty words at me you like, the clock continues to count down.

    PS. You think the next Governor will go out of his way to support it like Brown has? Despite the assertion, there are plenty of Democrats that don’t believe in this project also. Brown has to pull every string available to get the bond money and the cap and trade approved. People are just waiting in the wings to pull that money. When Brown is gone, who defends this project? by 2018 it had better have shown real tangible progress because if not….

    Nathanael Reply:

    The next governor will go out of his way to support California HSR.

    The support in the northern Central Valley and the LA Basin is overwhelming. It’ll get built.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Gavin hardly cares about transport issues at all. As mayor he did nothing to get Muni going, and it was the centennial under his administration.

    PB-CAHSR is slow motion Queretaro.

    J. Wong Reply:

    If Newsom sees an opportunity to come in and “save” HSR, he will.

    “PB-CAHSR is slow motion Queretaro.” No, it’s not. This assumes no one will ride HSR, but you’re totally wrong there. You may not ride because you’re happy in your little bubble in northern California, but some of us actually enjoy taking trips to L.A. and given the discomfort of air travel will take a 3 hour train ride any day. And as others hear about how pleasant it is from the early adopters, they too will choose to ride.

    Nathanael Reply:

    John, they weren’t allowed to start land acquisition until some of the hurdles (EIS, etc.) had been passed. I’m sure they would have liked to do so earlier.

    Jerry Reply:

    John: All of the problems you identify can be applied to many, many, many of the original US Interstate Highway sections in many, many, many places throughout the United States when it was being built.
    But alas, we all survived, and the system was built. But, even today, Congress still has problems with how to pay for the hugh expense of maintaining it.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    so true….so since this is not re-inventing the wheel, why is the CAHSRA so bad at it??

    Jerry Reply:

    Good question John.
    Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome is, what?
    Oh my.

    Jerry Reply:

    Those who do not learn from their mistakes are condemned to repeat them.

  8. Darrell
    Oct 27th, 2015 at 10:23

    Remember when the Times had nothing but critical articles about the Metro Red and Gold Line construction? Those are now forgotten as L.A.’s rail network has become just convenient transportation for many people that we seek to expand, plus a core part of the city’s sustainability leadership.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The hsr equivalent of rebuilding the PE is Tejon.

  9. Reedman
    Oct 27th, 2015 at 11:32

    Tunneling even short runs can become a public works nightmare if the contractor hasn’t done their homework. Sarasota, FL needs to put a new 36 inch sanitary sewer under a local creek, along with building a new lift station. What was originally an estimated $12 million project got started, was abandoned, delayed two years, lawsuits were filed, engineering was redesigned, and project restarted to become about a $32 million effort. The original contractor did no test boring, and was unable to get their “microtunneling” machine to move forward beyond a certain point.

  10. morris brown
    Oct 27th, 2015 at 12:49

    Three Letters to the Times on Vartabedian’s article

    One is from Paul Dyson who often comments here.

  11. nslander
    Oct 27th, 2015 at 15:39

    Why should anybody care what Hackabedian says anymore? Opinions on this subject have long since been fixed, and his interminable jihad has not translated into any measureable political opposition. Old Man Yells at Cloud. Hasten the release of of the Times from its wretched misery and stop clicking on his nonsense.

  12. morris brown
    Oct 27th, 2015 at 16:02

    San Diego Union Tribune Editorial:

    Bullet train deceit: Here we go again

    Travis D Reply:

    More evil people pushing an evil agenda.

    Nathanael Reply:

    See, that’s an editorial, where is where biased, irrational screeds are supposed to go. Not in the news pages like Mr Vartabedian is doing.

  13. Car(e)-free LA
    Oct 27th, 2015 at 17:26

    The tunnel is a great idea…3.5 years isn’t even that long, really. Now what would be nice (and really annoy the rsidents of Sunland Tijunga) would be if the tunnel emerged from the San Gabriel Mountains, then HSR crossed the valley on a giant cable stayed bridge before plunging back into a tunnel under the Verdugo Mountains. Talk about nice archiechture. The bridge c8uld even have massive letters suspendid from it reading GO BY TRAIN, or something similar, for all the poor drivers below on the 210 to see.

  14. synonymouse
    Oct 28th, 2015 at 16:50

    The immediate vicinity of the Tejon Pass has no business of being locked up in a National Forest, etc. as it is the unique natural corridor linking the LA Basin with the San Joaquin Valley.

    Alternately the Angeles National Forest mountain range which PB proposes to cut thru in tunnel forms a natural blockade and refuge just as does the rest of the vast Tejon Ranch empire save Tejon and Tehachapi passes.

    Purchasing the Tejon Ranch as a preserve is a perfectly appropriate use of CnT monies.

  15. synonymouse
    Oct 28th, 2015 at 20:46

    Wonder why they want this chunk so much with what lies underneath:


  16. Nathanael
    Oct 29th, 2015 at 05:29

    Again, anyone who buys the LA Times should contact Vartabedian’s editor and get him fired from this beat. He’s incompetent to cover it and has an ax to grind; he’s failing to maintain basic standards of journalistic integrity

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