2015: The HSR Year in Review

Dec 31st, 2015 | Posted by

Compared to the last ten years or so, 2015 has been a relatively quiet year for California high speed rail. But that’s only relative, as a lot has taken place on a project that continues to make significant progress. Some highlights of 2015:

HSR construction finally begins. Nearly a year ago the formal groundbreaking ceremony was held in Fresno. Last summer, the first visible piece of new infrastructure began with the Fresno River viaduct. And now construction updates are coming almost every day from the Fresno area, with construction further to the south to begin in the very near future. After all the arguments, fights, battles, and controversies, it was a relief to finally see steel in the ground.

Full funding remains uncertain. While there was significant progress on HSR construction, there was hardly any on identifying new sources of funding. The big battles over how to use the cap-and-trade funds have been resolved, for now. It’s unclear what if anything will appear on the 2016 ballot that would affect HSR. And unless Democrats retake Congress in 2016, federal funding is unlikely for the near future as well. At the same time, Republican efforts in Sacramento and Washington, DC to defund HSR went nowhere. The private sector still hasn’t delivered any firm funding commitments, but then nobody expected they would do so at this early stage anyway. I’d love to see some real movement on this in 2016 but as of right now, I’m doubtful.

China steps up to fund Vegas HSR. The September announcement that China intends to fund construction of the Xpress West high speed rail project from Victorville to Las Vegas was what Joe Biden would call a BFD. China is beginning a significant commitment to HSR infrastructure in North America with this deal, and it may well portend a future deal to help fund California HSR as well – especially since China seems particularly interested in extending service from Victorville to downtown LA via Palmdale. Japan is also interested in a similar deal for California HSR, and while I don’t expect any news on this front in 2016, I suspect that the coming year will see more behind the scenes discussions with both countries.

The debate heats up over the Palmdale-Burbank route. Back in 2009 and 2010 most of the discussion about California HSR involved contentious arguments over where to put the tracks. Since Jerry Brown took office, most of those discussions have been defused or deferred. But one of them is still going hot and strong, and that’s the debate about where to build the tracks to connect Palmdale to Burbank. Santa Clarita leaders still don’t want the tracks coming through their city, and prefer a tunnel under the San Gabriel Mountains. Many residents in Pacoima, Sylmar, and San Fernando share that view. Residents of the areas where the southern portal of the tunnel would be, particularly in Sunland-Tujunga, are not so keen on a tunnel and would prefer the Highway 14 alignment remain in place. The California High Speed Rail Authority is dutifully studying both options, and cost will be an important factor. This issue will stay hot in 2016.

HSR gets caught up in the water wars. Republicans, always seeking a new way to attack HSR, proposed stealing HSR funding and using it to build more dams. This idea was widely condemned as a false choice, especially given the fact that California’s water woes are caused in part by rising CO2 emissions, an issue HSR would help solve. As El Niño prepares to drench the Golden State in the new year, drought concerns are easing a bit, but four long dry years seems to have finally convinced Californians that the big droughts of the late 1970s and late 1980s were no fluke, and that it’s time to get serious about protecting California’s climate – including through green infrastructure like HSR.

ARTIC’s first year is a flop. The Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center opened a year ago to great fanfare – and promptly fell on its face. Poor design led to low ridership, and several members of the Orange County Transportation Authority called for abandoning the connecting streetcar that would link ARTIC to the Disneyland resort. There is no doubt now that ARTIC’s critics were correct, that the station was built too soon, and that Anaheim should have waited until both HSR and the connecting streetcar were either approved and funded or under construction before building ARTIC.

True Detective’s second year is also a flop. ARTIC was the star of the finale of HBO’s True Detective, whose second season embraced a Chinatown-style film noir story of HSR corruption. The season just wasn’t that good, though it had an interesting upside – it treated HSR as a normal part of California’s landscape rather than as some strange or fanciful or unusual thing. Although even if the show had treated HSR that way, nobody would have noticed, since those who did watch the series focused on the odd plot twists, strange dialogue, and failed character development.

What else should we remember about how HSR fared in 2015? Share your views in the comments.

As always, thanks to the readers and commenters who have continued to participate here at the site. It’s been nearly 8 years, and if you look at the year-by-year list of posts at the upper right, you’ll notice that posting has fallen off a bit since 2013. That tends to happen over time, nobody can sustain the nearly post-a-day pace of 2009 and 2010. But I do intend to keep this thing going as long as people are interested in reading it, and as long as I have time to update it. Thanks again.

  1. Joe
    Dec 31st, 2015 at 09:14

    Las Vegas Xpresswest

    <a href=
    Las Vegas breaks tourism record, more than 42M visited in 2015

    This breaks last year’s record of 41.1 million, which was the first time the city had ever topped 40 million in visitation.

    The massive visitation numbers were boosted by several new non-stop flights to McCarran International Airport and an increase in attendance at different conventions throughout the year


    Las Vegas hits record 42 million visitors in 2015, even before New Year’s Eve crowds

    Southern California remains a key to Sin City’s success. More than 44,000 cars have crossed the California-Nevada state line at Primm each day this year. That figure is about 2,000 cars a day higher than in 2014.

    synonymouse Reply:

    And yet Sin City cannot even get Amtrak.

    les Reply:

    Before I make travel plans for a Las Vegas event filled weekend the first thing I tell myself “self I wish I had a slow speed Sunset Limited to hitch a ride on. What possibly could be more fun then spending most my precious time traveling to and from Vegas”.

    Aarond Reply:

    The SL doesn’t run to Vegas, it runs to LA through Arizona. The Pioneer, which ran from LA to Chicago, was axed a decade ago (and on account of it being redundant, given the existence of the Empire Builder and California Zephyr).


    les Reply:

    sarcasm maybe?

    Lewellan Reply:

    Rail transit should be viewed as ‘fundamental’ mode of travel and nationwide passenger-rail service brought up to world standards, modernized sooner rather than later. This point remains the basis for my support for such HSR vehicles that can also run off-wire on freight rail lines. Talgo trainsets really are something of a marvel. The XXI locomotive raises a pantograph to overhead wire and its off-wire diesel/electric is still admirably fuel efficient. Expensive rail upgrades would benefit both ‘fundamental’ modes of cross-country train travel and transport.

    The old “Challenger” line from LA to LV to SLC and junction there with the California Zephyr is high on the list for passenger-rail service restoration. Through Utah’s fabulous national parks, the Challenger pairs with the “Pioneer” from SLC to Portland and both lines reach Denver.

    Cross-country ‘overnight’ lines like the Zephyr and Empire Builder could aim to operate 2-trains daily in each direction, giving patrons the option of overnight lodging to catch the next train 12 hours later. Like service to National Parks, this encourages tourism and local economic development. Overnight riders perhaps should get a discount rate.

    A 200mph ‘bullet train’ still seems futile wishful thinking especially by those who can believe self-driving cars isn’t idiotic. I’ll remain among those who see the need for practical, modern passenger-rail nationwide. Only the jet set ‘perceives’ a need for 200mph train trips; driving and flying and train trips for pleasure. The need is to reduce VMT and transport overall worldwide, not make an epic effort trying to replace a small fraction of opulent air travel with bullet trains.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Salt Lake City is too far away from anyplace else for trains to be a rational option. So is Denver.

    Alan Reply:

    You were wrong with that before, and you’re wrong now. If there’s an Interstate corridor between two major cities, rail should at least receive consideration.

    The thing that many people here either refuse to understand or refuse to accept are that the vast majority of trips on Amtrak’s LD trains are not endpoint-to-endpoint. Many are endpoint to intermediate station; many are between intermediate stations and never reach a terminal.

    Not every rail trip has to be HSR. HSR certainly, in corridors where it makes sense, but where it doesn’t, conventional corridor or LD trains can serve the need at a reasonable cost. People also need to accept that the primary competition for the LD trains isn’t air, it’s the private car. In that competition, the travel time is competitive.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    There’s just over 8 million people in Utah and Colorado combined. There aren’t enough of them for another mode. Get on the bus or plane if you wanna go from Denver to Salt Lake City.

    Domayv Reply:

    but how would they deal with congestion on I-70 then

    joe Reply:

    The point is to have stops between major cities in the west, not just end-to-end trips. Unlike upper NY, Salt Lake and Colorado are rapidly growing.

    Lewellan Reply:

    Talgo operations on a renewed Challenger and Pioneer lines plus Denver and points east could add short line service SLC-to-Denver. Denver then hosts 4 twice daily Zephyrs, 4 departure/arrivals Portland/LA and 2 Talgo trainsets intermittent Denver-to-SLC. That’s 10 rail lines outta Denver baby. Denver needs capacity for at least 16 passenger trains counting connections to destinations north and south.

    It’s hard to think this though of course, but logical in this age of global warming.
    Sorry about who being the worst isolationist remark. My Seattle job is killing me.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    I-70 doesn’t go to Salt Lake City.
    It’s 391 miles on the great circle route between Denver and Salt Lake City. 472 to Omaha or 533 to Kansas City. 400 miles, east of I-35, there’s gonna be a metro area or two or three or four as big as Salt Lake City. Once there’s HSR from Minneapolis to San Antonio, Miami and Boston… there’s still not gonna be enough people in Utah and Colorado to run trains between Salt Lake City and Denver.

    Joe Reply:

    Yet people are supposed to drive.

    It’s a massive puzzle how to connect Colorado to Utah.

    Michael Reply:

    I’ve driven from Denver to SLC via I-70 to I-15. Wondering about congestion problems on I-70 out there is like wondering what people do in LA when it snows. There seems to be a market to ski trains as far west as Glenwood Springs, but that’s only about a quarter of the way to SLC and will take epic construction to cross the Rockies if anything much faster than the existing service is contemplated.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    They have buses and airplanes.

    Michael Reply:

    And in right-side-up world, Deutsche Bahn is eliminating overnight trains and opening more high speed lines because they realize it’s 2016.

    Lewellan Reply:

    And so in reply, regards to the dear colleage, Synon-mouse,
    and so too a faraway arrival departs, the non-sequitar rivals,
    notwithstanding. Challenger/Pioneer lines are competitive/practical.
    Right-side UP world led by Aryan perfectionist/segregationists/isolationists.
    -V for Vendetta-

    Bahnfreund Reply:

    If (and that’s a big If) the subsidies for planes were to cease (look at the amount of money “regional airports” are losing every year), overnight sleeper trains could actually have a profitable niche…

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Renting a twelfth or sixteenth of a railroad car for a day costs a lot of money. That’s what your rent has to be because sleeping cars don’t have a big market during daylight.

    Bahnfreund Reply:

    That’s only true if you assume no convertible sleepers… And no daytime market for ultra long distance routes along the lines of Amtrak or touristic luxury trains…

    joe Reply:

    Hey Crank. What’s the Amtrak route between Dallas and Houston?

    Domayv Reply:

    there was one called the Lone Star, which went from Chicago to Houston via the Southern Transcon and the Heartland Corridor, but congress axed it in 1979

    joe Reply:


    Texas Central seeks to build HSR service where there is no Amtrak service. Not all HSR routes require prexisting Amtrak service as a validation.

    Bahnfreund Reply:

    Indeed. Only problem is: How do you calculate ridership? Just take the air market and put in the travel time? There is a pretty well known correlation between travel time on the train and air rail market share…

    Joe Reply:

    Two things:
    Amtrak service isn’t a necessary condition for HSR service.
    A private system like Texas seeks a profit, not to service people. What we do with public funded California will differ.

    Texas central claims their riders will come from the pool of 50,000 individuals who travel between Dallas and Houston weekly. HSR will also induce trips and influence travel demand between the two cities.

    Bahnfreund Reply:

    I thought CAHSR is supposed to make a profit? Unless they sell the tickets for the worth of the paper they are printed on they will, though…

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    CAHSR is supposed to serve the Gilroy—Palo Alto and Gilroy—Burbank markets. For great social good.

    Bahnfreund Reply:

    Are you implying those markets don’t exist?

    Aarond Reply:

    That’s because Vegas is in the middle of nowhere. It’s also not like the average Clarke Co. resident wants Amtrak anyway. I’m actually surprised Xpresswest is planning on using regular trains, and not something fancy like a maglev. It’s the only place in the US where such a superfluous system makes sense.

    les Reply:

    Talk to Harry about that one.

    Lewellan Reply:

    Maglev only makes sense in comic books and hollywood.

    keith saggers Reply:


    Bahnfreund Reply:

    The Chuo Shinkansen is expected to have paid of HALF of its cost by 2090. IF ridership projections work out.,…

  2. Joe
    Dec 31st, 2015 at 09:24

    Not an identical comparison but the 44,0000 daily car crossings at Primm compared to Texas central high speed rail’s estimated market:

    “Nearly 50,000 Texans, sometimes called “super-commuters,” travel back and forth between Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth more than once a week. Many others make the trip very regularly.


  3. synonymouse
    Dec 31st, 2015 at 09:34

    Sicilia gets streetcars:


    Those Flxity’s much nicer looking then the Smartbugs. My Italian is lacking but what’s the protest about – parking?

    And Berkeley cannot even get a trolleybus. But we have mucho billions for a gratuitous 20 mile quasi base tunnel thru a fault just to sprawl Podunkdale.

    Bdawe Reply:

    Has anyone other than you actually called for a Berkeley Trolleybus?

    Muchless would the local reactionaries even continence the wires?

    synonymouse Reply:

    Yes there was a scheme drawn up by professional planners for trolley buses in Berkeley.

    synonymouse Reply:

    It would be trendy Kumbaya-ers and dipshit architects who would not countenance overhead wires.

    Edward Reply:

    I was at the public meeting in The City when the architect who had designed the “new” Market Street for after the BART construction was finished was absolutely livid that people were even thinking about keeping all those disgusting wires. It would clash with all the lovely street furniture he had designed.

    This was before anyone thought of returning rail to the surface, only trolley buses. Unfortunately for him the technology to drop the poles and run on electricity down the length of Market was not yet available.

    JimInPollockPines Reply:

    and they took away the original streetlamps and put in those flourescant freeway lights. Later on they redid market again and took the historic gas maps out of storage

    Bdawe Reply:

    I for one do not look forward to heavy bus batteries that need to be replaced several times over the life of the vehicle to satisfy a few overhead-wire-whiners

    Jon Reply:

    Trolley buses are pointless. The ride quality is essentially the same as diesel buses, and they require expensive street infrastructure that hinders route changes. The one advantage they have is that they are zero emission, but with battery technology improving rapidly we will soon have zero emission buses without the need for overhead wires.

    Aarond Reply:

    Trolley buses are useful on hills, specifically places where grades make it more difficult for regular steel-on-steel rail vehicles to operate. But, as you can imagine the areas where such as system has the sufficient density and grades for it to make sense is very small (just SF itself, perhaps some of the peninsula cities if they ever allowed high density development up on the hilltops).

    Bdawe Reply:

    They have superior acceleration in general than diesel buses, enabling them keep faster schedules, especially on local stop routes.

    They’re a fine technology, and their ongoing costs are at least break-even. They just are sufficiently marginal in their advantages that that there’s little business case for them

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Other cities have hills.

    JimInPollockPines Reply:

    Seattle uses them on their hills. Ive seen them in SF and Seattle. I think ive seen them somewhere else but cant remember.

    Edward Reply:

    Arnhem has lots, some with auxiliary engines. The first time I looked down from my room at The Old Dutch Hotel and saw a trolley bus with its poles down head up the hill I was a bit bemused.

    les Reply:

    12% of Seattles fleet is trolley. “By running trolleys instead of diesel-hybrid buses over the next five years, we are keeping 42,000 metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions out of our air.”
    A nice feature the new ones have is “the ability of buses to go off-wire for short distances to detour around construction zones and other obstacles and stay on schedule.”

    synonymouse Reply:

    The Sparks effect – the wires advertise the presence of a transit line and that somebody is willing to spend money on fixed plant. The economy version of streetcar.

    You can gauge something by its enemies – the highway lobby hates streetcars the most and then trolley buses. And there is no greater visual pollution than a highrise, especially the look at me ones. So screw the prissy architect types who are offended by overhead wires but want to erect more TransAmerica shafts.

    Jon Reply:

    You could spend the money instead on BRT infrastructure (lanes, stations etc) which as well as being a visible indicator of a transit line has the additional benefit of speeding up the buses and providing better facilities for the riders.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Au contraire BRT takes away the mobility of a bus, its natural advantage over a fixed guideway.

    The bus can weave in and out of traffic and stop on the far side of traffic lights at the curb, much safer for frantic little old ladies dashing.

    How you gonna deal with expresses on a BRT lane? The express will catch up to the local right away and cannot pass it. Like Geary.

    Jon Reply:

    If you have a dedicated lanes, you don’t need weave in and out of traffic. Weaving in and out of traffic is precisely why riding a bus is less pleasant than riding a streetcar.

    You deal with expresses by having two bus lanes at the local only stops, so the express can pass the local while it is stopped. This was in the original center running Geary BRT plan, but was removed due to merchant complaints about parking loss.

    Nathanael Reply:

    BRT is typically just as slow as a local bus, or even slower. Unless you have bus lanes. And if you do, you can put trolleybuses in them just as easily.

    Trolleybuses actually accelerate faster than diesel buses, so if you want to “speed up the buses”…

    The thing about trolleybuses is that usually you’d be better off with streetcars.

    Jon Reply:

    If you don’t have bus lanes, it’s not BRT, regardless of what certain transit agencies may try and tell you. If you do have bus lanes, it’s definitely faster than routes without bus lanes, providing those lanes are properly enforced. Center running lanes are much better than curb lanes as there is no reason at all for drivers to enter them.

    You could put trolley buses in bus lanes (as is happening on Van Ness) or stick with diesel (as is happening on Geary). It really doesn’t matter very much as the propulsion method is a minor factor in the performance of the line. What I’m saying is that taking a diesel bus and added BRT treatments such as dedicated lanes will give you more bang for your buck than converting it to a trolley bus.

    Trolley buses do accelerate faster than diesel buses, but the vast majority of time wasted on a bus run is due to people getting on and off the bus, traffic delay, and intersection delay. This is particularly true in a dense city such as San Francisco. So tackle those issues first with stop consolidation, level boarding, dedicated lanes, and transit signal priority.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Streetcars are superior but there are circumstances commonly encountered which can make trolley buses a good idea. Like hills, heavy traffic, resistance to change from merchants and residents.

    Trolley bus on Geary, or on University in Berkeley, could be implemented without changing the current pattern of bus operation. A quick and less expensive upgrade. In the case of Geary because of no fumes and noise you can get away with a barn in a residential area, with considerable deadhead savings on such a heavy route, not to mention quicker response to problems.

    Jon Reply:

    I’ll grant you that trolley buses work better for very steep routes. That doesn’t include Geary or any of the other really busy Muni lines.

    Heavy traffic is not a reason to use trolley buses, it’s a reason to use bus lanes and signal priority. Certain residents and merchants will oppose both overhead wires and BRT, and their opinion should be discounted in both cases.

    Bus lanes and other BRT treatments do not require you to change bus operations, although often it is beneficial to do so. Overhead wire is not cheap, and neither is a fleet of new buses to run on them. The best bang for buck is bus lanes, which are literally just the cost of paint, and labor to install it.

    There are plenty of Muni yards for diesel buses in existing residential neighborhoods; the problem on Geary is lack of space to store buses, regardless of whether they are diesel or electric. Last I heard they were considering decking over Presidio Yard to increase the number of buses that could be stored there.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Your last point would be very good news indeed, but it would have to be over the dead body of City Hall bean counters who have been selling off prime Muni real estate since 1945.

    Once again from the top in re Geary:

    1. Vehicle storage online thanks to Rolph and O’Shaughnessy only possible with electric buses.
    2. Diesel bus facilities are hated – Kirkland was in an industrial area when deeded to Muni.
    3. Heavy traffic means the increased likelihood of accidents and damage to expensive light rail vehicles. Buses are more maneuverable, stop faster, and cheaper to repair.
    4. Bus lanes is a change of operation as far as the locals are concerned.
    5. Weird the Tejon Ranch Co. is accorded total veto power but “Certain residents and merchants…opinion should be discounted…”? These folks are the reason absolutely nothing has happened in the way of Geary improvements. Gavin Newsom, Willie Brown and Ed Lee stand with them. Sorry.
    6. Geary Carhouse-Presidio Yard is an invaluable chunk of land otherwise impossible to obtain. It should be entirely redone and vastly expanded.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Overhead wires are cheap – how did so many traction systems afford them and went to what were called “trackless trolleys”?

    Neville Snark Reply:

    Also, my A-1 academic research methods have revealed that trolley buses (which are used all over the world!), once purchased, last a *very* long time. So I wonder whether over the long term — say 25 years — they’re actually cheaper then BRT. And besides, I like the tangles of overhead wires. :) Something about visible evidence that we’re all in this together.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    In some cases, one can consider the trolleybus to be the intermediate between a bus line and a streetcar/light rail line.

    Because of the inherently higher available power (an articulated trolleybus may have two driven axles, something relatively difficult with diesel buses), it can have a higher capacity per vehicle, and also provide a higher line capacity (under the premises that the capacity is not limited by operational crap, such as single boarding door etc.). So, trolleybus is the next level of capacity over a bus line. Infrastructure-wise, you would need the electrical system (masts, wires, substations, etc.).

    This infrastructure can be almost completely reused in the next step up, which would be streetcar/light rail. On the other hand, if a “real” BRT is set up, getting the right-of-way ready for operation costs almost the same for a proper bus lane as for a light rail track.

    But as it is said in many places, the choice of the technology should follow the capacity (and other) requirements; it should be a mostly logical decision.

    synonymouse Reply:

    @ Neville

    Because trolleybuses last so much longer it is important to use heavy duty truck quality drive trains. Especially with Muni, as it places great demands on vehicles and with very little maintenance.

    @ Max

    Politically it is much easier to slip in trolleybuses than streetcars. Residents bitch about the vibration. And if there was a streetcar there before they remember the house shaking. When Muni proposed relaying tracks on 20th Avenue in 1973 the long time residents were up in arms because they remembered the Market St. Ry.’s # 16 line.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    @synonymouse: Yep, and that’s what makes the trolleybus an excellent intermediate mode.

    About the line you mention, that’s understandable, because there was not really much development in streetcars in the US since the Peter Witt car (grin, duck and run). (I know the PCC has been a development, but not really when it comes to the running gear…).

    synonymouse Reply:

    “…they require expensive street infrastructure that hinders route changes…”

    Then why the hell BRT, which is a bus route converted to a streetcar?

    The last thing you want on a bus line is a route change if you can avoid it. You want familiarity, not confusion.

    synonymouse Reply:

    virtual streetcar

    Jon Reply:

    The 22-Fillmore reroute to Mission Bay is a perfect example of the need for overhead wires hindering a reroute. Aside from permenant route changes, which should not happen very often, it’s not unusual for transit lines to be blocked by a stalled vehicle, or police activity, or a fire… then the trolley buses have to disconnect from the wires, crawl round the blockage on battery power, and reconnect to the wires at the other side. Total pain for the riders.

    BRT infrastructure actually provides some travel time and reliability benefit for the street infrastructure changes, by keeping private vehicles out of the bus lane. (At least, it does if you do it right.) Even so, as a major change it should reserved it for major routes that are unlikely to ever change.

    synonymouse Reply:

    On-board battery should take care of that off-wire requirement.

    Jon Reply:

    Yes, that is probably what the plan is for the mile or so of the new route that doesn’t currently have overhead wire. But if the Silver Line in Boston is any indicator, there will be an annoying wait while the bus reconnects to the wire in the middle of the route. You could avoid this by running the whole route with diesels instead.

    Ted K. Reply:

    Re: Jon [December 31st, 2015 at 4:55 pm]

    Trolley buses are pointless.

    Really ? Per Wikipedia about 300 (three hundred !) cities currently have them in service.


    Max Wyss Reply:

    And not to forget that there are several cities converting existing (diesel) bus lines to trolleybus … with good reasons.

    Bahnfreund Reply:

    Like every system that has seen a more than token spread they have their advantages. But on the whole steel wheel on steel rail is still best in most circumstances…

    Tokkyu40 Reply:

    Trains are bad for sprawl. Too many people want to live near the station, so the area tends becomes more dense and walkable to accommodate all the customers.
    If you want more sprawl, build more highways. Well planned asphalt out into the hinterlands helps to subsidize large, expensive mono-culture housing developments in the middle of nowhere so people have to drive for miles to pick up a cup of coffee.
    And since the development doesn’t generate the revenues to pay for normal maintenance over the life of the infrastructure, it helps cities become more debt ridden and decayed.

    synonymouse Reply:

    You are going to get more highways, more trains and a lot more sprawl. Your wish.

    Miles Bader Reply:

    Or maybe he’s going to more trains, fewer highways, and less “sprawl”*….

    * An admittedly vague term; density can vary dramatically depending on the scale, and densities at different scales have very different meanings

  4. morris brown
    Dec 31st, 2015 at 11:25

    Omitted from Robert’s summary:

    1. The bombshell report from the LA Times, showing a huge projected increase in previous cost projections to cross the Tehachapi mountains, yet the Authority chose, for political reasons, to ignore the PB revision in costs and omitted the increase from the 2014 business plan. This has prompted new hearings to be held in early 2016 at both the State and Federal levels.

    2. Construction progress continued to fall well behind projected time lines.

    3. Acquisition of land parcels was slow and is a major constriction facing the construction.

    3. Timeline for the Tos et al. lawsuit against the Authority was set, with a fixed briefing schedule and a hearing before Judge Kenny will take place on Feb 11 2016. This Lawsuit, if the claims are upheld, has the possibility of stopping the whole project.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    All the other lawsuits were going to stop the project. Why would this one be different?

    les Reply:

    Morris your half empty cup has a hole in it.

    Darrell Reply:

    1. You mean the ridiculous LA Times story about which I wrote the editor:

    “How can a 2013 cost estimate be valid beyond what is already contracted when the remaining route sections haven’t even been designed or selected yet?

    “In particular, four route options from Palmdale to Burbank are now being studied, three of which didn’t exist in 2013. Also, Burbank to Los Angeles Union Station has become much simpler with HSR to share the main platform tracks rather than building a separate underground station.”

    And thank you, Robert, for keeping a strong voice going about the CHSR project all these years!

    synonymouse Reply:

    There are a great many route options more than four that “exist”.

    Roland Reply:

    The LA Times bombshell was the result of an “honest misunderstanding” which will be cleared once they release the draft minutes of the December F&A meeting.

    Elizabeth Alexis Reply:

    What was the “honest misunderstanding”?

    Peter Reply:

    Roland revels in being cryptic and feeling superior.

    Roland Reply:

    “The higher estimate of the Initial Operating Segment (IOS) to which the reporter referred actually used a different IOS project length, as consideration was being given to extending the IOS approximately 16 miles further south to Burbank. At the time the 2014 Business Plan was completed, no final decision had been made regarding an IOS extension and the original 2012 Business Plan terminus was maintained. This was a primary reason for the difference between the 2012 IOS estimate and the 2014 IOS working estimate.” http://www.hsr.ca.gov/docs/brdmeetings/2016/brdmtg_011216_FA_Committee_Meeting_Minutes_122015.pdf

    john burrows Reply:

    Nice find–If I read this report right, that bombshell expose in the LA Times that has HSR opponents so excited is going to be more dud than a bombshell.

    The February 2016 board meeting takes place on the 9th and I wonder if that is when the 2016 Business Plan will come out. Two days later the Tos Lawsuit is back on the front burner—February is going to be an interesting month.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Morris is still talking up fake “cost increases” due to a change from fixed fiscal year pricing to “year of expenditure” pricing, a change which means nothing.

  5. Trentbridge
    Dec 31st, 2015 at 14:41

    Heh, Robert: Is there any updated version of this blogging software that allows people to vote “up” or “down” on comments? I would like to express support or distain for comment posted here …and let the folks know who is making good comments and who isn’t.

    Secondly, how about permissions to show images/photos/maps etc? I’d love to see the construction photos etc.

    If all this fails, at least we could have emojicons…

    A 2016 filled with infrastructure support for everyone – we should see the Expo Line open to Santa Monica and the Gold Line reach Azusa – and the Warm Springs extension of BART opened. Plus – at the end of 2016 a chance to see SMART running in Petaluma etc. 2016 is going to be a great year for public transportation.

    Jon Reply:

    Disqus satisfies all of the above. Though it’s better if blog admins disable down voting and just use up voting to distinguish good comments from bad. Some of the commenters on this blog are petty and argumentative enough as it is.

    Aarond Reply:

    Upvoting/downvoting is bad. It assigns a numerical value to each comment, and causes people to care more about popularity than content. Also, downvoting in particular never suited me, since it’s an excellent way for people to just bury comments that they dislike. For expressing support/disdain for a comment, the reply function is more than sufficient.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    There probably are such tools, but I enjoy the fact that this blog is still stuck in 2009 in terms of its user interface. Someday it’ll be seen as “retro.”

    JimInPollockPines Reply:

    I just wish there was something new to look at at the top of the page. I never liked chsra’s choice of blue and yellow.

  6. john burrows
    Dec 31st, 2015 at 15:59

    Maybe jumping the gun a bit, but I predict that all hell is going to break loose in 2016, and that you will have an abundance of material for blog posts.

    Aarond Reply:

    You are jumping the gun. 2016 will be focused on federal elections, Brown will keep Sacramento’s makeup as is. It’s the 2020 elections that will be important, since that will be the first “referendum” on Governor Newsom, and a census year.

    2020-22 is going to be the “sink or swim” year for CAHSR. A resurgent CAGOP could *potentially* drive it into the ground just as the IOS gets operative (which could then be used as “evidence” that it’s a “train to nowhere”). But, there could also be a larger shift in the GOP towards rail assuming AAF and TXC go well, and the CAGOP might just make a show so they can take claim for “finishing CAHSR” or some bull.

    I’m just speculating here though. Five years is a lot of time.

    Tokkyu40 Reply:

    As a Republican, I can assure you that the success of AAF, TXC and CAHSR will all be evidence that high speed rail is a failure.
    JR Central earns about $2.5 billion/year on the Tokaido Shinkansen, which is touted as proof that HSR is not economically viable. The GOP doesn’t seem to do well with reality that conflicts with official party positions.

    Aarond Reply:

    AAF benefits realtors though. Half the party is alright with HSR (even the Newt, of all people) on that basis. The other half of the party, the Tea Party, only dislike it due to a larger idealogical dissatisfaction with the government, a dissatisfaction that extends to how they view our public Interstate freeway network. The CAGOP are a special case in that they defeated themselves and have proven completely unable to capitalize on the Tea Party’s rise.

    There’s room to move, is all I’m saying. It all depends on who’s selling it.

    Danny Reply:

    and if it were that profitable they’d insist it should be sold off!

    this was in the last article, but I’m seeing a turnover in the GOP, the RNC revealing its tremendous weakness in the face of any faction

    maybe a change at the state level in “blue states” (CA, NY) toward … respectability: as fresh blood replaces the diehard gerontocrats, that’ll cut back talk of HSR-fed death camps, Black Supremacist death squads, Agenda 21, George Will on trains, and Soviet spies decades after the country stopped existing; we’re seeing pro-HSR Pubs bobbing up and we can’t leave out bottom-line arguments when pushing for transit

    Aarond Reply:

    More likely, it’ll just be that Tea Partiers/libertarians in the party will push for freeway funding cuts, as well as letting airlines buy rights to airlanes again. While neither of these themselves directly benefit rail, they make it more competitive. Meanwhile, the Establishment GOP will retain funding for STRACNET and if the Democrats were smart they’d do “HSR lite” (or something to that effect) via that. And again, there’s the realtor angle. Trump (and people like him) want to make money developing “ghettos” and “slums” into high-density neighborhoods which they can profit off of as landowners.

    But all this is be slow to come, and ideally the Democrats would push harder nationally for more HSR/transit investment.

    Danny Reply:

    if there’s one thing Trump and Clinton supporters love, it’s gentrification–who knew! but a convergence between the Limbaughs and the Lena Dunhams of the world can’t be good for anyone …

    but more to the point, we have to break a lot of conservatives’ carefully-cultivated hypocrisy on infrastructure–how they always try and block flood funding for NY but then run squealing to get it when it’s their state; if they get welfare it’s “assistance”; and so on and so forth, it’s like Craig T. Nelson’s rant about when he was on welfare and thought he wasn’t

    since their states are very DC-reliant ones (ironically because of low infrastructure investment), they have to *denounce* “gub’mint dependency” to buffer their egos or some other poli-sci reason–remember the Duck Dynasty guys saying that north Louisiana is what’s keeping the country financially afloat?

    so they’ll have to give up the drawbridge mentality if they want a functioning system, but the new wave of pocketbook politics (that doesn’t ignore culture-war issues but can go beyond them) might help even if just by showing in numbers where the money goes

    VA and NC are working on intrastate rail systems of their own, and Alabama’s had plenty of experience with the Gulf Breeze and Gulf Coast Limited semi-commuters: some of the states are even okay with paying for upgrades! what a time to be alive! presumably the libertarians want the CAB back as well

    there’s the famous bloc of GOP Senators who flip whenever Amtrak’s transcons are threatened, and even want daily service, which’ll make the numbers look better: Caprock Chief, Desert Wind, Lone Star, and Pioneer are on “Red State” wishlists out West

    we don’t need Amtrak Republicans, we just need to pop the bubble that allows for the idea that “we have to oppose something we know is good because we’d look bad if everyone liked it and remembered that we opposed it” is a logical sentence

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Republicans have the long term memory of fruit flies. For instance they were all for Romneycare. Now it’s an anathema.

    Bahnfreund Reply:

    Wasn’t it also Bob Dole’s old proposal?

    Loren Petrich Reply:

    I don’t recall, but you can research the issue. This is the Internet, you know.

    History of the Individual Health Insurance Mandate, 1989-2010 – Obamacare – ProCon.org

    It goes back to a Heritage Foundation proposal in 1989. It was first introduced by some Republicans in 1993 as a counterproposal to Hillarycare. Republicans like John Chafee, making it Chafeecare.

    A similar sort of scheme goes back a long way, to late 19th-cy. Germany under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. Bismarckcare?

    keith saggers Reply:

    The Japanese government invited JR Central to take an equity stake in Texas Central. The railway had indicated that it needed to keep its available funding to invest in the Chuo maglev project, but according to the Asahi Shimbun, it has now agreed to ‘consider making a small financial investment’, once the promoters have decided how to raise the rest of the funding. Railway Gazette

  7. Allen Insight
    Dec 31st, 2015 at 16:39

    Hi Robert,

    Keep up the GREAT WORK! I really enjoy your blog. One idea for a future post might be the impact of the recently passed Federal Transportation Bill on the railways which will eventually feed CAHSR. I am guessing this new federal funding might facilitate construction of: the Union Station runthrough tracks, some of the freight / passenger rail bottlenecks between Union Station and San Diego, some of the continuing build out of the Los Angeles light rail and subway systems. And similar projects in Northern California. Again, these monies won’t directly fund CAHSR, but just removing freight/passenger bottlenecks around urban California will decrease rail travel times and increase rail ridership and ensure that more people are ready to ride CAHSR once it arrives early next decade.

  8. Reality Check
    Dec 31st, 2015 at 17:22

    Morocco beats California to the HSR party:
    Casablanca-Tangier HSR to be inaugurated in 2018

    […] Morocco’s Minister Delegate to the Minister of Equipment, Transport and Logistics, said that 75% of the high speed rail line construction between Casablanca and tangier has been completed and that the line will go into operation in 2018.

    The Minister Delegate also said that Morocco ranks first in Africa and the Arab World and fifty-fifth worldwide in railway infrastructure, outranking South Africa.


    The line was originally expected to operate in 2015. Due to delays in infrastructure construction, it was postponed to 2017 and then to 2018 […]


    The project, which is estimated to cost MAD 20 billion ($2 billion) is also expected to carry up to seven million passengers in the first year, decrease accidents, create both direct and indirect job opportunities, and reduce the amount of carbon in the air.

    Aarond Reply:

    For what it’s worth, Morocco really is the first arab country to get HSR. They even beat the Israelis to it (their HSR project is still under construction, completion in the 2020s). It’s also worth mentioning that we had to completely rebuilt Iraq’s railway system, which was sub-soviet tier and relied on taxi couriers for signalling.

    Peter Reply:

    Morocco really is the first arab country to get HSR.

    Not exactly.

    Joe Reply:

    FWIW they’re Berbers not Arabs.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Wishful thinking, reconfirmed every time a tourist cafe in Morocco gets blown up. North Africa repudiated Europe postwar and went with the Arab world. Blame the collapse of the Roman Empire for leaving the road wide open. And perhaps the Justiniac plague of around 600.

    Joe Reply:

    Climate driven.

    In the summer of A.D. 536, a mysterious cloud appeared over the Mediterranean basin. “The sun gave forth its light without brightness,” wrote the Byzantine historian Procopius, “and it seemed exceedingly like the sun in eclipse, for the beams it shed were not clear.” In the wake of the cloud’s appearance, local climate cooled for more than a decade. Crops failed, and there was widespread famine. From 541 to 542, a pandemic known as the Plague of Justinian swept through the Eastern Roman Empire.


  9. John Nachtigall
    Jan 1st, 2016 at 06:38

    I also appreciate the blog. Despite the fact we disagree on most point I greatly respect your willingness to tolerate debate on both sides without trying to censor those point with which you disagree. Happy New Year

  10. keith saggers
    Jan 1st, 2016 at 19:12

    JANUARY 12, 2016
    2. Update on the Renewable Energy Policy and Outline of Next Steps
    3. Consider Awarding the Design-Build Services Contract for Construction Package 4 to the Apparent Best Value Winner and Delegating Authority to the CEO to Negotiate the Final Terms and Execute the Contract

  11. JimInPollockPines
    Jan 1st, 2016 at 20:39

    I’d like to see the following happen in 2016:

    -Solidify the choice of routing through Bakersfield and the station location.
    -Finish the Fresno River crossing
    -Build the San Joaquin River crossing
    -Finish all the Fresno grade separations
    -Make the final choice for the Chowchilla Wye configuration
    -Decide on the Palmdale Burbank route
    -Finalize and fund the DTX route

    Just put an end to all the what ifs, and start focusing on actual construction wherever possible.

    It is inexcusable that, 7 years after voters pass 1a, that they don’t even know for sure where to put this thing. There’s no excuse for it and the people in charge of this project have no business being in charge because they are incompetent and incapable of getting things done in a timely manner. They literally do not know what they are doing….. while they collect six figure salaries from the taxpayers while the rest of us who actually do get things done for a living subsist on shit wages. Im really fucking fed up with all the 200k + 300k+ “executive” public servants who can’t get shit done while they hem and haw and pussyfoot around. For that kind of money they should be building this thing by hand out of gold bars that they shit out of their own asses.

    Peter Baldo Reply:

    How much of this stuff you mention – dealing with government agencies and the public, environmental studies, analysis of route alternatives, legal proceedings, etc – is paid for by the authority? When I look at documents for the Nevada, Texas, and Florida projects, it seems like the federal government does much of this work.

  12. JimInPollockPines
    Jan 1st, 2016 at 20:45

    After seven years we have exactly half an unfinished concrete bridge over an empty 30 ft ditch in the middle of nowhere.

  13. Robert S. Allen
    Jan 1st, 2016 at 22:28

    What will CPUC decide about increasing Caltrain’s maximum speed over its many grade crossings, and adding trains of “Safe, Reliable” CAHSR mostly traveling at close to the maximum speed? (CPUC made BART keep its trans-Bay tube closed 3 1/2 months after the 1979 fire.)

    Peter Reply:

    Pretty sure that grade crossing speeds are an issue that the FRA has authority over.

    Clem Reply:

    The CPUC has jurisdiction over all rail crossings in California. For example, they can mandate a grade separation at speeds where the FRA would not, or disallow a new three-track grade crossing where the FRA would not. The only thing the CPUC cannot do is allow things that the FRA doesn’t, but that is hardly the issue here.

    Reality Check Reply:

    So to summarize, CPUC can only be more — not less — restrictive than FRA.

    Clem Reply:

    That’s it. As Robert Allen states, when Caltrain wishes to raise maximum speeds from 79 to 110 mph, it is the CPUC they’ll be asking, not just the FRA.

    J. Wong Reply:

    What’s wrong with raising the speed limit even with grade crossings? Just because there’s an upper bound in general doesn’t mean that locally there aren’t lower limits. The only places I’ve seen Caltrain top out is where there are no grade crossings like Hillsdale or Brisbane. They always slow thru downtown San Mateo even when they aren’t stopping there.

    J. Wong Reply:

    Is it even safe for Caltrain to currently run at 79mph through downtown San Mateo especially northbound where the engine is in the rear? Yet the CPUC speed limits are exactly 79mph. (Of course, Caltrain does not run trains anywhere near the speed limit through downtown San Mateo.)

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