California High Speed Rail Blog California High Speed Rail support blog, spreading news and info about the high speed trains project approved by California voters in November 2008. Thu, 04 May 2017 02:52:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 California Proposes Revised, Improved Cap-and-Trade Model Thu, 04 May 2017 02:52:33 +0000 Over at Vox, David Roberts reviews the State Senate’s new cap-and-trade plan – and he loves it:

The changes that SB 775 proposes for the state’s carbon trading program are dramatic — and, to my eyes, amazingly thoughtful. I know some environmental groups have reservations (on which more later), but in my opinion, if it passes in anything close to its current form, it will represent the most important advance in carbon-pricing policy in the US in a decade. Maybe ever. Yeah, really.

This should help produce a lot more revenue from the cap-and-trade system, help it survive future legal challenges, and more successfully slash CO2 emissions. All of that helps get high speed rail built.

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The Hyperloop Has Fans in the White House Tue, 04 Apr 2017 23:26:58 +0000 This was a sad yet unsurprising thing to see come out of this morning’s CEO summit at the Trump White House:

There’s really nothing more fitting than a former Goldman Sachs exec who now has a prominent role in the Trump Administration touting the Hyperloop – which we might now want to call the “Trump Train.”

Infrastructure was a major focus of the meeting, but don’t go getting your hopes up anytime soon that this would mean more money for transportation in California:

Cohn said if cities “sell off” or privatize infrastructure assets, the administration could provide financial support.

“We’re not on the cutting edge of this,” Cohn said. “We’ve got to get a little more comfortable with public-private partnerships.”

This is a recipe for looting on a colossal scale. They’re planning to gut regulations to make this possible, which may signal an assault on the National Environmental Policy Act that some readers here may welcome:

President Donald Trump vowed on Tuesday to cut red tape to speed up approval of infrastructure projects and said his overhaul could top $1 trillion on roads, tunnels and bridges, one of his 2016 election campaign promises….

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said at the forum that the administration plans to release a legislative package in May. Investors have become more skeptical that the plan would win approval this year in Congress, which is controlled by Republicans who are traditionally wary of big spending.

Trump said building a highway can require dozens of approvals and take 10 to 20 years, a process he vowed to speed up. Trump said he would not fund projects that cannot be started within 90 days.

I’m not sure there are a whole lot of projects you can just start within 90 days. Oh wait, I know of one: Caltrain electrification!

More seriously, this is going to be a roads and freeways bonanza, with little money for rail. This administration is committed to going down with the ship that is fossil fuels. It is determined to destroy this country by abandoning all efforts to stop climate change and build a more sustainable transportation system. California is going to have to fund that system itself, because the federal government is lost and not coming back anytime soon.

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State of HSR – and the Blog Mon, 03 Apr 2017 18:49:18 +0000 When this blog hit its ninth anniversary last month, I didn’t intend to take a hiatus. But it’s been nearly a month since the last post and it’s time to get back in the saddle.

First, a general update on where things stand with high speed rail:

There are other updates too but those are the big ones for now. None of this is particularly new; you could read through the archives and see posts on these same topics from each of the last six or seven years. Trump’s victory is a setback, but his own recent defeats may make it harder for him to successfully stop the California HSR project.

The blog will see new posting resume, after a very busy March has passed. I continue to get occasional notes about people having problems using the site, and this has been since February or so. Sometimes I have trouble loading it. Others have trouble making comments. (Some of that is me slacking on moderation.)

If you see specific problems or bugs, please note them in the comments here. I am not a web design expert, and this site design is now seven years old. But I’ll do what I can to keep this alive for as long as people are willing to read and comment.

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XpressWest Estimates 11 Million HSR Riders A Year Sun, 05 Mar 2017 17:23:10 +0000 Last week XpressWest estimated 11 million people would ride high speed rail every year by 2035:

The figures were based on a $115 roundtrip ticket that would connect passengers on the publicly funded California High Speed rail system to a private line operated by XpressWest, the company franchised nearly two years ago to build a rail segment from Las Vegas to Palmdale….

About 3 million passengers are projected to take roundtrip rides when the first segment between Las Vegas and Palmdale, California, is completed by XpressWest in 2021, generating about $300 million in annual revenue, according to the study.

Those a great estimates. But without governmental funding, XpressWest will need to find another major investor, especially after China dropped out. A completion date of 2021 for tracks from Palmdale to Victorville and Las Vegas is doable, but it requires construction to begin sometime this year – which seems like a longshot.

It’s also unclear whether an anti-rail presidential administration would throw up even more roadblocks to this project. Republicans have attacked this plan in the past, deriding it as a “casino train.”

PS: Several of you have reported problems logging into the site, posting comments, or comments being posted under different usernames. I’m looking into this issue. The site’s WordPress install is fully up to date, as are all plug-ins. So bear with me as I try to diagnose and fix the problem.

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Don’t Misread Republicans: They Hate Rail, Not Just HSR Sun, 26 Feb 2017 05:55:47 +0000 There’s a belief some credulous sources have that when California Congressional Republicans got the Trump Administration to screw Caltrain electrification that this was really an attack on high speed rail, with Caltrain as some sort of collateral damage.

That’s not true, as we’ll see in a moment. But that is the story the anti-HSR folks at the East Bay Times would have you believe:

Congressional Republicans want a full-scale audit of California’s high-speed rail because the federal government has $3.5 billion invested in the project. Unfortunately, they’ve lumped in the Caltrain project because it receives money from state high-speed rail funds.

The editorialists support Caltrain electrification, and are trying to salvage something from this mess. The way they do it is to argue that HSR is bad, Caltrain electrification is good, that the California Congressional Republicans just want an audit of HSR, and will help Caltrain electrify once they get their simple, innocuous audit.

Unfortunately for them, one of the Republicans who went to Trump and asked him and his administration to block the FTA grant, made it very clear tonight that they hate Caltrain too:

I don’t know what else it’s going to take for people to accept that Congressional Republicans hate passenger rail in and of itself. This belief that somehow they’re just a bunch of well-meaning anti-waste crusaders who have a legitimate beef with HSR is a delusion that is now causing wider damage to other vital transportation projects in California.

Devin Nunes is spelling it out for us in very clear terms: if California wants more passenger rail, California is going to have to pay for it by itself. With a GDP of $2.5 trillion, that shouldn’t be difficult. But it does require finally undoing the damage done by the tax revolt, Prop 13, and beyond.

If California Democrats are serious about resisting Trump – and I believe they are – then they have to get on this immediately and take the steps necessary to fund these crucial passenger rail projects without relying on the federal government.

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Trump Administration Blocks Caltrain Grant Fri, 17 Feb 2017 21:23:59 +0000 I’ve been meaning to write in detail about the Republican attack on Caltrain electrification. But today the Trump Administration dropped the bomb: they’re delaying the grant decision, perhaps for a year:

The Federal Transit Administration delayed a decision Friday on whether to approve a $650 million federal grant for electrification of a San Francisco Bay Area train system that would also help California’s high-speed rail project.
Congressional Republicans had pushed the administration to reject the application from Caltrain. In a letter sent Friday, the same day a decision was due, the agency said it was deferring a ruling so the project could be considered as part of President Donald Trump’s budget. No timeline was given in the letter, and spokeswoman Angela Gates said the project would be reviewed along with the president’s other fiscal 2018 budget considerations.

While it’s possible this means Trump wants to take credit for it, or turn it into a public private partnership that can enrich his allies, it’s also likely that this is just a fuck you to California – siding with the Republicans who want to smash rail everywhere they see it. 

This is a bad sign for federal rail funding more broadly, at least in California. It will encourage more interventions by Congressional Republicans to block federal grants. 

Most importantly, it shows the urgent need for California to find its own sources of rail money. The federal government is now completely unreliable. If California is serious about climate change, infrastructure, and resisting Trump, they will find a way to replace the billions in lost federal funding for projects all over the state – including HSR. 

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Steel In the Ground Matters Tue, 14 Feb 2017 19:11:28 +0000 The San Francisco Chronicle has an excellent article examining the massive construction work on high speed rail that is taking place in the Fresno area right now. The article shows a great contrast between the hard-working men and women building HSR and a better Central Valley – and the haters who still, after nine years, bitterly refuse to accept reality.

The columns of the superstructure stand nearly 80 feet tall, while the bridge deck is emerging as a sleek, aerial concourse. The span angles only slightly to accommodate the wide turns that can be expected with long and speedy trains. Each day, the giant viaduct grows as cranes hoist steel and concrete. All materials are American-made, officials say.

Two similar spans are under construction nearby. About 12 miles to the north, a nearly mile-long viaduct is rising over the San Joaquin River, while about 25 miles to the north, in Madera County, a bridge is materializing across the Fresno River.

What do HSR opponents want – to just let this infrastructure sit there unused in the hot summer sun? That would be absurd.

Go read the whole article and enjoy the photos of California’s high speed rail project. Putting steel in the ground makes a big difference. It shows the whole state this project is real, it’s alive, and it’s going to survive whatever efforts are made by HSR deniers in California or in Congress to kill it.

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How to Get High Speed From LA to SD Before HSR Arrives Sat, 04 Feb 2017 00:09:46 +0000 Alon Levy has a great article at the Voice of San Diego exploring how to speed up the popular passenger rail service between Los Angeles and San Diego well before the California high speed rail project gets to that segment – which is likely many years away. His answer: take advantage of new FRA rules and electrify:

The way to achieve trip times lower than two hours on legacy track is to combine new federal regulations and strategic investments intended to take advantage of the new rules. In late 2016, the Federal Railroad Administration released new regulations for passenger rail safety, which allow lightly modified European trains to run on U.S. tracks. Previously, unique U.S. rules required trains to be heavier. This follows a regulatory change from 2010 that allows trains to run faster on curves, subject to safety testing. The existing diesel locomotives are too heavy to take advantage of this change, but lighter electric passenger trains face no such obstacle.

This means that the region needs to invest in electrifying the corridor from San Diego to Los Angeles, and potentially as far north as San Luis Obispo. Between San Diego and Los Angeles, the likely cost – based on the California high-speed rail electrification cost – is about $800 million.

Levy points out that electric engines not only allow for faster service on legacy tracks, but that their superior power allows for cheaper ways to get around slow parts of the route:

All of the above improvements work together. New regulations allow the corridor to use more powerful trains. This encourages electrification, in order to immediately buy the best standard-speed trains available, and run faster on curves. Electrification, in turn, encourages a cheaper Miramar Hill realignment than the proposed tunnel.

I think this is a brilliant idea. At a cost of less than $1 billion, it’s affordable and can add desperately needed capacity to the crowded and busy LA-SD corridor. I don’t know how this would affect Metrolink operations, especially their Inland Empire-OC line (which under this proposal would be half electric and half not), but there are probably ways to deal with that.

California will need to step up and take a greater role in funding transportation infrastructure now that Trump is in the White House, and this LA-SD plan is a good and affordable place to start.

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Streetsblog Demolishes Vartabedian Article on HSR Project Mon, 23 Jan 2017 23:10:04 +0000 Damien Newton has an excellent article debunking Ralph Vartabedian’s appallingly misleading attack on the high speed rail project:

The Times’ critique isn’t a fair one, using partial truths to create doubt. While it is factually true to state that the report is “confidential,” Vartabedian uses the term without providing any context, leaving readers to imagine why the report’s findings would be withheld from the public….

Vartabedian clearly has an ax to grind with the Authority. Roger Rudick, now editor of Streetsblog SF, wrote a scathing takedown of his coverage in 2014. Perhaps that explains the many pieces of good news left out of his article, news that is outlined in the Authority’s response. Or maybe it explains why much of the background for Vartabedian’s article is from anonymous sources, without any context for who is providing the information and why anonymity was granted.

Newton’s article includes point by point refutations of Vartabedian’s claims, emphasizing that the FRA routinely offers “frank” analysis via confidential reports designed to ensure that problems get solved and projects get built quickly and effectively, rather than slog it out in the media.

Of course, that slog continues, as the California High Speed Rail Authority’s Dan Richard and Jeff Morales fire back in the LA Times:

The story ignores the fact that the original federal grant was only for basic construction, not all the stations, electrification and other features obviously necessary for operation. Calling those additions — which are funded by state dollars — a “cost overrun” seriously misleads readers, particularly when full project costs were announced by our board last month and submitted to the state Department of Finance and California Legislature. That plan was clear that capital costs for the $7.8 billion program have actually decreased.

The CHSRA is full of great people doing excellent work in a difficult environment, one that just got even more challenging with the inauguration of Donald Trump. It’s not right for Vartabedian to continue making misleading attacks on them and the project like this.

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CHSRA Fires Back At Latest Flawed LA Times Article Wed, 18 Jan 2017 06:32:47 +0000 Dan Richard and Jeff Morales, chair and CEO of the California High Speed Rail Authority, fired back in an open letter to the Legislature against what they describe as a “fundamentally misleading” article by Ralph Vartabedian in the LA Times that implied the high speed rail project faced massive cost overruns:

First, with regard to cost, the article ignores the fact that the original grant funding was for basic civil construction and did not include stations, electrification, systems and other features necessary to achieve high-speed rail operations. These additional features — which are not overruns but necessary additions — are being funded with available state funding, as detailed in the plan approved by the Authority’s Board of Directors in December 2016. That plan provides extensive details, estimating the cost at $7.8 billion, not $9.5 or $10 billion; further, the $7.8 billion includes $900 million in contingencies to cover increases.

As has been detailed in the Authority’s 2016 Business Plan, the capital costs for the program have decreased, not increased, something not reported in the article. While overall capital costs have declined, we also reported to the legislature risks to the schedule and costs associated with specific construction packages and we will continue to do so, with our next project update to be provided to the legislature in March 2017.

The letter goes on to debunk more of Vartabedian’s article, including pointing out that the FRA says California is “on track” to spend the stimulus funding by September 30.

The letter makes it clear that once again, Vartabedian wrote a biased article that did not provide his readers with a full picture of what is actually going on with the high speed rail project or the FRA’s review.

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