Don’t Misread Republicans: They Hate Rail, Not Just HSR

Feb 25th, 2017 | Posted by

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.

Trump Administration Blocks Caltrain Grant

Feb 17th, 2017 | Posted by

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

Feb 14th, 2017 | Posted by

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.

How to Get High Speed From LA to SD Before HSR Arrives

Feb 3rd, 2017 | Posted by

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.