With Little Hope for Near-Term Federal Support, California High-Speed Rail Struggles

» Despite an excellent proposal and significant state support, the project cannot hope to attract private investors without a larger commitment of aid from Washington. Meanwhile, Europe continues to invest.

The long hoped-for private financing necessary to construct the California High-Speed Rail project will not come as easily as originally planned.

That, at least, is the conclusion of the authority empowered to build the project, the nation’s single-largest infrastructure program. According to the Los Angeles Times, in a letter to legislators this week the agency warned that the private money that it had counted on to cover a third of the project’s more than $45 billion costs would likely not be available until after parts of the line were up and running. The problem is that investors are concerned about the fact that of the expected major contribution from the federal government, only $3 billion has been authorized so far — and opposition in Congress to President Obama’s high-speed rail program means more money will be difficult to get, at least until after the 2012 elections.

The letter was essentially a preview of the authority’s new business plan, which is due to be submitted November 1. The plan must be approved by the state legislators in order for state funding to be spent on the 220 mph line, which is designed to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco, with future links to San Diego and Sacramento.

The news is embarrassing for the authority, which has been arguing for years that it could attract billions in private funds before the project was ready to be built, but it is not altogether surprising given the situation in which it has been placed. As I argued in mid-2009, California may well “never receive a guarantee that the feds will fully fund their prescribed share of the entire corridor’s construction costs. This is a huge problem, because a public agency shouldn’t be expending massive amounts of money on sections of a train system it doesn’t know it can finish completely. The private partners California hopes to interest in its program will not be excited about helping out on a train line they aren’t sure will ever open.

And indeed, this has been a legitimate concern about the Obama Administration’s high-speed rail program since it was first formulated. Though it is designed to sponsor major projects like California’s, its small appropriation ability means that the commitments it should be making — California wanted upwards of $10 billion from Washington, equal to the full amount thus far appropriated by Congress to the national program — cannot be distributed. The fact that the House and Senate have yet to agree on a long-term transportation bill, and the fact that Republicans have shown no interest so far in funding more intercity rail programs using the public purse, suggests that the situation is unlikely to get better for now.

This is likely to put a dent in plans to open the new rail line by 2020.

The California authority has developed a series of potential solutions to the problem, which must be solved if the agency wants to use the federal grants it has received thus far, since they must be spent by 2017. One option is to use federal loan guarantees and tax credits to provide an incentive for private investors to put their funds into the project or to leverage the $9 billion in state funds (authorized by the public in a 2008 vote) through the bond market, which could allow a tripling of available money. This would all have to be paid off eventually through public sector tax funds or user fees. While the California network is to be operationally profitable like virtually every high-speed rail system, it is unclear whether receipts will be large enough to cover capital costs.

The other possibility is to shorten the planned route, replacing what was originally supposed to be a full new line from San Francisco to Los Angeles with a feeder line that would speed up existing Amtrak trains. Because the federal government has committed to a Central Valley segment between Merced and Bakersfield as the first section fo the route to be constructed, it seems likely that the authority would have to concentrate its resources on this project.

In some ways, this could be a reasonable approach. Trains between Oakland and Bakersfield currently take six hours to complete their journey, but the high-speed line would allow 52-minute trips between Merced and Bakersfield, compared to three hours today. Thus constructing just this segment would reduce Oakland-Bakersfield trips to less than four hours — a massive reduction in journey times — if the appropriate rolling stock were available.

Of course, this would do little to address the greater concern, which was supposed to be linking San Francisco and Los Angeles in 2h40. Currently, there are no direct trains into San Francisco, and the coastal route along which Amtrak trains run from Oakland to L.A. requires 11 to 12 hours of journey times. There is no train link between L.A. and Bakersfield. Because of the federal government’s previous decision to concentrate its resources in the Central Valley, resolving this issue will have to wait for another time if more funding is not found in the short term. But one wonders whether a link between Oakland and Bakersfield will be enough in itself to generate profitable ridership that convinces private investors to commit to the project, as the authority seems to be implying.

This news comes just as the European Union announced its most recent Ten-T program, which is investing €31.7 billion in ten E.U.-scale corridors, most of which are designated for high-speed rail. Member countries have committed to hundreds of billions of euros more to build the projects, and indeed, there are active plans for new lines in most European countries. This is a prime example of governments thinking seriously about how to invest their limited resources in transportation projects that will pay off in the long-term.

Some might argue that the United States and Europe are simply different, that private investors here recognize that Americans will not ride trains and thus will not commit to funding irrational projects. But the ability of European countries to attract private partners to cover up to half of the costs of their new rail lines has a lot more to do with the fact that there has been a solid commitment from governments there to invest in those programs, whereas American policy on the issue has been erratic at best.

The problem is that California has been shunted into an impossible position: forced to make due with very limited federal funds despite a large commitment from state voters, the authority cannot attract private dollars. This is not, I would argue strongly, the fault of the authority or the Department of Transportation, which has funded it so far; blame rests entirely on a Congress that has been incapable of having a serious discussion (and making a final decision) about the merits of major investments in the nation’s transportation infrastructure. Instead, it continues to hand out small amounts, enough to keep projects like California’s alive but not enough to actually implement them.

But California is still in a bind. It must either must cancel work — a dead-end proposition that will inevitably require unearthing the proposal in a decade — or build a much-shortened segment with far fewer benefits to the state. While it would be nice to get from Oakland to Bakersfield more quickly, the advantages of such a project pale in comparison to those of a full San Francisco-to-Los Angeles line.

None of this news should be cause for celebration for opponents of spending on government infrastructure. The millions of people who are expected to ride the high-speed rail system every year will have to get between their destinations by some mode, and California’s air and roads infrastructure is at capacity. No high-speed system means spending just as much — or more — public dollars on upgrades to the existing system. Meanwhile, even if the financial costs of upgrades to highways and airports were similar to those of building the new rail network, the society’s economic costs of doing so are completely different: The high-speed rail system would offer an ecologically friendly alternative that reinforces the city centers of the state instead of furthering sprawl.

Without a real sign of commitment from the federal government, however, projects like California’s simply will not be able to be constructed in the United States. This speaks volumes of the ability of the American public sector to invest in projects that are beneficial to the society as a whole from a long-term perspective.

Image above: California High-Speed Rail, from California High-Speed Rail Authority

69 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Winston

    Right now the quickest way to get from Oakland to L.A. on Amtrak is via the San Joaquin, service which takes 8 1/2 hours, including 6 hours on the train and 2:30 on a bus (which usually takes 2 hours). Cutting this time to 6 1/2 hours makes the time on the train the same as driving the route with no congestion. Such a service would be good enough to make me switch from driving to the train and would likely be the second or third most popular intercity rail line in the U.S. (beating Acela’s 8200 daily riders isn’t a high bar, especially since the existing service gets 2800 or so daily riders).

    All this being said, building a true HSR line along the current Surfliner route would doubtless be a better investment given that the current service has 7000 daily riders and it connects much bigger cities.

    • Marcella D.

      The number of daily riders is not as significant as the mile-passenger numbers for each route. In any case, it is impossible to constructs a HSR along the coast without tripling the bill with massive tunneling that would be required almost all the way vs a mostly flat CEntral Valley.

  • Daniel Krause

    While this post is fair-minded and provides good analysis, it still partially reflects the doom and gloom we hear incessantly in the media these days, which is based on the assumption that the current political situation will be a constant for the long-term. We need to keep in mind that the Tea Party controlled House will likely turn over, probably in 2012 as they are already wearing out their welcome. It is also becoming more and more likely Obama will win based on the poor field of Republican candidates. In other words, the political winds change fast and frequently, which means the prospects for high-speed rail money will likely improve dramatically before the initial construction segment in the Central Valley is completed.

    We as a nation must start constructing true high-speed rail infrastructure now, and yes, even if there is risk involved in the short-term due to a lack of a ongong Federal commitment today. If we decided to cancel the project altogether or shift he funds to the commuter upgrade projects in Bay Area and LA region (which some CA politicians are calling for), high-speed rail is likely to be shelved for a generation – not just in California, but nationally.

    You are correct that the Authority has been put in a very difficult position by a very foolish Congress. But we need to trust that this situation will change quickly as Americans understand more and more just how extremist the Tea Party take over of the House. I am confident the situation will change, funding will resume, and once we start construction next year, it won’t stop until the system is complete (though it may take a few years longer that we had originally hoped).

    • Al S.

      The current political situation may not last forever, but I can see it lasting another 15 or 20 years. The gridlock and lack of effective governance just seem to get worse and worse each election cycle. We all know where the Republicans stand on passenger rail (they despise it), and the Dems tend to be lukewarm on colossal projects like new HSR; they like to play it safe. The public also seems to be in no mood for spending on projects like this.

      In all likelihood, we’ll have about as much HSR in the U.S. in 30 years as we have today (i.e., the relatively low high-speed Acela). It’s going to be an uphill battle just to keep Amtrak from getting scrapped.

      • Nathanael

        I am beginning to think that the current broken situation does not have 15 or 20 years left in it.

        There’s only so long people will tolerate the Second Great Depression, and that’s not really very long. The trouble is, if people don’t know the right solutions to the problems, they’ll fall for pure snake oil salesmen (such as every single Republican candidate), and we’ll go into an even WORSE situation, which may last for 5-10 years before collapsing.

        I would rather that didn’t happen, and that our current kleptocracy and electoral gridlock will be wiped out by a Populist/Progressive/Greenback style movement. But it could be replace by a fascist demagogue if we’re not careful and lucky.

        • Spokker

          Hermann Cain would win against Barack Obama if the election were held today. Most people do not think like you in real life. Sites like the Transport Politic, Streetsblog and the CAHSR blog are liberal echo chambers that do not reflect general consensus.

          • Ocean Railroader

            The transport poltic does come up with some good ideas to deal with transporation subjects.

          • Frank

            True, Spokker, echo chamber indeed! I wonder if the regular posters here realize that they’re in the minority and that most Americans don’t believe in public transportation, because it doesn’t fit the American psyche or physical landscape. If there was widespread support for public transportation then getting pet projects like HSR, new subways, or light rail constructed wouldn’t be an issue. The Congress just reflects the will of the people, and the will of the people doesn’t support this stuff.

            • Wad

              @Frank, nice try.

              Opinions on a subject aren’t binary. You’re allowed more than a thumbs up or thumbs down on any position. I am for public transit in the general sense, but I can and do go against bad projects that degrade public transit. For instance, I held my nose when I voted for L.A. County’s Measure R because it allocates capital funds to projects that will have too high costs and too low ridership (Crenshaw Line, either of the two remaining Gold Line eastward extensions), but it did have two items in particular that made passage (and higher taxes) worthwhile: funding for the westward subway extension, funding for the regional connector in downtown L.A., and immediate support for transit operations. L.A. had to cut bus service, but we didn’t hemmorhage service like in much of the U.S.

              As for votes, which are binary, these numbers would show overwhelming support for transit investments.

              The Center for Transportation Excellence has an election results page encompassing years 2000-2010. These are localized elections and reflect local preferences. Many of them do contain highways, but that doesn’t change the outcome if those improvements were bundled with transit.

              http://www.cfte.org/success/pastelections.asp

              If Americans, as a nation, were so transit-hostile as you perceive, these measures would have failed by wide margins.

              • Adirondacker12800

                Wad, you are counting all of the ballot measures. If you only count the ones that were voted on in Real America ™ they fail miserably.

              • Wad

                @Adirondacker, look again at the list. Support is broad across geographic and political lines.

                Oh wait, now I get your point. :>

            • Nathanael

              Check the polls, Frank. You’re just wrong on the numbers; the average American wants more passenger train service.

            • Ocean Railroader

              Amtrak’s having recoard ridership which shows there is suport for it and it is still going.

              The coming oil storm will get to run unstopped and it will will change things in the US. And it’s going to be more like a cinder block bashing the Americans in the head to get their atention.

          • The latest RCP average shows Obama leading Cain by 6.6%. People don’t like having their taxes hiked.

            • Ocean Railroader

              I hate that 9/9/0 plan in that it’s going to take away my meger peasant wages while the big billionaires get some monster tax cuts.

          • Nathanael

            Spokker, Herman Cain is quite precisely planning to make things worse. I quite understand that most people do not think like me; I am analyzing how most people think as well as the historically likely trends. Again, I simply don’t believe the current economic-social-political situation has got 15 years left in it; it is not sustainable, and situations like this never have been sustainable.

            Krugman pointed out that when medieval Poland got into a situation somewhat like this, the country ended up dismembered. The fact that the Poles didn’t think that it was going to happen made no difference; wishful thinking is not reality.

            The current situation may have 4-8 years left in it. After that, we may find that somebody really scary gets elected. A frighteningly large percentage of people in this country would support a Mussolini or perhaps Franco style candidate, and such a candidate probably *would* start spending on infrastructure and get us out of the Depression. (Those of us who weren’t rounded up and shot, that is.)

            Or we may manage to put in place a government which will make things better, FDR-style.

          • Wad

            @Spokker, echo chambers exist because Internet technology finally made it possible for humans to digest information the way we had always desired it: By conforming to our biases and prejudices, then reinforcing them through a community of avatars who’ll agree with us reliably.

            What passes for Mensa-grade intelligence among this group is an ability to allow for disagreement within a tacit comfort zone.

            And a contrarian is a troll who gets away with it.

            This is everything you need to know about Internet communication. Profound, no? Now go, Spokker, take what I’ve wrote and make it into memes.

    • Nathanael

      Daniel, unless you can figure out how to get the so-called Democrats in the Senate to stop letting Republicans run the Senate with a minority of 41 votes, the current situation will not improve from within the system.

  • Alex Jonlin

    It seems to me that after building the Central Valley segment, the next priority should be the Bakersfield-LA portion. At least high speed rail could then connect LA and the Bay Area at a much higher speed than today, and provide a good service until the extra several billion dollars can be found to complete the segments over the pass and through the Peninsula. As Daniel notes, this current political and economic situation won’t last forever, and eventually we’ll be able to complete the project.

  • Matt

    Yes, somehow Bakersfield to Sylmar needs to get done and then we could have at least some service between the Bay Area and LA that doesn’t take 12 hours or a bus, which is shameful for the two most important cities on the West Coast. This would be successful no doubt and most likely generate operating profits that should be stay in this corridor. The San Joaquin already is the country’s 6th busiest Amtrak line and deadends in Bakersfield now.

  • Michael Schaeffer

    How difficult would it be to shift the initial construction of the high speed line, from Merced to Bakersfield, to Los Angeles to Bakersfield via Tejon Pass? A lot of people are saying that alignment should be built first.

    • Winston

      Pretty hard. You would need the federal government to approve the change in initial segment and it would be unlikely to be finished in time to meet the deadlines that come with the money. At this point its either build the CV segment or do nothing. Besides, you do need a long straight section of track to test the high speed trains at full speed. Having trains that run very fast (even by HSR standards) is critical to meeting the 2:25 requirement in California’s HSR proposition.

      • First, the requirement is 2:40, not 2:25. Second, cutting 12 minutes off the preferred Tehachapi option using the Grapevine/Tejon alignment allows much more leeway about reducing top speed and allowing bad curves to remain unfixed.

  • Ocean Railroader

    In the words of Nelson from the Simpsons Ha Ha Ha they went down the toilet.
    I knew they where going to go belly up in that the clowns spent to much time on studies and trying to make every boso in town complaning and sueing them happy. What they should of done is us all their power and resources to at least get some track built on the ground on that one section congress asked for and drop thinking about everything else so that at least Amtrak could have got a new cool main line out of this beast or something to show to everyone thay are doing something else besides playing talking studies games.

    I really wish I should have betted money that this wasn’t going to get built in that I knew when the Florida got blown out of the water that the same was going to happen to this one too.

    • Beta Magellan

      In other words, if they had pushed harder CAHSR wouldn’t be in the pickle they are today?

      I’m not buying it. CAHSR has a lot of problems: it’s over-constrained (mainly by Prop. 1A’s routing directives), inside the Bay and OC the Authority initially pushed overbuilt plans , it’s had to serve as a monument for local politicians, and they never really thought out how to build Phase I incrementally because they assumed they could build it all at once. Assuming it’s even possible for CAHSR to will infrastructure into place, all those same problems would have still been there—they just would have been made concrete sooner. “Dropped thinking about everything” has been all too common on the line so far

      • Ocean Railroader

        It’s funky that they are whining about building this thing when they are going to take a existing railroad and widen it from two to four tracks wide on the existing rail bed vs knocking down hunderds of homes to make way for widieng several of the local freeways.

        • Beta Magellan

          I agree American roadbuilding’s funky (in a bad way), but I’d rather see roads have to put out cost-benefit analyses, real environmental impact statements and competition for funds rather than removing those constraints from HSR—otherwise you just get a repeat of the road mania that swept our country in the twentieth century with a different mode.

          • Wad

            Alas, even putting roads under the same cost-benefit analysis results in playing the game with loaded dice.

            You have to deal with the problem of economically dependent constituencies created by highway construction. (The benefit of not building highways won’t make up for the costs of getting rid of the EDC, which the rest of the economy cannot absorb.)

            You have an even worse problem with Michele Bachmann, who has said highways are not spending. This amounts to highways as identity politics. An attack on highways becomes an attack on a people (rural whites).

            • Ocean Railroader

              If we did this for roads the Coalfields Expessway wouldn’t exist a 5 billion dollar four lane highway though the middle of no where in Vriginia and West Vriginia.

  • You’re right to place blame squarely with Congress. As reports have suggested, the only real concern about this project is a political one — not concerns about ridership or profitability.

    That said, even a half-measure system that could get you from LA to SF in 4-6 hours in one seat would be hugely popular.

  • Ocean Railroader

    The way they are treating this high speed rail project like the one in Florida was treated is like a group of clowns jumping in and out of a hottube being the high speed rail you are eather in it or not jumping in and out of it like you like then you hate it and then you like it again.

  • Part of the blame has to go to Obama, who when he had the chance to put $20 billion into HSR in 2009 chose to only put $8 billion. But nowadays, when California needs on the order of $3-4 billion from the feds to match 1A funds and complete Bakersfield-LA, it’s 100% the fault of Congressional inaction. I’d ascribe it to anti-HSR ideology among Republicans, but it’s more a malevolent attempt to prevent the economy from getting better and hurt Obama’s reelection prospects.

    • Ocean Railroader

      I really think Princess Celestia would have more guts than Obama in getting things done in that his whole high speed rail project has been a great shoe string atempt at building a world class high speed rail system. I’m a soild high speed rail suporter but these chain of events have led to several great dispointments that I’m now very angery at the whole thing and the Califorinia high speed dispointment system is number one. One such thing is his funding in general and what he says such as he only gives out ten billion dollars the frist time while the Democracts have full control over everything and he follows it up with a whimpy side of fish fakes of funding at only 2 billion. While at the same his department gave out this tiny amount of money to at least five great projects that where at least five to 40 billion dollars eatch which they knew they would never be able to finish unless they had a soldly writen down source of funding.

      Now what most likely Princess Celestia would have said instead was she would have most likely said This ten billion dollars of new rail funding will be used to improve our existing nation’s Amtrak system by buying bran new railroad cars and locomtives and it will make it much more safer and run better on time.” She also most likely wouldn’t have given Califorinia or even Florida’s High Speed rail system any money in the first place knowing full well that there was most likely not going to be any more money coming in after that to finish even one of these large European high speed rail bullet train systems.

      If Obama would have came out and said, “Where going to give ten billion dollars to upgrade and raise the speeds on existing Amtrak routes and make them safer it wouldn’t have came off them as them lying or bringing a system of dispointment in that it would have sounded more reasonible than him going out and saying we are going to build a nation wide European Bullet Train system network with only ten billion dollars and no up and coming funding any time soon.

      I’m voting for Obama in that I hate the other clown’s 9-9-9 plan of taking away 9% of my meager peasant wages.

  • Tim E

    Yes, I think everybody understands the politics and failures. I have to also agree with Alon in part, Obama with democratic controlled house and congress and Republicans agreeing to stimulus stumbled big time in his first year of office. I truly believe they should have focused infrasctructure stimulus funding through the multiyear bills for Transportation, FAA and water bills that all have been working on short term meaningless extension. It would have secured the long term committment desperately needed.

    At the same time, California has really bungled the opportunity any way you look at and in its haste really did a poor job of setting up a structure that truly ignored Caltrans!!! Talk about an organization that has a history of putting together large projects, deals with ROW and real estate in every which way and is accountable. The Authority has been a boom for consultants and outside engineering firms with very very very little to show to date other then picking an alignment that everybody in the CV hates. Nor has Gov Brown done the process any favors other then a couple of meaningless stump speeches.

    In other words, California will be a mess until Gov Brown rolls the authority into Caltrans, fires the multiple consultants and resolve the CV first and foremost as it offers the most to California. I would tell LaHood to reallocate the California money in a even three way split – $1 billion to midwest (Milwaukee upgrade, new replacement spans across Mississippi in St. Louis, more rolling stock) $1 billion to NEC (replace the bottle neck bridge in NJ), and $1 billion to Virginia/North Carolina (buy trackage between Richmond & Raliegh pronto!!!)

    • Ocean Railroader

      I really don’t understand why he didn’t make his 700 billion stimulus project one giant public works project in that most of the people out of work are in the construciton type of fields and most of the money given out in the stimlus project went to some really crazy science projects and tax cuts or grants to some other none construction projects. Such as only 50 billion dollars went out to road and rail projects while the other 600 billion in a sense went down the rabit hole. While this is going on places state highway departments are laying off hunderds of people and are scraping hunderds of baddly needed projects in some really bottle necked areas.

      Our goverment also has to learn that not all people can afford the money or time to go back to school or be retrained into things that don’t fit or work out for them. Such as I know a lot of people who like working in construction in that the pay was good to them and it was good skilled work and they didn’t have to be cramed into a tiny office in front of a bright flashing box on a table.

      • Nathanael

        I believe 300 billion of the stimulus was actually tax cuts, utterly useless for the purpose.

        Within the *other* 300 billion there were various useful things other than transportation (weatherization etc), but the tax cuts were utterly useless.

    • Wad

      Caltrans is a state road agency with an expertise in roads. Engineers build highways, engineers build railroads, but that doesn’t mean a highway engineer has the expertise to build a railroad or vice versa.

      In L.A., we’ve seen what happens when road engineers try their hand at people-movement. You get catastrophic failures like the Harbor Transitway, as well as catastrophic successes like the Green Line.

      A Caltrans engineer will first of all insist that the high-speed rail tracks will follow I-5, because high-speed rail is analagous to the much faster I-5 over the comparably slower and more urbanized SR-99.

      The good news: We get a fast train. The bad news: The cities of Bakersfield, Fresno, Merced and Modesto turn into housing projects, as new development will cluster near the I-5 corridor and bypass the already urbanized footprint of those cities. The new favored quarter will also devour fertile farmland, or be maintained but turned into urban plantationing like the Wine Country vineyards.

      Oh, and the stations won’t look like Union Station and anchor a downtown. They’ll look like Dublin/Pleasanton BART or the Norwalk Green Line station and just be a giant parking lot removed from its neighbors.

      I’d be happy with Caltrans lending office space and computers, as long as the engineers are contract workers hired from Germany, France or Japan. Those guys seem to know what they’re doing.

      • Tim E

        Can understand your point but I think your selling the in house resources, experience and out right knowledge that the state already has in place for transportation short. My point, a good real estate lawyer, a good PR/communications director is just as important in any ROW site selection and acquisition as is a railroad or highway engineer. Everything I have read since moving out here is that the commission has been utter failure with communities even though they have spent millions. If anything, Caltrans is a known entity. Personally, I think another California HSR bond issue vote would fail and Gov. Brown knows it even though he would never admit.

        • Wad

          Tim, the high-speed rail commission didn’t piss away 48% of the community good will since 2008.

          The last time California had a vote on high-speed rail it was 52% for and 48% against. You could for all intents say that the project is split 50-50.

          The opposition was always there, it has just gotten louder and more energetic. Opposition escalated because, oh crap!, this train will really be built. It happens over every policy conflict.

          PR wouldn’t have helped. The only kind of real estate expert would have “helped” would be the kind that comes out swinging for eminent domain and is eager to litigate. That would’ve pissed away even more good will, though, especially when banks are taking all the properties HSR or Caltrans isn’t getting.

  • Chris

    It’s hard to put blame entirely on Congress when California has the wealth of its own trillion-dollar economy available to support this project, whether through the state’s general fund or through higher fares on existing infrastructure, which being “at capacity” and facing growing demand should be able to generate new revenues. If California’s economy and government are so moribund that activity literally cannot proceed in the state without the federal money faucet flowing, Congress can hardly be blamed for that.

    • Matt

      California may be the 7th or 8th biggest economy on Earth, but different from similarly sized economies like France or Britain most of the tax revenue flows out to the United States. If California were indeed a separate country, yes your argument would be valid, but when CA taxpayers literally have to supply 1 out of 8 federal tax dollars for the US government, it is a different story. People in California just want their fair share back and some freedom in how to spend it (not all highways like the $1B 405 carpool lane). People aren’t asking to be supported like Alaska or Wyoming or other sparsely populated states without sized congressional representation.

      • Matt

        last sentence should say with outsized congressional representation.

      • Chris

        I agree with the sentiment 100%. Cutting federal transportation spending and returning the money to taxpayers in the form of tax cuts or debt reduction would fix a lot of problems with our spending priorities, and give states a lot more freedom to build as they desire.

        With regard to this project, however, the money California’s already paid or set to pay in federal taxes is gone and a sunk cost. My point is simply that California has the means and opportunity to build this project without federal involvement; it’s just more politically challenging. But Yonah’s claim that without federal money CA will have to either cancel work or build a shorter segment ignores the third option: raise taxes and complete the line as planned.

        • Ocean Railroader

          If that happened the Interstate system would have never have existed in that if you go over and look over say the Vriginia Department of Transporation’s website the Interstate system projects requre very large amounts of money to rebuild interchanges and widen sections. It also is a stardardized highway system that runs between states across boarders. Now if this did come true and they got rid of the federal transporation funding system the interstates would be out of a home in that states uselly are very clanish with one another in funding major projects that they can not fund themselves. Also at the same time there would be no stardarized federal system of building and maintaining highways. Such as if you where a state and the state north of you had limited acess interchanges on their interstates snice it is not a federal system of funding and there was no higher motivation of funding to make your interstate have interchanges you could go put stoplights instead on your interstate system.

      • Adirondacker12800

        Wyoming has a lot of rich people who pay a lot of taxes. Wyoming is as net contributor. North Dakota and South Dakota on the other hand…. This is an over-generalization but money flows from blue states to red states. It flows from big cities to rural areas.

  • Alan Kandel

    Initial cities to be served along the Central Valley portion of the line include Merced, Fresno, a possible station in Hanford or Tulare or Visalia and finally, Bakersfield. The segment between Bakersfield and Fresno, as is generally understood and proposed, is to be roughly adjacent and parallel to the BNSF right-of-way. However, between those two metropolitan areas, there is strong opposition among some in Kings County regarding HSR right-of-way placement.

    Off topic but there are portions of a freight rail route in Tulare County that have already been abandoned with associated infrastructure scrapped while other parts are being considered for abandonment and scrapping. It’s a line operated by RailAmerica. (See: http://www.railamerica.com/RailServices/SJVR.aspx).

    In the event the existing planned HSR route between Bakersfield and Fresno doesn’t fly, I do not see what would be wrong with using the referenced short-line freight rail corridor in question to accommodate high-speed trains. Obviously there would be businesses that would need to be relocated as the line isn’t arrow straight in order to make the route appropriate for HSR use, but with some adjustment, this could very well serve as a HSR route.

    Under current plans, businesses are going to be impacted as will farmland. In addition, by using this secondary freight rail routing, a Tulare County station could still be in the offing. There would not be any farms that I am aware of that would be adversely impacted being that the right-of-way is already established.

    North of Tulare County, in Fresno County, continuing along this alignment brings trains right into the central part of Fresno. Again, alignment would need to be adjusted to accommodate HSR. Ultimately, this line joins the UP’s north-south Central Valley mainline just south of where the proposed downtown Fresno station is to be located. It would be a good fit.

    South of Tulare County in Kern County on the other hand would require establishing a new right-of-way to get into and out of Bakersfield, but if one were to look at the profile of Highway 99 or the UP, these alignments have very little curvature between those two points and piggybacking onto either of these two infrastructures could conceivably work.

    That a viable short-line rail routing exists, if all other Bakersfield-to-Fresno options get rejected, this should be used for HSR. If nothing else preserving this alternative rail corridor for possible future Amtrak use makes far more sense than seeing yet another rail corridor fall by the wayside. This way, at least, it will be put to appropriate use.

    • Nathanael

      It was considered. First, it’s significantly longer. Second, straightening it out seems to impact much higher-value farms than the “western” routes. Third, the entry to Bakersfield is a PAIN.

      But yes, it’s a viable option if something goes horribly wrong with the other options.

  • Loren Petrich

    Given all the trouble that the CHSRA has been having, I suggest considering what would be a reasonable minimum system.

    I propose San Jose – Los Angeles, leaving out the Peninsula and Orange County parts. These could be built later if the CHSRA gets the money for building them. If that’s still too difficult, I propose Gilroy – Sylmar, since the SJ – Gilroy and LA – Sylmar routes are relatively straight and flat. With this approach, it will be necessary to transfer to and from more conventional trains at each end: Caltrain and Metrolink. However, they could have express services that meet the CHSRA trains.

    • Adirondacker12800

      Metrolink and Caltrain, as they exist now, don’t have the capacity to deal with trainloads of 500 passengers wanting to get to San Francisco or Los Angeles. Not that taking Caltrain to Gilroy, HSR to Sylmar and then Metrolink to Los Angeles is going to attract trainloads of 500 passengers.

    • Beta Magellan

      From what I understand, the OC’s actually turned fairly proactive and LOSSAN seems to exhibit a greater degree of competence and the old overbuilt plans are being revised, so one might actually get better bang for your buck in SoCal.

      Personally, I think they should have started with LA-Bakersfield as their initial segment and worked their way north, but it’s too late for that now.

  • Nathanael

    THINK BIG.

    The California state government needs to start issuing “California dollars”. (This is legal if the government charters its own bank, like the Bank of North Dakota.) Everyone will accept them. Alternatively, the Bank of California can simply take advantage of the unlimited 0% borrowing from the Federal Reserve.

    At this point there is no funding problem. The State of California simply builds the thing itself.

    Failure to understand money locks us into the private bankers’ shackles. Understanding of money frees us. I hope Jerry Brown and the California legislature start to understand money (though I have my doubts that it will happen).

  • Tim E

    Whether we agree on who is to blame is one thing but worried that inaction early is going to be the downfall. My understanding is that the California bonds that voters approved need to issued by the end of year for the financials to be in place for a 2012 start construction date.

  • ThomasD

    Yonah,

    Lets be clear about where the blame for delay belongs. Its not Congress as a whole, its the infrastructure luddites known as the Tea Party.

    • Tim E

      I have no problem for blaming the Tea Party for wanting to shut off the spicket and lead Congressman Mica down a path that would be absolutely devastating.

      However, I haven’t seen anything or read anything that suggests the California has its act together and could kill HSR in their own right without following through with bonds as promised.

      So I’m back to my same position, LaHood should give California to the end of year to issue its bonds and if not, reallocate as fast as possible. Otherwise, 2012 will come and go and their is a very good possibility that funds, what little funds, will be not be there. In other words, their is use for these funds that Amtrak and State DOT’s can put to use effectively or rather quickly.

      • Adirondacker12800

        Sounds good to me. Third track from Buffalo to Albany could a FONSI in weeks. Though I’d much prefer a FONSI for electrification from New York City to Albany. Which could probably be had in weeks too.

      • Ocean Railroader

        They need a good back up plan to use existing Amtrak trains that run on their own tracks or a major up grade of the existing system to prevent them from at least losing this federal money to someone else.

    • jim

      While it’s clear that the Republicans in Congress and the party within the party that holds them hostage are primarily to blame for the situation, the Administration is not using all the tools at its disposal, either. And it’s supposed to want HSR as opposed to the Republicans.

      For example, the Administration has residual TARP funds at its disposal. I don’t know exactly how much. The lowest estimate I’ve seen is $76B; the highest around two hundred. There is precedent for the Administration to use these funds to inject capital into private firms. It has done so with General Motors. It could, therefore, do that with Amtrak: provide Amtrak with $30B, $40B, $50B, $60B, whatever in capital. Amtrak could then partner with CHSRA to construct HSR between LA and the Central Valley as an IOS. It could work with Caltrans to upgrade and increase frequencies on the Surfliner route and the San Joaquins north of the IOS. It could partner with Illinois and Michigan to fully implement their 110 mph plans for Chicago-Detroit and Chicago-St. Louis. It could, by itself, implement Indiana’s ARRA Chicago-Cleveland proposal (it wouldn’t need State participation for that since the project is projected to generate a surplus). It could partner with Missouri and Kansas to upgrade the River Runner and implement Kansas’s KC-OC plan. It could upgrade the NEC (160 mph south of New York at a minimum) and upgrade and electrify the NEC feeders. It could partner with North Carolina to implement SEHSR. Plus minor work on Keystone East, Vermont, Maine etc. Or as much of this work as funding will allow.

      Immediate infrastructure spending stimulus (the best kind!) with strong geographic spread; a considerable advance on a stated policy goal of the Administration and true 220 mph HSR in California; and possibly lower outyear Amtrak operating subsidies. Win-win-win.

      But since this would not require even the appearance of bipartisan action, I doubt the Administration would consider it.

  • cph

    Have you guys seen the Train Riders’ Association of California’s proposal: http://www.calrailnews.com/crn0811extract.pdf

    The nut of their proposal is to use I-5 for non-stop trips between LA and San Francisco, and the existing San Joaquin line for service to the Central Valley.

    The Altamont and Grapevine approaches to SF and LA, resp. would be used (no Pacheco or Palmdale)

    While I don’t agree 100% with everything in this particular plan, in light of the lack of Federal and private money, the entire approach of building the CA HSR needs to be given a fresh look.

    • Beta Magellan

      So their solution to cost escalation is to build spend more money on fewer riders?

    • ThomasD

      There are at least 4 reasons why i disagree with the TRAC route:

      1. I’ve driven through the I-5 Freeway mountain pass many times and I’m certain that the grade is over 4% in several areas; trains don’t handle 4+% grade well.

      2. Safety. Having driven I-5 Freeway mountain pass many times, I’ve noted that crosses the San Andreas fault in a mountainous area. That specific area is constantly in need of resurfacing due to continuous small ground movement. When the next big one hits near that area, the roadway and tracks can easily displaced 3-20 feet and there could be a landslide by the surrounding steep mountains. I for one, would rather be on one of the trains, traveling in 10 minute headways, through the less mountainous area between Sylmar and Palmdale as proposed by CSHRA.

      3. TRAC undervalues the importance of providing significantly upgraded speed and frequencies to the booming growth cities of Central California. Simply upgrading Amtrak to low frequency 90mph and connecting it from Bakersfield to Palmdale/MetroLink to proceed to downtown LA, will generate only a small fraction of the patronage of a 220mph high frequency line.

      4. TRAC undervalues how much TOD would spin-off from a 220 mph CHSRA route through the Central California cities, whereas there is no reason to believe such TOD benefits would occur on the I-5 route with no towns of any significance size.

      The one area ripe for debate is Altamont Pass-Fremont-Redwood City alignment vs. the CHSRA Gilroy-San Jose-Palo Alto/Redwood City alignment. I remain open-minded about a possible change in that part, but it pits San Jose/Palo Alto/Silicon Valley interests vs. Fremont/East Bay interests.

      At the end of the day, California needs the fortitude to build the best route to last over a hundred years, not the underperforming convenient route.

      • You’re right that I-5 is a really stupid alignment through the Central Valley. But using Tejon and the Grapevine between Bakersfield and the LA Basin, rather than detouring through the Tehachapis, is feasible. To stay within a 3.5% ruling grade requires tunnels under either option. Originally they chose the Tehachapis because the Quantm study concluded that the costs would probably be about the same but Tejon was geologically much riskier, but a more recent study by PB concludes that Tejon would actually be cheaper.

        • Wad

          A couple of saving graces the Tehachapi diversion has for it: It’s a populated area and there’s a giant airport that can be activated.

          The Antelope Valley has about 350,000 residents, so a stop there would not be more far-fetched than Modesto, a city of similar size (and profile) getting a high-speed rail station.

          The other advantage is the mothballed Palmdale airport. The remoteness of the Antelope Valley made passenger flights a nonviable market, but if Californians take to intermodal transfers, it might have a chance. This would be the primary airport for the southern Central Valley, thereby having a larger catch area and more potential flight destinations.

    • Michael Schaeffer

      I have seen it, and sent it to the Governor himself, along with a letter.

  • Transit Planner

    The TRAC proposal is right on the money (and route!). The problem with CHSRA is that they propose a railroad much longer than the distance between the to cities. Consultants and politicians have turned what should be a straight line high-speed bypass route for express trains, into a zig-zag 220 mph. BART Line.

    The TRAC proposal could be done within the budget and provide 3 hr. travel time between L.A. and S.F. as well as between Fresno and those two cities. Sacramento and L.A. would also be 3 hrs. All competitive with air travel at a fraction of the cost of the current bloated proposal. The TRAC proposal is the one that works.

    • Wad

      The TRAC idea is asinine.

      I’d expect that a group of passenger rail advocates would want trains to carry people.

      TRAC wrongly believes the two station combinations of LAX to SFO will generate more ridership than the existing proposed Phase I network combined.

      It’s the n(n-1) formula, where n is the number of stations. LAX to SFO has a formula of two, whereas 10 or so stations between the same stops allows for 90 different trip combinations.

      LAX to SFO would need to not only produce all of the ridership to make the project worthwhile, but generate so much ridership that it would have to offset the lost ridership from the Central Valley.

      It’s preposterous to assume it can.

    • The shortest route from LA to the Bay Area is through Pacheco. Altamont is even on time through Dumbarton and faster through a second tube, but only because it gets to spend less time at lower speed on the Peninsula. And although I-5 is shorter than actually serving Bakersfield and Fresno, the difference is about 35 kilometers.

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