Weekend Links

» This week’s big news. Open thread in the comments.

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The Transport Politic

Bus Rapid Transit in San Francisco’s East Bay, on Next American City

California and Its Friends

  • With the November elections in the U.S. likely to be difficult for generally pro-high-speed rail Democrats, the likelihood of increasing federal funding for the transportation mode over the next few years is depressingly low, putting in peril California’s plans for a $45 billion network of fast trains linking all of the state’s major cities. This in spite of increasing evidence that high-speed rail provides serious economic benefits.
  • Foreigners, however, may be coming to help. Last week, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger traveled to Asia and received commitments for aid from both Japan and China. Each pledged significant loans for the project, even as China continues its domestic rail expansion; it announced that it would have 13,000 kilometers of high-speed rail in operation by 2012 and 16,000 kilometers by 2020.
  • Siemens, which is intent on selling its Velaro trainsets to U.S. customers including California and Florida, will be shipping an example model to the latter state. In California, especially if Asian countries step in to help finance that project (Germany has made no such agreement), Siemens may face competition from Chinese and Japanese manufacturers.

Everyone Else

  • Houston continues to face the negative consequences of its decision to award a contract to a Spanish company to build light rail trains for its planned transit network. That deal, which included the construction of several example vehicles in Spain rather than the U.S., was called out as in violation of federal “Buy America” rules by the Federal Transit Administration. This will delay the completion of the North, Southeast, and East End corridors, once expected to be done by October 2013 but now at least a year late.
  • Germany may finally be lifting its 79-year ban on domestic intercity buses, which it has had in place to ensure the stability of its national rail system.
  • Charlotte, which has had a major transit expansion plan on the table for more than a decade, runs into major cost limitations thanks to the effects of the recession. This means that the city and its suburbs will have to duke it out over the next few years to determine which lines will be prioritized and how to find more funding.

Image above: CAF light rail train such as was planned for Houston, from CAF

14 replies on “Weekend Links”

I don’t think CA should get any more high speed rail funding in that they have turned a good idea and project into a nightmare in that the only time I hear them talking about it is when they are sueing one another. I also think there are several red flags with them planning on borrowing 18 Billion dollars from the China and Japan. They also seem to be spending the two billion they already got highering a CEO of a railroad that right now doesn’t exist and they are spending this two billion on court cases. I really feel that they should have given something to Pennsyvinia which has shown strong ridership growth and the money would have gone a lot faster to building then to court cases.

I’ll note that the “nightmare because they are suing each other” is a childish framing, since the way that EIR/EIS are challenged is by bringing suit. If we are to run away from an important and useful project every time opponents sue, it gives opponents of oil-independent transport veto power over ever getting our country’s economic independence back.

It’s that I noice there are a lot of other high speed rail projects in states where things would go far smoother and I feel the funding should go towards these Sue free projects first. In that they would be far cheaper up front and in the long run.

There is only one other state that has an Express HSR system ready to start.

So what you are saying is that in any case where an Express HSR system will require a new alignment that is not already reserved for the purpose, we should give up building it, because in California, the process for constructing a new alignment is proceeding normally with the lawsuits that are the normal way to challenge EIR/EIS statements, and except for some minor cleaning up to do is successfully defeating those lawsuits.

No matter where it is, if there is an Express HSR project that is on sufficient scale to substantially prove the benefit of the technology in the US context, it will face political opposition, in part organized and funded by oil-industry money. Abandoning the California project in the face of that opposition will shift the focus of the fight to a different project.

“… in part organized and funded by oil-industry money.”

I’ve never read that any of the opposition is funded by the oil industry…in fact, I’d be very surprised if it is. They’re savvy businessmen – surely they realized from the outset that this isn’t going anywhere because of NIMBY interests, and even if it does, it’s going to have a negligible effect on oil consumption, so there’s no point spending any money trying to stop it. But I’m curious – what’s your evidence that opposition to HSR is orchestrated by oil companies?

Part of the opposition to California HSR came from studies funded by Reason, which draws much of its support from big oil companies.

Today the opposition is fueled mostly by NIMBYs and general-purpose conservatives. But the oil industry shills were part of the early effort to defeat Prop 1A.

Reason magazine was a collaborator on the Due Diligence project, but so was Citizens Against Government Waste, and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

Reason is responsible for bringing Joseph Vranich to coauthor the study. According to Vranich’s Mackinac profile, he is “a former spokesman for Amtrak, served on the Amtrak Reform Council from February 1998 to July 2000. He also served as president and CEO of the High Speed Rail Association and executive director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers.”

I might remind you that Reason is only partially funded by oil money. If I had to take a guess (can’t be entirely accurate because they aren’t required to disclose funding sources), I would say that no more than 20% of their funding comes from the oil industry.

So in summary:
Reason, which is only partially funded by oil companies, helped to partially fund a due diligence study, by contributing the assistance of an author who is an advocate for High Speed Rail AND Amtrak AND the NARP, and this is your proof for the idea that the oil industry provided the early opposition for the CAHSR project?

Sorry, but that sounds a little ridiculous.

The real explanation for the opposition is 1) Conservatives, 2) NIMBYs, and 3) Sane people who have quickly realized that the CHSRA is filled to the brim with bumbling idiots that don’t know the first thing about constructing and operating a rail system, who haven’t done their homework, and happen to spend all of their money trying to buy support for their boondoggle.

The Due Diligence Report was crap. For example: for the final cost estimate, Cox and Vranich projected escalations based on past cost overruns, but all of those previous increases were just updates due to inflation rather than real cost increases. This numerical sleight of hand looks like it’s all Cox, no Vranich.

But to be fair to big oil, Cox gets his money from big auto instead. So the opposition was really a joint thing.

The current coalition of opponents you describe only came about after 2008. In 2008, the NIMBYs didn’t care, or didn’t believe that 1A would pass, and the general-purpose conservatives were much weaker than they are today. The non-NIMBY non-conservative opponents were for the project until the HSR authority picked Pacheco over Altamont, in 2007.

HJTA and CAGW are drown-government-in-the-bathtub organizations which would privatize police and fire departments if they thought they could get away with it.

They’re basically funded, as far as I can tell, by plutocrats who imagine that they could afford private fire departments. Including some in Big Oil. :-P

No they aren’t. HJTA is more extreme libertarian, but they have never advocated the elimination of police or fire departments.

CAGW was started by two big government democrats who were concerned about the growth of the military industrial complex. To this day, they are mostly concerned about pork spending, unnecessary military spending, and poorly designed programs.

Not all opposition to new government programs are the result of a gigantic off-the-public-record conspiracy by oil companies.

What I’m woundering is when are they going to get out of the court room and start laying track. Such as with the Caltrain eletric project I want to see that happen but I don’t understand how something such as striniging wires over the railroad tracks would open up such a big court battle and why no one is really taking any action to even built this project. Or why they have not started building a 50 mile seciton of high speed rail line by widening the Caltran tracks to four and five tracks wide and removing all the grade crossings for it as of now with the existing two billon dollars they got now. Surely they at the very least could have some heavy construction start happening now with the ten billion from the voters and the two billion from the feds?

Because grade-separating and four-tracking the Caltrain line is exactly what the lawsuits are about, and therefore exactly what is being delayed.

So far there are no lawsuits about the LA sections (though there might be in future), the Central Valley sections, the Tehachapi Pass sections…. so frankly those will probably get built faster.

Here’s an interesting read if you want to know more about CAF USA’s recent run in with FTA regarding Houston METRO’s new light rail cars. CAF USA and CAF are described as two companies – one based in Spain, the other in the US. Of course, they are related / connected. However, the contract for Houston’s new rail cars was between CAF USA and METRO not CAF, which is something CAF USA claims the FTA repeatedly overlooked in its report. The rail cars under contract are to be built in upstate New York, USA.

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