News

Funding questions loom over California high-speed rail plan

California High-Speed Rail Authority's new business plan struggles to find funding sources for first usable stretch of $68 billion line

Seeking to comply with a legislative requirement, the agency charged with building California's high-speed-rail system last week released an updated business plan that offers upgraded ridership projections, revised construction plans and very few answers on the critical question of how the system will be funded.

The business plan, which was a requirement of the appropriation bill the state legislature passed in 2012, serves as an upgrade to a plan that the rail authority submitted two years ago.

Though the 2012 plan alleviated some concerns in Palo Alto and along the Peninsula by scrapping the highly contentious proposal for a four-track system (with Caltrain on the outside tracks and high-speed rail inside) in favor of a more palatable two-track one (in which the two agencies share the same tracks on the Peninsula), the document was criticized by local officials, watchdogs and one Sacramento County judge for failing to disclose how the California High-Speed Rail Authority plans to pay for the first usable stretch of the $68 billion line.

Known as the "initial operating section," this portion of the line would stretch from Merced to San Fernando Valley and would cost about $31 billion, according to the rail authority's new estimate.

The new plan, like the prior ones, leaves this question of how to pay for this segment largely open. Though it keeps the price estimate for the full line at $68 billion, the same as in the 2012 plan, and introduces a new funding mechanism supported by Gov. Jerry Brown, it fails to account for more than $20 billion in funding that the first segment needs and doesn't yet have.

So far, the rail authority has roughly $6 billion committed to constructing the first portion of the line, a 29-mile stretch between Madera and Fresno that would not have any actual trains.

The agency's failure to identify funding sources for the usable segment prompted Judge Michael Kenny to conclude in November that the rail authority acted in violation of Proposition 1A, the $9.95 billion bond voters approved for the rail system in 2008. Kenny ordered that the rail authority rescind its business plan.

In a separate ruling, he also denied the rail authority's request to validate $8 billion in bond expenditures, saying in his ruling that he was not convinced by the process in which state officials vetted the rail authority's request for funding.

The rail authority's business plan is unlikely to satisfy Kenny's concern. Though it includes upgraded methodology for calculating ridership and revenue projections and remains as optimistic as ever about the rail line's financial viability, it provides only the faintest indication of where the $20 billion would come from.

The agency, which in late January appealed Kenny's ruling, is preparing to use $3.3 billion in committed federal funds and about $7 billion in Proposition 1A funds, of which $4.2 million has already been allocated. This leaves a $21-billion budget hole that the rail authority hopes to fill with private investments that have yet to materialize and proceeds from the state's cap-and-trade program, which are included in Brown's proposed budget but have yet to be approved by the Legislature.

Even if the cap-and-trade proceeds are ultimately allocated for the rail project, the $250 million that Brown proposed to dedicate to high-speed rail would come nowhere near filling the chasm between the how much the project has for the first segment and how much it would need. Yet the new business plan argues that the ongoing commitment of these funds is "important in several key respects, both for enhanced transportation and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions through electrified train service."

The rail authority also expects this new funding source to bring in private investment, a key component of all prior business plans. The new business plan states that the commitment of state funding will "allow the Authority to leverage both public and private financing and, depending on the level of commitment, potentially finance the completion of the IOS."

The 2014 business plan also includes an expanded section on risk and new methodology for calculating risk through a simulation tool called the Monte Carlo risk analysis. The technique used in the 2014 plan, is "fundamentally different from that used in 2012, and represents a much more comprehensive methodology."

The result, however, is pretty much the same. Once again, the business plan argues that the system will be financially viable and "will not require an operating subsidy, consistent with other systems around the world."

The ridership forecast estimates that 10.4 million passengers will ride the rail system in 2025 under the "medium" scenario and that the number will gradually increase over the years, reaching 38.5 million riders in 2060. The business plan notes that the updated numbers how a higher ridership than previously projected, "on average, approximately 25% higher in the Medium scenario."

Projected farebox revenues follow a similarly upward track, gradually rising from $801 million in 2025 to $7.9 billion in 2050. Overall revenues are lower in this plan than in the 2012 version largely because riders are expected to take shorter trips than was previously projected. Even so, the plan predicts that the system would be financially feasible.

In a statement, rail authority CEO Jeff Morales said the new plan maintains the "core elements" of the 2012 version, "a better, faster and cheaper high-speed rail that forms the backbone of a statewide rail modernization program."

"The updated forecasts and analyses continue to show that, as the system develops over time, it will generate financial value through positive net operating cash flow and attract private investment," Morales said.

The plan is still in draft form. Anyone wishing to comment on the document can fill out an online form on the business plan website or email 2014businessplancomments@hsr.ca.gov.

Comments

Posted by Julia, a resident of Alamo
on Feb 18, 2014 at 9:19 am

Wake up folks, it's a waste of your tax money...I could say much more but lets keep it simple..

NO HIGH SPEED RAIL FOR CALIFORNIA...68 billion...please don't make me laugh. Buy the time this project is completed it will cost 100 billion. And if China has anything to do with it...it may even cost more due cheap shoty equipment.

Thans for listening, Julia Pardini from Alamo


Posted by Tom, a resident of Alamo
on Feb 18, 2014 at 11:47 am

68 billion for a train to nowhere, competing with airlines that already do it faster for less money. Who exactly is going to ride this high-speed (except when it has to slow down for cal-train on the tracks, and neighborhood noise ordinances, and cross traffic, etc) train in any volume? There is no way we are ever going to pay for this boondoggle from ridership. It is going to be yet another bloated agency dragging down California's budget for centuries.


Posted by Xin Han, a resident of Blackhawk
on Feb 18, 2014 at 2:03 pm

Why are Alamo posters so dense!

Name one developed country that does not have a network of high speed mass ground transportation? NONE.
We need such an option .. of course the cost and how to pay for it are valid concerns but don't tell me the idea itself is BS.

Alamo fools, I feel sorry for you.


Posted by PSMacintosh, a resident of Danville
on Feb 18, 2014 at 2:10 pm

This is "Build it and they will come" religious belief and absolute economic foolhardiness.

If I can swallow the price of a ticket (as an "entertainment" expense), I'll ride The Fool's Train one time, just to say I have........and to laugh.
Otherwise, I don't ever see myself using it.

This is a false Business Plan. There's no demand here.

PS-
Make it an Express Ferry Train (drive your car on) and I would use it to go down Highway 5.
But is it that essential and high of a priority, over other needs?


Posted by Douglas, a resident of Blackhawk
on Feb 18, 2014 at 10:24 pm

@ Xin Han

Actually there are quite a few, so maybe you should do some research before you post a uneducated statement!!


Posted by Peter Kluget, a resident of Danville
on Feb 19, 2014 at 1:07 am

There was no perceived need for BART before it was built, either. Same goes for the Bay Bridge, interstate highways, etc. The inability of old farts to see a need for something that they didn't use in their heyday is hardly news.

PSM, of course **you'll** never use it. They aren't building it for you, they're building it for your children and grandchildren. But of course, you're convinced that the next generation will be relying on horse and buggie... er, Buicks for all their transportation needs, just like you've always done.

Stingy old rich people never see a use for public infrastructure which may have to be paid for out of their tax dollars (you know, the ones they sit in the dark counting, over and over...) and benefit <sniff> ***other people*** sometime in the future.

Of course Julia, Tom and PSM are agin' it. What's in it for ***them?*** That's the only thing on their minds.


Posted by PSMacintosh, a resident of Danville
on Feb 19, 2014 at 11:36 am

A. Peter says: "There was no perceived need for BART before it was built, either. Same goes for the Bay Bridge, interstate highways, etc. "

Really? I don't believe that statement is true.
Instead, I think there was high perceived need for those infrastructure systems and reasonable conceptualization for how they would benefit local citizens and solve vital, primary problems that they were facing at a realistic cost.

B. Stop making wild personal assumptions about me. You don't know me and your assumptions are mostly wrong.
I, like many who are concerned and against this project, are primarily concerned about what detriment it will do to the future of children and grandchildren.

C. I hold our Californian (and American) infrastructure systems in very high esteem. I recognize and value the high sacrificial price that American predecessors paid for those infrastructures (in terms of time, money, taxes, effort, lost opportunities elsewhere, and sometimes lives).
Infrastructure systems (clean water lines, sewers, electric lines, highways, medical programs, welfare assistance, school district facilities, higher education, etc.) that are now being GIVEN AWAY for virtually nothing (in a grand lottery fashion) to swarms of invading immigrants whose ancestors paid none of the cost for them and, often, they now are receiving these systems with discounted or free cost to themselves.


Posted by C. R. Mudgeon, a resident of Danville
on Feb 19, 2014 at 11:43 am

Peter,

I'm sure that PSM doesn't need anyone to speak for him, but I think I'm on safe ground in believing that he wasn't preferring "horse and buggy", nor even a Buick, to high-speed rail. Sure, driving down I-5 will always be an option. But they've also got these new-fangled things called "jets"...

As an aside, I thought I'd also point out that Buicks are fairly popular with "urban youth", as long as they have a nice set of rims. At this point, maybe even more so than with "old people"....

The skepticism over the high-speed rail "plan" (such as it is), isn't really about "lack of vision", and I don't see parallels with prior opinions regarding BART, the Bay Bridge (at least the original construction), nor interstate highways.

There might be a parallel with the new east span of the Bay Bridge, though, in terms of 1) how it took so long to become reality, 2) how the cost was between 3 and 4 times what was originally forecast, and 3) how there are still doubts about the quality of the work. Similar concerns apply to the high-speed rail system, coupled with real concerns about the viability of the fare structure, ridership estimates, etc.

I am guessing from your post that you're fairly young, or at least not "an old fart". Your post says that old people are being stingy, in denying younger people the benefits of high-speed rail. But in reality, it will be younger people that pay for the system, in the form of decaders-long bond repayments, on top of the ridiculous amounts of debt that CA already has, and the even greater debt load that CA will have. The belief that we don't have the money for high-speed rail is not a case of old people being stingy. It's about not wanting to leave younger Californians (and their children) buried under an even bigger mountain of debt....

My other side comment is that I've ridden on two high-speed rail systems - the TGV train in France (that also extends into Belgium and the Netherlands), and the high-speed train in Taiwan. I would say that in both cases the conditions and environment were more conducive to high-speed rail, compared to CA. In part, because inter-city travel by rail is/was already a more prevalent means of travel, and the high-speed trains linked well into the larger inter-city rail system (including shared stations, for the most part). For a variety of reasons, I see rail travel in the US being primarily within a given Metro area. Frankly, the money that will be spent on hish-speed rail could be better spent on things like BART extensions, and similar extensions/expansions of Metro-area rail systems around the state. It may also be the case that technology advances in cars will provide significant improvements for travel between northern and southern CA, including such things as "car trains" where multiple cars essentially "link up" as virtual trains on the road, and then de-couple whenever or wherever they want. I actually think that this concept will be realized well before the high-speed rail system is actually completed....


Posted by Xin Han, a resident of Blackhawk
on Feb 19, 2014 at 11:45 am

@Douglas I have done my research. If you know of any developed countries that don't have high speed mass transit option please share.


Posted by PSMacintosh, a resident of Danville
on Feb 19, 2014 at 1:33 pm

This new 2014 Draft Budget is fallacious hogwash.
It's just a wild guesses, dressed up in sudo-economic computations.

It is all a "model" that is essentially trying to guess how many people will take trips on the train and what price they will pay, but largely without really actually asking people as to what they intend to do.

Oh, it purports to start with some survey of people--the general data from a 2000-2001 California Traffic Survey, along some later updates of assumptions based on the 2010 Traffic Survey, which survey material (questions, number of participants, assumptions, data, results) is not actually made available within the report.
But then it extrapolates results from the survey data and tries to make compensatory adjustments to the results to make it look like "experts" have accounted for all current variables.

It is mountains of assumptions piled on top of assumptions.
It is models on top of models trying to predict things and make adjustments to previous model results.

It is spreadsheet jugglings from paid consultants who have been naturally careful to shield themselves from any liability for mistaken or incorrect conclusions and who will be paid (by the taxpayer) and long gone before the truth is ever determined.

It tries to figure out what the future costs (primarily GASOLINE cost) of driving and flying will be and whether people are going to be willing to pay $XX/person to get to Bakersfield.
(At one point, it appears to suggest the ticket cost of $86 for trips from SF to Bakersfield and then to hold that same $86 price for all the way to Anaheim.)

In its car fuel cost projections, it doesn't really seem to account for the new influx of hybrid cars (other than their generally increased gasoline efficiency). So "all electric" cars and other such innovations are largely not mentioned.
Oh, they have "enough language" in this report to claim that they have accounted for and adjusted for "anything and everything," but the entire report is really just speculative guessing from start to finish.

One of the "decisions" that the report makes is that a "Long Distance trip" is any trip over 50 miles.
Thereby, at one point they predict that people (all people in their predicted future population) will make 7.56 Long Distance trips per year. Somehow they then get from that figure to determining how many people will take the train per year (although where is that exact number?) based on some prediction model that can range from being 15%-95% off. (that's "off" from their prediction, not "off" of the truth--which, of course, is completely unknown).

IT'S ALL JUST GUESSES BASED ON GUESSES with a lot of computer-generated models hoping to look like scientific proof of fact.

Most people will NEVER READ this report, probably not even the politicians.
Futhermore, it doesn't prove anything. It just presents a wide range of guesses that a politician can choose from to use to try to support their prediction of financial outcome.
IT IS NOT A DIRECT AND CURRENT MARKETING SURVEY--it has no validity in determining the market for ticket price or ticket purchases.


The bottom-line is that what this Budget and the HSR project are, is a HUGE GAMBLE!
And that gamble is done, not by private enterprise with their own or venture money, but by the taxpayer, under force from the Government, with the taxpayer's money.

If the GAMBLE doesn't work out as projected, then the taxpayer will have to stand behind the problems and cough up more money to make the system work.
There is only the TAXPAYER standing behind the validity of these Budget predictions and guess-timations.

If $86/person is perceived by people as too much money for the train, as opposed to their other alternatives, like driving (which you can bet that certain political groups will artificially try to make more expensive and inconvenient), then the ticket price will have to be dropped and THE TAXPAYER WILL HAVE TO SUBSIDIZE THE SYSTEM EVEN MORE (or let the system sit rotting and bankrupt)!
If $86/person is perceived as a great price and people flood to use the train, will the trains expense be such that the train system still nets a profit. If not, guess who will pay for the mistaken prediction?

YOU are the Taxpayer.
You voted for this. You (and your children and grandchildren) will be paying for it!
IMO, there will not be enough tax money (unless you are OK with 90% taxation) for many other vital needs that your government will need to attend to.

So the question is NOT whether this train idea is a nice/good idea, but whether it is such a high priority need/problem that it is worth the taxpayer spending $70 BILLION dollars on and not spending that money elsewhere (or perhaps having lower taxes and better livelihood that way).
If this is such a good idea, why hasn't the Train Company done it!?!
And why are we going into competition against the Airline Companies? Do we hope to bankrupt them and then have to subsidize them?


Posted by Peter Kluget, FKA Huh?, a resident of Danville
on Feb 19, 2014 at 5:24 pm

Although I only skimmed it, in general I agree with the central thesis of PSM's screed: it's all guesswork. We can't be sure about the future. BART was sold with very similar "projections" which received the exact same reception as you have to these. Most of those projections turned out to be wrong. Guess what? Bart: still a good idea.

And that's true of whether we act on this or not. But I think it's a reasonable bet to say that the future will be somewhat different than today, particularly when it comes to energy.

Personally, I think jets and cars are a dead end, just as horse-drawn carriages were, in terms of practical transportation. (Jets may be "new-fangled" to you; I see them as just the most recent evolution of a mature technology.) A tech-savvy friend of mine once pointed out that the primary distinction in energy sources was whether they were "static" or "mobile." Mobile sources include petroleum distillates, potentially hydrogen, and to a very limited extent, batteries. Those are the things you need to take with you to go places when you're "untethered." Unfortunately, they're all limited resources, ecologically hazardous, and, in the case of hydrogen, inefficient, as means of harvesting it use more energy than the amount of hydrogen will release.

High speed trains are powered by static sources which feed the electric grid. That means the power can come from anywhere - hydroelectric, nuclear, wind, solar, biomass or fossil fuels.

Energy will be the money of the future. Wasting energy is wasting money. High speed rail is the most energy-efficient way to transport people over a 300-500 mile distance now and in the forseeable future. That is a fact of simple, unavoidable physics.

You folks want to gamble on not doing anything. I thinks that's foolhardy, and will shackle our children to a wasteful and needlessly expensive future. The basic physics of moving people from point A to point B are known, and the variable costs of doing it different ways are both known and realistically predictable. The time to build infrastructure is not after you've already wasted a ton of time and money, but before the crisis hits.

CRM, I'm a sexagenarian who rode a TGV over 30 years ago. None of this will affect me directly to any great extent. But I can't help being amused at my peers who think that the world will continue to revolve around the whims and desires of the Boomers, like we've been accustomed to since the 1960's, and our generations inability to see beyond our own parochial interests.



Posted by Mike M, a resident of Danville
on Feb 20, 2014 at 8:42 am

Peter K needs to wake up. The train is a waste of money unless they plan to use it to ship water around the state. They should apply the dollars to an improved water network for the state and take care of the people and the farms.

Think about how much your food is going to cost without water for the crops.


Posted by PSMacintosh, a resident of Danville
on Feb 20, 2014 at 9:08 am

Mike M,

You sparked an interesting idea. Why not have a Ferry Barge transportation system that uses the water aqueduct system to travel North-South in CA?
A nice symbiosis of needs and billion dollar projects.

Unfortunately I can think of many problems.
Too slow.
Maybe would allow terrorist acts to the water supply from the closer access to the water? (Is that really an issue?)


Posted by Peter Kluget, a resident of Danville
on Feb 20, 2014 at 9:41 am

Mike, your post demonstrates a remarkable* depth of thought. Indeed: why should we do anything at all about problem A when we also have problem B?

Water was, is and will continue to be an issue in California for the foreseeable future. But every "solution" to that problem breeds additional unintended consequences which are different problems. Ship water south? Fine - but you harm the delta (including farms there) and the health of SF Bay. Prioritize farms over fish? Tell that to the fishermen. (At times the San Joaquin river simply ceases to exist between Fresno and Mendota because the agricultural demands have sucked it dry.) Homeowners over agriculture? Listen to the agribusiness interests wail. The problem is, there's more demand for water than there is water - even in good years. Add in a drought, and <poof> everyone's a victim, everyone wants priority.

So why not just create more fresh water by desalinizing seawater? Fine, but you have to burn a lot of energy to do that and energy is a finite resource which we're already wasting a ton of - flying jets from SF to LA every day - remember?

So to come full circle, if you want to solve the water problem instead of just pushing it around the board so those with the most political clout can steal it from those without - build a high speed train. Use the energy saved by not moving people in jets to power desalinization plants. Then you actually will have more water than before, not just better ways to fight over the scraps.

*remarkable, that is, by its absence.


Posted by PSMacintosh, a resident of Danville
on Feb 20, 2014 at 9:47 am

The fact that BART turned out OK (solved a vital need and became financially viable) even though it originally used poor Business Plan documents (budgets, projections), according to your argument, doesn't excuse the use of poor Business Plan documents (and the poor logic therein). It won't necessarily end up OK with the Train.

One of the primary purposes of a good Business Plan is to undercover an ideas weaknesses and show solutions....or not.

This Budget Plan shows me that this HSR Train idea is not well-thought through, has serious weaknesses, and is not based at all on good marketing research of the real need, issues, and costs involved.
If there ends up being little use of this train, this one project could bankrupt the State. God help us all!


Posted by PSMacintosh, a resident of Danville
on Feb 20, 2014 at 10:05 am

I agree that "trains" are an efficient transportation method.

I love the idea of a train, but hate this HSR Train idea because it doesn't really help anything for the price and detracts from real solutions to real problems.

I would support a Ferry Train (an express train that loads cars and freight trucks), with multi-purpose tracks (can be used by other regular trains), with destination points that actually hit more primary city centers (goes through and into LA, instead around the back desert through Palmdale), and hooks up with other transportation hubs more directly (airports, etc.). The Ferry Train would also have passenger cars. It would stop at stations every 75-100 miles.

Imagine being able to get most of the Freight Trucks that travel Hwy 5 off of the road for the bulk of their trip.
Imagine being able to take your car, luggage, and vacation toys to and around Southern Cal and for 50-80% of the drive time, just be all to "ride on top of the rails"--not having to watch the road or use up gasoline.

Now that's an idea worth having!

The HSR Train is virtually useless in comparison. Maybe it's faster for pure passengers, but an extra hour of reading a book or looking out the window or playing a game or talking or watching TV is no big deal!


Posted by Peter Kluget, a resident of Danville
on Feb 20, 2014 at 12:25 pm

PSM, you've made it clear before that your dream is to transport your car with you to Southern California, which I would find to be cool as well. But as much as I personally love your concept, I'm afraid it's an artifact of the 20th century (much as I, and I suspect you as well are.) The same flaw exists with your opinion regarding the "business plan." We're not talking about conditions next year or in 2020; we're talking about an infrastructure that will hit its peak well into the 30's, 40's and 50's. Projecting a business plan out that far is just silly - the variables are too many and the deviation from the expected values get too great for any sort of reliable "planning."

That's why I look instead to basic and immutable realities: distance, time and energy efficiency. I could be wrong about what people do. People may simply stop traveling those distances in great numbers. Maybe everyone will just tele-conference and tele-commute from their bedrooms 24/7. Heck: maybe they'll teleport. But barring that sort of major social and scientific revolution what I see actually happening is a continued evolution of recent trends: more and more people living in and near urban areas with increasingly comprehensive local public transportation options, more and more reliance on public transportation, walking, biking, and everything else but our beloved, but expensive and inefficient cars. Cars are cool. But they are soooo 20th Century. Devoting valuable real estate to parking spots? Fuhgeddaboudit.

But I still see people still going places. And I see the cost of energy (all costs, not just the obvious ones) getting higher and higher. To me, those basic trends militate in favor of investing now in infrastructure which will facilitate travel between California's population centers in a reasonable amount of time at the lowest energy cost over the next several decades. I think it will pay off, just as BART paid off, and for the same reason: it's an answer to the demands of the future, not just the present.


Posted by Casey Jones, a resident of another community
on Feb 20, 2014 at 2:16 pm

I will see your pokey, max'd out, land-gobblin', only-travel-in-a-straight-line choo-choo-sans-vitesse (CCSV), and raise you a mach-2 jetliner. Web Link And then I'll wave to you briefly as we rocket past. If I waved any longer, we'd be in LA before I finished.

The reason local trains work is network effects -- the first line is worth just a little, the next a bit more, and so on 'til you get the NY subway, or BART, even. BART's weakness is its almost total emphasis on into the City in the morning, and back out at the end of the day. It would be much more valuable if it had a broader purpose, a la NYC. This locomotif-elephant-blanc (LEB) you favor has only one, uneconomic line, south-to-north -- it shares the BART weakness -- with no network effects. Big mistake.


Posted by fed-up taxpayer, a resident of Danville
on Feb 21, 2014 at 12:45 pm

More lies from the "High Speed" Rail authority, Jerry Brown, and the special interests that will profit from the "HS"R: this time the subject is whether the ballot-measure requirement that before the bonds are sold the HSR authority must demonstrate using the laws of physics that the HSR trip from SF to LA will take fewer than 2 1/2 hours. Apparently the HSR flacks are trying the convince the judge that the laws of physics don't apply when special interests need to prevail:

By JULIET WILLIAMS

(AP:SACRAMENTO, Calif.) SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Attorneys representing Central Valley landowners asked a Sacramento County Superior Court judge Friday to hear arguments about whether California's high-speed trains would be able to travel as fast as voters were promised when they approved financing for the project.

Judge Michael Kenny heard arguments related to the legality of their challenge.

Attorneys arguing on behalf of the California High-Speed Rail Authority said the group of Kings County landowners and farmers cannot sue over plans that haven't been enacted and that the Legislature gave the rail authority discretion over business decisions.

They also noted that Kenny's previous ruling on another part of the case, in which he said the rail authority failed to comply with promises to voters about funding the project and threw out a financing plan, made the points raised Friday moot until a new plan is presented.

The administration of Gov. Jerry Brown, who supports the project, has appealed that ruling and is waiting to hear whether a court will take it up.

"The agency is not threatening to violate the court's order or spend bond proceeds," said Sharon O'Grady, a deputy attorney general who is representing the rail authority in court. "All of the relief to which they're entitled has already been ordered or denied."

The landowners argue that the compromises made to bring the price tag for the package down to $68 billion — namely, using a "blended approach" in which the high-speed trains would share tracks with other rail lines in urban areas — will make it impossible for high-speed rail to comply with the travel times promised to voters in 2008.

Proposition 1A, which authorized $10 billion in bonds for high-speed rail and related projects, said passenger travel times between San Francisco and Los Angeles should not exceed 2 hours and 40 minutes, or 30 minutes between San Francisco and San Jose.

Attorney Stuart Flashman, who represents the landowners, said those times are impossible unless the high-speed trains traveled at 220 mph through urban areas, which would be unsafe.

"People would scream if you tried to go through those urban areas at 220 mph," Flashman said outside court. "Nowhere in the world do they go through urban areas at 220 mph."

Lisa Marie Alley, a spokeswoman for the rail authority, said the agency does not plan to run trains at high speeds in urban centers and that the agency is "committed to building a high-speed rail system that will meet the requirements of Prop. 1A."





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Posted by not crazy, a resident of Blackhawk
on Feb 21, 2014 at 7:31 pm

The way the government acts is like the movie "gaslight" with Ingrid Bergman. The government says stuff that can't be true, trying to make us believe in the physically impossible. They think if they keep repeating their lies, eventually we will believe them, or stop trying to fight them, at least.


Posted by Peter Kluget, a resident of Danville
on Feb 24, 2014 at 8:06 am

You folks actually don't know what the phrases "the laws of physics" and "physically impossible" mean, do you?


Posted by Casey Jones, a resident of another community
on Feb 24, 2014 at 1:56 pm

I'm pretty sure that it's physically impossible for trains or pigs to fly, and I'm positive that I won't support such trains until they both do.


Posted by PSMacintosh, a resident of Danville
on Feb 24, 2014 at 9:32 pm

In all the "reports" I managed to read there was not one mention of consideration of the risk of EARTHQUAKE created derailment.

Is this a serious concern for HSR...or not?


Posted by C. R. Mudgeon, a resident of Danville
on Feb 26, 2014 at 12:26 pm

Two added comments about the viability of high-speed rail service between northern CA and southern CA.

First, the example of BART is being used to justify (in some sense) the high-speed rail system. However, it needs to be pointed out that BART is far from self-sustaining. Based on info that was publicized during the recent BART union contract negotiations, fare revenue only provides 60-65% of the funds needed for BARTS annual operating budget. The other 35-40% comes from taxpayer subsidy. And the business model for a metro-area rail system is, if anything, better than for inter-city service.

Second, in other cases of high-speed trains around the world, the high-speed train has basically been replacing or augmenting an existing rail service that already had substantial ridership. This makes the "business case" for the high-speed service much more predictable, both in terms of estimating ridership, and esstablishing willingness to pay more for the reduced travel time. However, even though Amtrak ostensibly provides service to LA, it is really only as far as Bakersfield, and then it is bus service down to the LA area. (And the Bay Area stations are basically in the East Bay (e.g. Oakland, Emeryville, etc.) As a result, there isn't really a "regular rail" service between SF and LA that provides a viable comparison. This makes projections of ridership and willingness to pay (for high-speed rail) much more of a crap-shoot.

It should also be pointed out that there is (or has been) essentially zero private investment interest in the high-speed rail proposal, which should tell us something about the business viability of the service. Actually, the high-speed rail proposal for LA to Las Vegas service arguably had a more viable business case, and even that is going nowhere:

Web Link


Posted by Peter Kluget, a resident of Danville
on Feb 26, 2014 at 2:06 pm

The point of the comparison with BART is that every argument that's being made about California High Speed Rail - and more - were made about BART, too. Accusations of financial and voting fraud, bogus projections, engineering problems - they were all there then, too. And they all had some validity as well. Do we subsidize BART? Of course. We subsidize ***every*** means of transport in urban areas, from cars to jets. Even walking - those sidewalks don't maintain themselves, you know. A common investment in public transport benefits ***all*** of us, not just those on the trains. For people who can't use BART (like most folks in Danville, far from the nearest station) having highways that aren't gridlocked because of the thousands using the trains is a benefit indeed. So is living in an area whose economy requires that lots of people be able to move through the region without sitting in cars on the roads. Recouping 60% of the cost out of the farebox sounds about right to me.

So, yeah - BART is guilty as charged. BART's first GM, B.R. Stokes, wasn't an engineer, or a planner, or a financial analyst He was a P.R. guy, a flack, a newspaperman who would have fit right in as the lead in "The Music Man." He sold the system with smoke, mirrors and confetti, and was pushed out before the system ever ran. BART wasn't the product of ledgers and projections and knowing where every rider and every fare dollar would go. It was the product of the realization that as a matter of the physical realities of our region we would choke on gridlock unless we built it - one way or another. BART is the result of the correct anticipation of demand and recognition of the only effective way to meet that demand - and figuring that we'd make the details work as we went along. Undergrounding some sections of track delayed the project and sent the cost through the roof. Lack of station-connecting "last mile" transportation was a fact (and still is, but to a much lesser extent.)

But now that it's been built, can you imagine living in the Bay Area today without it? We are barely able to move people from point A to point B when BART is running. Without it we simply could not have the vibrant economy we enjoy today. The Bay Area would stagnate.

California in the early 21st century looks a lot like the Bay Area of the late 20th century to me. Our means of transporting people between the business and population centers north and south are clumsy and inefficient. Actual air travel between the Bay Area and Los Angeles takes hours more than the nominal flight time - even when flights aren't delayed or canceled, and wastes huge amounts of energy per passenger mile. And it's worse from anywhere in between - Fresno, Merced, Bakersfield, etc.

BART opponents were absolutely right with their opposition to the system, based on the reality of 1960. They were dead wrong about it under the reality of 2010.

HSR is, in my opinion, an exact analog of BART. If you think the world will never change, then HSR doesn't make sense. If you believe that it will never stay the same, then not building it doesn't make sense. Take your pick.


Posted by PSMacintosh, a resident of Danville
on Feb 28, 2014 at 10:46 am

Peter, Huh?, Duh?,

You've made your position perfectly clear. You think the HSR Train is a nice, good idea that some people, no matter how few or how exclusive a commuter club it is, will eventually use and that the train will have some direct and indirect benefits to CA.

It really doesn't matter to you what the cost is and whether there are original cost overruns, or on-going operational cost overruns, or bankruptcy. It doesn't matter if the current projections are based on pure conjecture and filled with illogic. It will all work out in the end somehow (like, according to you, it did for BART).
Even the potential for State bankruptcy or insolvency from such a large financial project is irrelevant to your decision-making.

This Train is a NICE idea and GOVERNMENT should do it! So you want it to happen!
No argument, logic, or fact is going to get in the way of your gut-feeling and desire.

This is a typical "LIBERAL" approach to things (political issues).
There is no "stray dog" that should not be helped.
There is no "good idea" that should not be done.
There is no "sorry case" that should not be assisted by Government.
(These are great Ideals--I like them myself. But Liberals ignore resolving problems about the practical realities of finite amounts of money, time, and priority--there is no criteria for deciding which issues to take care of, and which not to, or which to do first.)

Furthermore, it is always GOVERNMENT who should fix every problem.
MORE GOVERNMENT is the answer to every question.
If there simultaneous, consequential destruction of Individual Freedom, Free/Private Enterprise system, or Capitalism, then so be it.

Peter, you are a true Liberal and state the positions well. We get it!
However, if you really LIVED the talk, then you would be financially BROKE and in debt from fixing all the needy cases in your neighborhood. Yet you are not broke, are you!
(Can you imagine if we all ran our finances like the government is doing? Running in the red, year after year after year. Paying interest upon interest. Printing money to cover it.)
So, in your own life, you must have SOME CRITERIA for restraint, for not supporting a good cause--some reasons for not doing the things that would otherwise be considered nice and good.

What are your criteria for NOT doing a project?
(That may be too personal a question to ask on a public site such as this. If so, consider it rhetorical.)


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