August 27, 2009

Remember That Figurative Freight Train (And Potential HSR Delay)?

"A Sacramento County Superior Court judge said Wednesday that portions of an environmental review of high-speed rail service will have to be rewritten, which might lead to delays in the project and loss of billions of dollars in state and federal funds.

Judge Michael P. Kenny ruled that the California High-Speed Rail Authority had failed to address concerns by Union Pacific Railroad about sharing its right-of-way in a stretch of the system further south, between San Jose and Gilroy, in its environmental review.

The ruling grew out of a lawsuit filed by the cities of Menlo Park and Atherton that challenged the adequacy of an environmental impact report conducted by the rail authority. Officials are meeting regularly with Union Pacific representatives to iron out any concerns they have about right-of-way issues between San Jose and Gilroy."

Judge's order may delay high-speed rail [Business Journal]
California's High-Speed Rail Hits Its First Figurative Freight Train [SocketSite]
Peninsula Residents Aim To Slow Down High-Speed Development [SocketSite]

First Published: August 27, 2009 12:45 PM

Comments from "Plugged In" Readers

Great news.

This will give impetus to a re-look at the alternative Altamont route. And to terminating the line in downtown Oakland rather than SF.

Downtown Oakland is far more central to the Bay Area and by all logic should be the terminus.

I don't think the Peninsula cities and residents will let this go. Fingers crossed that the Peninsula route will be dropped in favor of the alternative.

Posted by: Gil at August 27, 2009 1:18 PM

We might get high speed rail somewhere in the state, but there is no way that we will ever see trains blasting through Burlingame, Atherton and Palo Alto in my lifetime...

Posted by: FormerAptBroker at August 27, 2009 2:24 PM

Um, DT oakland? Spending a lot of time in oaksterdam are we?
Gimme a break. This isnt even on O-towns radar.
This train will stop in DT SF. It was designed from day one to do so. Anyone who thinks otherwise is severely delusional.
Where is the terminus supposed to be in Oakland?
Maybe Ron Dellums could rehire Deborah Edgerly to help plan it all out and she could have her kids dig some of the tunnels.
This is the funniest thing ive heard all day!

Posted by: Joe at August 27, 2009 2:42 PM

Sorry Gil, but had a good chuckle at Downtown Oakland being the center of the Bay Area. In geography only, my friend.

Posted by: anonyman at August 27, 2009 2:45 PM

The only question is how the right of way will be shared with freight, and that is more of an engineering problem than anything else. Peninsula towns have no real authority over the right of way.

Posted by: Mole Man at August 27, 2009 3:05 PM

What kind of Idiots are running our State ?

Posted by: Chad at August 27, 2009 3:13 PM

What if HSR was being developed by deep-pocketed private sector entities? How might this be approached differently?

For example, say -- instead of developing a new airline out of SF -- Richard Branson decided to build HSR. He obviously would go from LA to SF (not Oakland -- ha,ha). The route would likely avoid most of the central valley cities included now, to focus on the most efficient link between major metropolitan hubs (ie. outlying farmland instead of buying city right-of-way). And how about Menlo Park / Atherton? Perhaps he would purchase a permanent easement around the back side of Stanford and avoid the two cities all together?

Posted by: Average Joe at August 27, 2009 3:18 PM

I think Union City is more "central to the bay area" and therefore is the obvious choice. I say chuck the 10 years of planning and design, save billions on the new Transbay Terminal by just leaving it a Greyhound hub and homeless urinal, and get everyone to start digging with spoons building the "Grand Central Station of the West" in Union City!

...

Hey, look at me! I'm on the Internet!

Posted by: Kurt Brown at August 27, 2009 3:20 PM

how do you spell boondoggle again?

Posted by: ex SF-er at August 27, 2009 3:26 PM

@Average Joe He obviously would go from LA to SF (not Oakland -- ha,ha).

Maybe there was a strategic decision in there too ;)

Because wouldn't the Oakland Criminals, Thugs and Gangbangers have a new >i>fast, convenient, efficient transport

(and hence access) to the L.A. Gangs via Air ?

ROFL.

Posted by: Chad at August 27, 2009 3:39 PM

Actually, if you read the court ruling you will see the court mainly ruled in favor of CHSRA. There were about 16 issues raised by the plaintiff. The court rejected 12, and upheld 4. Of the four:

one was that the EIR had some contradiction about vibration issues. Not that the findings were wrong, just some inconsistencies.

One was that the EIR needed to be recirculated after Union Pacific said it wouldn't sell to CHSRA.

One was that once the EIR should have included potential eminent domain issues once UP said they wouldn't sell.

The last was that the EIR needed more detail for the portion between Gilroy and San Jose.

On the other hand, the court validated that 101 & 280 are not viable alternatives, that Dumbarton Rail Bridge is not a viable alternative, That Altamont was studied thoroughly enough, and that Pacheco was chosen over Altamont in an unbiased means.

In summary the court ruled that Pacheco was chosen wisely and that there were some details not properly filled out in the report.

In my opinion this will result in minor to no delays in the project overall, with little to no additional costs.

More detailed information/ discussion can be found at:

http://caltrain-hsr.blogspot.com/2009/08/atherton-et-al-lawsuit-decided.html

and

http://cahsr.blogspot.com/2009/08/initial-ruling-in-atherton-v-chsra.html

Posted by: lyqwyd at August 27, 2009 4:09 PM

The NIMBY's mostly lost on this one. The Altamont route was ruled out (again) by the judge.

The HSR will save California billions by transporting people via rail rather than the much more expensive option of having to build out airports and freeways.

Palo Alto and Burlingame already have a train that blasts through them 90 times a day, it is called Caltrain. It is unlikely another 50 or so trips are going to kill them. They might be able to get the train buried though, I wouldn't count that one out just yet.

Posted by: NoeValleyJim at August 27, 2009 4:42 PM

NoeValleyJim wrote:

> They might be able to get the train buried
> though, I wouldn't count that one out just yet.

Remember just a handful of tree hugging pot smoking hippies on the coast have been able to stop Hwy 380 for the past 30 years and after almost 50 years of trying to stop the Hwy. 1 Devil's Slide bypass they were able to force it underground (putting HSR underground on the Peninsula will make Boston's Big Dig look like a small inexpensive project)...

Posted by: FormerAptBroker at August 27, 2009 4:55 PM

Chad, you are a jerk. How does a message about HSR turn into a silly Oakland bashing session?

Posted by: PRE at August 27, 2009 5:11 PM

High Speed Rail in France wasn't achieved by asking each and every individual what they were thinking. There were discussions, but most of these were about who would pay, and much less about Nimbyism.

Almost everyone is for the TGV and there is a common interest understood by all.

My sister lives 5 miles away from a brand new TGV station. She sees the line pretty far away and can hear the train every now and then. But she's 1h from Paris instead of 4 hours before. Most people 30 miles around have been positively affected by the new line. More "country-born parisians" come back to the villages and spend money there, people are asking for better infrastructure, communications due to the new inflow of people and getting them. Business trips can be done 9 to 6 with actual work in between. It's a boon for student too. So much time saved.

It got done and France is a better country for it. Furthermore the number of slow moving cars taken off the road is overwhelmingly beneficial to both the economy and the environment.

Posted by: San FronziScheme at August 27, 2009 5:27 PM

@lyqwyd

Yay! Facts!

Thanks for taking the time to provide them.

WIN!

Posted by: Kurt Brown at August 27, 2009 5:33 PM

SFS, Did you just compare Ess Eff to Paris (or was that LA)? Just kidding, we're all world class here!

Posted by: EBGuy at August 27, 2009 5:57 PM

I don't know all the details, but back in the 60s, Berkeley successfully convinced BART to underground their tracks there. It is mostly above ground in East Bay except for Downtown Oakland and in Berkeley. I would not be surprised if Palo Alto works out a similar deal with HSR.

Posted by: NoeValleyJim at August 27, 2009 6:00 PM

San FronziScheme I'm all for HSR rail in California having experienced it through the Chunnel, Rome to Florence and in Amsterdam - all I'm saying is make it Altamont over Pacheco.

Posted by: PRE at August 27, 2009 6:02 PM

"The HSR will save California billions by transporting people via rail rather than the much more expensive option of having to build out airports and freeways."

Spend billions to save "billions?" And the rider projections are dubious at best. Porky porky.

Posted by: Usually Named at August 27, 2009 7:56 PM

Berkeley paid for BART to be underground, I think everybody will be perfectly happy if Palo Alto does the same.

As for HSR, according to streetsblog CHSRA has the same opinion as I do:

http://sf.streetsblog.org/2009/08/27/high-speed-rail-authority-says-ruling-wont-affect-timeline-or-funding/

Posted by: lyqwyd at August 27, 2009 8:16 PM

Usually named, how much do you think it would cost to build to support California's growth by expanding the highway and airport systems?

HSR is probably the least pork major project in the US, certainly in transit.

Posted by: lyqwyd at August 28, 2009 7:47 AM

What growth? People are leaving California everyday right now. Population projections in the near future are to be flat or declining.

Not everyone can hang out and spend daddy's (or mommy's) money in cafes in the MIssion and noodle on Macbook Pros all day. Some of us actually have to work for a living. With jobs leaving (the latest hit being the NUMMI closure), I don't see CA recovering anytime soon.

Posted by: Usually Named at August 28, 2009 11:05 AM

"What growth? People are leaving California everyday right now. Population projections in the near future are to be flat or declining."

I agree. Job growth figures for the next 10 years that I've seen list the top 10 metro areas for new jobs and aside from Seattle, no California city is on the list.

Bio-tech may not be as big here going forward. With the Roach takeover folks at Genentech I know are worried about significant job transfers out of the Bay Area in the future.

Berkeley and Oakland are scrambling to create a special enterprise zone to try to keep a large bio-tech in Berkeley from leaving for another state. That from an article in a recent SF Business Times.

The legal firm industry specializing in finance was huge in SF but is now devastated and may never come back. Thousands and thousands of lost well paying jobs there.

Bay Area is projected to drop in SMSA ranking over the next decade as cities like Houston and Dallas surge past the Bay Area in population and jobs.

The state does not have the money for this and, as the job centers in the bay Area and LA decline there is less need for it.

Posted by: Gil at August 28, 2009 11:29 AM

Yes, lets plan infrastructure projects that are expected to serve us for many decades based on a short term blip in demographics. It fits right into our governmental MO of only planning ahead far enough for reelection.

Surely this 2 year population trend will continue and California will be completely empty by 2080.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at August 28, 2009 12:47 PM

Unless CA gets it's collective head out of its ass with regards to governmental bloat and anti-business climate, I'd say, yes, CA will be empty by 2080.

Posted by: Usually Named at August 28, 2009 1:03 PM

"Unless CA gets it's collective head out of its ass with regards to governmental bloat and anti-business climate, I'd say, yes, CA will be empty by 2080."

Hey Usually Named! Maybe you could get the trend started.... Texas is waiting!... You will have to drive though.

Posted by: really at August 28, 2009 1:17 PM

True colors eh Gil?
First Oakland is the clear choice for the HSR terminus by all logic
Then the state shouldnt build it at all because we're losing so much population that the whole project is irrelevant.

Posted by: Joe at August 28, 2009 1:38 PM

Yes, lets plan infrastructure projects that are expected to serve us for many decades based on a short term blip in demographics.

Building an enormous TGV-speed BART tube to Hawaii would also be funding infrastructure, right? I'm sure many people would use it, with appropriate subsidies and sufficient on-board snack options.

However, commuting pressures both here and in LA are much greater than the "need" of some businessmen or day tourist to have their LA/SF excursions subsidized. This is primarily an ego-boosting exercise, and we would be better off it that money was spent on improving and expanding local transit service across the state. Once these serious problems and bottlenecks are addressed, we can go on to build a transit utopia with monorails zooming across the desert.

Posted by: Robert at August 28, 2009 1:52 PM

@really Well, then you won't be able to sponge off the taxes I pay here, eh?

Posted by: Usually Named at August 28, 2009 2:31 PM

So much California doom & gloom here! Time to pack up, move to Hilo, and go on welfare.

Posted by: priced_out_with_envy at August 28, 2009 2:37 PM

Robert - How do you figure that I support funding infrastructure just for the sake of funding infrastructure ? Anyone over the age of twelve can see that an underwater tube to Hawaii would be pure folly.

HSR makes economic and environmental sense. It isn't exotic "monorail in the desert" technology. It is over a half century old technology. The costs and risks are well known.

Why the scare mongering ? Are you denying that JR, DB, SNCF, Thalys, etc. have been transporting millions of people on high speed rail for decades ? Is there something special about California that prohibits HSR from operating the way it has worked in Japan for over 50 years and France since the 1970s ?

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at August 28, 2009 2:45 PM

I'm not saying it wont work, Milkshake, I'm saying that there are tradeoffs, and you have to justify those trade-offs.

Many things in life would be nice to have, but there is a concept called "cost of capital", which represents the lost opportunity from spending money on something as opposed to other alternatives.

If your cost of capital is zero, then most things have a good return on investment. But in this case, we are cutting local transit budgets and have serious local commute bottlenecks. Hence the cost of capital for subsidizing excursions between SF and LA should be greater than the benefits that we would get if an equivalent amount was spent on local transit options.

I repeat -- do you really think HSR will give a bigger bang for the buck? If so, what is your rationale? Saying "Japan has it" is not much of a rationale.

Posted by: Robert at August 28, 2009 3:08 PM

Hey, why did we build those big expensive bridges when we had all those perfectly good ferries? If we had just given the ferries another coat of paint and a tune-up just look at at that money we could have saved.

Posted by: OneEyedMan at August 28, 2009 3:09 PM

"HSR makes economic and environmental sense"

The latter may be true, but the former may not be. The projections I've seen are 39.9 to 54.1 million riders annually in 2030? Really?

What was the projected ridership for that SFO BART extension again and, um, how accurate was that?

Posted by: Usually Named at August 28, 2009 3:10 PM

Posted by: Usually Named at August 28, 2009 3:14 PM

Robert,

Local transit can be affected by long distance travellers and vice-versa. Take SoCal travelers zooming towards SF through the SV on the 101. That's a significant enough traffic and more than often their are slowing down traffic anytime they come close to a major intersection. Think of the 100s of cars NOT going to the airport daily to go to LA.

More lanes doesn't mean better traffic. When living in SoCal I remember the "new lanes effect". You're waiting for years for the extension to be finished, it opens and you have 1 week of free flow until the whole thing saturates again.

Better traffic comes through less avoidable travel. Alternative transportation, telecommuting, more local exchanges. These are ways to alleviate the load on roads and freeways. Plus, less traffic means less stress on the roads and therefore less upkeep costs. Less gas too which is a good thing any way you look at it.


More about the benefits of HSR:


HSR is a natural evolution in society, just like High Speed Internet and palatable espresso drinks - the happy Frenchman in me speaks there ;). It's not a fad. My nephew crossed France last month for his summer camp (fishing on the Atlantic). 3 hours for the 450 miles trip including a slingshot around Paris! 4 hours door-to-door. You can't beat that. This opens brand new prospectives that we cannot see today for work, play, family gathering, being closer to far-away friends.

Yesterday I was talking about how the HSR was changing lives of local communities. There are many benefits to that. A major one is that the youths are not automatically migrating to the big city like before. Many went to Paris as they were bored of their small isolated villages. New lives, better jobs, more access to a world culture. All of this is happening fast and we need to embrace it. We cannot have a mid-20th century transportation system in a 21st century society.

Posted by: San FronziScheme at August 28, 2009 3:16 PM

"We cannot have a mid-20th century transportation system in a 21st century society."

You're right. But going with a 19th century model of transportation is going the wrong direction.

Posted by: Usually Named at August 28, 2009 3:30 PM

Posted by: San FronziScheme at August 28, 2009 3:41 PM

If we had just given the ferries another coat of paint and a tune-up just look at at that money we could have saved.
Yes, it really was a dark time; I'd hate to see what they could do with a modern ferry...
The first run was in October of 1903 and left from University & Shattuck [in Berkeley]. After the train arrived at the pier, passengers got onto a ferry boat and made the quick journey across the bay. The whole journey took 39 minutes.
For reference, BART takes 22 minutes from downtown Berkeley to the Embarcadero.

Posted by: EBGuy at August 28, 2009 5:06 PM

Then cars are Roman era technology, they had wheeled carts back then.

It really doesn't matter what century it's from, I'm concerned if it's inexpensive, effective, efficient, and beneficial to the environment. Rail beats out the car for commuting & 100 mile journey's and the plane for 300-500 mile journeys on all those factors. It's been proven throughout the world over and over again. There's nothing unique about the US that would make it not work here.

Posted by: lyqwyd at August 28, 2009 5:26 PM

"True colors eh Gil?
First Oakland is the clear choice for the HSR terminus by all logic
Then the state shouldnt build it at all because we're losing so much population that the whole project is irrelevant."

I like to call it reality Joe.

SF has and is being eclipsed by the rest of the Bay Area as a population and job center. The glory days are over never to return. SF is a "play city" where nothing serious gets done but folks have a great time making an appearance at the latest "in" and, as always, overpriced restaurant.

SF's woes have spread to the greater Bay Area. In terms of population, jobs, decision making that counts, the Bay Area is fading as one of the major American metro centers.

But take heart, SF is still right up there when it comes to over-priced restaurants.


Posted by: Gil at August 28, 2009 6:32 PM

Luckily, ABAG just came out with revised projections for regional growth:

# San Jose will lead the region's growth and remain the Bay Area's most populous city with 1.4 million people by 2035 and 339,000 new jobs. Its projected growth is more than twice the increase expected for the Bay Area's next largest cities. San Francisco is expected to grow to 969,000.

# The Bay Area — Santa Clara, San Francisco, Alameda, San Mateo, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties — will add 1.7 million people to its 7.4 million residents by 2035.
They will require an additional 635,000 homes.

# Santa Clara County as a whole is forecast to grow by 33 percent, from 1.9 million to 2.4 million residents. Alameda County will grow by 27 percent, San Mateo County by 22 percent and San Francisco 20 percent.

Pretty good for a "declining metropolis".

Posted by: NoeValleyJim at August 28, 2009 7:05 PM

Ah, I see Gil, you are an SF hater...

That's fine Gil, nobody here in SF really cares what you think.

Now, back to HSR. Oakland is a fine town, most of my friends live there, and I spend a lot of time there. Oakland has some serious issues to work out, it's got a long way to go before it would make any sense for it to HSR to contemplate a terminus in Oakland. I hope it gets there, but it's going to be decades.

San Jose has certainly become an economic hotbed, but outside of the tech world and tech VC's nobody really knows about it. It's good they are getting an HSR station, maybe SJ can figure out how to make a real downtown to make it worth going to.

Posted by: lyqwyd at August 28, 2009 10:12 PM

http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/faqs/stimulus.htm

To serve the same number of travelers as the high-speed train system, California would have to build nearly 3,000 lane-miles of freeway plus five airport runways and 90 departure gates by 2020 – costing more than twice the high-speed train system and having much greater environmental impacts.

Posted by: NoeValleyJim at August 28, 2009 11:11 PM

Once these serious problems and bottlenecks are addressed, we can go on to build a transit utopia with monorails zooming across the desert.

I lived in Tokyo for 8 years and I agree with this; I rode CalTrain earlier this summer and compared to Tokyo our system is like something the USPS would put together: semi-competent but with a lot of half-assed rough edges and a stone age, 70s-era vibe to it.

Instead of a top-down "bam! here's your state-wide HSR", it would make more sense to do a Tokyo-quality rail system for Sacto, the BA (down to Gilroy), and LA (up to Bakersfield), then connect Sacto and the BA, then swing this system down to Bakersfield, meeting the LA system there. Super high speed should go through the valley, but even the Shinkansens cruise at 50 or so through the Yokahama-Tokyo corridor to keep the noise down.

Funny thing is I plan on buying in Fresno soon and look forward to my daytrips to the city ;)

Posted by: Troy at August 29, 2009 1:08 AM

maybe SJ can figure out how to make a real downtown to make it worth going to.

if you want to see real downtowns, try Tokyo. I rue the day I left my life there for a stupid dotcom job here in the valley.

Posted by: Troy at August 29, 2009 1:13 AM

Santa Clara County as a whole is forecast to grow by 33 percent, from 1.9 million to 2.4 million residents

And The Fortress will still be SFHs subdivided in the 50s and 60s ;)

Posted by: Troy at August 29, 2009 1:16 AM

SFS,

I'm not saying that HSR has zero value. Pretty much anything has some value. But we just raised muni and bart fares, and will be cutting service as well. So, I want a rationale why the value of HSR is greater than the value of taking that money and using it to improve local transit services in California.

This is exactly why people complain about allocating funds via the referendum process. There are trade-offs, and you need to look at all the needs together and prioritize, rather than just determining if something is good in and of itself.

So again, no one here has even tried to argue that this is a better use of scarce funds that expanding local transit options -- which are being cut -- therefore I take it you all agree with me that this is a poor use of public funds, given all the needs that we have in CA.

Posted by: Robert at August 29, 2009 1:32 AM

EBGuy's link to the site that has videos of what WAS the East Bay "Key" rail transit system is quite interesting. I love the video that shows how you could "set your watch" by the train service. I think we actually had one of the world's great rail transit service networks in the Bay Area, but it was destroyed. Los Angeles, despite all the frequent bashing, at one time had the world's largest public rail transit network. My grandparents claimed that they could travel from Pasadena to Santa Monica faster on the "red car" than they would be able to drive the same distance in the 80's on freeways (when they were still alive).

The video in EBGuy's link called "March of Progress" has archival footage of how numerous trains used the lower deck of the Bay Bridge simultaneously, along with bus traffic and trucks.

http://www.oberail.org/page/key_system/

Posted by: Justin at August 29, 2009 1:59 AM

Robert, one argument that it is a better use is that HSR typically operates without an operating subsidy. Soooo, yes, building it will cost a lot, but then the system pays for itself with potentially money left over for other projects. Local transit will NEVER do that (and shouldn't be expected to).

Posted by: anona at August 29, 2009 2:18 AM

Transit is an interesting thing. The existence of transit opportunities creates a need for them in a self-referential process.

If there were no bay bridges or transbay tube then there would be no need for them, because you wouldn't have a concentrated downtown business district for people to commute to everyday without them.

If traveling between San Francisco and Los Angeles required a 20 day horseback ride as it did back in the days of El Camino Real, you would find that much of the "need" would disappear.

Posted by: diemos at August 29, 2009 8:21 AM

Robert, the HSR bill includes nearly $1 billion for improving adding connecting transit services to HSR, and is now the only state money available for transit after the budget was signed. HSR is actually increasing the money available for transit. If prop 1A had not passed that money would not have been reallocated to other transit projects it would be gone.

Also, Caltrain is going to be hugely improved via electrification and full grade separation along the entire Caltrain route, something they could never find the funds for before.

Posted by: lyqwyd at August 29, 2009 9:58 AM

It is true that BART widely missed the mark on SFO ridership projections, but that is cherry picking the data. There are lots of times when accurate ridership projections have happened too, mostly notably the TGV projections in France.

Overall, ridership projections have tended to be too high by about 25%, so it would not be unreasonable to discount the HSR projections by that. It is unreasonable to find the worst case in recent history and assume that this will be a repeat of that one.

Posted by: NoeValleyJim at August 29, 2009 11:45 AM

@Robert:

"So again, no one here has even tried to argue against X, therefore I take it you all agree"

Robert, just cause you seem to want to engage here, I'll volunteer that the reason I'm not arguing with you is illustrated by your statement above. I can't argue with someone who doesn't share a common view of logic. Your statement is logically equivalent to saying "Because nobody has refuted my point that I am made of pudding, you therefore all agree that I am made of pudding."

Personally, I lost interest when you argued, reductio ad absurdum, that when the cost of capital is zero, most investments make sense.

Well, that's certainly true, but zero cost of capital? That's like the scientist who is tasked with increasing milk production introducing his arguments by staying: "First, assume a spherical cow, ..."

Posted by: Kurt Brown at August 29, 2009 12:20 PM

Re cherry picking statistical data...

Certainly a rich and varied way to pass time on the Innernets. On the BART SFO projections, we should note the statistical spike of 9/11 and the resulting huge drop-off in airline flights, which has still not fully recovered. There are LOTs of air traffic-related predictions that were screwed up by that one. I'll cut BART some slack for that, as most any reasonable statistician would.

One general problem with statistics is that nobody ever agrees (or even states, for that matter), their assumptions for what a reasonable time horizon is. For a public infrastructure investment, whose cost is in the billions, and whose lifetime ranges from 50 to 100 years (water systems, subway systems, HSR systems, etc.), it certainly seems that taking less than the first decade of operations and throwing out "HA! Got Ya!" types of conclusions from that small horizon doesn't seem to offer much to the conversation.

We're investing for 50-100 years in these types of projects. We should keep that time horizon in mind. So far, one person here has -- and he has predicted that the entire state will be empty in 2080. He's picked a... er... rather extreme outcome, but at least he's talking the right time frame.

Posted by: Kurt Brown at August 29, 2009 12:32 PM

Kurt, I was arguing that you can't assume no cost of capital, so I don't understand your post at all. You oppose my comment and then restate the same thing... I am not the clearest person, so I will try to be more clear:

1. States have limited funds (limited revenues and limited borrowing capabilities)

2. From that pool of funds, states spend money on different projects.

3. The "cost" of a project should include the opportunity cost of not doing something else. The cost of HSR includes the cost of fare increases and reduced service in local transit, together with the lost possibility of expanding local transit service.

4. I believe that improving local transit options that reduce congestion and improve service in local cities would be more beneficial to the state than subsidizing travel between SF and LA.

5. Therefore, the opportunity cost of HSR is greater than the benefits of HSR -- therefore this is a wasteful expenditure.

Now, lyqwyd pointed out that some local transit will benefit from HSR funds. That's not an argument that it wouldn't be better to use all those HSR funds for local transit.

Next, anona pointed out that HSR will have lower operating costs. That's irrelevant, because once you decide to spend X, you optimize the capital structure, so maybe it's better to pay more up-front and less later on, or vice versa. For example, you can buy a more expensive bus that costs less to maintain, etc. You can borrow a lot of money and spend a lot on fixed assets and they pay interest payments, or you borrow less and have high operating costs but lower interest payments.

However you make those trade-offs, you are spending X, where X is the net present value of all the payments over the life of the project, and you are receiving some benefit Y. I say Y is better for local transit, regardless of the capital structure of that 40 billion (or whatever it turns out to be).

Finally, lyqwyd is saying that the money for HSR can't be used on local transit. Well, of course -- that's why I classify the expenditure as wasteful -- not of zero value, but something that provides less value than the opportunity costs -- it wastes value.

Usually these problems are related to structural problems in allocating funds, and the referendum process is a great example of that. Voters vote for the sexy stuff without making trade-offs, and this leads to budget crises in which more essential and important services are cut. So lyqwyd is correct in giving a blow-by-blow historical account of how we came to the point of spending money in a sub-optimal way -- but that is not an argument that the use of funds is efficient.

But maybe I am overlooking something. I repeat, no one has managed to argue that having HSR will be better for the state than spending 40 billion on improving local transit. No one has even tried! Like the voters in the referendums, they are not making trade-offs between project A and project B, but merely deciding whether they like project A.

Posted by: Robert at August 29, 2009 3:29 PM

Thanks for the clarification Robert. Your point that "one can't assume zero cost of capital" was lost on me because I didn't see anything that indicated anyone was arguing that, so I didn't know why you went there.

I think everyone assumes that money doesn't grow on trees. I also think the readers (and especially the posters) of SS understand the cost of capital, in both the opportunity cost sense as well as the time value of money.

Let's proceed with those assumptions, even tho you may differ with with them, since the conversation will be more interesting, I think, assuming we're not arguing foundational points.

To your specifics about how HSR has an opportunity cost in that it "takes away" from monies that could be spent on improving local transit, I have a couple issues with that:

1) That is a very theoretical, "economist-like" view that public monies for public capital projects are all sloshing around in a pool, and that giving to one removes from another. A zero-sum game. Clearly that is not the case in a political process. Funding is allocated based on prevailing opinions and the ever-changing political landscape. In the case of HSR, it just so happens that the stimulus bill provided for funding specifically for HSR. The state funding (and referendums) were also specifically for HSR. Practically speaking, this bucket is "new" money for HSR and HSR only. Sure, in theory, if we eliminated that funding, we could, in theory, spend it on anything else we wanted. But that is purely theoretical, and doesn't reflect the way politics works.

2) But that aside, let's play in theory-land for a minute and assume a zero sum funding game. To really argue the point about HSR versus local transit on a true cost/benefit basis (including all the aspects of cost of capital), it would take a HUGE load of data, spreadsheets, and economic projections that would stun an ox. On the SS forums, we can only nibble at tiny bits of that argument. I know it sounds like a cop-out, but lets be realistic. If we at SS indeed had the skills, knowledge, data and the web user interface to actually have a fully informed discussion on the trade-offs between funding various types of public transit, I would bet you the future value of ten 2 bedroom condos in ORH that the conclusion would still be: "experts are divided on the conclusions." Why? Because we need to project what the world is going to be like 50 years from now. Huge public works projects always take an element of faith. If we just went by the numbers (and those numbers will NEVER tell us what the world will be like in 50 years), then the NYC subway system would never have been built, BART wouldn't have been built, etc. etc.

So while I would love to "manage to argue that having HSR will be better for the state than spending 40 billion on improving local transit" -- it's not something that I think is feasible on this medium, as much as it might be nice to think so. And also because, in the end, with mountains of data and analysis in front of both you and me, we'd STILL end up holding our current positions.

So can you see that I'm (and I guess some others) are not all that motivated to start writing the thousand word essays here to persuade you? I'm perfectly happy that that position allows you to say that nobody on the SS forums has proved you wrong. But please don't say that it also means, ipso facto, that you are obviously correct. Because by the same logic I can prove that I am made of pudding.

Posted by: Kurt Brown at August 29, 2009 4:12 PM

But maybe I am overlooking something. I repeat, no one has managed to argue that having HSR will be better for the state than spending 40 billion on improving local transit. No one has even tried! Like the voters in the referendums, they are not making trade-offs between project A and project B, but merely deciding whether they like project A.

Robert, I for one will agree with you 100% that spending $40 billion on local transit rather than on HSR would be better, however that will simply NEVER be a choice. I think that spending $40 billion on HSR rather than $60 billion on more freeway lanes, runways, and airports is a fair trade though.

Saying that we're losing local transit funding to HSR is disingenuous, IMO, because while the two are related, they're not the same. HSR has more to do with long distance travel - of which the state is going to spend billions and billions on in one way or another. I'd rather spend billions on long range travel that has a greater potential to benefit local transit than one that doesn't (short hop air travel especially).

To me, the competing dough for transit is going to local roads and freeways, not expanding I-5 and LAX.

You're right that it's all coming out of one pot, but politics will never allow all of the absolute best spending to be made.

Posted by: anona at August 29, 2009 4:47 PM

Looked at another way, I think that all of this money would be better spent on local transit:

$40 billion HSR (really less than that, since much of the money is coming from other sources, so the full $40 billion wouldn't be ours to spend regardless)

$11 billion San Diego Airport modernization

$6 billion LAX modernization

$6 billion SJ BART (better spent on other local transit)

The list goes on. Of those, the only one that I can see having long term game changing value is HSR - that's why I would support that "misallocation" from local transit more than the other three.

Posted by: anona at August 29, 2009 4:53 PM

I see what you are saying Kurt, but I really think that my point is not some abstract theoretical concept. First, only a small fraction of HSR will be kicked in by the Feds -- almost all of it will be funded by CA taxpayers.

Remember, bonds don't fund anything, they finance it. The debt service burden will be in the billions of dollars a year for many decades. That is going to squeeze the budget going forward and limit spending options on other projects -- there is just no question about that.

The reason behind the severity of our current budget crisis is that voters required spending for sexy projects in a different economic climate, and when the tough times came, it forced more necessary yet boring projects to be cut. It's not a weird pie in the sky concern. So, given that we are in this climate now, I can't believe I'm the only one who sees how absurd making the capital commitment to HSR rail is, given that revenues will be limited going forward, while social service, local transit needs, pension fund needs, etc. are going to be exploding. All in a climate in which the state is facing high borrowing costs, which is yet another reason to not be floating a forty billion offering so casually.

About the spreadsheet business, no I certainly don't want a detailed analysis. It just seems obvious to me that decreasing commuting congestion is a much better way to spend the money -- what I was actually hoping to hear was some argument that HSR would cause a big economic boost, or something along those lines. It started out as an honest question, but I shouldn't have crowed -- sorry :)

Posted by: Robert at August 29, 2009 5:02 PM

Robert, your two basic premises are severly flawed.

1) The money being spent on HSR would not otherwise go to public transit, it would go either to freeway/airport expansion, the general budget, or not be spent at all. HSR is trying to solve the intercity congestion issues, the only viable alternatives for HSR are more highways, or more airport runways. Since California is growing, intercity travel will also grow along with it. It would take a much worse situation than the recent economic problems for that trend to reverse long term.

2) HSR will not worsen public transit. First as I mentioned HSR is adding money to the pot for public transit. Public transit will be further benefited by HSR since many HSR stations will be in areas easily accessible by transit, but not as easily accessed by car, meaning more demand for public transit (improving farebox recovery rates) and accordingly more demand that public transit be improved/ expanded, resulting in more money being allocated to public transit.

HSR does not compete with public transit, it competes with roads and highways, and is complementary with public transit. If you look around the world, you will notice the areas that have HSR also tend to have very effective public transit networks.

I do agree with you that the referendum system we have here in California is terribly flawed.

Posted by: lyqwyd at August 29, 2009 5:11 PM

anona makes an excellent point, even were it true that HSR were competing, there are much worse projects going on that would be much better spent. Killing those projects could probably net you more than the money being spent on HSR.

Oakland Airport Connector for BART comes to mind. It's going to be no faster and no more convenient than the existing bus system, cost 4 times as much to ride, and cost $500 million to construct. That is a travesty.

Posted by: lyqwyd at August 29, 2009 5:17 PM

lyqwyd,

Look around you and see that bart service is being cut and fares are being raised. At the same time, you see a series of huge debt offerings in the future for high speed rail.

Doesn't that tell you that something is a bit off?

I want a justification, not an explanation.

Posted by: Robert at August 29, 2009 5:21 PM

Yeah, the economy sucks right now, doesn't mean HSR has anything to do with it.

Transit fares are being hiked while service is being cut because the Governator zeroed out money for public transit it the state budget. He didn't zero out money for highway expansion on the other hand. HSR will build support for public transit to prevent things like that happening in the future. Not building HSR will only make things harder for public transit as more highways and airports are built instead.

Posted by: lyqwyd at August 29, 2009 5:35 PM

Oh, by the way Robert, I never said the money can't be spent on transit, I just said it wont be. Please don't put words in my mouth.

Posted by: lyqwyd at August 29, 2009 5:46 PM

Robert, prop 1A required a 1:1 match with federal dollars (or private dollars) for any of the money to be spent. That's why you're only now seeing some trickling out now that some federal funding has been identified. The financing is as follows:

$9 billion prop 1A (CA money)
$9 billion assumed federal funding
~$12 billion unidentified funding from either federal coffers of private coffers

That $30 billion covers the first phase (SF-Anaheim). The second phase ($10 billion) would be constructed using revenue bonds financed by the operating surplus generated by the first phase.

Posted by: anona at August 29, 2009 6:03 PM

The $40B you are referring to is going to amortized over at least 50 years, so it would be equivalent to ~$1B/yr to spend on local transit projects instead.

I think that the economic gains due to HSR will be enormous compared to the paltry gains $1B in transit spending spread out all over the state would give us. The Bay Area is about 20% of California's total population, so we would get about $200M total. This just isn't enough to make any real difference.

What we should do is deficit spend to keep our transit systems running then raise taxes during boom times to build up a rainy day fund, but this is politically impossible in California.

Posted by: NoeValleyJim at August 29, 2009 8:42 PM

So let's back of the envelope this.

Say, $30B, 4%, 50yrs is a payment of $115M/month.

United charges $120 for a round trip SFO-LAX so that's around 1M round trips/month this would need just to generate the loan payment, no operating or other costs. Or let's say 30,000 round trips/day.

Currently united flies 12 flights/day SFO-LAX, say 150 passengers each is 1800/day. Multiply by, say, 3 major airlines gives 5600/day.

Hmmm... I sense a disconnect.

Posted by: diemos at August 29, 2009 9:34 PM

Say, $30B, 4%, 50yrs is a payment of $115M/month.

$4M a day, sure. But the magic of government spending is that every dollar of expenditure results in 5% of revenue recapture down the road plus if you think about it it's all the government spending that is largely responsible for private property values in the first place. Show me a lot of useful infrastructure and I'll show you higher land valuations.

A good rail system has pretty good bang-for-buck as far as increasing the efficiency of business and personal transportation and thus quality of life.

But you're largely right; relying on quasi-private sector airlines, buses, and rental car agencies is more economically efficient on the micro scale of getting from point A to point B.

In mathematical terms, that can get you into a local maxima, where any attempt to improve the situation is less cost effective in the short run than the status quo.

Chances are pretty good that this is going to be a billion dollar boondoggle, but to put the $30B in perspective that's only 30% of the state's share of the national defense budget for this year alone. The interest cost on the $30B is 1% of our share of the FY09 defense bill.

Not that we can afford to do dozens of Big Digs, but having lived in Japan, I like trains and think the central valley could use a little investment in mass transit to connect it better to the megaburbs.

Posted by: Troy at August 30, 2009 3:27 AM

Currently united flies 12 flights/day SFO-LAX, say 150 passengers each is 1800/day. Multiply by, say, 3 major airlines gives 5600/day.

The total seats between SFO/SJC/OAK and ONT/LAX/LGB/BUR/SNA is closer to 50,000 a day. Sure, for some of those people flying will remain more convenient based on where they want to go to, but simply cherry picking two of the eight airports is a little silly, especially when you leave out airports where an HSR station will literally be within sight or connected to the HSR station(SJC and BUR).

Also, every HSR line opened in the world has created a huge amount of induced demand. We can see examples of other hugely expensive infrastructure projects doing the exact same around here - would it have been wise to compare the ferry boardings from Marin to SF to determine how much traffic the Golden Gate Bridge would have?

Posted by: anona at August 30, 2009 10:10 AM

One thing that no one has mentioned - CHSRA is not the agency that will be running the trains, they're simply building the system. It's still being discussed, but it's likely that multiple private operators will operate the trains, similar to the British setup (or the setup of airports in this country).

Posted by: anona at August 30, 2009 10:20 AM

@diemos

United did not build the airports, they just get highly subsidized use of it. Your comparison is apples to oranges.

Posted by: lyqwyd at August 30, 2009 12:31 PM

The operator won't be Amtrak? Shoot. I was looking forward to eating really awful food while waiting on a siding outside of Fresno, paying more than a flight and being three hours late on arrival.

Posted by: Jimmy (No Longer Bitter) at August 30, 2009 12:48 PM

Does anyone really believe the 30 or 40 billion dollar cost? Some are saying the true cost is closer to 60 to 80 billion, and that's not even including the ongoing maintenance required.

And yes it is a 19th century form of long distance transportation. Putting people on a fixed track is definitely an old way of moving people.

Posted by: Usually Named at August 30, 2009 1:22 PM

I guess the only other question I have is ... how do you get in on the $80 billion in pork this is going to bring to California?

Posted by: Jimmy (No Longer Bitter) at August 30, 2009 1:31 PM

Who cares if it's an old way, it's a better way. Just because it's somebody says it's going to cost $60-80B doesn't make it true.

Posted by: lyqwyd at August 30, 2009 1:36 PM

And yes it is a 19th century form of long distance transportation. Putting people on a fixed track is definitely an old way of moving people.

I'm confused as to why that matters. Cars are old. Planes are old. Should we shoot for spending $500 billion on maglev or a trillion on teleporters instead, just because they're new and unproven?

Jimmy - many people said the Marshall plan was incredibly wasteful spending that would never bring returns and cost five times as much. Didn't end up being true.

Similarly, many people said that the Interstate system would cost five times as much, which did end up being true, but no one complains about that.

Posted by: anona at August 30, 2009 3:13 PM

"Also, every HSR line opened in the world has created a huge amount of induced demand"

I have to agree with this commenet after seeing first hand how HSR has changed Europe, especially between London and Paris. I could easily imagine the day where you would be going down to L.A. for weekend shopping trips, museum or sports events, or to get sun. If they were to build this to Palm Springs I would be a regular weekend user. As it is now, going to Palm Springs takes longer in the car than flying to Maui.

Posted by: anonsunlover at August 30, 2009 3:24 PM

"And yes it is a 19th century form of long distance transportation. Putting people on a fixed track is definitely an old way of moving people."

Why are we not flying in supersonic jets? The Concorde was the long distance transportation of the future a few decades ago and still far faster than conventional old school jets. Microwaves and electric cooktops were the way of the future for cooking, but I doubt you'll find many new high end homes without the "old tech" gas range. Buses replaced streetcars in the 20th century as the "new, better way" and we're now spending billions to put in new streetcars and tossing the buses as janky old tech.

We many times find that newer isn't always better, and that upgrading the old is often far better than going with something different yet new. And that's even ignoring the ridicuousness of comparing a modern HSR (whose technology is barely 40 years old) to 19th century trains. Should we compare 737s to the Wright Brothers contraptions? An '09 BMW to a late-19th century car?

Posted by: Ace up my sleeve at August 30, 2009 3:38 PM

Oh, by the way, the automobile was invented before the train:

"The earliest ancestor of the modern automobile is probably the Fardier, a three-wheeled, steam-powered, 2.3-mph vehicle built in 1771 by Nicolas Joseph Cugnot for the French minister of war"

"In 1803, a man named Samuel Homfray decided to fund the development of a steam-powered vehicle to replace the horse-drawn carts on the tramways. Richard Trevithick (1771-1833) built that vehicle, the first steam engine tramway locomotive. On February 22, 1804, the locomotive hauled a load of 10 tons of iron"

Posted by: lyqwyd at August 30, 2009 3:52 PM

I'm simply making fun of the comment that was made earlier that we in the 21st century should be using mid-20th century transportation.

as for this funny comment:

" Just because it's somebody says it's going to cost $60-80B doesn't make it true."

And just because some government agency says it will be $30B definitely does NOT make it true.

Posted by: Usually Named at August 30, 2009 8:17 PM

I'm simply making fun of all your comments...

Posted by: lyqwyd at August 30, 2009 9:12 PM

@lyqwyd The truth is funny sometimes.

Posted by: Usually Named at August 30, 2009 9:17 PM

Nice cop-out Usually Named

Posted by: lyqwyd at August 30, 2009 10:33 PM

So Usually Named, I will bite. Who, other than an anonymous internet poster of dubious credibility claims that the HSR is going to cost $80B? I assume this is in 2009 dollars. Give me a pointer to their argument and I will tell you what I think of their claim.

Posted by: NoeValleyJim at August 31, 2009 12:51 AM

http://reason.org/files/1b544eba6f1d5f9e8012a8c36676ea7e.pdf

Now, I'm supposed to believe the response to the above from another "anonymous internet poster of dubious credibility?"

Posted by: Usually Named at August 31, 2009 1:02 PM

More fun math from the people who brought you Prop 13

Posted by: OneEyedMan at August 31, 2009 1:15 PM

Usually Named, would you also like to post who funds the Reason Foundation and disclose any potential conflicts of interest?

Posted by: anon at August 31, 2009 1:16 PM

@Usually Named - aren't you the one who questioned the SRO building based on the fact that it was being built by a developer that you called part of the "poverty industry" or something like that?

I actually don't disagree with you on that, but I'm curious as to why you dismiss one group with clear conflicts of interest, but trust another group with clear conflicts of interest. Care to explain our thoughts on that?

Posted by: Boris at August 31, 2009 1:20 PM

So this report is very long (almost 200 pages) so it will take me a while to get through it.

But I have a few comments so far.

You stated just because some government agency says it will be $30B definitely does NOT make it true but the HSR ballot initiative said that the project would cost $42B. Where did you get your $30B number from?

Secondly, the Howard Jarvis report says that the "the system, including Phase I, Phase II and the Missing Phase is likely to escalate in costs to between $65.2 billion and $81.4 billion (2008$)" so they have added some extra work to the project, beyond what was promised to the taxpayers in the 1A initiative to come up with this figure. They don't give an apples to apples comparison, but it looks like they claim that the total cost to do all the work promised to taxpayers would be $56B to $72B. Is that how you read it?

Posted by: NoeValleyJim at August 31, 2009 1:54 PM

I found a glaring factual error in the introduction:

Notably, the CHSRA’s anticipated average
speeds are not being achieved anywhere in the world, including on the most advanced systems

The TGV travels from Paris to Avignon, a distance of 463 miles, in 2 hours and 30 minutes. The distance from LA to SF is 347 miles and the HSR projects travel times of 2 hours and 42 minute. The Jarvis report predicts that this will take 3 hours and 41 minutes.

Posted by: NoeValleyJim at August 31, 2009 2:10 PM

Reason Foundation, what a joke

here's a rebuttal to that report which highlights just a few of it's many flaws:

http://cahsr.blogspot.com/2008/09/truth-vs-truthiness-on-prop-1a.html

Posted by: lyqwyd at August 31, 2009 2:38 PM

Hmm, just a couple minutes looking at the report shows the estimate by CAHSR for phase 1 (what we are talking about, since prop 1A is only for phase 1) at $33 million, while Reason puts a low of $39 million and a high of $49 million (Taken from Table 1, pg 11). Your own link doesn't even support your claims.

Subsequent phases are supposed to be paid for from operating surpluses, if there is no surplus the next phases don't get built.

Posted by: lyqwyd at August 31, 2009 2:48 PM

Yes, it's me that posted about the SROs.

Replying to the above (it's clear that we have a bunch of HSR nuts here who want us to pay for their toy)

1. The $30B was talked about earlier in the thread as a basis to calculate annual cost to taxpayers. Actually what was entertaining is that the original estimate was around $25B, right? So, when does the merry-go-round stop for us?

2. The rebuttal on the CAHSR blog was pretty weak and definitely colored by the blogger's biases. This guy keeps comparing California to other areas that are not even close culturally, demographically or density-wise. The build-it-and-they-will come works in movies, but not in real life. Maybe that blogger should change the name of that blog to Field of Dreams.

3. Isn't it fair to quote the entire system cost as it has been proposed to the voters? They said $40B, but that was only Phase I. Talk about bait-and-switch. Should we just go on record and say Sacramento won't get HSR? Or will we just have to keep funding this pig just because Southland politicos want a ride to work?

I'm laughing at the whole conflict of interest thing. It's either we pay more than we can afford for the next 30 years for a train of dubious business and cost projections, or we use the tax money for other things -- say for basic services or education.

If you're going to talk about conflict of interest, how about the engineering construction companies that have their fingerprints all over CHSRA's reports? They're the ones that get to build this pig -- so of course it is in their best interest to underestimate the cost of this to move it forward.

Once we get in neck-deep, we have to keep shoveling.

Posted by: Usually Named at August 31, 2009 4:31 PM

Usually named,

You make a few valid points, though I'm a firm believer we need to get thing moving and that it will pay for itself not in tickets but in improved economical fluidity/productivity. But who knows what the future will be, right? What counts is making sure we are prepared (even though we are coming about 40 to 50 years behind the 2 leaders).

Also: what you are describing also applies to road construction. Often over budget, tainted with political favoritism and conflict of interest, plus a few roads have been built that did not make any kind of economical sense but that proved pretty handy when we needed them. Take Highway 1: that was an expensive endeavor with a tiny economical benefit/cost ratio and maintaining it is a pain. But CA would be a different place without it, just like Japan and France are different places thanks to HSR.

Posted by: San FronziScheme at August 31, 2009 4:59 PM

If you're going to talk about conflict of interest, how about the engineering construction companies that have their fingerprints all over CHSRA's reports? They're the ones that get to build this pig -- so of course it is in their best interest to underestimate the cost of this to move it forward.

Now you're actually bringing up valid concerns. I agree that we need to find a way to evaluate whether contractors (unsure why HSR would be singled out over the same contractors who build freeways, the Bay Bridge, the San Diego Airport expansion, the LAX airport expansion, BART to SFO, the Central Subway, etc, etc) are being honest or not. However, singling out HSR by using a report generated by a "think tank" funded almost entirely by big oil and highway concerns is ridiculous. It would be like me showing you a report from the Institute for Tobacco Studies showing you that smoking isn't harmful.

I'm laughing at the whole conflict of interest thing. It's either we pay more than we can afford for the next 30 years for a train of dubious business and cost projections, or we use the tax money for other things -- say for basic services or education.

Based on your history of posting, this strikes me as a laughable red herring. You're saying that you would support spending more money on basic services and education? Or saying that current funding will have to fall further with this project? You are one of the posters that always takes the "all government is bad" approach, regardless of what is being discussed. If you're a hard core libertarian a la LMRiM (Satchel), I can respect that and know that we'll simply never agree based on our overall political philosophies being incompatible. However, if that's the case, you don't need to trot out fake data from farces like the Reason Foundation. Just give us a link to Mises.org or possibly the Cato Institute (though Cato has been co-opted by corporate non-libertarian interests a bit, IMO) and we'll know that you'll never support any public project, regardless of the cost estimates.

Posted by: Boris at August 31, 2009 5:11 PM

Speaking of nuts with an agenda to push:

http://www.lightrailnow.org/facts/fa_00014.htm

The author is one of those anti-planning zealots who hates any kind of public project, except for the ones pushed by the guys who write his paycheck, the freeway lobby.

The nuttiest part of the intro has got to be this one though:

This Due Diligence Report estimates that with realistic estimates regarding highway construction costs and diversion of drivers, HSR could reduce highway construction needs by approximately $0.9 billion

$900M? That won't even pay for one extra lane on I-5.

The paper is full of holes, I think we have found four or five in a just a few hours, I think we can safely dismiss the whole thing.

Posted by: NoeValleyJim at August 31, 2009 5:49 PM

@Usually Named

1. I don't know where your $25B comes from so I can make no comment.

2. Reason foundation is at least as biased, so if we are disregarding based on bias we can throw that out as well. The rebuttal pointed out serious flaws in the core assumptions of the Reason report. If such major flaws can be found so easily, the entire report becomes suspect.

"This guy keeps comparing California to other areas that are not even close culturally, demographically or density-wise". I'm not sure what those countries are since you didn't list them, but here's a couple that are very similar that do have very successful HSR systems that they are continuing to expand:

France - population density: 115 people/sq km
Spain - population density: 90 people/sq km

For reference:
California - population density: 90 people/sq km

3. Yes, it is "fair to quote the entire system cost as it has been proposed to the voters". Prop 1A covers Phase 1, which as I said above is quoted as $39 million and a high of $49 million by Reason, likely a high estimate given their bias, so your claim of $80B is not even supported by your own (shoddy) reference. Your claim is obviously an attempt to deceive those who are not familiar with the project, since if the phase 1 is not operationally profitable, no further phases will be engaged.

As noted before, conflict of interest is nothing new in infrastructure projects, and is quite prevalent in the highway system, and in fact there's a clear conflict of interest in the Reason Foundation as much of their funding comes from the highway/ oil lobbies.

Posted by: lyqwyd at August 31, 2009 7:21 PM

You want a HSR boondoggle? Served up courtesy of Las Vegas, NV:

http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2009/sep/01/desertxpress-train-aiming-march-construction-start/

Posted by: OneEyedMan at September 1, 2009 10:03 AM

^Agreed. And that one's from a private group.

Posted by: anon at September 1, 2009 10:09 AM

... and now UP walks away from the negotiations table : http://www.mercurynews.com/california-high-speed-rail/ci_15058672

This is a very transparent attempt by UP to milk more money out of HSR. They are experts at gouging anyone who wants any sort of easement on their (federal government granted) ROW. For example they claim that running HSR adjacent to their tracks along Monterey Highway between Gilroy and San Jose will prevent them from adding any new branch tracks to potential customers on that side. I can count how many new branch tracks have been added along that segment in the last half century on zero hands an that is probably a good predictor of future demand.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at May 11, 2010 5:29 PM

I believe a large part of their concern is also the liability for the inevitable derailment of a freight train. If they actually maintained tracks and train cars, this wouldn't be as much of an issue. But most of it is about milking money from HSR to gain ROW. UP should be careful though, because I'm not sure they would want Obama to get involved.

Posted by: sfrenegade at May 11, 2010 6:08 PM

"On the BART SFO projections, we should note the statistical spike of 9/11 and the resulting huge drop-off in airline flights, which has still not fully recovered. There are LOTs of air traffic-related predictions that were screwed up by that one. I'll cut BART some slack for that, as most any reasonable statistician would."

Since we were discussing Geary earlier today, imagine what SFO ridership might be like if we had BART down Geary and then south to Daly City.

Anyway, it's interesting to see the people on this thread who seem to think that highway construction and airport capacity cost us nothing. Of course, when people are quoting Reason articles (whose funders are, shocker, automobile-related companies and airplane-related companies) without critically thinking about the issues, that's no surprise.

Posted by: sfrenegade at May 11, 2010 6:18 PM

Post a comment


(required - will be published)


(required - will not be published, sold, or shared)


(optional - your "Posted by" name will link to this URL)

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)


Continue Perusing SocketSite:

« The Full Floor Plan Monty For 2006 Washington Number Four | HOME | Five Teams Competing To Design A New Gateway To The Presidio »