April 30, 2010

California High-Speed Rail Authority Thrown Under The Bus Train

The title of the California State Auditor's report with respect to the management of California's High Speed Rail initiative: "High-Speed Rail Authority: It Risks Delays or an Incomplete System Because of Inadequate Planning, Weak Oversight, and Lax Contract Management."

And yes, the Authority took exception to the title "but agreed with [the] recommendations and outlined actions it is taking or plans to take to address them."

California State Auditor: High-Speed Rail Authority Audit Summary [ca.gov]
HSR: Beale Street Alternative Rejected, Transbay Recomended [SocketSite]

First Published: April 30, 2010 9:45 AM

Comments from "Plugged In" Readers

What a surprise! The state will now need several years of "study" to try to "address" these problems. The "study" funds will go to the politically connected.

Posted by: tipster at April 30, 2010 10:25 AM

This project is a boondoggle in the making.

Talk show host Barbara Simpson likened it to the Boston dig just a week ago. The comments in the report above give credence to that fear.

The state is broke and cannot afford this. There was a meeting on the Peninsula a while ago and those residents are strongly opposed to the project and fighting to not have it go forwarc on the Peninsula - which would result in a wall up the Peninsula dividng it in half.

Incomplete system - yup, they are talking of cutting back on the number of stops. A bigger issue is the projected ridership numbers which look to be significantly overstated.

It will be interesting to see if either candidate for Governor has the integrity and honesty to call for a delay in the project.

Posted by: Gil at April 30, 2010 10:31 AM

^^^ I live on the peninsula and I'm for high speed rail - as are many others I know who are also on the peninsula.

We need transportation alternatives and most other advanced industrialized countries can do high speed rail. It's crazy that we can't do it here.

Posted by: Mark D. at April 30, 2010 10:43 AM

Gil - There's going to be a "wall" up the peninsula whether HSR is built or not. Caltrain has a long term goal of eliminating as many at-grade crossings as possible. This has many benefits : increased safety, improved service speed, less noise (no need to toot the horn at grade separated crossings).

The wall effect can be minimized if enough grade separated holes are poked in it.

Lets face it, the Menlo Park, etc. opposition has nothing to do with the actual filed legal complaints. The issue is property values for those who own property abutting the nearly 150 year old railway. They bought at prices under the assumption that rail demand would stagnate or decline. Wrong assumption.

As for this report, I hope this is a positive and CAHSR gets its act in gear. This is too big of a project to have lax management.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at April 30, 2010 10:57 AM

Talk to the folks away from the wall along the 680 corridor. The immediate close buy homes are fine but those further out have an echo effect humming sound that no one anticipated.

The folks that called Barbara's show were ones who'd attended the recent meeting in Burlingame so it is not just Menlo Park folks.

The state can't afford this, the ridership projections are way too high apparently and on and on.

You really think this will be built anywhere near budget? Look at the Bay Bridge rebuild for an idea of the likely massive cost overruns of this HSR project. Who is going to pick up that tab?

It's a boondoggle that some folks will make a ton of money off of but that will not help the taxpayer one whit.

Posted by: Gil at April 30, 2010 11:10 AM

if i took this to L.A., I'd probably have to rent a car once there anyway, so I might as well spend the 6 hours to drive there, when you factor in the hassle, time, and cost of renting a car.

Posted by: condoshopper at April 30, 2010 11:12 AM

Once I arrive in Los Angeles, I hope to get into a Zipcar and zip away to the beach!

I did not attend the last Rincon Point/South Beach CAC, but I heard that Potrero Hill folks were raising hell about the 16th Street rail crossing and high-speed rail.

There's a hilarious letter to the editor in The Examiner today ... must be Quentin Kopp's girlfriend that wrote it or something. what crap.

Posted by: jamie at April 30, 2010 11:55 AM

People need to stop listening to the Peninsula NIMBYs. That ROW has been there since the 1800s, so the complaints are pretty bogus (even the complaints about dividing the towns -- anyone who regularly is in the Peninsula knows that it's too late for that). This is NIMBYism at its worst. As Milkshake mentioned, it's mostly just a few loudmouths in Menlo Park who are pretty much against everything, with a few murmurs elsewhere.

I agree that if there are problems in management of the project, they should be fixed. But that's not a reason to kill the project. We need these sorts of infrastructure projects to modernize.

Maybe if we didn't have idiots like Kopp trying to push Trans-Beale Terminal as a political ploy, the project would be running more smoothly.

Posted by: corntrollio at April 30, 2010 12:05 PM

I also don't understand the funding complaints and today's Mercury News mentions this:
http://www.mercurynews.com/peninsula/ci_14985030

Key quote:
Robert Cruickshank, chairman of Californians for High-Speed Rail, called the criticisms in the audit "generally sensible." He chalked up some of the rail authority's oversight problems to "growing pains."

But Cruickshank said he found it "weird" that the audit held the rail authority responsible for the shortage of federal funding for the project.

"It's worth keeping in mind that California voters approved $10 billion in state funding at a time when there was no federal funding for high-speed rail and none had been proposed yet," he said. "Everybody realizes that if there is no additional federal funding, then the project falls."

The auditor's comments, he said, should have been directed toward members of Congress instead.

And also Cruickshank's CAHSR blog post:
http://www.cahsrblog.com/2010/04/pushing-back-against-the-flawed-state-auditor-report/

Posted by: corntrollio at April 30, 2010 12:20 PM

California, like the US as a whole, needs to political will to make high speed rail happen. A good start would be making every multi-lane high way designate at least one lane to carpools, and charging tolls on all traffic, all the time.

It's always easier to do nothing and go with the status quo. As someone who spent 90 minutes this morning trying to get from SF to the Peninsula, i think the status quo is beyond broken.

High speed rail now!

Posted by: Embarcadero at April 30, 2010 12:29 PM

For the general good of the city and region, would the money spent on HSR in the Bay Area be better spent on additional BART/MUNI lines? Instead of a bling bling transbay station with trolley and rooftop homeless park,(and most probably empty Transbay tower) I would rather see a Geary subway line and a Van Ness subway connecting the north side of the city as well as a Peninsula BART line, and electrification of CALTRAIN. On a day to day basis, expansion of Bay Area regional transit is FAR more important that riding HSR to Disneyland or Santa Monica. The Transbay tube is near capacity, yet we are worried about trains to L.A.?!?

Posted by: GearySubway at April 30, 2010 12:40 PM

Don't get me wrong, I'd love a Geary subway too, and it's long overdue. But find me the political will first. Prop 1A was voted on by all Californians, and you can't just reallocate the money in the manner you're suggesting. And it's pretty clear that BART is more focused on suburban extensions because that's where the money and the people come from.

Realistically, we need all of the above. Schwarzenegger should do more to fulfill his promise to bring more federal money to California for all of these projects.

And note that CA HSR will help electrify Caltrain. It's not like Caltrain has the money all on its own.

Posted by: corntrollio at April 30, 2010 1:01 PM

"And note that CA HSR will help electrify Caltrain. It's not like Caltrain has the money all on its own."

Help electrify, create the additional above grade crossings and give it access to the TB terminal. It isn't hard to image the creation of other local trains in the future as well.

With regard to a new Bay crossing for BART it is hard to imagine how it could be supported financially without conventional rail being included as part of the project for the benefit of the whole state

In fact if they built another transbay tube for BART only the region needs its collective heads examined.

Posted by: Zig at April 30, 2010 1:48 PM

"a Peninsula BART line, and electrification of CALTRAIN"

I just threw up in my mouth a little bit

We need more BART on the Peninsula like we need a hole in our head

Posted by: Zig at April 30, 2010 1:50 PM

The actual report is here:
http://bsa.ca.gov/pdfs/reports/2009-106.pdf
and the findings are far uglier than summarized in the news release. BTW, projected costs increased by over $2 billion 2008-2009 -- just wait 'till HRA actually tries to build something.

Posted by: anon at April 30, 2010 1:59 PM

"With regard to a new Bay crossing for BART it is hard to imagine how it could be supported financially without conventional rail being included as part of the project for the benefit of the whole state"

That's in BART's 50-year plan (50!?). It would be a four-track tunnel with 2 for BART and 2 for HSR.

"BTW, projected costs increased by over $2 billion 2008-2009"

Yes, the total projected cost was up $2.1B from 2008 to 2009. The cost of the Los Angeles to Anaheim corridor went up by $2.4B (additional tunnels and aerials, among other things). That means the HSR Authority cut out net $300M from the budget elsewhere. And in fact, they cut out more than that, because the LA-Palmdale section had an increase in cost too. (We've seen two different sets of cost figures because HSR originally started with net present value accounting as private companies often do, but later switched to year-of-expenditure accounting because Congress requires it.)


Trivia question of the day: How much would it cost to upgrade CA-99 between Sacramento and Bakersfield to I-9?


Answer: As much as it will to construct all phases of CA HSR. And the externalities would be at greater cost. http://bayrailalliance.org/california_high_speed_rail

Posted by: corntrollio at April 30, 2010 2:40 PM

What does the CA-99 -> I-9 have to do with whether or not CA HSR is a financial disaster in the making? The only useful comparison is that neither are likely to be built.

Posted by: anon at April 30, 2010 3:40 PM

"What does the CA-99 -> I-9 have to do with whether or not CA HSR is a financial disaster in the making? The only useful comparison is that neither are likely to be built."

So you are for the head in the sand approach? Clearly the state will grow and we will need to invest in some sort of new transportation infrastructure. Planes, trains or automobiles? We can choose but we can't pretend what we have now will be adequate.

Posted by: Zig at April 30, 2010 3:51 PM

"What does the CA-99 -> I-9 have to do with whether or not CA HSR is a financial disaster in the making? The only useful comparison is that neither are likely to be built."

So do you think:
a) California's population is going to stop growing
b) the Central Valley's population specifically is going to stop growing?
c) California's necessary transportation capacity will shrink such that we will never need another freeway lane again?
d) Oil prices will progressively decrease?
e) We will never need to expand airports in California ever again?
f) We will invent Star Trek-style transporter technology in the near future so that cars, buses, planes, boats, trains, etc. become obsolete?

Any number of other questions could apply here. Building appropriate infrastructure is investment in ourselves for the long-term, which we don't do enough of.

Posted by: corntrollio at April 30, 2010 3:53 PM

^^objection, nonresponsive.

Posted by: anon at April 30, 2010 4:37 PM

The actual report is here:
http://bsa.ca.gov/pdfs/reports/2009-106.pdf
and the findings are far uglier than summarized in the news release. BTW, projected costs increased by over $2 billion 2008-2009 -- just wait 'till HRA actually tries to build something

Yup - if ever built this will be the Boston dig on steroids. The report is scary and shows typical government incompetency and a coming trainwreck.

Posted by: Gil at April 30, 2010 4:39 PM

While I am personally 100-percent for High-Speed Rail, for reasons like those in the report I suspect we will never get it here in the US, and not getting it is a real sign of our country's decline.

Posted by: redseca2 at April 30, 2010 5:25 PM

"Yup - if ever built this will be the Boston dig on steroids."

Are you saying it's going to be the Big Dig because you actually know something about the Big Dig? Or because you repeated it after someone else said it.

In any case, lots of projects have been coming in under budget lately because construction prices have dropped. Who's to say this isn't one? As I mentioned, the HSR authority has already trimmed their budget for some things even while increasing it for others.

And that wasn't nonreponsive, anon. :) What do you suggest as an alternative to solve those problems?

Posted by: corntrollio at April 30, 2010 5:59 PM

not going to use it.

i sure as heck don't want to pay for it.

kill it.

Posted by: mike at April 30, 2010 6:28 PM

Hi Mike - I don't use public schools, medicare, medicaid, or welfare. Nor do I ask the military to do anything on my behalf. Can we cut those two big ticket items out of the budget too ?

Great. Budget problems solved.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at April 30, 2010 6:49 PM

The drive from SF to LA is getting more and more congested. I-5 is only 2 lanes in each direction most of the way! Already, the drive often takes me an hour longer than it used to. We need HSR at least from SF to LA to keep the state from gridlock as its population grows.

Spain and California are similar in size and population. But Spain already has a network of high speed rail, with plans to expand it to 6,000 miles by 2020, or 15 times the distance of SF to LA. Many of Spain's routes will connect much less densely populated areas than the LA area and the SF Bay Area.

Why can't California build just a fraction of the Spanish system, connecting much larger metropolitan areas?

Posted by: Dan at April 30, 2010 8:22 PM

Mike: I'm not using the American air base in Kyrgyzstan, but I am paying for it. Let's close it and use the money for high speed rail.

Posted by: Dan at April 30, 2010 8:27 PM

In defense of Mike, paying for the American air base Kyrgyzstan is part of the basic needs (safety). The high speed rail, though I am in favor of it, is purely a means to spend money and to put a feather in someones cap.

Just take a look at the Amtrak train on the east coast - a complete disaster. Once the novelty of a high speed rail has faded, that is what this will be too - a sponge of public money.

Posted by: SFRE at April 30, 2010 9:07 PM

Have you taken high speed rail in Europe or Asia? Once in place it is recognized as an essential component of transit.

Posted by: Dan at April 30, 2010 9:14 PM

@Dan: I don't disagree. But take a look at European/Asian subways. We have subways, but nothing close to as nice as in those places. Why? Because we are different. The same way as our subways/public transportation sucks compared to Europe/Asia, so will this high speed rail. I'm in favor of it, I'm just realistic about it too.

Posted by: SFRE at April 30, 2010 9:19 PM

In Europe, using HSR is a given because when you arrive in London, Paris, Lille or wherever, you can immediatly transfer to a huge grid of urban transit lines, mostly underground. Here in dinky San Francisco, we may have two underground lines by the time this is built. (And forget BART which does not have the capacity for express trains) In my opinion the Market Street corridor is the ONLY part of the Bay Area that experiences a transit density similar to Europe, Asia, NYC or parts of central Chicago for that matter. Does anyone else think HSR is "cart before the horse"?

Why not use public funds to finish an urban mass transit system in L.A. and S.F.? I could see where a Wilshire Boulevard subway line would be used by more people every day than HSR. I could see where more daily ridership on a Geary subway line along with an additional transbay tube for East Bay express trains could eclipse the daily ridership count of the entire HSR grid as well.

Posted by: GearySubway at May 1, 2010 4:52 AM

Transportation between SF and LA currently consists of roads and airports, both of which are expensive, heavily subsidized, and running out of capacity. HSR would increase capacity between California's largest cities for less cost than road or airport expansions, to the extent that either of those two alternatives are even possible.

Specific ridership projections are not as relevant as the grand strategic picture. Connections between SF and LA are economically critical and also limited.

Infrastructure almost always has larger costs than expected, but benefits are typically also much larger than predicted.

This is not about other government programs or transit within cities. This is about whether we want our biggest cities to be strongly connected or not.

Posted by: Mole Man at May 1, 2010 7:55 AM

Spain is of similar size and density to California. Spanish high speed rail is being built to many parts of the country that are much less dense than LA and SF, places with no subways.
Development will follow HSR. LA is building subways and other rail transit. But SF will be the biggest beneficiary of HSR, because it will encourage visitors and commerce here, as SF will always be the California city that is easiest to visit without a car.

Posted by: Dan at May 1, 2010 8:34 AM

Spain has been mentioned twice now, so allow me to chime in with my own personal experience. For the full rant read this, it got too long even for Socketsite comments!

Background: I happen to be a dual US/Spain citizen living currently in Barcelona (connected via HSR to Madrid, as you probably know). I am soon going back to the SF Bay where I've lived for the last 14+ years prior to this year-long stint away (4 yrs. in SF, the rest in the Peninsula).

Since taking HSR for the first time between the cities I travel most often here (the Toledo-Madrid-Zaragoza-Barcelona corridor) there is NO WAY IN HELL I will take that flight over again. Prices would have to be triple what it costs to fly for my "marginal utility" calculator to kick in and re-consider, such is the improvement in time savings, service and enjoyment of the overall experience.

Even at 3x prices (like I’ve sometimes paid this year) I’ve always chosen to take the train in multiple occasions (10 trips altogether). We do have a car, which I’ve only used when the luggage was too much to carry with me. Our roads are not half-bad either, considering they’ve been recently built thanks to FEDER funds! Driving in Italy a few weeks back made me think just how lucky we were to have entered the EU when we did …

(…)

If the model CA or the USA wants is suburban, all the way suburban, then sure ... skip HSR! If you want to mix in a few dense city centers, you will do great things for your citizens (and the competition between all three modes of transportation -air space sometimes closes too-) slowly developing a good HSR system like the rest of the World (China, Japan, Europe) seems to be doing or have already done by now.

Posted by: Juanjo at May 1, 2010 9:11 AM

Any investment in transportation infrastructure is going to inconvenience someone. A new north-south freeway would create a wall in communities far worse than the one the train is going to create. New airports demand enormous amounts of land and create air and noise pollution for people nearby. Sticking our heads in the sand and pretending that the population of The State is not growing is not really an option.

What is your suggestion Gil, SFRE, Mike? You love to shoot down proposed solutions, how about coming up with some of your own? You might be taken more seriously if you were anything but a naysayer.

Geary subway is not a competing project to this, but a complementary one. BART will never run down Geary with the current BART board though, it is stacked to spend money on suburban expansion, which gives us much less bang for our buck. So Muni is going to have to do it, and San Francisco doesn't even want to spend to keep the current infrastructure in place. So we are going to end up with BRT. How is the Geary street BRT project coming along? I have not heard anything about it in a while.

Posted by: NoeValleyJim at May 1, 2010 9:38 AM

@NVJ: I am in favor of the HSR, but don't think it will be as efficient or nice as those in other countries. All I said, was take a look at our subways. Theoretically they should be as nice, efficient, clean as Japan, but they are not. Expect that difference between subways in Japan and subways in the US to be the same difference between HSR in Japan and HSR in the US.

Again, I am in favor of the HSR, and my solution to congestion would be a HSR, but I am also realistic that it wont be the same experience as taking one in other parts of the world. Even being a less desirable experience, I would still welcome one in CA.

Posted by: SFRE at May 1, 2010 10:43 AM

" All I said, was take a look at our subways. Theoretically they should be as nice, efficient, clean as Japan, but they are not"

Agreed! Does anyone really think the state of California would keep their trains as clean and safe as Japan or Europe? Ever go to the DMV?
Ever try to use the restrooms at SFO vs. an airport in Asia? We are falling wayyyy behind.


Here is what the Shinkansen Series 500 train looks like inside:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nOhYuJvY5eM&feature=channel

and outside:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9oVx0sq2JXM

We are only about 60 years behind Japan. Sigh.

Posted by: GearySubway at May 1, 2010 1:30 PM

In Europe, the government is about 40% of the economy overall they and get better infrastructure than in the US where we have a government that is about 30% of the overall economy. You get what you pay for.

The aging white boomer populace is simply not willing to spend on public services for anyone else. They benefited from a great public University system, excellent transportation infrastructure, State spending on water projects, etc. Now that they have theirs, they are not willing to pay the taxes necessary to even maintain what was built by their parents, much less leave a legacy to the next generation. They are undoubtedly the greediest, most short-sighted generation ever in American history.

Have you ever been to Yosemite GearySubway? Any of the State parks? The University of California? Your public library? Is your only experience with government the DMV?

It is a matter of priorities. BART used to be much cleaner, but during one of the many rounds of budget cuts, it was decided to spend more on service and less on cleaning. Write your elected officials if you would rather reverse that decision.

Posted by: NoeValleyJim at May 1, 2010 1:58 PM

"Does anyone really think the state of California would keep their trains as clean and safe as Japan or Europe?"

Japanese trains are safe and clean because a Japanese person would feel shamed and humiliated if they were caught inconveniencing other people or acting criminally. It is truly refreshing to visit Japan and experience a civilization where people as a matter of course mind their own business and are courteous to others.

It is fascinating to see the assumptions in the quoted statement. That it's the responsibility of the state to keep the trains clean and safe. Why isn't it the responsibility of the people who ride them?

Do you know that there are no janitors in Japan. In school the students end the day by cleaning up the school. In business, emptying the trash and vacuuming is something that the people who work in the office do every week.

Posted by: diemos at May 1, 2010 2:27 PM

Good Point Diemos about Japan. I noticed the same is true with automobiles and taxis in Japan which are spotless inside and out. Have you ever seen the junk some Americans litter the interior of their cars with? (And this includes some expensive models btw) If some Americans choose to keep their own vehicles dirty, how would they be expected to help keep HSR trains clean. Perhaps this is a partial explanation for why San Francisco streets are so dirty? Or why American airlines have such dirty cabin interiors compared to JAL, Singapore Airlines, or Cathay Pacific?

Posted by: GearySubway at May 1, 2010 2:46 PM

Don't forget that Japan Railways consists of privately owned companies.

I lived in Tokyo for years... Loved the PT... I won't ride MUNI, sorry..

Posted by: sleepiguy at May 1, 2010 3:46 PM

@NVJ: What does race have to do with anything? Seriously dude you are stretching on that one. And it definitely shows your prejudice.

@Diemos: I definitely agree with your comments about the Japanese culture, and that was my whole point. People in the US will still litter, be loud, etc. The experience would be much different than in Japan. That is why I said we can get a train that is fast, but think of it as a fast MUNI train and NOT a Japan-like experience at all.

My vote would be to let the state make an example and say "We will prove we can do it right, but providing the equivalent experience on BART/MUNI (efficient, clean, pleasant), and once we get it right there first, then we will do the HSR". But that won't happen, this will be a pet project that will cost billions, people who argue for it will say "look at Europe/Asia experience", it will come here, and be a crappy "Amtrak equivalent", but at least it will be fast.

Personally, I would prefer the train to LA vs flying, so that is why I am favor of it, despite knowing in advance how the experience will be.

Posted by: SFRE at May 1, 2010 5:15 PM

Are Spanish and Italians known for particularly clean transit (if you've ever ridden the Rome subway and answer yes, you're delusional)? Amazing, because I just rode one of the new Italian HSR lines last month, and the train was just as clean, fast, and on-time as any of the others that I've ridden in France, Germany, and Japan.

It has to do with the clientele served. Subways are built for all classes. HSR is built primarily for middle and upper classes, with an emphasis on business travel. If you think comparing BART to HSR is fair, why not compare Greyhound to Virgin America?

Posted by: anon at May 1, 2010 6:27 PM

^^^ "HSR is built primarily for middle and upper classes, with an emphasis on business travel."^^^

REALLY?! Well now this is a new one I have not heard. So are we now saying that this taxpayer built train system will be priced so high that only the wealthy will be able to ride down to L.A.?

I guess my assumption that HSR would be built "for all classes" the way the current highway system is, is wrong? If tickets are to be expensive, I can see the family of four deciding to drive to Disneyland instead of taking to the train. So is the goal of HSR to NOT get cars off the road, but to provide quicker travel for business professionals and those who need to get a pair of shoes on Rodeo Drive?

Posted by: GearySubway at May 1, 2010 8:51 PM

HSR competes on price with air travel, which is not just for the rich. Driving is expensive, too, when one takes into account all of the expenses. However, if there are 4 in the car, and one has the time and energy to drive, that will be the cheapest way to go.

Posted by: Dan at May 1, 2010 9:28 PM

Where in the world did I say the rich? I said middle and upper classes, just like air travel is priced for - and just like a family of four going to Disneyland is likely to be.

Posted by: anon at May 1, 2010 10:40 PM

@anon: By your statements you are implying that "lower classes" cause the degradation of rail travel, and that "lower classes" are responsible for the filthy BART. Interesting...

Posted by: SFRE at May 2, 2010 8:51 AM

Um, yes. And what in the world does that have to do with anything that GearySubway said? Is anyone disputing that riding Greyhound (mostly lower class travelers) is a crappy experience? Is anyone disputing that smelly folks on Muni and those jumping on through the back door are not mostly lower class?

I don't have a problem with providing services for the lower classes. I'm all for most of the subsidized housing projects that we've built here in SF. I'm all for keeping Muni and BART as cheap as possible, in large part to help lower income folks have mobility. That doesn't mean that many of the problems with cleanliness aren't caused by those same folks though - and that also is worth pointing out when we're talking about longer distance travel that is not primarily designed to provide subsidized mobility. HSR is supposed to be self-sustaining, no?

We're not building a BART for the statewide travel - we're building the equivalent of a Southwest airlines for statewide travel. Compare the demographics of both user sets and get back to me on which one is catering mostly to middle income and higher, and which one is catering mostly to middle income and lower.

After you do that, we can have a conversation on whether or not you feel that we should be building a subsidized train for use by anyone and everyone who wants to use it. It will cost more money, but if everyone agrees that it's worth it, then let's do it. Until that time, trying to say that HSR isn't designed almost entirely for middle and upper income folks is a flat out lie.

Posted by: anon at May 2, 2010 10:07 AM

I seem to remember one of NVJ's reasons against new road construction was that it was an unfair tax burden on those who do not drive and/or cannot afford a car and the fuel costs. NOW we have "anon" saying "trying to say that HSR isn't designed almost entirely for middle and upper income folks is a flat out lie. " So we are building another statewide transportation infrastructure that is not helpful to the majority of the population? (Those who earn 40K a year or less) Why should the working poor pay taxes for a train system they cannot afford?

So if HSR is going to be as expensive as air travel in ticket costs, imagine the TRUE costs to taxpayers for the initial construction of the project vs roads and airports that are already built. I would imagine the $110 one way ticket would actually cost $2,000 for the taxpayers in subsidized construction and maintenance costs.

"anon" has now convinced me to go against HSR because I agree that it will not get cars off the road, and will not help those who cannot afford cars and planes to have increased mobility.
Worst of all, I still believe higher income travellers will continue to mostly drive so that they cantain their privacy, security and mobile independence.

This whole thing is truly a major transportation envy fantasy of those who would like us to be like Europe or Japan, but are not willing to admit that we are in no way like either of those two societies. HSR would be worth the cost IF it was connected to well developed and organized safe, rapid and clean regional transit systems, and IF it was affordable to the majority of the population.

Posted by: GearySubway at May 2, 2010 11:10 AM

Are you seriously saying that HSR in Europe or Japan is not almost entirely used by the middle and upper classes? Really? Have you ever ridden the TGV, and then the next day ridden an SNCF train? Have you ever ridden the Acela, and then the next day ridden one of the Chinatown buses?

The advertised fares for CAHSR have been out for years. Were you expecting them to eventually drop LA-SF fares down to $10 each way? I don't understand what it is that you think I'm saying. HSR (and air travel) has always been more about business travel and middle income (and up) leisure travel, because that's where the majority of economic output lies.

Posted by: anon at May 2, 2010 12:31 PM

So we are building another statewide transportation infrastructure that is not helpful to the majority of the population?

Where in the world did I say anything remotely like this? MIDDLE means middle. Upper means upper. If you're looking at it in thirds, that would be 67% of the population. I would look at it in quintiles and include HSR primarily for the four highest quintiles, meaning 80% of the population. Not sure how either of those numbers wouldn't be a majority.

Posted by: anon at May 2, 2010 12:37 PM

HSR will get cars off the road, will delay having to widen I-5 and 99, and delay having to expand airport capacity. That is why HSR makes fiscal sense-- the other options to increase transportation capacity to meet California's projected population growth are also very expensive. We can't rely on our 1960's transportation infrastructure forever.

Posted by: Dan at May 2, 2010 6:43 PM

Since some people are so poor they can only afford to walk, should we instead build more sidewalks from SF to LA!

Posted by: Dan at May 2, 2010 6:45 PM

"HSR is built primarily for middle and upper classes, with an emphasis on business travel."

"anon", that is what YOU said that caused me to question what is the primary goal of HSR. Of course there are poor people who will not afford HSR, but I feel that we should consider setting fares to make HSR affordable to at least 80% of the population of the state. If people are going to have to pay for this with their taxes, like public schools, this should be made as accessible as possible.

I agree with the Dutch and Danish policies of making public transportation VERY affordable (or free which is a current policy of many Dutch transit systems) since it is cheaper for the government to pay for a portion of the operation of the trains vs. having to build new roads and airports. I don't think HSR should be cheap or free, but I do think that it should be affordable enough to encourage people to get out of their cars.

Posted by: GearySubway at May 2, 2010 7:10 PM

^That's exactly what I said!!!! 80% of the population IS the middle and upper classes!!!!

Posted by: anon at May 2, 2010 7:56 PM

@anon: 80% of the population is NOT middle and upper class. What are your income brackers?

Posted by: SFRE at May 2, 2010 8:07 PM

Spain like Greece is about to need a bailout of record proportions. I don't know the specifics of where/what they spent money on, but perhaps they don't have the most financially realistic infrastructure model to follow.

Posted by: fonzie at May 2, 2010 9:36 PM

Race has everything to do with what Californians are willing to spend taxpayer dollars on and you have to be pretty deliberately ignorant to not see it.

Posted by: NoeValleyJim at May 2, 2010 9:53 PM

SFRE - I already said the top four quintiles - 80%.

Posted by: anon at May 2, 2010 10:47 PM

It has to do with the clientele served. Subways are built for all classes. HSR is built primarily for middle and upper classes, with an emphasis on business travel.

anon has it exactly right. But this isn't limited to HSR and subways. In many countries, cheaper modes of transportation are often filthier than more expensive modes of transport. I've especially noticed this in less developed countries, where local buses are often dirtier than more expensive local trains.

Also, I don't understand the point of comparing the cleanliness of California HSR to the Japanese Shinkansen. It's obvious that Americans in general have a higher tolerance to grime, and more of a disregard for fellow citizens than the Japanese. HSR won't be as clean as the Shinkansen, but it'll be much cleaner than BART.

If we want clean BART, I think the only way to go about it is to enforce the no eating thing with fines consistent with Singapore's MRT system, or at the very least, HK's MTR.

I don't get why people are so sensitive about the HSR serving middle to upper classes. People who cannot afford it will simply take the bus if they need to get somewhere. That's how it is in every country that has high-speed rail. Just because it's taxpayer money subsidizing HSR doesn't mean everybody has to use it. If HSR fares are going to be really cheap, I say don't even bother building it. It'll suck too much taxpayer money into maintaining it. And it'll become dirty and run down, just like BART.

Posted by: joh at May 2, 2010 11:27 PM

Joh, the point is that if HSR is being built for the "upper" classes, who can predict whether this group would really want to ride a public train vs driving their own vehicles to Pebble Beach and Santa Barbara (Oh I forgot, Caltrain will not go to "those" places, or to Napa, Palm Springs or Laguna Beach). Ever notice who drives and who rides the trains in Europe? I see plently of middle and working class families taking the train to EuroDisney from London, and going from Brussels to beach resorts in Spain. I also see MANY wealthier people driving their S-500's and 7 series BMW's to vacation and business destinations instead of taking the train. What is so wrong with making Caltrain affordable? Why not 75 dollar round trip tickets to L.A.? If you make Caltrain expensive, plan on having to widen Highway 5.

Posted by: anon2 at May 3, 2010 6:37 AM

HSR isn't cheap in Europe-- it is usually comparable to flying on a major airline, and usually costs more than flying on a discount airline. But driving costs more in Europe, and is bound to get more expensive again here as gas prices rise again. HSR will be cost competitive with driving alone--and many if not most cars on I-5 are people driving alone. HSR will free up space on I-5 for families of four driving to Disneyland.

As for the idea that the US is divided into the impoverished, and those who drive their luxury cars to Pebble Beach for a round of golf: there are a lot of people between these extremes. HSR can succeed without putting limo drivers out of their jobs. HSR in Europe has 1st and 2nd class cars, appealing to both the luxury and middle class passenger.

Posted by: Dan at May 3, 2010 7:39 AM

"Since taking HSR for the first time between the cities I travel most often here (the Toledo-Madrid-Zaragoza-Barcelona corridor) there is NO WAY IN HELL I will take that flight over again."

For people discussing cleanliness of BART vs. HSR, AVE vs. a normal Spanish train or a Spanish commuter train is a big difference too.

Anyway, I'm not sure why many people are so against infrastructure (and maybe it's the boomer issue that someone alluded to). Manufacturing and infrastructure are two big factors that kept this country going for so long, and we seem to have little interest in modernizing either of them.

Posted by: corntrollio at May 3, 2010 10:26 AM

I'm for the HSR, but again, don't expect the same experience that you would get on the HSR systems in Europe/Asia - we are a different culture.

As for pricing, when I lived on the east coast, taking the Amtrak Acela [from NYC to Boston] was more expensive than flying and took much longer because of the stops.

Again, I'm for HSR. I would be an even bigger supporter, if the government said "Let me prove I get something right first. Let me show you what a great job I can do on "DMV" or whatever". But they won't and will continue to make a mess out of everything and do it half-assed.

Posted by: SFRE at May 3, 2010 10:49 AM

^How about the freeway system? Or the airports? Why not shut down all state spending on all infrastructure until the state can get the DMV right?

Side note - I've never really understood the displeasure with the DMV. For what the DMV does, it does it pretty well. It's whole point is to enforce regulations and issue licenses. What's the problem? Do you have a much better experience waiting in line for your turn at a hospital or doctor's office while filling out insurance forms?

Posted by: anon at May 3, 2010 11:00 AM

If the state can't get things like the DMV or MUNI functioning effectively, how can you expect them to get HSR functioning efficiently? The private sector almost always does a better job (compare DMV to a banking experience).

Posted by: SFRE at May 3, 2010 11:18 AM

SFRE, I don't necessarily disagree with you, but you gave about the worst example imaginable! With the bailouts the banks needed to keep us from crashing into another Great Depression, we could have built about 50 HSR projects -- or more. And I renewed my driver's license on-line last year on the DMV web site, and it took me about three minutes without ever having to leave my office.

You really cannot use private sector" and "banking" in the same sentence anymore.

Posted by: A.T. at May 3, 2010 11:52 AM

Um, ok, why should the DMV be comparable to a banking experience? A "banking experience" is not a heavily regulated transaction, on the consumer level, with numerous forms, tests, and verifications to be performed with EVERY transaction.

MUNI is a poor example as well, for the reasons I've mentioned before. Italy's local public transit is even more disastrous than the Bay Area's, yet the HSR system is fantastic (because HSR competes with air travel and car travel and a decent amount is charged for each use, where local transit has no real competition with similar levels of service or price - it's subsidized well below cost and well below what alternatives cost).

Posted by: anon at May 3, 2010 12:36 PM

And by the way - I am absolutely all for private companies being brought in to manage/operate the HSR line - hopefully a few different ones. I'd love to get on a Virgin train to head to LA. Who operates the trains has not been decided. It's simply been decided that the state will build the infrastructure, just as the state builds freeways (but oodles of private companies use them) and airports (but oodles of private companies use them).

Everyone keeps comparing this to local and regional publicly-owned transit systems, when it should be compared to interregional public/private transit systems (freeways and airports).

Posted by: anon at May 3, 2010 12:58 PM

Anyone who compares HSR in Europe or Japan to proposals in the US is living in their own unique reality. HSR only works in those two regions because of population density.

Japan for example has a population density of over 10x that of the US. If California had the same density as Japan it would mean 143 million people. But we don't have 143 million people...so the comparison is beyond invalid, like saying why don't I buy a $50MM house because Larry Ellison bought one...

Posted by: anon at May 3, 2010 1:31 PM

"compare DMV to a banking experience"

Ummm, seriously? Banking experiences suck, except when I use ATMs or online systems. You wait in line for an undue amount of time because they've cut back on tellers, those tellers try to sell you crappy products that are inferior to those available at online banks, you get almost nothing in interest or any other benefits from your account, and they're trying to fleece you at every turn for fixed-fee penalties and charges.

In addition, banks operate as hedge funds using your money, charge ridiculously high fees for running basic 401(k) plans, lobby the government to reduce regulation so that they can gamble, lever up beyond reasonable belief so that they become too big to fail, and then lie to the government so they can get bailouts to pay out ridiculous bonuses to employees who supposedly made our financial system almost collapse.

Yes, let's make the DMV exactly like the banks.

Posted by: corntrollio at May 3, 2010 1:55 PM

"Anyone who compares HSR in Europe or Japan to proposals in the US is living in their own unique reality. HSR only works in those two regions because of population density."

Again, we're talking about *regional* use of HSR in the U.S. It probably makes very little sense to have an HSR line from LA to Nashville via the I-10/210/I-15/I-40 corridor, but that doesn't necessarily mean that populated areas of California shouldn't be linked.

"Japan for example has a population density of over 10x that of the US. If California had the same density as Japan it would mean 143 million people. But we don't have 143 million people"

But that's not a fair comparison either. How much of California is mountainous, national park, refuge, and other things that can't be reasonably built-upon? You have to compare the reasonably inhabitable portion of California to the reasonably inhabitable portion of Japan.

That might still give Japan a higher density of people -- I have no idea. But Japan has much better infrastructure generally and tends to support density generally, whereas in SF you have NIMBYs who don't want it because the infrastructure doesn't support it, but those same NIMBYs say they don't want the infrastructure because the density doesn't support it.

Posted by: corntrollio at May 3, 2010 2:05 PM

"Anyone who compares HSR in Europe or Japan to proposals in the US is living in their own unique reality."

Hence the comparison to Spain.

And for what its worth California and France have nearly the same density (France is a little denser) yet the French have run a viable and highly popular HSR system for decades. When the French began build HSR in the 1970s they were less dense than California.

The biggest density difference occurs in the land between the Sierra Foothills and the Front Range of the Rockies. That region is lightly populated and it makes more sense to treat mainland USA as two regions : the west coast and the east. The low density desert would be the last place to invest in transportation improvements (yet we have 5 E-W interstate highways spanning that region)

Yes, density matters to HSR viability. We're already there and still growing.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at May 3, 2010 2:07 PM

Joh, the point is that if HSR is being built for the "upper" classes, who can predict whether this group would really want to ride a public train vs driving their own vehicles to Pebble Beach and Santa Barbara (Oh I forgot, Caltrain will not go to "those" places, or to Napa, Palm Springs or Laguna Beach).

Not just the upper classes. Ever see the passeners who fly from SFO to LAX? Well, I think it's safe to predict that those are the same people who will make up the HSR ridership. Primarily the middle and upper classes.

Sure, the middle class and rich still drive to southern California, but don't forget that many of them choose to fly, especially for shorter trips.

Posted by: joh at May 3, 2010 3:21 PM

O.K., I finally get it now. HSR will not take cars off the roads, just offer an alternative to airplanes.

Posted by: sigh at May 3, 2010 5:40 PM

Back in 1991-2 I worked writing reports for the California High Speed Rail Porject then housed in Environmental Design at UC Berkeley (in the Urban Research area). At that time there was an impressive amount of experience on building and operating high speed trains, in Japan from the 1960s, in France from the early 1980s, and elsewhere ... and there was no need to re-invent the wheel.

And since then ... nothing has happened here. Meanwhile France has expanded its system, Japan filled in some remaining gaps, and Spain, Germany and italy have joined the HS Rail world. Sweden and Italy introduced "tilting" trains to increase train speeds significantly with much less costly rebuilding of rail lines.

So why has nothing happened: I am at a loss to know why - some fatal American attitude that Americans have to re-invent the wheel - how could the French, Germans, Italians know better than we Americans - is that the problem? This dismissive attitude seems to apply also to improving urban transportation - streetcars, subways, traffic separation, you name it. Just as the American health care system is the "finest" in the world, so are American approaches to urban development and urban transportation. Such a pity, but there seems to be little to be done to overcome the weight of this cultural bias .. and although back in 1992 I thought I would see a high speed rail line well under way when I was to retire some ten years later (as did most of those who worked on the project), now I doubt I will see anything on the ground as long as I live - nearly 20 years after I worked on this project (and this was a minor role) nothing has been built; why would I expect to see anything in the next 20 years, by which time I will be in my early 90s (if I live that long). What an absurdity!

Posted by: londoner1936 at May 3, 2010 5:41 PM

O.K., I finally get it now. HSR will not take cars off the roads, just offer an alternative to airplanes.

No, I'm afraid you don't get it.

Yes, HSR will offer an alternative to flying. Which is a good thing, since HSR will be far cleaner than planes.

As for cars...

- HSR will take some drivers off the road, especially as oil prices continue to rise.

- HSR will become a more attractive option as our state (along with I-5) becomes more congested.

- HSR will serve cities in between the Bay Area and Southern California where flying isn't a viable option.

Posted by: joh at May 3, 2010 6:33 PM

@joh & @anon: A report just came out today that the Bay Area transit system need $1 billion A YEAR for the next 25 years to survive. Another example of how public money does work efficiently, and ends up in the pockets of others (in this case transit employees). Do you honestly think this would be any different? The answer, if you were honest, would be "no".

Its a shame that the Bay Area, which has some of the brightest people, couldn't devise a system that would be self-funding. I bet years ago when the BART was a concept the people pitching it said something to the effect "Oh this will pay for itself and actually provide money to the state of CA", and this is how it was sold to the people. In fact that has been a disaster, like nearly ALL of public transportation in the US (NYC subways too).

The solution should not be to ADD more transportation funded by the public, but fix the problems that are already there. If they can fix up BART, and make it reliable, and have it be self-funding, then I am all for it. If not, then we can be here 10 years from now when HSR asks for more public money because [insert excuse here].

http://www.insidebayarea.com/top-stories/ci_15008315

Posted by: SFRE at May 3, 2010 8:35 PM

Again with the comparison to local/regional transit. Local and regional transit is not self-funding ANYWHERE in the world. Nowhere. Not a single place.

Interregional transit is self-funding most places (except in the US, as our gas tax is too low to adequately fund interregional highways). Even in the US though, airports are mostly self-funding (mostly, not entirely). Are you ever going to respond to the argument that HSR is interregional transit that should be compared to freeways and airports, not regional transit like BART or Muni? Even Japanese subway systems don't fund themselves.

Posted by: anon at May 3, 2010 8:50 PM

Population Density per Sq Mi:

Japan: 873/sq mi
Italy: 517/sq mi
Spain: 235/sq mi
California: 217/sq mi

In all the places that were mentioned, population density was much higher than CA. You also have to look at the transportation options, in many of these places its something like a Fiat Uno or small motorbike, vs the US where its a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. Amtrak, which has four major cities in relatively close proximity (Washington, Philly, NYC, Boston) couldn't make it profitable (they lose money on every passenger), what makes you think that a SF to LA train would make it work?

As to your point about being an interregional transportation, I understand that. My point is that we should not build things that are not somewhat self-sustaining. I think infrastructure projects are good, but at what point does it not make sense? How much public support is the tipping point?

Here is a relatively balanced article from the NYT, trying to calculate the costs of a HSR.

Balanced Article on Whether HSR is Worth It?
http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/04/running-the-numbers-on-high-speed-trains/?hp

Amtrak Loses $32 per Passenger, but don't worry we will make it up in volume!!

http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/item_92rffr5gnsigSh1UPCxzmI

Posted by: SFRE at May 3, 2010 9:18 PM

Um, the Amtrak Acela (DC to Boston) line IS profitable. It helps subsidize the long-distance trains, which are uber-unprofitable. It's easily findable in Amtrak's annual reports. You certainly won't find me defending the subsidization of five day trips across the US for train geeks. IMO, we should disband all long-distance Amtrak service and concentrate the 200-600 mile routes (Chicago hub network, Portland to Vancouver, California, northeast corridor, a few other places).

That article is not at all balanced, because it uses assumptions on travel between two of the lowest density cities in the US, with per capita incomes FAR lower than those in California. Part of that discrepancy is made up by lower cost of living in those cities (Dallas and Houston), but note that air travel on a per capita basis between those two cities is much less than between the Bay Area and LA - in short, we're simply much wealthier (or at least the middle and upper classes are - we're more bifurcated out here, for better or for worse).

Posted by: anon at May 3, 2010 9:36 PM

This whole thing is backwards. We need to FIRST complete a regional transportation system that covers the Bay Area and Southern California the way the cities like London, Paris, Tokyo, NYC, and Chicago already have in place. What is the point of taking HSR to SF if your meeting is in Corte Madera? I can take HSR to Paris and then connect to RER or metro trains that take me to any suburb or district I may wish to choose. I recently had a meeting in Newport Beach and flew into John Wayne airport and back in time to take a late lunch in San Francisco, with HSR I would have to rent a car at Union Station and drive 90 minutes down to Newport and 90 minutes back to Union Station, and probably would not be home until 7pm.

Posted by: anon2 at May 4, 2010 5:30 AM

^Why wouldn't you take the train all the way to Anaheim, then rent a car from there? It makes no sense for you to get off at LAUS if you're going to Newport.

What is the point of taking HSR to SF if your meeting is in Corte Madera? What is the point of flying to SFO if your meeting is in Corte Madera?

If you think that there is the political will to spend a lot of money on local transit first, put together a ballot initiative. Keep in mind, local transit will need billions and billions for capital projects first, then billions and billions annually for operations (since no local transit anywhere in the world operates without MASSIVE public subsidies). I don't think there's the political will for that, but clearly you do.

Posted by: anon at May 4, 2010 7:38 AM

Ah yes, anon2 brings up the old "you cannot build this piece of the system unless every other piece is already in place" argument. The cool thing about that argument is its reflexive property. If this were a discussion of a $6B build out of the regional transport network, anon2 could claim that this should not be done until HSR is built (because everyone will be arriving in cars anyways, right ?)

And if course he ignores that rental cars neatly fill the gap until regional transport becomes comprehensive.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at May 4, 2010 8:32 AM

Its a shame that the Bay Area, which has some of the brightest people, couldn't devise a system that would be self-funding. I bet years ago when the BART was a concept the people pitching it said something to the effect "Oh this will pay for itself and actually provide money to the state of CA", and this is how it was sold to the people. In fact that has been a disaster, like nearly ALL of public transportation in the US (NYC subways too).

I never understand this argument. Highways aren't generally self-funding. Even the 91 Express Lanes in Orange County, while they were private/quasi-private, had an implicit subsidy because the government agreed not to build additional lanes that might compete with them.

Posted by: corntrollio at May 4, 2010 11:02 AM

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