November 26, 2013

High Speed Rail Ruling Threatens Transbay Terminal Plan As Well

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny has ruled that California's High Speed Rail Authority cannot access the $9 billion in bonds that voters had approved for the HSR project back in 2008. While the ruling doesn’t kill HSR in California outright, it does drive a significant stake, or sharp tie, through the project's pocketbook. From the LA Times:

Kenny ruled that the state does not have a valid financing plan, which was required under the 2008 bond measure, Proposition 1A. The measure included provisions intended to ensure the state did not start the project if it did not have all of the necessary funds to complete a self-supporting, initial operating segment.
The state rail agency created a funding plan, but it was an estimated $25 billion short of the amount needed to complete a first working section of the line.
Kenny ruled that the state must rescind the plan and create a new one, a difficult task because the state High-Speed Rail Authority hasn't identified sources of additional revenue to allocate to the project.

In addition, Kenny ruled officials "made critical errors in approving the sale of the bonds" and declined to legally validate their sale but did refuse to grant a request to stop California's HSR project in its tracks or cancel construction contracts which have already been issued.

The state has argued it can use federal grant funds, which are not subject to the conditions of Proposition 1A, to start construction. But eventually the state will have to match federal grant funds. Without access to bond funds, the legislature would have to appropriate money from a different source.

The ruling doesn't only threaten California's High Speed Rail project but also the 1.4 mile extension of Caltrain from Forth and King to San Francisco's new Transbay Transit Center, a billion-dollar-plus project which would have to be funded by the City and Caltrain if the dollars for HSR fall short.

First Published: November 26, 2013 2:15 PM

Comments from "Plugged In" Readers

I wish we could take that $9B and finance better transit for our cities.

Posted by: Mark at November 26, 2013 2:49 PM

I wish we could take that $9B and build an HSR system without all the self-interested obstructionists.

Posted by: lyqwyd at November 26, 2013 3:06 PM

A lot more people would benefit from a subway from Union Square/Transbay out Geary Blvd to the Ocean Beach and perhaps a line up Van Ness than would ever benefit from a HSR train the runs between Fresno and Merced, or whatever the final plan was.

And give Los Angeles an additional 9 billion to finish completing the Wilshire Blvd subway to the ocean as well.

Posted by: discouraged at November 26, 2013 3:41 PM

In the mean time, on another planet, Morocco is actively building its first 200 miles of HSR with speeds up to 200MPH.

Projected cost: $1.2B

A country like Morocco WILL get its first High Speed Train running before 2015, while we're still debating this project into the ground.

Posted by: lol at November 26, 2013 3:47 PM

discouraged - Perhaps you've heard that CAHSR intends to serve more than just Fresno and Merced. It is silly to evaluate its merits only on the first operating segment.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at November 26, 2013 4:09 PM

At least we'll have the coolest bus terminal and homeless "home" on the planet.

Posted by: BTinSF at November 26, 2013 4:10 PM

@discouraged

I'm happy to have a subway along Geary, just keep your hands off the HSR money.

I, and millions of other Californians, voted to build an HSR system. It was a high turnout election, and in the middle of the great recession. We want it built.

I find it despicable that a few jerks can throw up hurdles and try to kill the project based on technicalities.

Posted by: lyqwyd at November 26, 2013 4:26 PM

Well, the political landscape in CA is pretty well defined. Coastal areas are predominantly Democrat and therefore transit-friendly. The Inland areas are predominantly Republican and therefore against public transit.

One issue we have is that it isn't practical to make the HSR go through coastal Cali. Which means rich Democrats have to beg less rich Republicans to let them use their land for their Dem's transit needs.

Now inland Republicans love Democrat taxpayer's money when it comes to funding Caltrans and all the nice freeways that make their lives easier. But public transit would benefit mostly Democrats.

This is clearly an US vs THEM fight.

Posted by: lol at November 26, 2013 4:44 PM

@discouraged

Bay area bike share won't even add stations in the outer richmond due to low density. This would seem to imply that there's not enough density for a subway either unless the west part of the city starts building upward.

Posted by: RobBob at November 26, 2013 4:47 PM

Yes, it's a "technicality" to actually expect the state to follow the law the voters passed. Some of you commenters really make me want to shake my head. This thing was an unrealistic and expensive boondoggle from the time it was first planned. But hey, we will indeed have a cool bus station. (Unneeded as the temporary one is just fine.)

Posted by: Mark F. at November 26, 2013 4:57 PM

Another reality check. There is no possible funding for more subways in San Francisco. Give it up, folks. Maybe they can improve the bus lanes on Geary and Van Ness.

Posted by: Mark F. at November 26, 2013 5:00 PM

The bay bridge was a boondoggle. The walnut creek 4th bore was a boondoggle. HSR is a boondoggle.

Every major project is a boondoggle in somebody's eyes. It's just a word people use when they don't like a project, but can't provide a legit complaint.

Over budget a reason not to do something? I guess we'll have to reverse 95% of all state infrastructure projects.

HSR is one of the only projects that has had to go to a statewide vote, and is therefore the most legitimate of any project in history, yet has hurdles constantly thrown up by obstructionists.

Yes, it's absolutely a technicality, particularly since it doesn't stop the project, only makes it more difficult, time consuming, and expensive, to complete.

Posted by: lyqwyd at November 26, 2013 5:05 PM

Thank you lyqwyd, exactly what I was thinking. CAHSR might sound incredibly expensive, but HSR is up and running in how many countries now? Japan, France, Germany, Spain, Great Britain, China....and now even places like Morocco are beating us to it?

Don't give me American "exceptionalism" on this one (people love their cars and will never ride a train...bulls#%*). It would be expensive to build, but it would eventually be seen as absolutely vital to the growth and development of the state.

This country has to get a little more VISIONARY again. We've become a country that can't even repair our basic infrastructure, not to mention build transformative projects. I was hoping, and still hope, that California will lead the way to a better tomorrow.....

Posted by: curmudgeon at November 26, 2013 5:14 PM

@curmudgeon

Damn straight!

Posted by: lyqwyd at November 26, 2013 5:21 PM

Never mind this 18th-century technology. Bring on Elon Musk's vacuum tube.

Posted by: formidable doer of the nasty at November 26, 2013 5:24 PM

Judge Kenny has halted the HSR because it doesn't have a valid financial plan. A voice of reason in a sea of confusion. Once a valid financial plan is submitted, HSR will be "back on track".

Posted by: james jr at November 26, 2013 5:26 PM

"To interest lawmakers and investors in the United States in the Japanese technology, Japan has offered to cover several billion dollars in costs. "


The Japanese are trying to help New York with HSR including with possible funding assistance. Send them over here!

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/19/business/international/japan-pitches-americans-on-its-maglev-train.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&_r=0

Posted by: anon94123 at November 26, 2013 5:27 PM

I thought we were all going to be on Segways...remember when it came out? Just before it was unveiled, the inventor said it would change the world...maybe it will...someday...

Posted by: noe mom at November 26, 2013 5:28 PM

Agree witih lyqwyd and curmudgeon... feel so depressed to be living in a 2nd-tier country, that can't build anything anymore without whining and crying.

Interest rates are at their lowest in decades (and likely lowest they'll be for decades to come) - it's almost criminal *not* to be building infrastructure at this time. And we can't even fund a subway down Geary (if you build it, they will ride - and the density's no less than on some branches of the Green Line or Orange Line in Boston)... This must be like what it felt to live in Britain in the early 20th century, with the politians and pundits still boasting of exceptionalism, even as the Empire was already fading into the sunset.

Posted by: Sierrajeff at November 26, 2013 5:44 PM

noe mom,

HSR changed countries already.

Heck I am buying a house in the south of France 10 minutes from a HSR station. 500 miles and 3:20 to Paris where I have my other pad. No driving, no hassle, I can sleep, eat, read, work from my seat. Then I am in Paris and a 15 minute metro ride away from my other home that I rent out. When timed right, it's less than $100 one way. Usually $150 to $200 when done at the last minute.

Doing that between SF and SD? Nope, I think it will never happen, I do not believe in flying saucers. Many here just can't see the life changing effect of a decent public infrastructure.

Posted by: lol at November 26, 2013 5:45 PM

"Judge Kenny has halted the HSR"

No, he halted the bond sale. The federal money is still available to get the project started.

It's certainly going to be a pain in the ass.

No major project procures all funding at the start, the only one that is being required to show all funding sources is HSR. This is in spite of it being the only project of this scale that has been voter approved. Other projects are done without any involvement of voters, yet they have far less stringent requirements.

It is ridiculous that a voter approved project has to deal with more red tape than other projects.

Posted by: lyqwyd at November 26, 2013 6:05 PM

Since its beginning, CHSRA has been a full-employment act for consultants who just want to get theirs. Millions have been spent, and not a mile of track laid or a piect of rolling equipment purchased. They defied HSR conventions--building 32 miles of viaduct, ramming it through downtown Bakersfield, taking long detours through Tehachapi rather than building a more direct route over the Grapevine. They ignored recommendations from the French who have years of experience. Their ridership estimates and cost estimates were pulled out of their ass. As CHSRA sowed, so it now reaps--a bitter harvest.

If CHSRA never gets built, it will be their own fault. I am a fervent rail fan, I ride rail whenever I can. I voted for the bonds to build CHSR, which I now bitterly regret. Time to pull the plug on this clown show and call it a day.

Posted by: Patrick at November 26, 2013 7:28 PM

"The ruling doesn't only threaten California's High Speed Rail project but also the 1.4 mile extension of Caltrain from Forth and King to San Francisco's new Transbay Transit Center, a billion-dollar-plus project which would have to be funded by the City and Caltrain if the dollars for HSR fall short."

WHAT DOES this mean to the Transit Center, proposed Tower, etc.??

Posted by: Louis at November 26, 2013 9:34 PM

I think lyqwyd has nailed it here: "I wish we could take that $9B and build HSR without all the self-interested obstructionists"

Perfectionists like "Patrick" above complaining about "Millions" being spent on consultants. Um, yes, "one MILLION dollars". Dude, a project of this scale takes planning. And obviously a few lawyers to move a voter-approved project forward through the self interested obstructionists. It doesn't take the route you prefer, so now you oppose it? That's an extraordinarily selfish position.

The route is to hit pockets of population density - because that's where it'll get the most use and have the most impact.

Transit of all kinds follows people, but people follow transit as well. Build stations outside of town next to freeways and you'll have sprawl development at those new stations and jammed parking lots. Build through existing downtowns and those downtowns will flourish.

Of course, building infrastructure that makes getting out of our cars and building more robust city centers is likely to be opposed by people who make money off of cars and the sprawl machine. Hmm, look through any metropolitan news daily and see whose ads fill them: Car dealerships and "drive til you qualify" housing development in exurbia. Is it any wonder why media parrots the talking points of CAHSR opponents?

As for the US vs THEM, blue vs. red component, I'd like to call out two Bay Area politicians who, instead of nitpicking, need to grab onto the rope and pull with the rest of us. I'm talking about you Quentin Kopp and Joe Simitian - you guys are both big disappointments and utterly lacking in vision and leadership.

There are 38 million of us Californians, and as mentoned by other posters, record low interest rates. What's it going to be like to build this project when there are 50 million Californians (read: opinions) and a less favorable interest rate environment?

I hope we get a little more bully pulpit and hardball playing from Governor Brown and other leaders - so that CAHSR, Caltrain Electrification and extension to the Transbay Terminal keep moving forward on the current timeline. That's what the majority of us voted for.

Posted by: 7 by 7 at November 26, 2013 10:20 PM

@ lol: I just got back from a trip to France and Switzerland. Using the TGV between Paris and Geneva was a breeze. Clean, efficient, and it connects right to the airport in Paris.
I sat in the train wondering what was wrong with this country that we can't accomplish things like that here. Sad.

Posted by: Jlasf at November 26, 2013 11:56 PM

I think we should look at this as an opportunity to reroute the HSR out of the central valley, since the yokels there are so vehemently opposed to it. Let's keep it closer to the coast, closer to things that travellers want to see and do, and away from the manure fields. And just as it's played out in so many places where people fought bringing in trains, subways, highways, etc... they'll either come grovelling one day hoping to be connected to relevance, or they'll fade away into oblivion. Either way, screw 'em and lets get this thing going.

Posted by: Sid at November 27, 2013 1:01 AM

California voted for HSR - WE WANT IT -

Some idiots are miffed that it upsets their plans to plant broccoli and cauliflower

IDIOTS

And a judge throws up another "TrainBlock" (Roadblock)

The ability of the few to deny the wishes of the many is why it's almost impossible to get anything done

BUILD HIGH SPEED RAIL

Posted by: mdg at November 27, 2013 6:53 AM

So at the end of the day we'll have a 2 billion dollar bus terminal.

I'm a huge fan of HSR, but I don't see it happening anytime in the next 25 years.

Posted by: Sam at November 27, 2013 9:28 AM

"Another reality check. There is no possible funding for more subways in San Francisco. Give it up, folks."

There certainly is if we say there is. The annual budget of the city of San Francisco alone is 8 billion. It is just a matter of local and regional priorities

Posted by: zig at November 27, 2013 9:34 AM

"I find it despicable that a few jerks can throw up hurdles and try to kill the project based on technicalities."

I just glanced at an article about the ruling but I think the "technicality" is the financing plan is totally unrealistic, correct?

The switch to the plan of using the current commuter rail infrastructure might also be ripe for a lawsuit if the trains don't really get people LA to SF in 2.5 hours

Maybe this was a little to ambitious for CA to start with and we should have started smaller? Don't know. Instead we went big with the feeling that once it starts it would be a fait accompli and the money would follow happily or otherwise.

Posted by: zig at November 27, 2013 9:44 AM

Sid - Routing HSR down the 101 corridor would kill the project quickly. There aren't as many people living there to get reasonable ridership. And there's already train service along that route (albeit quite slow. LSR?) Also there's still the obstructionists in San Mateo County to deal with on either route.

If you read the farm owner's complaints about HSR through the Central Valley you'll see that there really aren't significant damages. But they're trying to inflate the impact by claiming that the rail line will divide historic family farms. Where were those complaints when I-5, Hwy-99, and the other N-S railways built? Oh yeah, that was back before our legal system condoned this sort of extortion.

----------------------------------------

Without HSR, Caltrain won't fund the tunnel to the transbay alone. That's a real shame since there's an enormous amount of jobs within walking distance of the transbay. Even without HSR, Caltrain alone to the transbay makes sense. But without HSR it won't happen.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at November 27, 2013 9:50 AM

milkshake

You seem to be a rail enthusiast. The Surfliner in central and southern Cal is very popular despite the abysmal service. There has been some talk of starting back up train between SF and LA. Are the conflicts between freight insurmountable? As it stands now you sit in pocket tracks sometimes for 20-30 minutes and the top speed on the single track is like 50 miles/hr

LA to SF on that train (maybe 9 hours) is a slam dunk with tourists and locals. It is a beautiful ride.

I would personally prefer this to HSR although I see they serve different segments

Posted by: zig at November 27, 2013 11:16 AM

There already is a train between SF and LA. The Coast Starlight makes the trip in 12 hours and 10 minutes. Its nickname is the Coast "Star-Late" because of its dismal on-time performance. There is no comparison of this route to the population that would be served by the CHSR project.

Posted by: emanon at November 27, 2013 12:07 PM

Ideally, the Coast Starlight Route will eventually be improved, and the freight conflicts minimized. But it will never be high speed rail. You can only have high speed rail on a passenger-only corridor. Even in the best circumstances Coast Starlight will be pretty pokey (if beautiful) route.

Posted by: curmudgeon at November 27, 2013 1:40 PM

"There is no comparison of this route to the population that would be served by the CHSR project."

True. There used to be a service called the Coast Daylight. I think my grandparents could get between SF and downtown LA on a train in about 9 hours so we have reversed progress. The 12 hours in the Coast Daylight now is if you are lucky and there aren't mutli-hour delays with freight conflicts.

The Coast Daylight would be an awesome train and much different than CSR. Maybe better for tourists in fact

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coast_Daylight_%28SP_train%29

Posted by: zig at November 27, 2013 3:43 PM

"You can only have high speed rail on a passenger-only corridor. Even in the best circumstances Coast Starlight will be pretty pokey (if beautiful) route."

Right now there is areas where this route can go only 50 miles/hr single tracked so it can be much improved. 100 miles/hr plus is not unreasonable I believe

Access to the the Transbay and caltrains ROW could give trains from Monterrey/Salinas and even the east over the dumbarton if the will is there

Posted by: Zig at November 27, 2013 3:48 PM

I get a little tired of all the European HSR comparisons. For the record, the number of people per square mile:

Germany: 583 per sq. mi.
Switzerland: 477 per sq. mi.
France: 301 per sq. mi.
Italy: 511 per sq. mi.
Belgium: 936 per sq. mi.
Netherlands: 1048 per sq. mi.

California: 242 per sq. mi.
USA: 87 per sq. mi.

The United States, and even California, doesn't have nearly the same population density as Europe. I believe it is completely unfair to compare.

Posted by: apropos at November 29, 2013 10:29 PM

Spain: 210 per sq mi.

Spain has a perfectly functioning HSR.

Posted by: NoeValleyJim at November 30, 2013 4:16 PM

apropos: those figures are nonsense because they conflate vast empty spaces with the places people actually live and want to go. When you're planning a line from SF to LA, the population density of Modoc County is not relevant. What matters is the population in SF, LA, and points along the route-- which are comparable to other countries with HSR. Such as Spain.

Posted by: Alai at November 30, 2013 11:37 PM

HSR forecasted travel time between L.A. and S.F. after completion would be 3.5 hours. Therefore travel time is more than twice as long as flying and ticket cost would be more than DOUBLE airfare. If I had a meeting in L.A. I would fly and get a rental car to where my meeting is. I cannot afford 4 hours each way on a train.

Driving is a door to door alternative. A family in their hybrid Toyota Highlander could drive to a beach weekend in Southern California for 1/6 the cost of HSR. Plus, they would not need to get a rental car after they arrived at Union Station to drive down to Laguna or Malibu or wherever.

The newest HSR completion costs are over 70 billion dollars (up to 95 billion depending on which site you read), and 70 billion could build a lot of transit in the Bay Area and Southern California. We could electrify Caltrain, build a Geary Subway, build a new transbay tube, and even more for 1/7 of what would probably be the total HSR costs.

Imagine dividing 75 BILLION between L.A. and the Bay Area. You can build a lot of transit for 35 billion and the jobs would be right here, not in the Central Valley. I still dream of BART going down the peninsula with express trains and the Central Subway going to the Presidio. Rapid regional transit construction would be a far better investment than a train stopping at all the places I never want to go (Fresno, Merced, Stockton, Bakersfield, YUCK!).

I only go to L.A. twice a year, but I would ride this new transit almost EVERY DAY.

Posted by: NoHSR at December 1, 2013 8:14 AM

We should do both. In fact, we will have to do both.

Your costs estimates are wildly off the mark though and the rest of your "facts" are of dubious provenance. Where do you get the notion that HSR travel time will be 3.5 hours?

Anyone who claims that we can build both a Geary subway line and a new transbay tube for less than $10B is either sadly misinformed or deliberately trying to deceive. Which one is it?

Posted by: NoeValleyJim at December 1, 2013 9:56 AM

I just looked at the Wikipedia page on HSR and the estimated costs for construction are 68 billion dollars and so I agree with NoeValleyJim, the posted estimate of 75 billion may not be correct.

What I wonder is, if we cannot afford to build a Geary subway and a transbay tube for 35 billion as was mentioned earlier, how can we build a statewide rail system for double? NVJ, I believe the previous post was splitting HSR funds between L.A. and S.F., and 35 billion was for all the projects listed.

Posted by: anon at December 1, 2013 10:59 AM

The statement I disputed was this one:

"We could electrify Caltrain, build a Geary Subway, build a new transbay tube, and even more for 1/7 of what would probably be the total HSR costs."

$68B * 1/7 = $10B, not $35B.

Do you think that we can do all those things for $10B? If so, please provide sources for your estimates.

Posted by: NoeValleyJim at December 1, 2013 11:12 AM

Posted by: apropos at December 1, 2013 11:24 AM

If they proposed a high speed rail line that people would actually use, and which would actually be high speed, such as between SF and Sacramento, investors would step up to provide funding.
Since the current iteration looks like a dead duck, why not put the Warriors stadium in the lower level of the new Transbay Terminal?

Posted by: Philip at December 1, 2013 4:10 PM

If there was a 2 hour 38 minute high speed rail between SF and LA, I would use it. One could rent a car at the LA end. Flying to LA means dealing with dealing with delays at SFO and LAX. Driving I-5 gets worse all the time-- too much traffic. HSR is expensive, but the alternative to HSR is building another lane on I-5 and another runway at SFO-- which is expensive, too.

Posted by: Dan at December 1, 2013 5:25 PM

"but the alternative to HSR is ... another runway at SFO-- which is expensive, too."

No. OAK and SJC are under capacity, and if there really is that much more traffic, they can up gauge the flights to larger planes.

Rather than shaking your fist at people who oppose HSR, maybe you should be shaking it at the mess in California government and the bloodsuckers that feed off of it, which results in the need for more money to do capital projects here than anywhere else in the world.

HSR from LA to SFO should not cost $68B. It's California that makes it so.

Posted by: Toady at December 1, 2013 8:14 PM

Toady, you cut out the part of the sentence I wrote that said that adding a lane on I-5 will be necessary without HSR. HSR will not only reduce flights, but also SF-LA car trips, and i-5 is near capacity.

(Large planes are inefficient for short flights because of the time they take to load and unload.)

I agree that there ought to be a cheaper way to do HSR. Can we get the Chinese to come in and do it for us?

Posted by: Dan at December 1, 2013 9:32 PM

I cut out the I-5 because that wasn't relevant to my comment that was focused on air travel.

Most flights between SF and LA basin are on 737/A3xx and RJ sized planes, with a 757 once in a while. Heck, the Japanese are able to fill 747-400Ds on regional flights without a problem, so I don't see why loading and unloading is an issue.

We have a ways to go to fill current capacity before we need to up gauge planes anyway. OAK, SJC, ONT and BUR would love the extra business. And no new runways needed.

Chinese would still be have to operate under California rules and "ways of doing business," so even if we outsourced it to them, it probably would still cost $68B. Some of that is good - there are things you can do in a Communist dictatorship that would be unacceptable here, so to speak.

Posted by: Toady at December 2, 2013 3:52 PM

HKT (Phuket) - BKK (Bangkok) is regularly served by a 747 flown by Thai Airways. It is about a 45 minute flight.

Just one of many examples from around the world.

A used 747 can be had for around $50M these days, or so a United 747 pilot once told me. $68B would buy you 1360 747s, each capable of carrying 400 people or so per flight. Figure 2 hours (45 minutes flying, 1h15m on the ground for refueling and loading -- there are two doors and two aisles on these babies, remember? -- so you could conceivably operate 8 flights a day with 1 plane ... thereby moving about 3200 people per plane between the LA basin and SF's 3 airports.

Times 1360 = 4.352M people per day.

That's roughly 12% of our current population. PER DAY.

Is it enough capacity? Again, I don't know... but it sounds like a lot.

Is that enough to satisfy future demand? It's certainly highly scalable... just add planes as needed, add routes as needed and fly to more airports. It is vastly more flexible than a train.

Posted by: Jimmy (not a Real San Franciscan (TM)) at December 3, 2013 9:18 AM

The airline champions are forgetting that HSR serves more than just SF and LA. Also that aircraft run only on petroleum, a resource that is guaranteed to become more scarce and expensive in the future.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at December 3, 2013 9:28 AM

a resource that is guaranteed to become more scarce and expensive in the future

You're sure about this? Because history is not in your favor.

But you do raise a good point. They don't have airports in Fresno, Bakersfield or anywhere like that ... so there's no way anyone could fly there.

Posted by: Jimmy (not a Real San Franciscan (TM)) at December 3, 2013 9:44 AM

^^^ I meant that a single HSR run can serve multiple cities. I guess you could do that with aircraft too though there won't be many buyers for a 5-stop flight between SFO and LAX. In practice you'd need to replace a single HSR run with multiple point-to-point nonstop flights. That drives up the relative cost.

And yes I'm sure that jet fuel will become more expensive in the future.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at December 3, 2013 9:53 AM

It's the stops that create the issue with HSR. Only 10% of the trains can be run non-stop according to their website, so one could expect the 3 hour 50 minute train ride to Los Angeles time that was posted earlier. Also don't forget, tickets will be double the cost of airfare. ( and that doesn't include the 50% government subsidy per ticket.)

Posted by: RatherDrive at December 3, 2013 10:36 AM

No one wants to go to Fresno, or Bakersfield. They already have little puddle-jumped plans serving those airports and even then, no one takes the flights so they get a government subsidy. It's an irrelevant distraction to the main point, which is that for the price of one no-so-high speed rail train, one could buy enough 747's to fly everyone in the state from LA to SF once a week with capacity to spare.

The REAL investment should be in streamlining the TSA's idiotic procedures so (almost) everyone can be "Pre-checked" and get through security in 5 minutes instead of 30.

Plus planes can serve Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Sacramento... heck you could even fly to Truckee and Big Bear in a few minutes.

Let's government-subsidize ski flights! People need exercise and fresh air way more than a train through the dusty central valley.

Posted by: IFlyEverywhere at December 3, 2013 11:10 AM

A used 747 can be had for around $50M these days, or so a United 747 pilot once told me. $68B would buy you 1360 747s, each capable of carrying 400 people or so per flight.

Um, there have only been a total of 1,458 747s (of all varieties) ever built, so I think it's pretty unlikely that you could find 1360 used ones to buy. Maybe 5-10. A new 747 costs $300-350 million.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_747

Posted by: anon at December 3, 2013 11:42 AM

Minor detail!

You also could not find enough passengers in all of California to fill up those planes which is why the entire exercise of spending $68B to move people around the state is so utterly absurd.

Which was the point of my post in case anyone missed that subtelty.

Posted by: Jimmy (not a Real San Franciscan (TM)) at December 3, 2013 11:53 AM

Counterpoint: But I want a choo-choo! I WANT IT I WANT IT I WANT IT!!!

Posted by: Legacy Dude (not an HSR supporter) at December 3, 2013 12:16 PM

Anyone that believes HSR will "only" cost 67 billion needs to review what happened with the Bay Bridge Eastern Span project. I bet you it will be 200 billion before it is done.

Posted by: skeptic at December 3, 2013 12:21 PM

The alternatives will cost even more. You can't just buy airplanes, you have to build airports to land them in.

Posted by: NoeValleyJim at December 3, 2013 12:23 PM

There are plenty of empty landing slots at Long Beach, San Jose, Burbank, Ontario,Orange County and Oakland. No need to build runways or airports.
Flying from San Jose and Oakland to SoCal is much easier than from SFO.

Posted by: skeptic at December 3, 2013 12:34 PM

How much more will those alternatives cost, Jim? Give us your sources. Because from that perspective, we can't afford NOT to build this! Now it all makes sense.

Except that we'll still need to maintain/expand existing roadways and airports, even with HSR. HSR would just add yet another burden to taxpayers' shoulders.

If we could build this for a reasonable cost without massive delays and cost overruns, it might make sense. If we could build this on an optimal route without detours/sidetracks into the boonies, it might make sense. If we had certainty that it would achieve the speeds and travel times projected rather than being slowed down for a variety of reasons, it might make sense. But if we can't do all of those things, then we're just spending an ungodly amount of money on a new Coast Starlight that runs through Fresno. And BTW, much of those funds would go to Asian or European concerns because the U.S. has little experience building these sytems.

Posted by: Legacy Dude at December 3, 2013 12:58 PM

"Flying from San Jose and Oakland to SoCal is much easier than from SFO."

Really? I find them on par and sometimes even harder to use compared to SFO. At minumum SFO has better transit connections. Better, not great.

I still haven't heard any credible explanation of how air travel for short hops will remain competitive as oil prices continue to rise.

HSR just makes too much sense, especially when you look towards a future of higher populations and more expansive fuel. It is a proven technology successfully deployed worldwide. There's no clear reason why it wouldn't work for California. Just property owners extorting the project and others opposing it on principle.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at December 3, 2013 1:00 PM

Anyone that believes HSR will "only" cost 67 billion needs to review what happened with the Bay Bridge Eastern Span project. I bet you it will be 200 billion before it is done.

So what's the solution? Never build any new infrastructure? New bridges go way over budget, new trains will be a waste, etc...wouldn't expanded airports also go way over budget using that logic? Should we just freeze what we have now and never build anything new? People will stop moving to the state or having kids if everything grinds to a halt, right?

Posted by: anon at December 3, 2013 2:00 PM

You also could not find enough passengers in all of California to fill up those planes which is why the entire exercise of spending $68B to move people around the state is so utterly absurd.

Funny story - I remember being a plane between Barcelona and Madrid in 2000 (first job out of college, first trip to Spain), chatting up the person sitting next to me. He was going on and on about the white elephant that the government was discussing building - an HSR line between Madrid and Barcelona.

His complaint? No one would ride it. Now...the train carries more people than flights ever did...and the Barcelona-Madrid air corridor is STILL one of the busiest in the world.

Induced demand, folks. Every business understands how this works, including the airlines.

Posted by: anon at December 3, 2013 2:04 PM

Madrid-Barcelona HSR takes 2h38m while we are contemplating a much slower 3h50m transit time for a similar distance.

Regarding cost, the AVE Madrid-Barcelona cost $28M/mile; by that metric, SF-LA should cost $9.8B for the entire 350 miles!

At $194M/mile, dare I suggest that we are being mightily ripped off!

Here's a nice paper with $/mile construction costs from around the world. Read it and weep (for California): High-Speed Rail: Lessons for Policy Makers from Experiences Abroad.

Posted by: Jimmy (not a Real San Franciscan (TM)) at December 3, 2013 2:55 PM

I agree Jimmy, our costs are out of line with the rest of the world. I'd expect our costs to be a little higher due to the cost of land and living in CA, but not that much. Part of the problem that drives costs up is that there are too many cooks in the kitchen. Amtrak has a say on the carriage design which actually ripples all the way down to Caltrain's upgrade costs. Then there's the home grown signalling system which is unfortunately driven from Caltrain up to HSR. I'd like to see those issues straightened out and resolved too.

As for the 3:50 journey time, that's the worst case journey, stopping at every station, right? Certainly someone who's traveling direct SF to LA would avoid that run and take the express.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at December 3, 2013 3:18 PM

I'd believe a 25%, even 50% cost-overrun compared to Spain due to inflation, local wages, whatever. But the terrain is largely completely flat with only two mountainous regions (the Grapevine being the largest). We have seismic concerns, they have seismic concerns. We have population density... they have population density. It is virtually an apples-to-apples comparison.

So why the 500% cost premium?

Any way you slice it, it's crazy and it's got to stop.

Posted by: Jimmy (not a Real San Franciscan (TM)) at December 3, 2013 3:29 PM

Oh, I agree that the cost is out of control in California. I was just disputing the notion that the technology is not valid or that the technology would not work in California.

All of the problems are political, and political problems exist for ALL infrastructure types in this state. It's madness, and it needs to stop, but it has nothing to do with HSR in particular.

Posted by: anon at December 3, 2013 3:41 PM

As another comparison, Barcelona had wild cost overruns on their recently completed 50+ mile subway line - to something that is still less than 20% of the per mile cost that our BART-to-nowhere (aka Berryessa in SJ) line is costing. And the Barcelona line was cutting through areas denser than SF, where the SJ line is mostly greenfield or very, very low density suburbia.

The world's tallest suspension bridge was built in France a few years ago for less than a billion dollars. And it's more than twice as long as the $7 billion Bay Bridge east span. So it costs ~15 times as much to build something in the Bay Area? Must be because we don't have to deal with those crazy French unions. Oh wait.

We can't seem to do any infrastructure projects without at least a 5-10 times markup over the rest of the developed world. Nothing special about HSR.

Posted by: anon at December 3, 2013 3:48 PM

All of that extra money goes into somebody's pocket! If this were being built at the same or even remotely similar cost to the line in Spain, we would have no issue funding it and very few people objecting. $68B is a BIG number. That number alone is why so many people are opposing this in so many creative ways. Its the opposite of induced demand -- induced rejection. A good idea at $10B and a financial catastrophe at $68B.

Posted by: Jimmy (not a Real San Franciscan (TM)) at December 3, 2013 3:52 PM

If there is such a huge need for HSR service, why not let private industry build it? Since boosters claim this will be so profitable why does 68 billion in taxes need to go to encourage trios to Los Angeles when the REAL traffic problem is right here in our own backyard. Use the money on Caltrain and subways and other infrastructure instead!

Posted by: Anon at December 3, 2013 4:13 PM

My point is that I wish the same people objecting to the big number with HSR would object to the "little" numbers like $7 billion for the Bay Bridge and $2 billion for the Central Subway. $8 billion and counting for BART to SJ. The soon-to-come disaster that is the Purple Line in LA. If and when we expand SFO or LAX, I expect utter disaster there, though it will be small at only $8-10 billion each (and only 10-15 times what it should cost).

All of these small projects add up to real money. We need change on how we handle infrastructure projects in California instead of just knee-jerk reactions to a big project while giving passes to little single digit billion projects.

Posted by: anon at December 3, 2013 4:16 PM

America has the ONLY rail system in the world that turns a profit, and it is our freight rail system. All other rail systems around the world (except for the Disney parks) can only operate with heavy government subsidies.

Posted by: NoHSR at December 3, 2013 4:24 PM

And the freeway system is 100% government subsidies. Yet we're building more of it. What's your point exactly apart from making a false point? America is easily 30 years behind Europe and already 10 years behind China. Nothing to be proud of, really.

Posted by: lol at December 3, 2013 4:38 PM

"If there is such a huge need for HSR service, why not let private industry build it?"

You mean like how private industry built our freeways, airports, and sea ports?

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at December 3, 2013 4:42 PM

In any case, there is a parallel to be made between how Obamacare was negotiated and the way HSR is being killed.

Obama went compromise after compromise. A cheap efficient system would have been a single payer system. France pays 1/2 overall of the US, with better results.

But after countless compromises they came up with this imperfect system, which has so many complexities because of the need to keep the private sector running like before, handling the uninsured, making sure all the sick wouldn't be dumped on Obamacare, and so many loopholes.

The end result is a Frankenstein system.

Now the conservatives who made it so crazy can come back and say "we told you so", forgetting they are the main reason this is that way.

Same thing for HSR. When all is said and done, there will be way more white collar expenses than white collar. Lawyers will have a big smile on their faces even if it isn't built.

It's a typical GOP tactic: obstruct, make fake concessions, obstruct again, then cry "Boondoggle"!

Posted by: lol at December 3, 2013 4:49 PM

The biggest benefactor of HSR, if it is ever built will be Disneyland. The Disneyland stop will be the only place in California where you can leave the train and not need a car to visit nearby attractions as Disneyland Park has a complete network of trains, streetcars, ferries, monorails, steamboats, bobsleds, riverboats, etc.

Posted by: anon at December 3, 2013 6:19 PM

Your cost comparisons are apples to oranges Jimmy. You can't compare costs in 2000 dollars to costs in 2032 dollars. Remember when the HSRCA commission bumped the estimated costs from $30B to $100B and everyone howled? Almost all of that increase was due to them changing the way they calculated the cost from real 2003 dollars to nominal dollars in the year that they would be spent.

Not all public works projects go over budget, check out Doyle Drive for instance. You only hear about the ones that do (and rightly so).

http://www.hsr.ca.gov/docs/about/business_plans/BPlan_2012CompareEquivalentCapacity.pdf

"After adjusting the analysis to be more comparable to the costs described in the Business Plan, the total costs of equivalent investment in airports and highways would be $123-138 billion (in 2011 dollars) to build 4,295-4652 lane-miles of highways, 115 gates, and four runways for Phase 1 Blended and Phase 1 Full Build, respectively... In year-of-expenditure (YOE) dollars, the highway and airport costs would be $158-186 billion."

Posted by: NoeValleyJim at December 3, 2013 6:25 PM

"And the freeway system is 100% government subsidies."

Oh, come on! Users of the freeway system pay gasoline taxes as well as any other taxes associated with purchasing and operating a motor vehicle. To what extent any type of roadway is maintained based on subsidies may depend on what kind of roadway it is and on how you do the math. There is also the philosophical question of whether the maintenance of a cul-de-sac in Palo Alto should be financed through gasoline taxes or property taxes. And there are certain positive external effects associated with having a transportation infrastructure in the form of roadways. One could debate all day about how much "subsidies" go into different types of roadways, but claiming that freeways are 100 percent subsidies is just plain nonsense.

Posted by: anonanon at December 3, 2013 6:33 PM

Needing a train is a manufactured crisis. I can easily drive or fly to L.A. without a problem, but I cannot easily get across town or across the bay.

This whole discussion about how we just HAVE to have HSR because they do in France reminds me of Thomas Sowell's book "The Vision of the Anointed".

" First, the anointed identify or, more usually, manufacture a crisis.
Second, the anointed propose a solution that inevitably involves government action.
Third, once the solution is implemented, the results turn out to be very different, and often far worse, than predicted by the anointed. (Example...Anti-automobile policies make congestion worse and therefore waste even more energy and produce more pollution"

"The final stage is one of denial, in which the elites claim that their policies had nothing to do with the worsening results. Other factors were at work, they claim; in fact, the results might have been even worse if their enlightened policies had not been put into effect"

Posted by: skeptic at December 3, 2013 6:52 PM

Anonanon,

Last time I checked government was funded by taxes. Therefore roads are paid by the government. This funding is only losely related to use.

Not all citizen are drivers but all are paying for roads.

What I see in the anti-HSR diatribes is a fear of recognizing that we are not #1 on some services. You can't be last if you are not even playing.

We say we do not want HSR because it does not work for us. When it was only Japan or France we could say these countries indeed have different cultures or sizes. Now that China has succeeded in their plans beyond anyone's expectations we can only resort to permanent denial.

Posted by: lol at December 3, 2013 9:43 PM

Skeptic,

Strawman's argument.

Nobody said there was a crisis. The question is how we envision the future. Your future is more or less "let's do nothing". China will surpass us in Gdp in less than a decade. Doing nothing is one way to make it happen even faster.

Posted by: lol at December 3, 2013 9:58 PM

@NVJ - Doyle Drive may not be over budget, but that wasn't really my point. Going over budget is certainly bad, but the real tragedy in California is simply that infrastructure projects are just absurd multiples of what the same project would cost elsewhere - and Doyle Drive is no exception. It's at least triple the cost of what a similar project would be in Japan or any other developed country with similar building standards, etc.

The reason that Doyle Drive is only triple the cost and will likely stay within budget is that the project is only really dealing with two landowners, both of which are government entities. Any project that deals with private landowners has those landowners immediately lining up at the trough to get their share of the winnings. The fact that we allow/encourage this is the reason that California can't actually build infrastructure projects anymore, unless they're replacing something already there (and even then, there's plenty of trough feeding, but status quo bias means that those projects get funded even at absurd levels).

Posted by: anon at December 4, 2013 10:51 AM

@ lol:

What exactly are we trying to be #1 in? I thought we were discussing best approach to transit planning - I didn't know this was a competition.

And how will spending 100 billion on a train to the central valley help us grow national GDP? China has nearly FOUR TIMES our population. Them surpassing us in economic power is ultimately invevitable, don't you think? Us paying them 100 billion to build this train is only going to speed that up.

Posted by: Legacy Dude at December 4, 2013 2:44 PM

We were #1 in most technological and infrastructure advances this past century. We're still the most powerful country in the world, but have been slowly losing our edge in some areas. We're asleep at the wheel and living on our elders' hard work.

Being a #2 country would have very profound consequences.

Posted by: lol at December 4, 2013 2:54 PM

@lol, even with all caps used you missed the point, China has FOUR TIMES the population so as Legacy Dude said, it is inevitable they could surpass us. I would rather live and enjoy the Swiss economy, which is far smaller than the U.S. economy which is "#1".

As for HSR I was reading this from a book "A conflict of Visions" and thought of this HSR discussion and how some claim trains are the "Future" and are "greener."

"A second fundamental tactic is to presume that they have the moral high ground. “Those who accept this vision are deemed to be not merely factually correct but morally on a higher plane,” . "“Put differently, those who disagree with the prevailing vision are seen as being not merely in error, but in sin” (pp. 2-3). The term “smart growth” is a classic example of this tactic, used solely to bludgeon any dissenters with the claim that they must favor “dumb growth.”

"Relying on tactics like these, high speed rail backers avoid confronting the fraudulent nature of their crises and the failures of their solutions. “What is remarkable is how few arguments are really engaged in, and how many substitutes for arguments there are,”. It is no matter that 100 billion could be used in ways that would help the transportation infrastructure of this state, rail boosters claim to have the moral high ground and will not entertain discussion of statistics, facts or alternatives.

Posted by: skeptic at December 4, 2013 3:20 PM

skeptic,

The reality of the global economy is that anyone who stagnates is actually declining. Now decline for an older cranky guy is fine when you are retired, cash rich and don't care about what happens after you're gone. But decline for the US means we are breaking a few things for future generations:

1 - Debt is repaid through actual growth, not austerity. That's the way it is despite the austerian fantasies that are sold on Fox News. Denying future growth means our kids will have to actually repay our self-indulgence aka debt. Who cares right? You probably don't have kids.

2 - Decline means everything imported will slowly become unaffordable. This is NOT really inflation, but just the slow depreciation of our currency.

3 - As we become poorer by the simple fact that everyone else is becoming richer, our huge army will become harder and harder to finance and maintain. Now that's the most worrying part.

In any case, we are able to impose our will on the rest of the world thanks to our current power. NOT looking forward is a huge mistake.

Your post has many arguments used by protectionist conservatives. So far everything they have predicted has been proven wrong. They have no clue on how to run a country apart from "let's do the opposite of the people we hate". And sure they hate a lot of people.

Posted by: lol at December 4, 2013 3:41 PM

lol, you're ranting idealogically again. They have pills for that, you know.

And you still haven't addressed the issue that China's GDP will surpass ours no matter what - it's inevitable given their size. How will spending $100 billion on a train to nowhere improve national GDP? Especially if we pay the Chinese to build it for us (which is what would likely happen, akin to the bay bridge).

Posted by: Legacy Dude at December 4, 2013 4:32 PM

"Those crippling blows come on the heels of August rulings against the High-Speed Rail Authority for failing to pony up $25 billion in initial funding and neglecting to undertake onerous environmental studies over the course of hundreds of miles of potential tracks."

They have nobody to blame but themselves. This has nothing to do with NIMBY farmers. This state is controlled by one party so they can't point fingers forever.

Posted by: FedUp at December 4, 2013 4:50 PM

LD,

Yes it is ideological. To simplify: the zones crossed are more rep than dem. The people in the trains are more dem than rep. Reps hate almost everything that can be a common good, except maybe freeways because they are a common good for an individualistic purpose.

This is an ideological obstruction, and it makes HSR many many times more expensive than it should.

As far as your "How will spending $100 billion on a train to nowhere improve national GDP?", please refer to my post on December 3, 2013 4:49 PM.

Making HSR unnecessarily outrageously expensive IS THE GOAL to kill HSR.

And if you haven't understood the benefit of HSR for growth, well maybe you should travel more.
New means of communications do add value. Many would conceive working offline today. Yet in 1995 everyone would roll their eyes at the mention of he Internet used for work.

Small anecdote: In August I worked remotely from Europe, and one time I did it from a laptop in the HSR. I logged a 1/2 day of work, connected to the SF servers, arrived in central Paris and could log my other 1/2 day of work from my Paris pad. Try that in a plane. Security and boarding in/out already eats 2+ hours.

Posted by: lol at December 4, 2013 10:49 PM

Nice to see you back Legacy Dude. It's been a while.

Have enjoyed your comments in the past but now you have been outed as a hater and you really should travel more. I myself hate almost everything that is for the common good. Maybe the guy who is moving soon to France will host you.

p.s. the sooner the better

Ed. can't you moderate some of the more ridiculous rants!

Posted by: contrarian at December 5, 2013 9:32 AM

. For every $1 spent by the passenger, it would entail $4 in public subsidy, twice the annual expenditure of the State Transportation Improvement Program"

Right now the estimated construction cost is $2000 for every person living in California. If you were to make that only taxpaying adults, it would jump to over $4350 dollars a person. When one includes that no HSR is profitable (Except Tokyo-Kyoto-Osaka Shinkansen) one can expect the costs to taxpayers to continue for as long as this operates. Some sites have taxpayers kicking in $300 on top of over purchased ticket.

This is not about hate. This is about where tax dollars should go.

Posted by: anon94123 at December 5, 2013 12:20 PM

"Making HSR unnecessarily outrageously expensive IS THE GOAL to kill HSR."

I think you need to take your tinfoil hat off. These numbers come straight from the people who want to build it. Fact of the matter is that doing infrastructure projects in California is broken and too expensive. Too many interest groups with their hands out.

This is the government that we have built in California.

Also, it's not a Democrat vs. Republican thing. Most of the people opposing HSR on the peninsula are solidly BLUE.

The problem Californians have is not the travel between LA basin and the Bay Area. It's local transit. HSR does nothing to solve that problem. For all you techsters out there, it's similar to the theory behind cache memory.

Posted by: Toady at December 5, 2013 12:36 PM

Apparently engaging in critical thinking makes you a "hater" these days. I apologize for not clapping like a trained seal at every ridiculous, impractical idea that gets thrown up.

So another question for you "lovers" out there: what are the consequences if you're wrong? Specifically, what if we start on this project and can't finish it, or it gets built and for various reasons is slower than expected and has little ridership? What then? Can we unbuild it and get our money back? Do we abandon it? Or do we keep paying to have empty trains running up and down the state?

Posted by: Legacy Dude at December 5, 2013 12:47 PM

what are the consequences if you're wrong?

Again, let's consult the Bay Bridge rebuild or BART to SJ to see what happens to all infrastructure projects in California. More money is simply shoveled at the contractors to get it done. The Bay Bridge east span was initially budgeted for less than one seventh of the eventual cost. It's finished now.

The Central Subway is going to cost more than five times per mile what the Vancouver SkyTrain underground portions cost to build. And Vancouver isn't some cheap city.

Why the massive hate for this one project? All California projects are disasters, so we either need to reform all or simply stop building anything new. This pie-in-the-sky rhetoric of "spend it on local transit" is an even worse idea. There are examples of HSR systems that covers costs or turn profits. There are no examples of local transit systems that do the same (unless the local transit system also acts as a land developer, as in Hong Kong).

Posted by: anon at December 5, 2013 1:26 PM

"Or do we keep paying to have empty trains running up and down the state?"

Its very unlikely that ridership will be low. There's a proven demand for fast SF-LA travel. All you need to do is to count up the seats filled on dozens of shuttle flights daily. Many of those fliers will gladly switch to rail simply out of convenience. Unless they're starting from San Bruno and traveling to El Segundo.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at December 5, 2013 1:51 PM

"Many of those fliers will gladly switch to rail simply out of convenience"

No Shake, they won't. I travel to L.A. between 2 to 8x a month on business, almost every month. I am the target market for HSR. And I would never ride it. Know why?

Because flying on Southwest from Oakland to Burbank or John Wayne is too easy. It's roughly an hour of flight time, small airports are easy to get in/out of, and there are plenty of flights day and night. Most importantly, you can day trip without spending the night because it is so fast. At 3 1/2 hours one way on the train, that's 7 hours of travel time IF everything goes as planned. No way you can do that in one day and still make a bunch of meetings.

Business travelers won't switch to HSR over flying unless/until airfares become prohibitively expensive. Either that or HSR needs to make the trip in around 2 hours to be a valid alternative.

Look, for the record, I think HSR would be a great idea if, as I've mentioned, we could build it right. By right, I mean at a cost comparable to other systems and utilizing an efficient route that makes sense timewise vs. driving or flying. I've taken HSR in Spain, Germany, Japan, and China. I understand the appeal - I've seen it work.

But I also recognize that California politics being what they are, we will not achieve the same results. We'll end up spending $100 billion on some patchwork Frankenstein system that takes 4 hours to go one way via useless detours, and people will still drive or fly. This is my true concern. If we can't build this right, let's not spend untold billions failing at it just because a bunch of you have train envy after riding the Shinkansen on your last vaca.

Posted by: Legacy Dude at December 5, 2013 2:28 PM

"Many of those fliers will gladly switch to rail simply out of convenience. "

Has this been proven? I have yet to see a credible survey of likely travelers between LA and SF that would make that choice GIVEN the projected cost per person, length of travel, etc. I think the current roundtrip price for HSR is around $250 round trip for the "express." For ones with stops, it's around $160.

I just found a SFO-LAX roundtrip on United for $116 for 3 weeks in advance.

And oh, by the way, the $250 doesn't come close to covering costs. United is a company with shareholders that demand profitability. So the disparity is even larger.

So tell me why someone would pay much more for the train?

Posted by: Toady at December 5, 2013 2:33 PM

Legacy Dude - I said "many", not "all". I'm not sure why you're using the 3 1/2 hour figure when there will be much quicker journeys. And for SJC-LA travelers the rail ride will be a half hour faster having avoided the slow peninsula segment.

Also you're seated for most of the rail journey time vs. flying where you're shuffling through security and long airport walkways for half of the time. So on rail you can actually get work done and the travel time isn't so wasted.

The last time I flew for a day trip down south, I arrived at the airport at 5:30am and returned home at 8pm. I was at the customer's site for about 6 hours of which I really only needed 4. The same trip could easily been done on HSR.

Of course HSR won't kill the shuttle airlines. I'm just trying to make the point that it will attract plenty of ridership to keep trains reasonably filled.

I'm surprised you find flying out of OAK easy. Just getting to the airport is a pain unless you happen to live in Oakland or Alameda already.

And I do share your concern about the way projects are done in California. It isn't just rail that suffers from that bloat though. If we could put a temporary moratorium on freeway build-outs for a decade, we would have the cash to build HSR.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at December 5, 2013 2:52 PM

United is a company with shareholders that demand profitability.

Who successfully manipulated the bankruptcy laws to avoid liquidation not ten years ago.

Posted by: anon at December 5, 2013 3:00 PM

I just found a SFO-LAX roundtrip on United for $116 for 3 weeks in advance.

You do understand that HSR fares will also use price discrimination in the same way, no? Tickets three weeks in advance will be cheap. How much is a flight tomorrow on United?

Posted by: anon at December 5, 2013 3:02 PM

"flying where you're shuffling through security"

If HSR becomes a well used critical piece of infrastructure there will be the same security issues as airlines currently have.

Posted by: trob at December 5, 2013 3:08 PM

I think the current roundtrip price for HSR is around $250 round trip for the "express." For ones with stops, it's around $160.

Why are you "thinking", when the agency has published fares? The fares are intended to be 85% of average flight costs for at least the first four years. They certainly can and will go higher, though that will be through market mechanisms.

The reason that the crappy Acela on the east coast is more expensive than airlines and operating at a perpetual load factor of 95-98% is not because Amtrak jacks up the prices, but because demand for alternatives to airline travel is so desired.

Now, I have no doubt that California's system will be ridiculously overpriced to build and a relatively crappy system compared to other systems in the world...but that's likely good enough to still maintain load factors of 95%+. Airline travel is simply that bad in this country.

Posted by: anon at December 5, 2013 3:09 PM

2 words: Hyper Loop

Posted by: eddy at December 5, 2013 3:10 PM

Toady - You're comparing the list price of a HSR ticket with a discounted airfare. If you're going to compare, go for apples vs. apples.

I don't know how much a discount CAHSR ticket will sell for but you can easily buy long distance tickets on Germany's HSR (ICE) for 29 euros if you book far enough in advance. Try this. Go to http://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/bin/query.exe/e and punch in a journey starting at 7am on Feb. 9 between Munchen and Hamburg (twice the distance from SF to LA). You'll find several 29 euro options. I just took Eurostar from Brussels to London for $58 a few months ago. Now Eurostar and DB probably can't make money selling all of their seats at that price and I doubt that United could be profitable with a plane load of $116 fares either.

And the most important facet: these are costs today. In the future rail will be far less exposed to rising oil prices.

As for convenience, it is a lot easier to walk the 15 minutes from a rail station entrance to your seat compared to the same at an airport. You can also bring luggage without needing to check it and wait for its arrival on the baggage claim belt. Seats are more comfortable and there's no need to wait to reach cruising altitude before you can fire up your laptop. I can only manage maybe 35 minutes of laptop time max on a SF-LA flight. On rail you could work all the way through the 2+ hour travel time.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at December 5, 2013 3:10 PM

I have family in LA and I used to occassionally fly down to visit but in the last ten years I've flown down there once and driven the rest of the times. I would take the HSR rather than drive.

Posted by: Rillion at December 5, 2013 3:14 PM

If HSR becomes a well used critical piece of infrastructure there will be the same security issues as airlines currently have.

Why? The NYC subway is a critical piece of infrastructure, but has no security issues similar to the airlines. BART is the same, etc.

Airlines have special security issues because they can be turned into missles that target anything. Trains can't. Airlines will lose some of their security theater as soon as we can automate all flights and control planes remotely like we can with trains.

Posted by: anon at December 5, 2013 3:18 PM

contrarian,

You have it all wrong. Not moving to France, but purchased a holiday pad there. But I am moving to LV, planning to live well with a CA income AND market rate rental income from SF.

My Paris pad to my Mediterranean property: 500 miles by HSR
My SF pad to LV: 700 miles that could perfectly be HSR

Posted by: lol at December 5, 2013 3:25 PM

"If HSR becomes a well used critical piece of infrastructure there will be the same security issues as airlines currently have. "

There will be security issues but hardly "same" compared to air travel. It doesn't take much to knock an aircraft out of the air so extra special care is required.

Take a look at the 2004 Madrid bombings. Ten large bombs were used and all of the deaths were caused by the direct blast, not a derailment or other secondary mechanical failure. The same attack could take place anywhere large crowds of people are found today: subways, parades, sports venues, restaurants, etc. HSR does not add any new risk aside from providing yet another location where there's a lot of people.

The only HSR line I know that has any sort of overt security check is Eurostar and that's because of the Chunnel. Every other HSR line I've used the only delay is passing through a ticket gate. For most systems like Thalys, TGV and ICE you simply walk to the platform and board the train. I've transferred to HSR trains with less than a 10 minute layover on several occasions. Try doing that at an airport.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at December 5, 2013 3:25 PM

Yep, no infastructure projects in California or the Bay Area can be built without huge cost over runs. Someone remind me how much the 4th bore of the Caldecott Tunnel was overbudget when it opened years later than expected?

Posted by: Rillion at December 5, 2013 3:42 PM

"between Munchen and Hamburg (twice the distance from SF to LA)"

With all due respect, MOD, that is not nearly twice the distance. If you look at the airline mileage for the major airports, for example, it's more like 373 miles vs 337.

Posted by: anonanon at December 5, 2013 4:21 PM

OK, thanks for the correction on that distance. My assertion that mature HSR lines can also offer attractive discount fares stands though.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at December 5, 2013 4:23 PM

^Overpriced from the start is certainly one way to avoid "cost overruns".

Posted by: anon at December 5, 2013 4:24 PM

The numbers for ticket pricing, as far as I know, are from the HSR business plan. In other words, they need to charge that much to cover the percentage of expected cost to operate HSR.

If they're discounting fares, they must need to charge *more* than $160/$250 for walkup fares. Fares for business travelers cover the cost of discount fares for airlines. You think anyone wants to travel on HSR for, say, $500 round trip to get you your discounted fare?

I'm not so sure about that.

As for citing fares in Europe - I think someone above has stated than the only high speed rail line that makes money is in Japan.

So Milkshake, you're telling me that I have to pay out of my own pocket (via taxes) to subsidize your HSR ride? Just because you don't like to sit in a plane? Really?

Posted by: Toady at December 5, 2013 4:41 PM

Toady - Your taxes are currently subsidizing car and air travel. Where's your concern about that?

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at December 5, 2013 4:47 PM

Tokyo to Osaka: HSR $302 Plane $104
Madrid to Barcelona HSR $339 Plane $141
Paris to London HSR $199 Plane $107

Flying less than half the time in all cases
(there is a huge table of fares and times on page 26) It is also interesting that on some routes (Paris to Amsterdam as an example) the train is less expensive, but the is the rare exception.

The best point this paper makes is that only in NYC is there a transit system and density to make a HSR hub work.

Posted by: Facts at December 5, 2013 5:29 PM

Facts - You're comparing full price rail vs. discount air again. Paris to London is $199? That's BS. The most I've ever paid is 65 pounds (~$100) and usually lower than that.

Also you haven't figured in the time and cost to get to/from those city airports (unless you're traveling from Roissy to Stansted). That's hardly as useful as going straight from the center of Paris to the center of London in one quick trip.

Oh and Tokyo-Osaka isn't $300 unless you buy a last minute ticket on the fastest train (which is only about 15 minutes faster than a cheaper HSR train at about half the cost).

If you're really interested in facts, avoid heavily biased sources like Reason. Its hard to believe that people assimilate their white lies without question.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at December 5, 2013 5:49 PM

"While the Los Angeles metro area has the highest U.S. population density, it is dwarfed by European and Asian cities. The least dense major city in
Europe, Berlin, has about twice the population density of New York City. Since HSR requires high
urban densities, particularly those concentrated close to major rail stations, extending HSR to
places without the ability or desire to encourage high densities is unlikely to be successful. "

BUT where are we building HSR to? Modesto, Bakersfield, Stockton and Merced.

Milkshare, feel free to list your own facts. Be sure to link your source. I do not dispute what you may find, but the table I listed was for tickets purchased one week in advance.

Posted by: Facts at December 5, 2013 6:26 PM

"The least dense major city in Europe, Berlin, has about twice the population density of New York City."

According to wikipedia, Berlin has a population density of 9800/sq mi. New York City is 27550/ sq mi, or about three times that of Berlin. I'm sure that by gerrymandering you could come up with different numbers, but why is it that people on both side of this issue make claims that will trigger the BS detector of anyone who has taken a geography class in elementary school?

Posted by: anonanon at December 5, 2013 7:01 PM

anonanon, the "non-partisan" HSR train study clearly states that it is taking population density for an "urban region", not city proper.
(This would mean the S.F. area would include Oakland, San Jose, and the East Bay and north suburbs) In the study, every graph and statistic source is noted and backed up. The number you cited of 27,000 is also cited in the report and is correct for the city proper of New York, which is by far the nation's city of highest density.

Posted by: Facts at December 5, 2013 9:07 PM

I'm confused. We're using higher fares from trains in Europe vs flights to prove that trains aren't popular? Are the trains running empty? HSR between many city pairs in Europe do cost more than flights...because demand is MUCH higher for the HSR routes.

Good god, anyone who would actually pick to fly between Madrid and Barcelona now that the AVE makes the trip is a glutton for punishment. I'd pay 2-3 times as much for the train over the plane without breaking a sweat - and everyone else feels the same way too, hence the higher price. It's this thing called a market, folks.

Posted by: anon at December 5, 2013 11:24 PM

HSR between many city pairs in Europe do cost more than flights...because demand is MUCH higher for the HSR routes.... It's this thing called a market, folks.

Not Reilly.
These HSR routes lose money and require government subsidies to stay afloat. So the lines can't lose more money then their government provides. So they need to restrict supply to make sure prices are high enough to cap their losses.

A government subsidized monopoly is in no way a market.

Posted by: Not Reilly at December 5, 2013 11:57 PM

"These HSR routes lose money and require government subsidies to stay afloat."

So do highways and airports. Almost every mode of transport is subsidized.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at December 6, 2013 8:43 AM

Yes, the big misconception about roads is that since the user owns his vehicle, he forgets he is using government-subsidized infrastructure that are only marginally financed with usage taxes (gas tax, tolls).

Remove the government from roads and see all those individual means of transportation sit in their garages, unable to move among the overpriced toll ways and poor quality dirt roads.

Driving is actually a great example of how government will help improve personal freedom. You are free to live/work/shop where you desire (unlike the workers housing and grocery stores of old, owned by your employer). You can pursue education more easily. You can move your goods and services to the local market closer to the consumer.

Now this freedom is fantastic, but it falls short when it comes to anything between 100 and 700 miles. This is where traditional rail and HSR brings tremendous value in economies of scale and speed.

And yes, the government is the one organizing it and financing it with taxes as it should be.

Posted by: lol at December 6, 2013 9:05 AM

These HSR routes lose money and require government subsidies to stay afloat. So the lines can't lose more money then their government provides. So they need to restrict supply to make sure prices are high enough to cap their losses.

I'd like to see these fully privatized roads and airports that you speak of.

And even if you drill deeper than that, I happen to be in Seattle this week, where talk of Boeing potentially moving 777X production to another state is in the news. States are now lining up to see who can offer the biggest subsidy.

And do we even need to start on the subsidies provided to Airbus? Heck, the company is half owned by European governments!

Posted by: anon at December 6, 2013 11:08 AM

Yes, the big misconception about roads is that since the user owns his vehicle, he forgets he is using government-subsidized infrastructure that are only marginally financed with usage taxes (gas tax, tolls).

I also seem to remember some kind of government subsidy to a few automakers a few years ago. But that wasn't a subsidy, cuz, it was only tens of billions.

Posted by: anon at December 6, 2013 11:12 AM

Yup, the Detroit bailout. Funny how quickly we forget these things. The government is the "problem" until it is not. Then once the blood had dried and the wounds are healed, the pack of wolves are busy gnawing at the government again.

Posted by: lol at December 6, 2013 11:42 AM

The subsidy for the 777X is made up by the tens of thousands of jobs that have salaries taxed and money spent into the local economy.

In any case, again, our problem is LOCAL TRANSIT, not some fast choo-choo between SF and LA. Most people deal with going to work 1000X more often than travel between SF and LA.

This HSR white elephant (thank god it's almost dead) would crowd out funding for almost everything else, like it has in Spain.

Posted by: Toady at December 6, 2013 6:37 PM

I hear the arguments that HSR should go through no matter what because

1) Rail transportation is nice.
2) The government subsidizes other forms of transportation as well.

I found those arguments that don't address the cost of the project as the epitome of anti-intellectualism. I'm sure that a lot of skeptics would find this project palatable if the cost was actually $10 billion (and possibly subsidized by the government) as opposed to the current estimates that a lot of people expect to balloon based on previous experiences.

For those that advocate this project, how much do you think it would make sense to spend on HSR from SF to LA?
$50 billion?
$100 billion?
$200 billion?
$500 billion?
$1 trillion?

Just curious.

But at some point it would be nice if the proponents of the project on this thread could address the cost issues rather than coming across as mindless ideological drones that think that anything related to trains and bicycles is good no matter the cost.

Posted by: anonanon at December 6, 2013 8:16 PM

This HSR white elephant (thank god it's almost dead) would crowd out funding for almost everything else, like it has in Spain.

Um, what? Have you seen the new subway lines just built and under construction in nearly every city in Spain? Or the sparkling new Madrid airport terminal? Or the new freeways in Andalusia?

What "everything else" are you talking about being crowded out?

Posted by: anon at December 6, 2013 8:34 PM

@anonanon - I'm fine with killing the project, I get most annoyed by the "spend it on local transit" arguments. We're planning to spend $10 billion (year of expenditure dollars, to match the $68 billion thrown around in this thread for HSR) for BART to go from Fremont to San Jose. Add another $2 billion for the SJ to Santa Clara station.

Just think about that for a second. Local suburban transit 20 miles long with seven stations for $12 billion. $12 billion.

We built a new 2.2 mile long bridge for $6.4 billion. 2.2 miles. $6.4 billion.

With those numbers in mind, $100 billion, heck, even $500 billion, sounds cheap.

Posted by: anon at December 6, 2013 8:41 PM

The subsidy for the 777X is made up by the tens of thousands of jobs that have salaries taxed and money spent into the local economy.

Are you seriously defending the subsidy as valid? States should bid against one another over who will subsidize Boeing more?

Or are you claiming that the HSR project wouldn't bring jobs? Isn't that "wasted" money being paid to someone?

Posted by: toady checker at December 6, 2013 9:09 PM

@anon 'What "everything else" are you talking about being crowded out?'

Maybe, um, healthcare?

http://www.france24.com/en/20130924-spain-healthcare-suffering-devastating-cuts

You also can be annoyed by local transit, and I agree. As I've said before, ALL California infrastructure projects are overpriced and the result of our corrupted systems of special interest groups putting their hand out or systemic blocking of progress.

As for checker - yep. Nothing like free enterprise to finally impact government. Governments get fat, dumb and happy because it usually is a monopoly, which is why you get crappy service. All you need to do is ride MUNI everyday to understand.

It needs to get some exercise every so often.

Posted by: Toady at December 7, 2013 11:04 AM

^Boeing called "free enterprise". That's rich. Two thirds of their revenue comes from governments (defense contracts and foreign government owned airlines), and they're now literally asking whoever wants the 777X contract to build their factory for them.

Would you then support HSR if we simply spun the state agency off as a private company, and then had them ask the state to build the tracks for them?

Posted by: toady checker at December 7, 2013 11:45 AM

"Would you then support HSR if we simply spun the state agency off as a private company, and then had them ask the state to build the tracks for them?"

Sure. Then they'll have to be accountable for profitability to the shareholders, and then people like you wouldn't like the corporate welfare for giving away track and land... thereby subjecting this to a real (and not fluffed up) competitive and market analysis.

... which would probably kill this project.

Posted by: Toady at December 8, 2013 8:48 AM

^Or they'd find more private money to finance ballot initiatives and lobbying campaigns, thus ensuring endless pork spending, a la the transit-industrial complex already in place in the Bay Area and elsewhere (Parsons Brinkerhoff, etc).

I don't recall BART to SJ being subject to a real, competitive market analysis.

Posted by: anon at December 8, 2013 9:03 AM

"I don't recall BART to SJ being subject to a real, competitive market analysis."

Of course not. It's a pork-filled government-led project.

Posted by: Toady at December 8, 2013 2:09 PM

BTW, I'm all for getting government out of the project in all ways possible. I would think that they would still need to be involved for eminent domain takings at least.

Posted by: anon at December 8, 2013 3:06 PM

+$4000 a taxpayer is quite a subsidy for a very small percentage of the population that travels to Los Angeles on a regular basis for business. I am still not convinced a family would give up the SUV and pay over $1200 in rail tickets when they could drive round trip for $120 or less.

Posted by: AnonToo at December 8, 2013 3:14 PM

Of course not. It's a pork-filled government-led project.

Got it, you're for zero infrastructure projects period, unless government is literally building the infrastructure to hand directly to a private company , a la Boeing's ask.

Posted by: anon at December 8, 2013 3:22 PM

California will need greatly increased transportation capacity between north and south by 2029, either by rail, or by highway plus airport expansion-- and estimates are that HSR is the cheaper way to increase capacity.
HSR is the most common (and most pleasant) means of travel between Madrid and Barcelona, which is comparable to LA to SF. And by 2029, our transit habits may be more like Europeans today.

Posted by: Dan at December 8, 2013 3:38 PM

"HSR is the most common (and most pleasant) means of travel between Madrid and Barcelona, which is comparable to LA to SF."

The Madrid to Barcelona price point would translate to about $10 billion from SF to LA. If you could make it happen at that cost, I'm sure the project would have a lot more takers.

Posted by: anonanon at December 8, 2013 5:58 PM

"Got it, you're for zero infrastructure projects period, unless government is literally building the infrastructure to hand directly to a private company , a la Boeing's ask."

Not really. I'm for efficiency in infrastructure building. The Bay Bridge span was a cluster, for example. Needed to happen, unfortunately, but thanks to all the delays from local pols who wanted a "signature design," it only took how many years after Loma Prieta to get it done?

And how poorly was the project run? And how much more did it cost? It cost more do to that span than the whole bridge originally cost if you calculated it in today's dollars. Ridiculous.

At least the Bay Bridge was a critical project. For something as optional as the HSR nonsense, this is unacceptable.

Posted by: Toady at December 9, 2013 9:48 AM

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