Editorial: Stopping High-Speed Rail Would Betray California’s Future

25 times over budget, years behind schedule, and yet the project was completed... Oh, wait that was a road project

High-speed rail under construction in South Fresno. Photo: CaHSRA
High-speed rail under construction in South Fresno. Photo: CaHSRA

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It’s the most expensive public works project in the history of California. Years behind schedule, it cost more than 25 times what was originally promised.

I’m talking, of course, of the replacement of the Eastern Span of the Oakland Bay Bridge, which opened in 2013–six years behind schedule, for a whopping $6.5 billion. It was supposed to cost $250 million.

Rightfully, people complained and criticized, yet nobody talked about abandoning a partially built bridge.

Last month, the state auditor released an 87-page report analyzing problems with California’s high-speed rail project, which is already helping to modernize woefully neglected rail infrastructure throughout the state. When completed, it will one day link Northern and Southern California, as well as cities in between, with the kind of modern, high-speed trains that are currently taken for granted in advanced economies throughout the world.

Naturally, petroleum-backed lobbyists, failed politicians, and anti-tax crusaders immediately seized upon the report to call, again, for killing it.

In reality, the audit merely identified everything that is wrong with how large public-works projects are funded in California and the United States. The takeaway should be that we need to reform “environmental” laws that allow NIMBYs to tie up projects in pointless lawsuits, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. The state also needs to stop outsourcing management and oversight.

And most of all, we need to return to a political system where two sides debate the merits of a project such as HSR and, if a majority decision is made to move forward, even those on the losing side act like adults and help build it. Or at least stop trying to sabotage it, as Jeff Denham and others in California’s Republican delegation did last year in Washington–despite the fact that HSR is still supported by the majority of the people of California.

Good luck with that last one, I guess.

Let’s be blunt: most opponents of high-speed rail don’t care a lick about “fiscal responsibility,” or, safety, or anything like it–it’s about oil interests, and the politicians and ‘think tanks’ they back, protecting their gold-plated rice bowls. It’s why we never see them sending out press releases about over-budget road projects or pushing referendums to kill the latest fruitless road widening.

Remember that when you’re waiting in airport security lines or stewing in mind-numbing traffic jams this holiday season, deprived of the modern rail choices that are enjoyed everywhere else in the developed world.

In 2019, let’s harness that frustration and work hard to make sure greedy cynics don’t saddle yet another generation of Californians with such a backwards transportation system and all the misery it causes. Let’s push Gavin Newsom and other incoming progressive lawmakers both in Sacramento and in Washington to figure out how to fix and fully fund this project.

Because the state needs to get its funding and project management under control–so it can get back to work bridging all of its cities with fast, modern, non-polluting trains.

Be sure to check out The New York Times in-depth report on the money behind anti-transit measures.

  • p_chazz

    Just because the project has broken ground is no guarantee that it will be completed.

  • Why do the anti-transit trolls keep acting like their voice is the only voice that matters on high speed rail? When are any of the major publications in this state going to listen to any of the millions of Californians who want this project. Every time something comes out about it, every mainstream publication’s editorial board in this state lines up and publishes the same talking points like clockwork. When is the mainstream media going to listen to any of the 6.68 million Californians who voted for this and still want it.

    I grew up in Irvine, the epitome of suburban sprawl. That kind of forced dependence on private cars when you are growing up is absolutely miserable, and I will take any kind of alternative to the forced dependence on automobiles that I’m still dealing with.

    I’m not putting a gun to people’s heads and saying that all cars are banned forever, I’m asking for another option besides the status quo of the two most miserable forms of transportation. The LA-SF drive is not something that a reasonable person can do in a weekend road trip, and airfares are subject to the whims of the oil market, which makes knowing what airfares are going to be a year from now a big question mark, let alone what airfares are going to be when the HSR opens.

    It drives me up the walls to hear the same things from the same concern trolls on the editorial boards and in the comments sections over and over again. It’s a failure of imagination to look at the transportation status quo and act like this is the best it’s ever going to be.

    Thank you Streetsblog for still supporting it.

  • Smaller cities along the route might disagree over standard rail doing “just fine”.

    The local passenger line between Tracy and Merced (where it will connect with HSR) going to operate as a second branch of ACE, is funded and will start construction in a few years.

    ACE will ramp up to 10 trains/day splitting ways at Manteca: 4 trains/day to Stockton, 6 trains/day to Mecred. The project is targetting a 2025 opening for service to Ceres and 2029 to Merced, where it will meet the San Jaoquins line and high-speed rail. The line won’t run over 79mph, but it will be able to sustain that for most of the length, and further upgrade can improve upon that.

    Nearly the entire length will be a dedicated passenger track on the Union Pacific right of way next to the existing freight tracks. With dedicate track’s there is capacity for many more trains between Manteca and Merced – multiples shuttles in fact – but for the moment there is only enough capacity on UP’s freight tracks for 10 trains/day between Manteca/Tracy to San Jose (2.5x today’s service) without more dedicated track.

  • carlake

    1. Finish the stage that are under construction and building and stop further building.

    2. Try to deposit the funding agreements and transfer it´s over to a Maglev project instead. Make a deal so that the bonds value can be transfered to the Maglev.

    3. That´s correct that the Maglev trains are not compatible but as Japan sais why the Shinkansen is the very best right in time trainsystem in the world is depending on that it goes on quite separate tracks but call at common stations as ordinary trains which gives an extremely fast transfer between trains. The Shinkansen is only beaten by the Shanghai Maglev train based on right in time traffic.

    The maintenance costs for an HSR-system in mixed traffic will according to Dornier Consulting in Berlin at a speed of 320 kmh 199 mph will be tenfold compare to Maglev train in either 500 kmh or 600 kmh 311 mph to 373 mph.

    The Maglev train have managed heavy blast like typhon Matsa á 55 m/s and the most longlasting snow weather in Shanghai for 50 years. All other infrastructure was at a standstill.

    4. The HSR plan is updated etc.

    Do build according to plans as the HSR train and the Maglev train do complement each other but interrupt the building soonest possible and build the Maglev train colocated with existing highway corridors. By using the complete corridor width enought curve radious can be attaind. If not the driverless Maglev train can adjust its speed and in very short distance reach it´s topspeed again.

    The Japanese Maglev train Chuo-Shinkansen hit the world record 603 km/h 375 mph in just 15 kilometre while the HSR do need 20 to 30 kilometre for to reach 300 kmh 187 mph. You see the difference and the Maglev prestanda is unindependent of weather. The HSR do have problem with leaf etc. that Maglev don´t.

    5. An alternative is perhaps American Maglev as supplier or Transrapid via SRE Swiss Rapide Express. The Chinese and Korean Maglevs are based outgoing by reverse engineering from Transrapid.

    The Velaro 380 was intended for 380 km/h 240 mph in China but has decreased its topspeed to 300 kmh 187 mph as effect of tearing and wearing and will be further decreased to 250 km 155.5 mph as effect of further wearing and tearing.

    The ECA European Court of Auditors have investigate the effect of the European High Speed Network and find out that it just consits of a patchwork which do reach average speed of 250 kmh 155.5 mph for just some special distances. Normally the trains goes with a speed quite lower than the tracks are built for.

    A test drive the Shanghai Maglev have reach speeds of 505 kmh 342 mph which means at that short distance the Maglev reach higher average speeds than the European HSR net.

    6. The situation today is that Japan is building it´s Tokyo – Nagoya Maglev train with further extension to Osaka and has already by two opportunity let 100 people during 24 occasions ride the Maglev train in 500 kmh 311 mph. The testline do have a length of 43.8 kilometre. The total length will be 440 kilometre while the first stage of 286 kilometre will take a travelling time of 40 minutes with four intermediate stops.

    China has via CRRC the worlds biggest railway company developed a 160 kmh low speed Maglev and will continue with a 200 kmh 125 mph local traffic and region traffic. It will be implemented in five to twelve cities until 2020.

    In May/June 2020 their high speed version a Maglev for 600 kmh 373 mph will commersially introduced. This system will be implemented the more than 1 300 kilometre distance Shanghai to Beijing and will have a travelling time of two hours plus a serviceline of 345 kilometre Jinan to Qingdao. In this serviceline a testline is ingoing and must therefore be in operation before may/june 2020.

    The plans for an extension to Hongqiao have become restarted.

    Re the medium speed Maglev this can be implemented in about 150 cities and 107 tourist destinations.

    7. The propulsion of the Maglev train is equal to any alternative current trains at all. The so called vectourised control. The only difference re Maglev train is the magnetic attraction forces that pulls the train body towards the underneath of the guideway. The power for that is just a promille compared to the total power supply to the train. The guideway is T-shaped and is built up with complete prefabricated concrete segments 25 metre long which is placed in position with a huge guideway going machine. Every column can be adjusted in three directions x-, y- and zed-direction. The basement can be grounded as a normal cellar.

    The Maglev train Transrapid operates complitely contact free, which means neither tearing and wearing and demand for replacing mechanical parts are needed. Lack of wheel, rail, slabb, sleepers, catenary with tension equipment as well as external signalling (The train goes driverless).

    Compare to HSR the installing and erection costs will be lower. The maintenance costs compare to 250 kmh 155.5 mph HSR-line in not mixed traffic is 30 percent for a Maglev system in 500 or 600 kmh 311 to 373 mph.

    As the Maglev train is quite faster the train fleet can be kept to a minimum. The Transrapid do manage sharp curves (mechanical tilting of the guideway) and inclination to ten percent. All maintenance will be done from a guideway going machine which lower the engineer to the ground for repair or exchange of systems or component. Hot equipment normally onboard are placed at ground and just the sectors where the train is are engaged.

    The transformer, switches and converters are placed at ground along the guideway. The motors stator are position underneath the guideway and the rotor-part is connected to the train meaning a transferring magnetic wave do pulls the train with it. The motors are the synchronous motors meaning that the train moves with a slip. Every increment pro 1 centimetre detects the trains exact position.

    The segments do weight 165 metric tons compare to HSR which 30m metres sectors do weight 900 metric tons which means more difficult to handle plus that the HSR do need slabb, sleepers, rail, catenary and external signalling meaning the project have more steps to handle. The prefabricated Maglev segments are completed with cableling and do just need connection.

    An HSR-project is therefore more complicated to handle and thereby more costly plus that the operation of HSR probably will end in decreasing of the speed to 250 kmh 155.5 mph as effect of wearing and tearing. That means the topspeed for HSR is just a matter of time. This has also been observed in China.

    The Maglev train in Shanghai will commersial operation starting in 31st of Decembre 2003. With construction start April 2003. The quideway site constructed toke nine month for the 30 kilometre track. Still the operation in Shanghai travel in 431 kmh 269 mph and will continue to do that. For to have a maximum speed of 505 kmh 342 mph just a software load is needed.

  • OK, so let’s say California were stupid enough to piss away $4 billion in Federal funding.

    You do know construction began using Federal funding since the HSR bonds were blocked by nuisance lawsuits, right?

    Once we pay the Feds back, we’re going to have a partially completed trackway.

    Whatever we do after that, we’ll be on our own: they gave us $4 billion and we rejected it, why would they give us more?

    When Florida and Wisconsin called their projects, they were denied funding. Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) requested to spend HSR funds on roads and waterways instead.

    Instead, much of the HSR-specific funding wen’t to California.

  • Nope, that ain’t it, chief.

  • Daniel

    like with FLAHSR: Scott refused the money on grounds it’d be slow and unprofitable, and then after the money went to CA said it actually would’ve been fast and profitable, he just refused the free money out of Teabaggerism

  • Daniel

    and the more track opens the more a “rail constituency” grows–in SoCal, of all places: even the hedge that “I want it, but I don’t want to pay for it” falls when you point out that the clogged freeways have a worse farebox recovery–they’re just mutely subsidized

    the NIMBYs never had any backing and by now the courts and mayors and councilmembers are wise to the fact that they’re just there to raise costs and construction times so they can “prove” the project should be shut down altogether

  • Daniel

    always remember, transit is itself a subsidy for over seven decades of “cars and cars ONLY” planning–the same “social engineering” they like to caterwaul about

  • acnetj already read

  • In LA there are already communities like West Hollywood that have flipped on Metro Rail and are now trying to get it brought into their communities as opposed to trying to keep it out.

    A far cry from the 80’s and 90’s when NIMBY groups across LA were trying to throw up as many roadblocks as possible to metro rail.

  • Daniel

    even in the depths of 2009 a plurality of people in Cheviot Hills were for the Expo expansion–but the HOA’s chief wasn’t, and bye-bye a million dollars

    I believe that’s called embezzlement

  • neroden

    $10 billion and $40 billion in 2008 dollars.

    There’s been a little bit of inflation since then! In fact, the cost is roughly the same as it was then, once you adjust for inflation. But new rules require reporting in “year of expenditure” dollars based on guesswork about future inflation which makes the cost look higher.

    Cost hasn’t changed much.

    It’ll be done for the original price approximately… if you adjust for inflation.

  • gary47290

    High Speed rail cannot succeed, because we lack decent local / regional transit feeding into HSR. Look at the real infrastructure in Europe, Japan, China, to understand why HSR makes sense there, but not here.

    We should kill HSR. Put that money into upgrading and expanding BART, Caltrain, MetroLink (LA), MetroRail (LA), etc. and then see if the riders come. Prediction: they won’t. BART is unsafe and over crowded. LA has invested billions in regional rail. Even with the impressive growth in ridership, the Freeways are more crowded than ever. VTA Light Rail is a joke.

    Why would you want to take a train to LA that is slower than flying, only to rent a car when you arrive? The SoCal airports already have rental car infrastructure. There is not a mass car rental facility at LA Union Station, San Jose Diridon, or 4th and King.

  • Richard

    The HSR should be planned for the future or at least the present, not the past. No one wants to drive around LA on a short trip.(most people dont want to drive around LA even if they live there) LA will have a nice urban rail system by the time the HSR arrives, actually it has a pretty nice one right now but few people seem to care. Ridehailing is so cheap, no one is going to bother renting a car.

  • Let’s say we did kill high-speed rail…

    Once BART, Caltrain, Metrolink, LA Metro, etc. return the HSR funding being used to expand and upgrade their systems, what then?

    The California High-Speed Rail Authority (CAHSRA) has received well over $4 billion in grant funding we’d be obligated to return if we violate the terms of the funding agreement.

    The Feds also have an issue with throwing away their money and asking for more. It’s a conversation that probably goes something like:

    Caltrain: “Here’s your $600 million back CAHSRA/California and here’s your $113 million back Federal Government.”

    CAHSRA: “So what now?”

    Caltrain: “Give us a couple years to work out how much it will cost to restart the project.”

    Feds: “Don’t come around expecting anything from us after you rejected that $113 million grant. [ Insert State ] was pretty grateful when we awarded them the money you didn’t want for [ insert project ].”

  • Why would you want to fly when it takes so much time and inconvenience of getting to and from the airport?

    Flying might be faster for you, but everyone’s mileage will vary depending on their mileage to the airport.

    For me, it takes about an hour and a Muni Metro ride to get to BART to get to SFO, then the people mover to the terminal. OAK would take even longer and require taking Muni Metro to BART to the connector line to the airport itself. That’s a lot of time on a train anyway, but it also requires a lot of padding for transfers.

    Since flying requires taking two trains anyway, I’d rather the second train be a high-speed train to LA rather than a BART train to SFO or OAK for an inconvenient flight.

    You’ve got part of that last statement backward. Union Station has an on-site rental facility where you can rent a car and they’ll shuttle you to the parking lot. LAX doesn’t have really have rental facilities on-site; they have a bus lane with stops for each of the rental companies where you grab a shuttle to the rental lot first. LAX is spending $4 billion on a people mover system and consolidated rental central. It will be a huge improvement but still won’t make LAX as convenient as LA Union Station.

    If you’re coming to SF and want to rent a car, you don’t take the train to 4th & King, you get off at SFO and rent your car there. It’s not a coincidence the only HSR stop betweeen SF and San Jose is SFO.

  • gary47290

    Much as I would like a working rail system, HSR will not provide it.

    Road building worked to solve a problem, because 10 miles of a new Freeway is immediately usable. 10 or 100 miles of HSR between Madera and Fresno will not be usable. Essentially the entire project must be completed before any of it is usable.

  • gary47290

    Incorrect. Taxes must originate in the House. Budgets can come from either house of Congress.

  • As you’re no doubt aware, lying about it doesn’t actually change the project which is under construction.

    It’s annoying and counter-productive for opponents to make up their own project to attack rather than the realities of the what’s being built.

    Your 10-100 mile route between Madera and Frenso wouldn’t be very usable. They are so close a conventional top speed of 79mph would still outpace driving.

    The first useable segment is already under construction in the Central Valley and runs from Merced to Bakersfield. Since the San Jaoquins is one of the busiest Amtrak lines without much room left to grow so HSR will provide some congestion relief in the near-term while the connections to coast are completed.

  • Kevin Withers

    $4 Billion… out of estimated $100 Billion total cost?

    I suppose you subscribe to the Willie Brown strategy, of throwing a bunch of money at something and then proclaiming we have to continue, due to the hole we dug?

    Try thinking of other things the remaining $96 Billion could be spent on. HSR in California is dead, its just denial in postponing the acknowledgement. What we end up with will be a upgraded section of very expensive rail.

  • $4 Billion… out of estimated $100 Billion total cost? Perspective is missing.

    OK…

    1. California has some of the worse traffic congestion in the US with no sign the population and economy will stop growing. That’s not just roads, the airports, and air traffic corridors are congested as well.

    2. Even with expanding roads and airport terminals, there’s just not enough space in the existing urban areas and shipping hubs for much growth.

    3. That’s why, after a lot of studies, the State decided a single high-speed rail system could absorb a lot of travel along some of the most congested corridors in the United States.

    4. Unlike flying, HSR trains can make stops in between terminals, allowing HSR to serve both daily commuters and those traveling between Northern and Southern California.

    5. You do realize that $100 billion is being shared between local, regional, state, and federal agencies and authorities, right?

    6. There’s the $9.95 billion in HSR bonds which Californians approved for the project, that’s funding created specifically for HSR (and related projects) bring it down to about $90 billion right there. Again, $4 billion in Federal funding already awarded.

    7. LA recently approved a $0.005 sales tax increase (Measure M) measure projected to generate $120 billion in funding over 30 years. Some of that sales tax money is going towards High-Speed Rail in the form of sharing the cost of upgrading local systems, further reducing the costs the state would otherwise have to pay. Picking another big example: Caltrain, the three counties along the corridor, Caltrans, CalSTA, and other funding authorities are splitting the cost of upgrading the corridor for both HSR trains and 110mph local service.

    8. The HSR project is eligible for dedicated HSR and rail transport grant funding which can’t be put towards other pruposes. California already pays more into the Federal Government than we get out and if we reject Federal Funding, it means more of our tax dollars will go to benefit other states.

    9. The airports supported HSR because they want to offload shuttle flights to make room for (more-profitable) long-haul flights.

    10. HSR is part of the states overall rail and transportation plans. That includes airport connections. Consider the options: a train from Fresno to San Jose in under an hour, to SFO in under 90 minutes, running ever 15 minutes instead of subsidized, but still infrequent and expensive connecting flights with long layovers. It’s not a coincidence there is one stop in between San Francisco and San Jose at Millbrae/SFO.

    11. Starting over isn’t likely to make the need for HSR go away.

    I suppose you subscribe to the Willie Brown strategy, of throwing a bunch of money at something and then proclaiming we have to continue, due to the hole we dug?

    Couldn’t you say the same of canceling any project partway through?

    Let’s say I subscribe to your alternative and we replacing the Bay Bridge was canceled when it began running over budget.

    Wouldn’t you need to spend substantially more to remove what had already been built of the Eastern span to that point, plus dismantling the damaged eastern span, plus expanding BART, ferries, and the other bridges to cope with the overload you’d create while still making traffic worse?

    Even discounting the added congestion, the lengthy detours would burn a lot more in fuel: bad for the bank account and the environment. Maintaining the Western spans just to connect with Yerba Buena and Treasure Island would be overkill.

    I suspect in the case of the c, it wasn’t “throwing money at something” as it was “completing a necessary piece of transportation infrastructure.

    Try thinking of other things the remaining $96 Billion could be spent on.

    I have given it some thought, as you see above. Because Caltrain had to essentially start the electrification over without combining many planned HSR upgrades into a single project due to a series of nuicense lawsuits ultimately rejected, it added about ten years and $1 billion to the project.

    I fully expect when Caltrain electrification is completed only for a new round of construction for the HSR upgrades, opponents will complain the projects weren’t combined in the first place.

  • $4 Billion… out of estimated $100 Billion total cost? Perspective is missing.

    OK. I’ll bite. Let’s put this in some proper context:

    We’ve known for decades there’s only a finite amount for room to expand roads, airports, and running passenger service on existing freight rail corridors (even adding more passing tracks or a dedicated passenger track).

    Building new airports further out would require more roads and faster transit service to city centers anyway, which would be needed on top of the roads, transit lines, and airport terminals needed just to keep up with the growing economy and population already.

    The air corridor between the Bay Area and LA regional airports is the second busiest in the US and the airports (not airlines) all supported HSR because every shuttle flight replaced by a train is more air, runway and terminal space for a long-haul flight or short-haul flight to a different destination.

    Three of the six busiest Amtrak lines are in California and reaching the point they need dedicated passenger track anyway so there’s more room on the freight tracks for a growing amount of freight.

    That’s before we even get to car traffic. Even if we discount the additional traffic adding lanes creates, better and more direct links from the Central Valley to the coasts isn’t going to change the fact cars and trucks are slower than even a conventional train.

    Since we need a new passenger rail corridor anyway, requiring land, construction, and upkeep, why shouldn’t we build one of the fastest HSR systems in the world?

    I suppose you subscribe to the Willie Brown strategy, of throwing a bunch of money at something and then proclaiming we have to continue, due to the hole we dug?

    I don’t care what Willie Brown thinks of the High-Speed Rail Project – I was never a fan of his – but couldn’t you say the same of canceling any project partway through?

    Let’s say I subscribe to your alternative and replacing the Bay Bridge was canceled when it began running over budget. There’s fallout to canceling a project underway.

    You need to spend substantially more expanding BART, ferries, and capacity on the other bridges to cope with the overload from closing the Bay Bridge would have. And not only would you still need to dismantle the old Eastern Span, you’d add the price of removing what had been built of the new Eastern Span to that point. You’d have canceled hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts, with penalty fees and potential lawsuits.

    Try thinking of other things the remaining $96 Billion could be spent on.

    Exactly my point. There are costs associated with canceling the project and starting over.

    And consider that not all the funding earmarked, expected, spent, or dedicated to high-speed rail can be spent anywhere you’d like.

    For a start, there’s the $9.95 billion in HSR bonds which voters approved for the HSR project. That’s about 10% of the project right there.

    HSR receives the biggest single chunk for cap-and-trade funding because it has huge savings in greenhouse gas emissions: a train carrying 500 passengers emits a lot less than 500 single-occupancy vehicles or a couple planes.

    Much of $4 billion in Federal grant money was dedicated to high-speed rail projects. Typically the Feds will fund anywhere from 25-100% percent of HSR projects. California already pays more into the Federal government than we get out, and if we reject Federal HSR funding then the Feds will give it to other states, just as construction here started in part with the HSR funding Wisconsin and Florida didn’t want.

    I know some portion of LA’s $0.005 Measure M sales tax increase is going to HSR in the form of upgrading shared infrastructure, but I don’t know how much.

    Since you’re so bothered by the cost, I’m sure you must know: how much of the $100 billion are Californians going to be on the hook for once you’ve accounted for matching funds?

  • Kevin Withers

    Applaudable effort at diversion, not so much on context. This CAHSR project isn’t ever going to get completed. How many bones will we leave in the Central Valley? How expensive of a lesson will be learned? Unless private investment money suddenly comes through the door, this will go down in history as a failed PR attempt at setting someone’s agenda.

    All your other details are just noise & static. The Bay bridge was a “replacement” due to earthquake damage. Not the same as a new project sold under false pretense. But a hard lesson for everyone about state funded megaprojects…

  • Applaudable effort at diversion, not so much on context.

    I still don’t see what Willie Brown has to do with HSR. It seemed like you were making an attempt to link me to your perceived failings of Willie Brown. Ironically, that seems to be where we have common ground.

    But let’s not get caught up with your distractions…

    This CAHSR project isn’t ever going to get completed. How many bones will we leave in the Central Valley?

    Not according to the recently approved State Rail Plan, HSR Business plan, LA recently passing Measure M which will contribute funding for HSR projects, recent CalSTA grants to accelerate other HSR related projects, Federal matching grants, the legislature’s 2033 “Blended System” plan, etc.

    Besides the widespread pessimism of opponents feeding on each other in comment sections, I don’t know what makes you believe the project will be canceled.

    Unless private investment money suddenly comes through the door…

    This is a misconception I’ve noticed among opponents which seems to be an honest misunderstanding.

    Most of the private development comes after the line opens, spurred by the HSR line, and associated transit improvements and land use policies.

    Many of the cities along the HSR line are planning dense, walkable developments around their stations. The HSR Authority agreed to Bakersfield’s request to follow a more direct route through downtown because it has the potential to spur more development.

    Google just acquired a large property next to San Jose Diridon Station for a new campus, and San Jose is getting some cash up front they don’t plan break ground for several more years. Google aims to be open when BART and HSR open, with an easy commute being a selling point for many potential employees. It’s once the Google is up and HSR makes Fresno to San Jose that we’ll see the real economic development of thousands of permanent new jobs and the secondary jobs created at restaurants, coffee shops, and every store or service catering to that workforce.

    Perhaps the easiest example of why HSR comes before most private first is Virgin Trains (formerly Brightline and XpressWest) agreement to lease use of the HSR/Metrolink trackway from Victorville to LA Union Station so the can run direct Los Angeles-Las Vegas service at 125mph. Virgin plans to break ground next year, but they literally can’t use the HSR trackway if it doesn’t exist.

    All your other details are just noise & static.

    Opponents tend to be very dismissive of the real-world costs and impacts of cancellation. Nobody ever has a serious answer when I ask what do you do instead?

  • Applaudable effort at diversion, not so much on context.

    I’m still unclear what Willie Brown has to do with HSR and why you brought him into the conversation.

    Perhaps I’m just not familiar with the “Willie Brown Strategy”, but I’m still unclear what he has to do with HSR.

    It seems like you might have only brought his name up to create a straw man out of a politician neither of us like as though a logical fallacy can invalidate sound reasoning.

    Despite the costs, I’m with you on completing the Eastern span of the Bay Bridge, though I wouldn’t frame it as “throwing a bunch of money at something”. I see it as an investment which keeps the local economy and commuters moving.

    This CAHSR project isn’t ever going to get completed. How many bones will we leave in the Central Valley? How expensive of a lesson will be learned?

    Speaking of straw men, I’ve noticed opponents often aren’t so so critical of the real HSR projects as they object to the one they’ve made up.

    Unless private investment money suddenly comes through the door…

    This seems to be a common misconception I’ve noticed among opponents.

    It’s generally the case that most the private development happens after the project is completed. This happens all the time as property owners and authorities work together on development plans, where the cities need to complete the roads before residents, workers, and shoppers can even get there.

    Another example using California HSR for the example is Virgin Trains intension to thru-route Las Vegas trains from Victorville to Los Angeles. They’ve already made a tentative agreement to lease use the trackway along the High Desert Corridor, then from Palmdale to Los Angeles, but they can’t run trains until the trackway is completed.

    All your other details are just noise & static.

    Do you mean all my pesky facts you didn’t address?

  • Kevin Withers

    “an unusually candid comment that Willie Brown, a former speaker of the California State Assembly and mayor of San Francisco, made in a 2013 newspaper column. Referring to huge cost overruns during the construction of San Francisco’s four-and-a-half-billion-dollar Transbay Transit Center, Brown wrote, “We always knew the initial estimate was way under the real cost…. If people knew the real cost from the start, nothing would ever be approved. The idea is to get going. Start digging a hole and make it so big, there’s no alternative to coming up with the money to fill it in.”

    https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/bertha-seattle-infrastructure-trouble-megaprojects

  • Kevin Withers

    I also voted for CAHSR, in the initial measure. Now that actual facts are being revealed, I’d vote no on a second measure. So would many others. We were lied to

  • Ah.

    Is the idea that because Willie Brown said something cynical about the Transbay Terminal, the entire the High-Speed Rail Project is tainted?

    “The idea is to get going. Start digging a hole and make it so big, there’s no alternative to coming up with the money to fill it in.”

    I don’t know why he framed it that way. Maybe he felt Mayor Newsom was getting too much credit, but a lot of time was spent making sure that hole was big enough to meet our needs for the next half-century.

    For many years it truly was a hole we poured money into, but this is another situation where the alternative was a lot more costly and disruptive in the long run: engineer the multi-story structure in such a way the station box could be excavated after the bus terminal opens.

    It’s true that we’ll need to put more money into it to make it a working subway station, but that has always been and still is the plan.

    “We always knew the initial estimate was way under the real cost….”

    Mayor Brown is not wrong. Projections which don’t properly account for inflation creates the percept projects always run over budget before they actually do.

    Thankfully, and not just for our benefit, the methodology has changed and that latest range of $77 to $98 billion takes into account what the projected inflation will be in the year they expect to spend the money. That helps agencies and authorities make more accurate projections as they apply for matching funds, grants, and drawing up plans for the next 5-10 year. This should help to mitigate funding gaps, which often lead to cost-cutting, before you even get to being truly over budget.

  • Kevin Withers

    For now, forget about the Trans Bay Bus terminal. Willie Brown is on record for saying that about all megaprojects, and that means HSR. Rather obvious how you take same path, attempting to rationalize increased expense and increased travel times, after it was already voted on with specifics.

  • Logan5

    I’m sorry, but if you think high-speed rail can “reduce the need to expand airports” then you’re just fantasizing. How do you plan on traveling thousands of miles across the continent, between hundreds of cities, much less across oceans, via rail? Are you willing to spend DAYS, rather than hours, traveling between the coasts, for example? And what of the cost? No way on Earth a mode of transportation that requires a physical path to be built wherever it goes can compete on cost with commercial aviation. For one thing, once you invest the billions necessary (probably trillions to go coast-to-coast), what do you have?…A fixed route between two points that can never change. Versus a capital investment in an aircraft that can easily be rescheduled and rerouted as needed to adapt to changing market demand.

    And the constant comparisons to Europe are just silly. Europe is tiny compared to the United States, and is far more densely populated by comparison. There is a very good reason why the U.S. relies far more upon its commercial aviation network than any other country. We have vast distances to cover, with the western half of the country very sparsely populated. That is a situation that just doesn’t lend itself to rail travel, except in very limited scenarios in densely-populated corridors.

  • Roger R.

    Nobody, I hope, is arguing for HSR routes from coast to coast. But short haul-flights and long-haul flights use up the same runway capacity. Eliminate all the puddle jumpers (such as LA area to Bay Area) and you get much more runway and gate capacity for the long-haul flights. As to the comparisons to Europe, they make perfect sense with certain city pairs–LA/the Bay Area especially. This graphic compares it to Paris/Lyon, arguably the second most successful HSR route in the world after Tokyo/Osaka. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/6f610af6b86fdc992218622e0d875bdbf4efb712ce90b53d48c5886f6ccc622f.jpg

  • Roger R.

    The new Bay Bridge was sold as a cost-effective alternative to a seismic retrofit. The comparison is appropriate.

  • Kevin Withers

    Not sold as a cost-effective alternative. Sold as a signature project. The new Bay Bridge came after a: “design contest was held for a signature span (a span with distinctive and dramatic appearance, unique to the site) by the Engineering and Design Advisory Panel (EDAP) of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC)”

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_span_replacement_of_the_San_Francisco–Oakland_Bay_Bridge

  • For now, forget about the Trans Bay Bus terminal.

    I wasn’t the one who brought the Transbay Terminal into the conversation and the fact you’re calling it a bus terminal suggests you still don’t understand it was never just a bus terminal.

    It was a feature, not a flaw, the new Transbay Terminal was phased such that the replacement bus terminal could move forward before securing the funding for the rail terminal.

    The opposite of a hole we keep having to keep throwing money at, the bus terminal is complete (though it isn’t open because of the cracked beams) and the station box can just sit there until the Caltrain Downtown Extension (DTX) project.

    It would be rather silly to just let it sit indefinitely, but it demonstrates Willie Brown was wrong. We’re not trapped into completing the DTX project, but I suspect most funding authorities and a majority of voters will want to move forward with the second phase, regardless of what Willie Brown thinks.

    None of this really matters since it was a replacement for the original terminal building which was damaged in the Earthquake and you don’t have a problem with replacement project costs.

    Willie Brown is on record for saying that about all megaprojects, and that means HSR.

    You’re very wrapped up with what Willie Brown thinks. Having said outright he lies about project costs, and having misrepresented the Transbay Terminal project, why do you trust anything he says?

    Rather obvious how you take same path, attempting to rationalize increased expense and increased travel times, after it was already voted on with specifics.

    I’ve got a feeling you’re going to call the specifics “static and noise” again, but do you know what you actually voted for?

    Many opponents seem to think that because trains will only run 110-125 mph in the urban areas it’s not “high-speed” or the requirements changed, but that’s how HSR systems around the world typically work and the full text of the legislation specific travel time requirements with some padding for cutbacks.

    How much did you expect the project to cost?

    The 2008 ballot measure, told us the High-Speed Rail Authority estimated the cost at $45 billion in 2006, but that wasn’t a commitment. The measure specifically said funding hadn’t been identified to complete the project and what we were approving $9.95 billion in bonds for planning and the start of construction.

    We also provided for the plan to be updated every two years and the legislature was within their bounds to delay the project during the Great Recession with a 2033 completion date.

  • Kevin Withers

    Several days ago, I referenced a well-known California megaproject strategy. You expressed confusion and lack of knowledge about the Brown statement. After laying bread crumbs so you could familiarize your self, you detour into a dead-issue, the TransBay BUS STATION. Although that was the project Brown used as his example, CAHSR is and was the subject. You, the resident transit nerd, will go to any lengths to rationalize and defend HSR, which is fine. But many many others have moved on, and know that this HSR simply will never get completed. For a rainbow of reasons. At some point, another statewide vote will need to occur, or perhaps Newsom will wind it down gently. Either way, reality and the previous errors will cause the demise. I know that’s hard for some to accept. In the mean time, you can always tweet your cuss-words to SFMTA about all those parking violations

  • Several days ago, I referenced a well-known California megaproject strategy. You expressed confusion and lack of knowledge about the Brown statement. After laying bread crumbs so you could familiarize your self, you detour into a dead-issue, the TransBay BUS STATION. Although that was the project Brown used as his example, CAHSR is and was the subject. You, the resident transit nerd, will go to any lengths to rationalize and defend HSR, which is fine. But many many others have moved on, and know that this HSR simply will never get completed. For a rainbow of reasons. At some point, another statewide vote will need to occur, or perhaps Newsom will wind it down gently. Either way, reality and the previous errors will cause the demise. I know that’s hard for some to accept. In the mean time, you can always tweet your cuss-words to SFMTA about all those parking violations

    “Several days ago, I referenced a well-known California megaproject strategy. You expressed confusion and lack of knowledge about the Brown statement.”

    I googled “Willie Brown Strategy” before I responded to that comment and it didn’t turn up any results, and I hadn’t seen that specific article you linked to.

    Since this is supposedly such a well-known statement, but I can’t turn up any results, could you please tell me what was in the ellipse which I missed?

    “We always knew the initial estimate was way under the real cost…. If people knew the real cost from the start, nothing would ever be approved.”

    I don’t entirely disagree there. Had the Transbay Terminal and DTX been built in a single go, we’d all have sticker shock and question a $10+ billion project. I know my reaction would be to start diving into the details to determine why the costs are so high and if it’s worth it.

    I also realize a lot of people stop at the dollar sign because they don’t care, or don’t understand why transportation projects cost so much.

    Personally, think it’s for the best the project was divided into two phases because it allowed the Transbay Joint Power Authority (TJPA) to move forward with the bus terminal as we continued to discuss and debate the Caltrain/HSR portion.

    Even if the “Willie Brown Strategy” really is a thing, the Transbay Termina planners avoided that trap buy separating the two projects.

    You expressed confusion and lack of knowledge about the Brown statement. After laying bread crumbs so you could familiarize your self, you detour into a dead-issue, the TransBay BUS STATION.

    I wasn’t the one who brought up the Transbay Terminal or Willie Brown. I suspected from the start you were trying to lead me down a dead end.

    Although that was the project Brown used as his example, CAHSR is and was the subject.

    Again, I don’t know this quote and don’t know what lies in the ellipses. I don’t trust Willie Brown, even less just a partial statement.

    I honestly had never heard this quote so perhaps you could fill me in about what Willie Brown said on the matter?

    You do know the full statement which you so disagree with, right?

  • Kevin Withers
  • Sean Hussey

    I voted for the High Speed Rail based on the full text of the proposition, which included a 10 billion bond towards an estimated cost of 40 billion.

  • crazyvag

    The airport angle is to reduce need for short flights between SF & LA and use those landing slots for other flights.

    Your comparison of country size is irrelevant to the discussion. What matters is distance between cities. That’s where Barcelona & Madrid comparisons come in.

  • I don’t know why you put some much trust in a man who’s stated outright he lies to voters and I’m suspicious of both of your motives on this.

    As I explained and completely contrary to how ex-Mayor Willie Brown framed it, the new Transbay Terminal was phased in such a way the bus terminal could move forward separate from Caltrain Downtown Extension (DTX). I think it’s likely from all the previous measures and a desire to finally get Caltrain downtown that voters will support whatever form funding it takes (taxes, fees, and/or bonds spread out between the City, region, State and Federal government) to build the DTX.

    But we’re not trapped into completing it just because we’ve already dug a giant hole three blocks long. Perhaps this is an example of a project which happened after his time in office vs. something like the Bay Bridge replacement.

    I know you wanted to move off the Transbay Terminal but since this the centerpiece of your argument against mega-projects we should close this out.

    Since the phase one bus terminal has turned into clustersmurf, would you “throw more money” at this hole we’ve dug, as Willie Brown would have you, or do we give up on it because it’s already cost too much?

    Does it really matter how far over budget the Transbay Terminal goes since it’s a replacement project like the Bay Bridge?

  • California High-Speed Rail has been compared to the Barcelona-Madrid line; about the same distance, passing through valleys, many doubted travelers would choose a train which costs more and takes long, the HSR line brought service directly to city center, etc.

    There also wasn’t any metro service to Barcelona’s airport until a few years ago, relying on commuter rail, taxis, or driving the last part between the airport and the city.

    And this is something HSR opponents in California often discount or don’t understand about flying; it’s not just the travel time between airport terminal gates, it’s the travel time and cost of getting to and from the gates as well.

    From the Wikipedia article:

    “…by the end of 2017, the line had already taken 63% of the traffic, stealing most of it from aircraft. A few years before the Madrid-Barcelona route was the world’s busiest passenger air route in 2007 with 971 scheduled flights per week (both directions). Similarly more than 80% of travellers between Madrid and Seville use the AVE, with fewer than 20% travelling by air.”

    You are correct that populations aren’t comparable though. Even combined, Barcelona and Madrid have a smaller population than either Los Angeles or San Jose.

    Here’s how it
    California’s airports (not the airlines which operate the flights) endorsed the 2008 HSR proposition for exactly the reason @disqus_xAyKh6iUKV:disqus pointed out; the more shuttle flights and puddle-jumpers they can offload to trains, means more gate and runway space it opens up for long-haul long flights.

    Airports and HSR actually complent each other quite well and it’s not a coincidence the only HSR stop between San Francisco and San Jose is a connection to SFO, where riders from as far as Fresno can take a train in 90 minutes or less to SFO to a connecting long-distance flight.

    So likewise, offloading the heavily subsidized (yet still pricy) connecting flights to regional and rural airports opens up gate and runway space at both airports for flights to places which can’t and won’t be served by trains.

  • ken

    Kinda like the millions that want a wall on the southern border, saving Californians billions? just saying

  • tommydagun

    That’s not just a problem in LA or San Francisco. The Central Valley that’s supposed to “benefit” from this boondoggle has even less infrastructure.

    Speaking of which, how does anyone figure “high-speed rail” that has a bunch of stops in the Central Valley stays “high-speed?” Unless they want to send passengers flying, they’re going to have to do a lot of slowing down and speeding back up again for every stop. Newtonian mechanics still hold sway. So we’re really talking more about “medium-speed rail” when it’s all said and done.

  • “Let’s say I subscribe to your alternative and replacing the Bay Bridge was canceled when it began running over budget. There’s fallout to canceling a project underway.”

    This is a stupid argument. 99.99% of people wanted the Bay Bridge project to be completed even with the cost overruns because everyone uses it everyday. It’s literally something that is needed to get into and out of the city.

    Nobody needs HSR. It’s not a necessity for anyone. You could go your entire life in California without using it.

  • C68

    So, you won’t need to spend time getting to the train station, going through security or waiting to board the train? That’s news to everyone who has ever ridden anywhere on a train.

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