Palo Alto Weekly

News - May 13, 2011

Report: Strip power from California rail authority

Legislative Analyst's Office urges shifting oversight of high-speed-rail project to Caltrans

by Gennady Sheyner

California's proposed high-speed-rail system is facing potentially crippling threats from looming federal deadlines and weak oversight by the agency charged with building the project, the state Legislative Analyst's Office concluded in a new report.

The scathing report, which the nonpartisan office released Tuesday, recommends stripping the California High-Speed Rail Authority of its decision-making powers and giving the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) oversight over the increasingly controversial project. The Legislative Analyst's Office also concluded the rail authority's business plan remains deeply flawed; that most of the revenues the agency is banking on to fund the new system are unlikely to materialize; that the project will cost far more than the rail authority's official estimate of $43 billion; and that the rail authority's decision to begin the line in Central Valley is a "big gamble" based on "faulty assumptions."

The report, titled "High-Speed Rail Is at a Critical Juncture," comes as another major blow to a project that voters approved in November 2008 but that has since been plagued by financial uncertainty and scathing criticism from communities along the proposed route. While previous audits had also highlighted flaws in the rail authority's business plan, ridership assumptions and day-to-day operations, the new report goes a step further and argues that the state Legislature should reject the rail authority's funding request for the next fiscal year and halt the project altogether unless federal deadlines are renegotiated and the governance structure for the project is revamped.

"We have concluded that the current governance structure for the project is no longer appropriate and is too weak to ensure that this mega-project is coordinated and managed effectively," the report states. "These changes in governance need to be made soon, in our view, because HSRA has already begun the process to move toward the award of multi-billion dollar construction contracts for the project."

Eric Thronson, the analyst who wrote the report, presents several alternatives to the existing governance structure, which consists of nine appointed board members, a handful of paid staff members and hundreds of consultants. The project, Thronson wrote, could be shifted to Caltrans, an agency with far more oversight and expertise in transportation projects, or moved to a newly created state department dedicated to high-speed rail. Thronson argued in the report that the existing structure gives the rail authority too much autonomy and not enough accountability to the Legislature or the governor.

"The considerable autonomy," Thronson wrote, "does not ensure that the board keeps the overall best interests of the state in mind as it makes critical decisions about the project."

Under the current system, he noted, board members aren't required to have "specific expertise" relating to management of a major construction project. He also pointed out that the agency's board members are not subject to direction by the executive branch or the legislative confirmation process.

"This relative lack of accountability to either the executive or legislative branches creates a risk that the board will pursue its primary mission construction of the statewide high-speed rail system without sufficient regard to other state considerations, such as state fiscal concerns," he wrote.

Of the two proposed alternatives, the report leans in favor of shifting the project to Caltrans. The report recommends that the Legislature pass a bill in the current session making the switch.

The new report also backs up recent claims by rail watchdogs that the rail authority's $43 billion price tag for the rail system is far too low. Thronson estimated the cost of the project to be about $67 billion, echoing a similar estimate that was issued in February by the Palo Alto-based group Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design.

The rail authority currently has about $5.5 billion on hand in state and federal funds for construction of the rail line and is banking on future contributions from the federal government, private investors and local agencies to help pay for the system. These assumptions are overly optimistic, the new report argues.

The rail authority's 2009 business plan estimates that the project will obtain between $17 billion and $19 billion in federal funds. So far, it has received $3.6 billion, and the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives has opposed making additional appropriations for high-speed rail.

Thronson also criticized the rail authority's decision in December to begin construction of the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles line in Central Valley a decision that was driven largely by input from the Federal Railroad Administration. Given the possibility that the entire rail line will never be fully completed, the Legislative Analyst's Office report urges further consideration of other segments as possible starting points, including San Francisco-to-San Jose, Los Angeles-to-Anaheim and San Jose-Merced.

A high-speed rail system at any of these three segments could provide "greater benefit to the state's overall transportation system even if the rest of the high-speed rail system were not completed," Thronson wrote.

The Legislative Analyst's Office report recommends that the Legislature reject the rail authority's 2011-12 budget request for $185 million for project development and appropriate only $7 million for the agency. The money would be used to identify the top two options for beginning construction based on criteria such as cost, "statewide benefit of a particular segment," estimated ridership and revenue potential.

Roelof van Ark, the CEO of the rail authority, issued a statement in response to the report saying the LAO's recommendations will be "thoroughly reviewed in the context of our mandate to operate under the provisions of Proposition 1A." He also said he believes the project has been "successful thus far because it has strived to operate more like a private business than a typical government bureaucracy."

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by ''All Aboard'', a resident of Midtown
on May 10, 2011 at 3:22 pm

WOW! I wish I could high five someone right now. I'm glad the covers have been ripped off this pipe dream and more people can see it for what it really is.


Posted by Finally some reality, a resident of College Terrace
on May 10, 2011 at 3:48 pm

Everyone but the most ardent pipe-dreaming ideologues realize that high speed rail in California is a bad idea. Thankfully this report validates what the rest of us have been saying. I know there will be a few posts poking around at the so called "NIMBYs", but this report shows that the issue isn't about NIMBYs. It's about a really bad, expensive project.


Posted by Robert, a resident of Mountain View
on May 10, 2011 at 3:51 pm

The previous commenter obviously didn't read the report, which advocates building the first phase in an area with higher potential ridership, such as the peninsula. The report also concludes that the cost of NOT building the train would be around 100 billion, and I have yet to hear one of these detractors explain how its even possible to expand the San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, or San Diego airports.


Posted by Steve, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 10, 2011 at 4:22 pm

The previous commenter didn't read the report, which paints a pretty bleak picture for the project around budget appropriates, public-private partnerships and more. Regarding the airports, I have yet to see a day where every flight between all airports in the affected area are sold out.

Seriously, how many people will really take the train that frequently between SF and LA? The are no existing indicators that are real which show this to be plausible.

Hey HSR supporters - enjoy Bakersfield at your $100,000,000,000 price tag.


Posted by Robert, a resident of Mountain View
on May 10, 2011 at 4:42 pm

Steve, do you seriously believe that those airports will never hit capacity? I suppose you should let San Diego and LA world airports know that the millions of dollars they are spending on studying expansion is going to waste.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2011 at 5:25 pm

The population of California is increasing quickly. Housing alone is increasing at an alarming rate in some of the metropolitan areas. These people are going to need to get around. The highways and airports of today are not going to be able to expand to meet demand.




As it is, SFO is subject to some of the worst delays in the country due to weather. When they are down to one runway because of weather, it is the short haul flights that have the worst delays. Recently, a family member was flying from the East Coast to SFO and was put on a flight to LAX with a connection to SFO. Having had a 6 hour flight already, these 2 people had to spend over 5 hours and several different take off times at LAX before eventually taking off for SFO.


When the weather is bad at SFO, it is the long haul flights that are given priority and the short hauls - LA area flights - that suffer the worst delays.




Given the potential for possible delays, who is their right mind will choose to fly from SFO on a winter morning from SFO where there might be weather problems, if a competitively priced train can do it?




More residents in the Bay Area means that there will be a need to improve transportation, by road, rail and air.


Posted by wary traveler, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2011 at 5:45 pm

More residents in the Bay Area means that there will be a need to improve *local* transportation for people to get out of their cars on a daily basis. High-speed rail does NOT address that issue. If you want to be environmental & green & pro-transit & yes, even pro-jobs, improve the *local* commuter system in the Bay Area, which in its current condition sucks, frankly.


Posted by Flying-Is-Faster-Cheaper, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2011 at 5:48 pm

> Steve, do you seriously believe that those airports will
> never hit capacity?

Depends on what you mean "capacity". Other than the main "hub" airports, smaller airports are generally underutilized. It would not be that difficult to upgrade some of the smaller/regional airports to "hub" status.

Airports also tend to be unused after 900PM to 500AM. It only takes a little thinking to realize that those time slots could be used too. There are problems with residential complaints from people living nearby, but there are solutions for those problems, which would cost a lot less than the HSR's proposed price.

Right now, there's no clear model that predicts when it will be not be possible to continue adding flights from our existing airports. Further, video conferencing is another technology that will be absorbing some of the rising demand for travel. Virtually no one has considered how VC will change any of the travel models promoted to date.


Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2011 at 7:10 pm

Interesting that I've never seen anything about HSR or CalTrain being required to sound proof from train noise the homes and businesses along their corridors. Airports have been required to do this for years.
I brought it up at a CalTrain/HSR meeting a couple years ago and the few board members cringed at the prospect of spending money to alleviate the noise impact.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 10, 2011 at 10:43 pm

Menlo Park City Council is discussing HSR right now - tune in!


Posted by Grumpy, a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 11, 2011 at 12:57 am

The HSR Authority reminds me of a Keystone Cops comedy. It's just one crazy scheme after another; they deliver a laugh a minute.

Notice when the 'Authority' is in trouble, Prop 1A mandates are claimed. Senator Joe Simitian fails to find the claimed 1A mandates. No wonder Authority credibility is approaching zero in more and more places around the state.

Now the Legislative Analyst's Office is on the Authority's case. Effectively the Analyst's Office is recommending they be fired. Couldn't happen to a crazier crew.


Posted by Jim H., a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 11, 2011 at 10:49 am

If the airports in CA ever get to "capacity", and let's say they will, then airlines and travelers will adjust. Planes are becoming more efficient, so bigger planes will be able to handle routes now handled by smaller planes, increasing capacity. Travelers won't be demanding the 8am flights, and will need to take to less convenient 1pm. Might even hop in our electric cars getting 600 miles per charge (in the near future) and cruise down the 5. Or, we just won't travel as much.

It's all good. We humans are very adaptable.


Posted by Hurray to China India, a resident of Community Center
on May 11, 2011 at 11:29 am

Thanks for make USA a country "that couldn't".

In China they "CAN", in India they "CAN". USA is bust. Welcome to the new USA.



Posted by jim, a resident of Community Center
on May 11, 2011 at 11:41 am

Joe Simitian's proposal to provide a reasonably high speed train on electrified tracks and all grade crossings is very much in accord with the Analysts report. We could start the high speed train right here.
1. Elimination of car and train at grade crossings would not only allow high speed train travel but would eliminate the need for taking extra land, building ugly elevated trains, or spending enormously for tunneling.
2. It would finally provide Peninsulans with great high speed local transit.
3. It would remove the enticing suicide opportunities from the community children as well as the horrible deaths due to cars on tracks.

I go to LA about once per year. Ask your friends how often they travel to LA? Yet I go to the SF or San Jose 4 or 5 times / week.

The HSRA has demonstrated that they do not listen to local communities. We very much need this to be taken over by Caltrans with control by voter representation from the legislature or governor.


Posted by Hurray!, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 11, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Yeah, let's do this because other countries have! Just because we're afraid to borrow money and are afraid to give away jobs and are afraid of terrorists and don't know if we'll really do good for the environment and don't have anywhere near adequate local public transportation to support HSR and don't want to encourage suburban sprawl and don't want to spend local dollars on a station in a recession and bring more traffic through local neighborhood streets and these countries have 4+ times our population density and oh, sorry, I spaced out, where was I?

Oh, yeah, we're falling behind India and China and all of Asia mostly because they have faster trains! They are quiet and run fast and the governments don't mind subsidizing them. Let's go for it!


Posted by IVotedAgainstHSR, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Glad to see this mess being exposed for what it is - a giant money pit, doomed to eat cash, jobs, local transit, and everything in its path.

Of course, you could have predicted this just by looking at the original board members - Rod Diridon was the near-criminal mastermind behind SanJose hopeless Light Rail system. Huge cost over-run, huge ridership gap. Massive ongoing costs that never end.

Then he drove his HSR ideas through the proposition process. I guess it was not enough to ruin San Jose, had to stick it to the whole state. Glad the state is waking up to the insanity.

Rod - if you read this, go play with your choo-choo elsewhere!


Posted by chris, a resident of University South
on May 11, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Jim H.,

Did you ever stop to consider that HSR in not just for people who are going from SF to LA or vice versa? HSR serves many people who are going to or from intermediate points.

Making the Central Valley more accessible will help relieve the population pressure to create more urban sprawl in the Bay Area and LA.

But I guess you are still tied to your 20th century vision of airplanes as the solution. In 20 years, when oil is $500+/barrel, you may have some regrets.


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on May 11, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

I would hope--but don't expect--the HSR advocates to ponder their role in the likely failure of HSR. With their belligerent, uncritical support of the HSR Authority and its predecessors, they protected mismanagement, incompetence and venality for almost 10 years. What might have been if the proposal had had to be responsive to legitimate critiques?

Unfortunately, the attitude that what you deem important is worth whatever others have to pay is too prevalent in today's political system.


Posted by Thomas Paine IV, a resident of South of Midtown
on May 11, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Speaking of reading the report, perhaps Robert should read the CHRSA business plan, weak and inaccurate as it is. Their own research projects that 94% of high speed rail traffic will come from people who drive between north and south. High speed rail will have virtually no impact on airports or runways.
The most interesting and least discussed part of the LAO report, however, is that the budget has increased by 57%. And this for a section that is running through flat, open and relatively inexpensive land. Apply that 57% number to the $43 billion budget and the actual cost for high speed rail, if everything goes perfectly, is around $65 billion. Here's something to consider. The best case is that the rail authority (meaning the taxpayers of California) will have to borrow $40 billion to build this project. The interest alone at 5% is $2 billion per year and that assumes our "broke" federal government gives us another $17 billion in gifts. Does anyone who can count really believe this nonsense?



Posted by Who, a resident of Stanford
on May 11, 2011 at 3:30 pm

"I would hope--but don't expect--the HSR advocates to ponder their role in the likely failure of HSR. With their belligerent, uncritical support of the HSR Authority and its predecessors, they protected mismanagement, incompetence and venality for almost 10 years. What might have been if the proposal had had to be responsive to legitimate critiques?"

Are you talking about Larry Klein, Yoriko Kishimoto and the rest of the Palo Alto city council?


Posted by Jim H., a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 11, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Chris: Are we really building this HSR to serve the approx. 5-6M people in the central valley? To make the central valley more accessible?

The CAHSR business plan has the majority of trips, in fact, going from LA to SF. The shorter trips will be driven, the SD to SF trips will continue w/air.

So, you're hoping to make the CV more accessible so that people will move out there and create urban sprawl from SF all the way to LA? Interesting.


Posted by IVotedAgainstHSR, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2011 at 5:35 pm

Who: Yes. I think we should hold our elected officials accountable for supporting this.

Not a skeptical voice among them before the Election.

And of course, a project like this takes so long that they are gone before the results are really clear. But you can bet Kishimoto will never get my vote.

We suffer from mindless optimism in this town, and not an ounce of good sense. Until after we have spent the money.

For what it is worth, private estimates of HSR are $100B+ when examining similarly large mega-project over-runs. I have no reason to believe that this project is run any better than other examples of mega-projects. In fact, much evidence that it is far, far worse run than anything we have ever seen.

Only cutting of the money supply will kill this monster.


Posted by Hurray to China India, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 11, 2011 at 6:15 pm

@Hurray:
I am no a HSR advocate, please don't get me wrong. But what I see around in USA is a lack of will/nimby-ism/overly-smart people-getting in the way to get ANY project done.

We have lost it - I am not very happy with my adopted country - the USA.

I am generally disappointed. It is a fundamental problem.


Posted by galen, a resident of Ventura
on May 11, 2011 at 8:56 pm

Wow, could this monstrosity finally be in it's death throws? I pray yes.

IVotedAgainstHSR, was too kind to Roddy when he said, "Rod Diridon was the near-criminal mastermind behind San Jose hopeless Light Rail system". As far as i'm concerned Diridon is a criminal who belongs in prison for election fraud. He can share a cell with his buddy Quentin Kopp.

As for the new intrepid leader of this incredible boondoggle, Roelof van Ark said he believes the project has been "successful thus far because it has strived to operate more like a private business than a typical government bureaucracy". What!? Successful?! I have to wonder what van Ark and the HSRA would consider a failure.

I can tell you that some crony is crying real tears about now. What? That land he bought along the proposed route isn't going to be worth millions? What? All that wining and dining for a multi-billion contract is going to be for naught?

We need to drive a stake through the heart of this beast and be done with it.

Those who know me know i have zero respect for the PA City Council. The fact that they rubber-stamped Prop 1A is just one in a very long list of misdeeds by the people we elect to look out for our interests. When Kishimoto did an outreach pitch to sell us skeptical denizens of the rail corridor on HSR i almost lost my lunch. I hope voters remember her support for HSR should she ever again decide to run for public office.

I've had it with smarmy politicos with their hand in my pocket and their personal agendas front and center.


Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on May 11, 2011 at 9:13 pm

@ "Hurray to China India:"

You wrote: "I am no a HSR advocate, please don't get me wrong. But what I see around in USA is a lack of will/nimby-ism/overly-smart people-getting in the way to get ANY project done."

I think that you are overly simplifying the lack of support for this project.

Some of us are opposed to the HSR because the state simply cannot afford it right now -- at a time when we can't even balance a budget!

Some of us oppose the HSR because we cannot see a pressing need for it right now. We are NOT like India or China. We aren't like other nations with a much more limited national transportation infrastructure (as far as highways, roads, airports, buses, regular trains and vehicular gas prices are concerned) who would benefit more immediately from such a hefty project.

And, of course, some of us oppose the HSR because we are unashamedly "NIMBY." After all, this IS Palo Alto and this IS our "back yard."

Why shouldn't we be concerned with what affects our community? Don't we worry about our schools...roads...and gas pipes? Weren't there a large number of protesters when the crazy Westboro Baptist Church showed up in our back yard?

I don't know about you, but I hear CalTrain each and every day because it is literally across the street from my FRONT yard. I hear the deafening noise of that fiscal monstrosity at least 36 times a day as it takes about 1/10 of 1% of the population to and from work.

In the end, I can think of MANY reasons to oppose the HSR project. I just can't think of a very compelling reason -- especially at this point in time -- to actually pour a hefty portion of our already depleted budget into what is effectively a "fast train" that would still be slower, less safe, less versatile and more expensive than already widely accessible air travel.

Make sense?


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2011 at 10:39 pm

If you hate Caltrain so much, why did you decide to live in a home with a front yard that is literally across the street?


Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on May 12, 2011 at 10:33 am

@ Resident:

I didn't say that I "hated" CalTrain. However, at this time, we personally cannot afford to live in Palo Alto in any other location. The apartment that we rent is probably inexpensive BECAUSE of this noise. We are acclimated to the sound, but it still startles any guests who stay in our home (especially during the middle of the night).

Still, the point is that we SHOULD care about what happens in our "back yard." The subtle attempt to insult Palo Alto residents as "NIMBYs" because they care about the impact of a HSR on our community is almost uncanny.

But, like I said, there are many reasons to oppose an HSR. Not only can California not afford it (even at its current low-ball estimate -- which we ALL know will suddenly "increase" if implemented), but it just isn't vital at this point in time. It is literally a fast train that would compete with air transportation -- which is cheaper, faster and safer than what this HSR is estimated to be.

At a time when California is BILLIONS OF $$$ in the hole, it is amazing that people are entertaining an enormously expensive project that would only benefit a select few. If we lived in a developing nation that lacks the transportation infrastructure that this nation and state enjoy, then it might be a more pressing need. However, we have roads, rails and airports that are already sufficient for a growing economy and population.

One day in the future, it might be in our best interest to build such a system. Until then, we need to consider the cost and then look at our Sacramento bank account. Right now, we just don't have the money to pay for such an endeavor.

You asked why I don't move away from noisy CalTrain? It is because I don't have the money at this time. It is a simple decision, really. I just wish that California legislators and HSR lobbyists would think about the fiscal bottom line (and lack of money) that now plagues our state. We shouldn't spend money that we don't have. That is why this state is in a mess.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 12, 2011 at 11:06 am

Nayeli

I respect your opinion and I agree that the State shouldn't spend money it doesn't have, but it is doing that on an everyday basis in regards to the fact that there are too many administrative departments wasting money all the time in Sacramento. The place for them to start saving money is in their own housekeeping, not on infrastructure.

Looking at infrastructure, the population of California is growing all the time and in the Bay Area it is happening very quickly. Just looking at the population of Palo Alto and all the new housing being built, you can see that there are more people using the infrastructure all the time. Our roadways, and other infrastructure designed for transportation, are not going to be able to keep up with the demand for all these new residents to work, rest and play if they all get in their cars and drive the couple of miles to get there. Getting people to their destinations in a timely and efficient manner is what infrastructure must do.

Looking statewide and area wide, transportation must be getting people out of their cars. Looking citywide, transportation must be getting people out of their cars. Expecting air travel to remain reasonably priced forever and the cost of one person owning one car to remain affordable, are real unknowns. For short haul flights, the cost is more than money when it comes to all the inconvenience and hidden charges as well as security and potentials for delays, which makes rail a good alternative. Share car programs are getting more and more popular as are one car families. Bicycling is also becoming more popular on the local front.

Exploring the improvement of all the infrastructure is actually an investment in the future, paving the way for our future generations to be able to get to where they work, rest and play from where they live in this crowded region. Without investment these things will never happen.

Looking at what a typical plane or car ride will cost in 20 years versus an HSR ride will cost is only partially useful. With economics, the cost and availability of fuels of all types are just unknowns or more likely guesstimates for the future.

Whether we should HSR or some other type of rapid ground transport such as monorails should be explored now. We must invest in our future transportation or it will never, ever happen.

I have been living here long enough to remember when highway 85 opened. We don't have space to open any other highways.


Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on May 12, 2011 at 1:17 pm

@ Resident:

Then, perhaps the answer is to commission an unbiased study of our current transportation infrastructure.

I just don't see any pressing need for this form of transportation. It is not only limited in scope (only provides transportation along a few stops on the route), but I don't know if the demand for rail transportation from Sacramento to Los Angeles is really that pressing. More importantly, I don't know if it is any more pressing than what we already have in place.

As for the cost: We have to curb spending somewhere. We shouldn't just throw our arms in the air and submit to the current unabashed spending. Even if it might be helpful in the long run, the State (and taxpayers) just cannot afford this right now.

Rail travel has its place. However, in every nation where HSR is successful, old rail travel was also successful. In the United States, most Americans avoid it. We have other infrastructure in place that is safe, affordable and readily available.

How many times has Amtrak cut service or needed a government subsidies just to stay in operation. Rail travel -- even if it is very fast -- just isn't nearly as versatile for it to be fiscally viable in American society (at least, for now). Trains must travel along a single series of preset tracks...and no where else.

Even if it connects in the Bay Area and passes along existing CalTrain tracks, I have a strong suspicion that most people would still rely on air travel for long distances (or auto/bus travel as a less expensive alternative).

I am not saying that HSR may not be viable in the future. However, we need to wait until we can actually afford such a massive undertaking. After all, I think that most of us are keenly aware that the cost for this project has been vastly underestimated.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 12, 2011 at 4:28 pm

Nayeli

You are making many assumptions. You are assuming that the American mindset will not change. You are forgetting that middle aged Americans will be older in 20 years' time. You are forgetting that today's teenagers will be middle aged in 20 years' time and the ones doing the most traveling. Less teenagers are feeling the need to learn to drive or own a car at the age their parents did. These teenagers are getting used to alternative modes of transport than cars when it comes to getting to and from college and even to and from their first jobs. This trend will make a difference to their attitudes about transportation as they age.

You are also forgetting that we are an area where people have moved to from living in other countries. Many of the people who live here now have lived and used trains for many of their frequent and occasional journeys. These people will be utilising rail travel for reasons of choice over flying.

You say that rail travel only takes you in a straight line along the tracks. But, plane travel only takes you to the airport. We have 3 major airports in the Bay Area, but getting to each of them is not easy if you happen to live north of the Golden Gate, or getting to one that you don't live closest to. Likewise about where you want to go in the LA area. Rail travel can be much more easy to get from the central hub to other modes of transport as compared to any of our airports. BART is only easy accessible to SFO and Caltrain doesn't get you close to either SFO or SJC and neither is VTA lightrail. I think Oakland has similar problems. An efficient and effective rail service can do a better job than an airport. I don't even know if any of our airports can be accessed by foot or by bike!

Don't assume that attitudes will remain the same about air travel. It is changing already due to security and things like luggage charges. The affordability of flying in the increasing oil market era is unknown. The monopoly of the airlines to transport the paying public for short haul flights will decrease.


Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on May 12, 2011 at 5:17 pm

@ Resident:

I think that you are also guilty of making assumptions. Rail travel has been shrinking in the United States for many years. After the widespread availability of air travel and the completion of interstate highways, the disadvantage of rail travel became well understood. It was slower, more restrictive and less safe than air travel while costing the same (or more) for a ticket.

You cite the availability of rail for individuals who live north of the Golden Gate. Well, for one, we don't know if the HSR would even serve those individuals. More importantly, we forget that the rail is in a fixed location -- just like those airports. Unless you live next to the tracks, getting to the stations is not easy either.

If we truly believe that there is a pressing need for this mode of transportation, then let's commission an unbiased study that will determine its true impact on California. We need to know its REAL longterm cost...and how it would affect our current transportation infrastructure.

How many people would actually use it versus any of the already available means of travel (roads, ships, air, bus, and slower rail)? More importantly, just how pressing is this need? Is it just a novelty that would appease or appeal to a limited base of potential customers along the tracks (ala CalTrain)? After all, our current local rail is utilized by only ~1/2 of 1% of the population of the peninsula...and it is perpetually in the "red."

But, above all else, we just can't afford it right now. California should not undertake such a project until we can actually come close to balancing our budget.

This thing is bound to cost more than even the current most liberal estimates claim. After all, this is California. A bridge often costs 50-100% more than its initial estimated cost because of later "sudden" realizations about safety, earthquake preparedness, etc... that weren't included in the original estimates.

By the way, the airlines don't have a "monopoly" on travel. Some people take bus and rail, but most travel by car. Air travel just happens to be the safest and most cost effective means. It takes six hours to get to Los Angeles from here by car. It takes about 45 minutes by air. Both would be cheaper than taking a train (if anyone ever needed to). Of course, there might be a small group who travel that journey often. I suppose that they are the ones who would push it the most...because of personal benefit.


Posted by John, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 12, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Can we finally see the HSR for what it is? A not so sophisticated con by those involved?
The only undertaking underway are high priced "administrators" who so far have hired a high priced pr firm to tell us our eyes are lying to us.
All that is happening are people helping themselves to tax money oops bond money!
It will cost at least $100 billion.

Compare to how the money losing BART airport extension cost.
Same con, only bigger!


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 12, 2011 at 6:19 pm

Nayeli

I agree with you that no one has studied anything about transportation needs through the state as a whole.

I also said that air travel has a monopoly for paid trips, ie passenger trips to SoCal, that excludes any type of road or rail paid travel. I know that for a family or several passengers in one car, it is probably more useful and definitely cheaper to go by car. It may take longer and if there is only one driver it can be more tiring by car, but unless they all fly there is no alternative at present. Even with HSR, it will still probably be more viable in the case of several travelers to go in one car, but for a single person that can change.

Rail stations can easily be more flexible than an airport from the center of a city or metropolitan area. For those living in Marin, the journey to SFO must be difficult, but probably not so to get to San Francisco - having never lived there it is something I haven't experienced. But without a car it is difficult for me in Palo Alto to get to SFO or SJC, particularly with luggage, and I wouldn't even think about Oakland airport. But, I could see a simple journey from Palo Alto to a rail hub in either San Jose or San Francisco as pretty easy by train. Likewise, as BART is being extended to San Jose, the same could be said for the East Bay. Of course, getting anywhere from the North Bay unless there is BART may also be difficult but I would imagine that options would appear once the trains were running.

I know that your main concern is the expense and I appreciate that. I just wonder if we can afford not to act now to give future generations the ability to move around our own area if we fill it with more and more cars with drivers that have no option other than driving.


Posted by John, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 12, 2011 at 7:52 pm

You still don't get it. IT'S A CON JOB!!! and we are the marks.

See the above report.

Their will be no high speed rail. Just fat paychecks for the "rail authority"


Posted by John, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 12, 2011 at 8:00 pm

"The HSRA indicates that without additional significant federal support beyond that provided to date, the project cannot be completed," the report states. "Given the federal government's current financial situation and the current focus in Washington on reducing federal spending, it is uncertain if any further funding for the high-speed rail program will become available."

Say good bye by High Speed Rail. (Unkess Caltrans takes over). But the "rail authority" won't give it up!


Posted by Ken, a resident of Midtown
on May 12, 2011 at 8:34 pm

"The rail authority's 2009 business plan estimates that the project will obtain between $17 billion and $19 billion in federal funds. So far, it has received $3.6 billion, and the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives has opposed making additional appropriations for high-speed rail.

"The HSRA indicates that without additional significant federal support beyond that provided to date, the project cannot be completed," the report states. "Given the federal government's current financial situation and the current focus in Washington on reducing federal spending, it is uncertain if any further funding for the high-speed rail program will become available.""

Stick a fork in this turkey...it won't fly. There is no way that HSR will get another nickle from the federal government. It would be beyond any rational imagination that the State of California will contibute any more money. Just kill it, and then blame those who supported it at the beginning.

This a "green" disaster, which was also pushed by the unions. Shame on both their houses.


Posted by John, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 12, 2011 at 8:56 pm

It won't be over until the "authority" uses up the $9+ billion in bonds. The taxpayers will get stuck with a $20 billion bill.(see state taxes}

The "authority" will also burn the feds {see federal taxes} $3+ billion.

That's a lot of turkey to carve up!


Posted by Herb Borock, a resident of Professorville
on May 13, 2011 at 2:49 pm

The voters approved the High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act in the November 2008 election because they were presented with a ballot label, title, and summary written by the proponents of the ballot measure, instead of a neutral ballot label, title, and summary written by the Attorney General as required by law.

On January 27, 2011, the California Appellate Court in Sacramento ruled that the Legislature violated the law when it specified the ballot label, title, and summary for the bond measure.

Here is the summary of court's opinion:

"The question posed is whether, in enacting the 'Safe, Reliable, High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century' to submit the measure to voters as Proposition 1A at the November 4, 2008 general election, the Legislature acted lawfully when it specified the ballot label, title and summary to be used and precluded the Attorney General from revising the language other than to include a financial impact statement. (Stats. 2008, ch. 267, 11, subd. (f)(1) & (2), pp. 15-16.)

"The answer is 'No.' The Political Reform Act may be amended in two ways: (1) 'to further its purposes' if the amendment is passed in each house of the Legislature by a two-thirds vote (Gov. Code, 81012, subd. (a)); or (2) by the enactment of a statute that is then approved by the electorate (Gov. Code, 81012, subd. (b)). The Legislature passed the 'Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century' by a two-thirds vote of each house. However, to the extent it specified the ballot label, title and summary to be used, the bill negated the Political Reform Act‟s requirement that the official summary of the bill be prepared by the Attorney General in addition to the ballot label and title that are prepared by the Attorney General. As we will explain, this ad hoc amendment of the Political Reform Act did not further the purposes of the Act and was not approved by the voters. Thus, it was invalid. Simply stated, the Legislature cannot dictate the ballot label, title and official summary for a statewide measure unless the Legislature obtains approval of the electorate to do so prior to placement of the measure on the ballot."

Here is the link to the entire opinion of the court: Web Link


Posted by Ken, a resident of Midtown
on May 13, 2011 at 6:37 pm

The simple truth is that Palo Alto liberals wanted to be true believers in HSR, and all other supposed green things. They willingly bought into it, hook line and sinker. Their thining was was that there was an infinite pit of money to fund their green dreams. WRONG!

Herb Borock is wrong, in that he thinks the liberals in Palo Alto were hoodwinked by some abstract legalism. Palo Alto liberals were snookered by their own blinders.

HSR was, and is, a loser. It was clear from the beginning, to any clear-thinking person. This turkey was approved by a unanimous vote of our city council. There was not a single person on that council that had the intelligence and intestinal fortitude to oppose it. The shame on them will not fade away, even if they are now backing away.


Posted by Andy, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 18, 2011 at 7:04 am

Why do people consider air travel as the only other alternative to HSR? Has someone considered taking electric car? If we were to utilize $45/ $67 billion on innovating electric cars, shouldn't that be a better alternative? Even with current technology and charging stations available across freeway, one can travel to LA in less than 6 hours. And that would include travel time to final destination not to train station.

Electric car technology would also help establish lead with other countries in the world. I am averse to the idea of copying other developing nation. What works for others does not mean it would work for us.


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