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Original post made
on Aug 27, 2009
As a strong supporter of high speed rail, I was impressed by last night's forum. I thought people asked some really great questions. Just because I'm a support doesn't mean I don't want to know how construction will impact Caltrain service or what might happen in an earthquake.
I was pretty stunned by Anna Eshoo's lack of knowledge on the subject, and her total surprise that there was actually a HSR plan before Prop 1A went to the ballot (what, you want voters to actually have a specific plan with details to vote on? That's just crazy!).
But all in all, I was impressed with the crowd and with the panelists, and I'm confident as ever that high speed rail will not only happen, but be built in a way that's best for the nearby communities. Best of all, it seemed like most people in the room truly acknowledged that it will happen, and really just wanted to hear more details on how, where, how much it will cost and who will pay.
I also attended the meeting and agree with Evan. The meeting was well organized. I feared the worst, that health care reform advocates and opponents would highjack the meeting. But that did not happen. Anna made it clear that she was reading ALL the written questions in the order they were submitted, so no one would think they were cherry picked. I don't think all could have been read as it was a huge stack. I left around 8:40, and they were still going strong. I was impressed by the quality of the submitted questions.
I am also a supporter of high-speed rail and look forward to taking the train to Los Angeles someday.
I disagree and think the high speed rail system is on track to be a total fiasco. We should be investing in infrastructure that gives us greater flexibility for the future. Things change. To pretend a fast train line that ties us to big cities will help doesn't map to reality for our State and how we are doing business and living. If someone needs to get from SF to LA, get on a plane. It's cheaper and safer and available immediately from three major airports in SF (SF, SF and Oakland). This is a very expensive public works fiasco... when we have other public work projects that are much more important and urgent. Our roads need to be upgraded. Our water system needs to be upgraded. Those two items should take priority -- and will give us considerably more flexibility for the future. New roads can carry both regular and electric/hybrid cars and increase safety. This high speed rail project give us a one way or the highly approach tying our hands for the future when we need a multi-layered approach that acknowledges the jobs have left cities like SF long ago and won't be returning. A high speed train line won't reverse the situation and will help solve a non-existent crisis for tourists trying to get from LA to SF. Let's think about the business community for a change and we might actually see the economy and jobs return to California at some point.
Quite a few holes in your reasoning there Anonymous. Invest in infrastructure that gives us greater flexibility for the future? I thought that was the whole idea behind the HSR. A plane is cheaper? Actually, it's more expensive. That's a no brainer. Spending money on roads instead is better because it's good for hybrids and will increase safety? Says who? Don't most of us take I-5 or 101 to L.A.? You realize this is a high speed train they are building. I drove from L.A. home 2 weeks ago and it's a LONG drive. Why not have a faster, more eco-friendly and sometimes cheaper option (considering gas prices)?
"Let's think about the business community for a change..."
When have we ever stopped thinking about the business community? This whole area is neck deep in that type of thinking.
I think we should focus on high-bandwidth teleconferencing systems between here and LA (and elsewhere) instead of working so hard to ship people back and forth. Isn't it clear that the "green" future is where people work closer to where they live? Let electrons do the commuting!
Did you attend the meeting to hear the facts, Anonymous? Someone last night wrote something on a question card saying he could get to LA in 45 minutes by plane. It was quickly pointed out that it takes more like 3 hours each way, when you factor in parking, security checks, etc.
One more thing. This was voted on and PASSED in November. Lots of people opposed to HSR keep making arguments as if their position were somehow going to prevail. That ship sailed last year. Barring something I don't really foresee, we ARE going to have some sort of high-speed rail system in California. Exact configuration and routes are still being worked on, but the concept is going forward.
I didn't get to the forum early enough to get in. By the time I arrived all of the out-of-town, out-of-district, and out-of-their-minds-with-fear-of-everything, had made parking difficult and sitting impossible. I left after passing my comment card to one of Eshoo's staff.
I am a strong supporter of high speed rail. Airline travel requires far more energy than rail (as do automobiles). Aircraft require complex hydrocarbon fuels (currently from fossil fuels) and most likely always will (energy to weight ratios). Fossil fuels lead to higher atmospheric CO2, and a greater greenhouse effect. We could wait until we are underwater - or we can start now on building a less damaging, more efficient link between northern and southern California. There is no need to wait; the costs of construction will be spread over many years, so trying to wait for "better" economic times, is a fools errand.
I strongly oppose the idea of cramming the train underground. It will be more expensive, less safe, and make the ride less pleasant. And I strongly resent that my city counsel and that of our NIMBY neighbors - Atherton - are wasting our money on the lawsuit.
Relying on more highways and more air travel is not looking ahead, it is simply trying to sustain and expand the unsustainable model of the last 60 years.
Julius here's your post:
"Posted by Julius Smith, a resident of the Monroe Park neighborhood, 50 minutes ago
I think we should focus on high-bandwidth teleconferencing systems between here and LA (and elsewhere) instead of working so hard to ship people back and forth. Isn't it clear that the "green" future is where people work closer to where they live? Let electrons do the commuting!"
Right on, what a way to think out of the box! Your approach sure makes sense to me! I'd like to hear more discussion on your advice.
Personally, I like the idea of high speed rail, but believe that the costs must be the deciding factor. Will it be too costly?
Evan, why so stunned? There was no mention of a route having been already chosen in the wording of Measure 1A. In fact, the exact wording of measure 1A said that the bond funds could be used for any route, and listed about 6 possibilities, including Altamont. Voters were lied to. If an informed, involved, experienced local politician wasn't aware, she's in the same boat as thousands of other voters - that should say something about how grossly misleading measure 1A was.
Now that the judge has ruled that the Program EIR is invalid, its time to get our State politicians and attorney general to annul (cancel, void, repeal - whatever they call it) 2008 measure 1A (High speed rail bonds). 1A needs to be cancelled and brought back for a revote when a FINAL EIR is done. Otherwise, even those voters who DID read the 1500 page EIR for the fine print don't have a clue what they've actually approved now.
By the way, when we do revote, lets make sure they put the route in the bond measure - shall we?
Slyvia - you don't think you'll have to drive to stations, long term park, check bags, go through security check - etc etc etc, on high speed rail? There's not a reason in the world to think you'll gain any kind of travel efficiencies on HSR versus planes - especially since these trains are going to be traveling smack dab through residential neighborhoods - you can COUNT on a high level of complex security measures. And do you think you're going to skip right in and park in some convienient long term parking structures, with quick and easy freeway access from 101 - along the CALTRAIN CORRIDOR? Ludicrous since Caltrain is buried miles to the west through nothing but residential neighborhoods. And FLYING take 3 HOURS EACH WAY? what a bunch of blatant misleading hogwash.
The same smart-mouthed panelist last night kept saying - knock off the lies and lets get down to facts. Well OK. Now that the lie packed EIR is invalidated - Yes. Lets get down to the facts, shall we? I can't wait to start hearing some facts from the CHSRA.
No need to "revote", we already voted YES. This is the same genius political thinking that got us stuck with an actor playing the role of a governor. Terribly I might ad.
Observer, I can WALK to the train station. If people don't have to go through security checkpoints to ride the Southern Pacific now, what makes you assume high speed rail will involve the same degree of security as flying does now? One of last night's panelists said that in Europe he regularly took the train from London to Paris, arrived refreshed and in very good time.
I sincerely doubt 1A is going to be overturned.
Eshoo did say something significant in response to my question - that nobody in the room actually opposes high speed rail, they just want to make sure their concerns are heard and addressed.
Is that actually the case? I sure don't think it is. There were a lot of actual HSR opponents in the audience. The comments hissed among folks sitting in the audience seemed to indicate a lot of people didn't buy the basic premise of HSR itself.
Disclosure: I voted for the HSR proposition without realizing (my fault) the impact on the South Peninsula. I have also used the HSR systems in Japan (extensively) and in Europe (once). I think HSR has a place in US and California transportation systems. That said, there are problems with the current proposal, most of which have been stated in earlier postings. I believe there is a time saving and money saving solution that will still give us HSR. It is this: Stop the HSR in San Jose, using the currently proposed routing up to that point. Then use some of the bond money to upgrade the existing Caltrain route from San Jose to San Francisco, providing grade separation where really needed, better designed crossing gates to inhibit suicides, and electrify and speed up the system. This will improve the daily commute, and still give folks a quick connection from San Jose, once they have arrived in two hours or so from LA to SF or points in between. Ditto for southbound travelers. SF has already stated that they need far more terminal room for HSR if it goes there to which the HSR authority has not responded, to my knowledge. Granted, this will require a few politicians to put their egos aside and begin to think for the broader good of the entire region not to mention the state and its economy.
But, there are other serious problems with the proposed HSR plan. One due diligence study, done by HSR proponets and experts, claim the feasibility study is flawed, that the system will always require heavy subsidy, that it will cost far more than projected, and that based on 25 years of HSR experience in Japan and Europe, this California proposal falls far short. This is a long report, but I am happy to send by e-mail to to anyone who requests it. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a copy.
I agree with you that there are many who oppose HSR. I didn't vote for it, nor do I see any environmental benefit to it, unlsess it is driven by nuclear power.
However, the main reason I am responding to you is to ask if you are part of the Cruickshank family from southern Monterey county, in the Manchester mining district. I was raised in Monterey county and I have always been interested in the local history.
Last I heard, there are three planned stops for the HSR on the Caltrain corrider. So walking to a station might prove a bit difficult...I am sure that security etc. is going to drastically change the concept of "jumping" on a train.
Unless the HSR can maintain constant high speeds, it really won't be a high speed rail...going through residential areas might necessitate a drop in speed.
The new High bandwidth tele/video conferencing capabilities make HSR irrelevant for business needs.
The HSR advocates are the new luddites.
Companies who use the Cisco or HP systems have cut their travel costs and increased their productivity dramatically.
HSR is a solution without a problem and without a market
Can somebody please tell me how the HSR makes economic sense? The airlines consistently lose money along with BART, Caltrain, VTA, SF Muni, Amtrac, and light rail just to name a few. They have a pattern of raising fares and cutting service. Do you really think HSR is going to be self supporting? As cars become more fuel efficient, hybridized and electrified our love affair with cars will continue unabated. As long as we are in love with our cars, public transportation will be underutilized and subsidized. On another note, the reason I never fly to LA is because I have to rent a car when I get there. The same will be true with HSR.
Just a few facts to make your day:
The high speed rail people are projecting 57,000,000 million passengers which are need to pay for the system. If you go the Amtrak Web site you'll find the following: "The Boston-New York-Washington portion of the Northeast Corridor carried 10,897,852 passengers in FY 2008 on Acela Express, Regional Service or other trains." That corridor goes from Boston, through New York and Philadelphia to Washington DC and has nearly 4 times the population density of California. It also has cities with real city centers so once you get off the train, you don't need to rent a car. LA and San Diego have no city centers. Do really believe California HSR will move more than 4 times the number of people who use the northeast corridor?
Also on the Amtrak Web Site:
"In FY 2008, Amtrak earned approximately $2.45 billion in revenue and incurred approximately $3.38 billion in expense. No country in the world operates a passenger rail system without some form of public support for capital costs and/or operating expenses." See for yourself at Web Link.
If this thing actually gets built we can put bars on the train windows and use them to transport prisoners up and down the state since there will be lots of empty seats and no money for prisons, teachers or police.
It is with great sadness that I have read many of the posts here. I was raised in Palo Alto, but now live in London. I have been following the high speed rail debate because after having experienced transportation in the Bay Area and transportation in Europe, I can say that rail travel is simply faster, more pleasant, easier and cheaper than driving or flying.
High speed rail makes environmental sense - and we are at a junction in human history where we need to care about the environment. Sorry, the science on climate change is irrefutable, and there is plenty of evidence that technological fixes are not going to make change fast enough. This is particularly important in regards to transportation. That's why every country in Europe has adopted high speed rail or is in the process of adopting it. Arguments such as 'Europe is fundamentally different than the US' are simply not true. Yes, the built environment is different, but the people are not. And if the US wants to remain a great world power in an age when great reductions of energy use are imperative, we will need to live in denser settlements and drive and fly less. People do it in Europe, and the quality of life is actually pretty good - some (like me) would say better than the US.
Reading some of the short-sighted and selfish comments that others have left makes me mourn for the future of my beautiful home town, and for the future of California in general. Change is unavoidable. We all have a choice about if we want to lead change, or if we want to bury our heads in the sand and let the world bring what it may.
Expat, your head is in the clouds I think. Europe is different from California, sorry - in population density and housing patterns, highway density, gasoline costs, car ownership, etc. The "one size fits all" logic you tout wouldn't stand up in a high school debate. You like HSR - that's fine, use it. But you've got a lot of nerve calling people "short-sighted and selfish" for rejecting the arguments as vapid as yours.
Just a comment comparing car with train (Caltrain, HSR):
I drive a 1991 Civic and going with the traffic flow get about 38mi/gal. I keep an exact log about the sum of all expenses connected with it and divide the sum through the number of total miles driven.
This car cost me 16cents/mile. So a round trip from P.A. to SF is about 80miles. The cost: $12.80. Time spent: about 1.25 hrs either way at off-rush-hour times. 2.5hrs spent paying attention to other drivers. Add to it parking fees.
Caltrain: 1hr either way. Day-pass $6.0 (granted I have senior advantage). Now I have 2 hrs for reading the paper, working on a laptop (you may be surprised to know that many people work on their laptops in Germany's ICEs = Inter City Express trains), catching up on sleep, etc.
Looking at the freeways I wonder how many unproductive hours could be made productive with train/HSR travel. How much is your time worth?
Back at the technical university we were told that ranking travel by travel comfort the train comes out on top, followed by bus, then car and plane.
Hermann, I doubt that you really only use 1 hour one way.
It may be true that walking and waiting at a train station is preferable to driving; then again it may not. But in either case you must include the time that you are not traveling by train because the train isn't there and doesn't leave from your house, and doesn't drop you off where you are going.
If you have 100% flexibility in your schedule, you might time things so that you only waste 10 minutes waiting for the train, but most people cannot. Fewer than 10 minutes puts you at risk of missing the train, and perhaps waiting an hour or more.
I have lived in cities where public transportation is viable, but most people who use public transportation here do it because they have no alternative, are lucky enough to live near a station and have a more or less straight shot from their starting point to their destination, or have all the time in the world.
For many, just using public transportation to get to the train would require 40 minutes or more from their door to a scheduled train departure from the quickest-to-get-to station.
My point is that we need to invest in stimulating better local mass transit, public or private, rail or bus or van, and HSR may make sense in the future. A better environment for bicyclists would also support growth of both local and long-distance mass transit.
Why wont HSR advocates answer these questions?
-how much will the SJ to SF run cost?
-what is the delta for total trip time from SF to LA between the proposed route (including peninsula stops and slower speeds through residential areas) vs a link-up between existing rail and an SJ terminus for HSR?
Run the thing through Rod Diridons kitchen-- he seems OK with using eminent domain on other peoples homes
I thought the Town Hall was a useful exercise, but I fear that it didn't change very many people's minds. I was really surprised to hear Anna Eshoo say she didn't know about the route, when she signed a letter supporting Pacheco back in 2007. Also, the litigation by Menlo Park and Atherton was filed in August of 2008- so the people who are saying that nobody told then about the route before the election just weren't paying attention. Menlo Park and Atherton understood what it meant, and you'd think our Representative has staffers to keep up with what is going on in her district.
For the people who are saying that telecommuting is a better alternative than HSR, please explain to me how that works for my mother-in-law in Burbank. Can she put her grandson on her lap and read a book to him by telecommuting?
Whenever the subject has come up, the High Speed Rail authority has been clear that there will not be any "security theater" for HSR. So oberserver's allegation that HSR will face the same delays as air travel is incorrect. Considering that HSR will be sharing the right of way with Caltrain, there is little benefit to subjecting HSR to security theater if there is an unsecured commuter train on the adjacent track. Do you really think that they are going to add security checks to Caltrain? Not going to happen.
People have decided to believe the very worst of HSR. That's unfortunate. At least this way, after it's built, they'll be pleasantly surprised.
People are concerned about property values. If you could imagine a scenario in which the bells and whistles went away, the diesel engines were replaced with electric ones, and all the backups at grade crossings were eliminated, don't you think that your property values might actually go up instead of down?
I have to add a personal recollection to PA Expat's blanket praise of European train travel. My family's rail experience on a recent vacation to the UK was awful. On the 350-mile trip from London to Blackpool, the train broke down three times, the ride took seven hours, the station at our destination was filthy, and during much of our journey we were regaled by the raucous singing of a thoroughly drunk Scottish soccer team, which the conductors did nothing to stop.
We canceled the rest of our rail reservations, rented a car in Blackpool, drove the rest of our vacation, and had a wonderful time doing it -- in part because we saw many things, and met many people, whom we would otherwise have zipped past on the train.
Bob M: Some trains in the UK definitely are awful (they are privatized though, so it's difficult to paint them all with the same brush). Try taking a high speed train in France, Benelux, Spain, Germany or parts of Italy though and I'm sure you'll have a much different experience.
As for the density issue, the Madrid to Barcelona route in Spain is comparable to LA to SF as is the route from Tokyo to Osaka in Japan. They're all about 300-350 miles which is perfect for high speed rail. Paris to Marseilles is even further (over 400 miles) and there is a direct TGV train that will get you there in 3 hours. The density/distance argument that people keep bringing up is hogwash. The Bay Area and LA both have more than enough people to support the line.
Why would undergrounding the HSR make it less safe? Track crossing accidents are a serious danger both to the community and to the trains.
Are you worried about earthquakes? Seismic design is part of the process, as designers of the expensive new multi-story high school buildings are saying about the new school buildings that will house our kids. If it's good enough for our kids, it's good enough for our trains.
"As for the density issue, the Madrid to Barcelona route in Spain is comparable to LA to SF as is the route from Tokyo to Osaka in Japan."
No, you are completely off on this. Tokyo has 12 million people; San Francisco has 800,000. Japan has roughly half the population of the United States in a country the size of California; most of those live along the route from Tokyo to Osaka.
And both Tokyo and Osaka have mass transit that allows you to get within a 15 minute walk of almost anywhere within these cities.
Whatever you think of California's HSR plan, to compare an SF-LA train to Tokyo-Osaka is simply poppycock.
Oh right, I forgot that other 6.5 million people in the Bay Area were not allowed to use the train, as it's reserved only for people who are residents of San Francisco.
I think the 7+ million people in the area combined with the almost 13 million people in metropolitan Los Angeles should be sufficient to meet ridership projections. Yes, Tokyo has more people, but the Bay Area and the LA area have populations similar to most metropolitan areas in Europe which are serviced by high speed rail at similar distances.
You also forgot about the other 75 million people between Tokyo and Oosaka.
Make comparisons with Europe.
I have a lot of objections to HSR from San Jose to San Francisco. If you think that they will underground it you are deluding yourself.
I did not vote for it because I too thought it was too expensive and intrusive. Putting it underground would be prohibitively expensive and it would have many bad effects on our environment. It would kill a lot of trees, including El Palo Alto, our signature tree, and also our landmark. The digging would disrupt our aquifers and where would all the soil that needed to be excavated go? It would end up having just as much of a footprint as four surface lines in order to do the digging.
Another objection is the choice of Pacheco Pass as the route rather than the Altamont Pass. Pacheco will require extensive and very expensive (three times as much) tunneling. It would go goes through an environmentally sensitive area that will be greatly damaged by the disruption. Invasive plants will be brought in by the machinery and animal migration paths will be blocked.
Furthermore, the traffic centers are in Stockton and Merced not through Pacheco. Using the Altamont Pass would connect the large populations in those cities to the bay area and also the Oakland airport. It would easily connect to Sacramento. Someone else wrote that Pacheco was chosen because Diridon wanted San Jose to be a hub and not a spoke. It is such a perfect metaphor that I am repeating it here. Anyone who attended the meeting of the PA city council when Diridon and a few other proponents came to sell us on the idea could not have failed to notice his rude and arrogant attitude in response to our citizens concerns and the very reasonable questions that were asked.
Then there is the problem of the cost of the project. Our state is already far in the hole and no visible solutions have appeared as yet. Meanwhile what the area really needs is better local transit that supplies a daily need for local commuters.
This also brings up the problem of what would happen to Caltrain during the construction of the proposed HSR. Many people now use it to commute to San Francisco and bring their bicycles along. All of them will have to commute by car for the years it will take to tear up the tracks to build this monstrosity. Electrifying Caltrain would be an environmentally sound and cost effective way of improving local transit. It also stops at all the cities which is not true of the HSR. Electric buses on main streets such as El Camino are another cost effective and useful means of transport for built up areas such as the peninsula. One possible route would be from the East bay and across the Dumbarton Bridge and then along El Camino. Since these modern buses do not require tracks they could go in the carpool lane and make very good time. The city of Las Vegas has purchased some of these buses, which are made in France, and widely used in Europe.
There are so many better ways to solve our transportation problems with much less expense and disruption to our cities. The best answer to the 'High Speed Rail' and its unsustainable cost is to just say NO.
The vote on Prop. 1A was fraudulent and ethically illegitimate: the route aboveground up the spine of the Peninsula was decided on by CHSRA by summer 2008, yet that was kept under the radar until after the November election. 99% of the people on the Peninsula who voted for 1A, including me, had no clue that the route had already been chosen and would inflict serious harm on Peninsula communities. That's called being prevented from giving one's INFORMED CONSENT to a ballot measure. Moreover, this CHSRA will wind up costing about $100 billion plus the annual operating costs. Do we really want to sink that much money into this project when public education in California, clearly vital for the future of this state, is in dire straits. This project will wind up being a disaster. The Harvard economist writing in the NYT last week showed clearly that the costs of projects such as this will greatly exceed their benefits. The HSR, if we proceed with it, will wind up being a financial albatross around the necks of future generations of Californians. Moreover, the amount of time saved by going between SF and San Jose will be on the order of only 3-5 minutes, since HSR will be limited to 120 mph on the Peninsula. Baby Bullets will make it almost as fast. Stop HSR at San Jose and avoid spending billions building HSR on the Peninsula to save a meager 3-5 minutes. Don't let the status-envy of San Fran to be an HSR terminus cause us to suspend critical rational thinking about this fiasco in the making. EITHER stop HSR in San Jose OR put it AND CalTrain underground along the Peninsula and turn the CalTrain right of way into new green space for the enjoyment of the citizenry.
Robert McGinn, the CHSRA didn't keep the route under the radar. There were articles about the decision in local papers, well in advance of the election: Web Link
Atherton and Menlo Park filed their lawsuit against CHSRA (over the route) in August of 2008. Menlo Park and Atherton knew about the route well before the election. That litigation got quite a lot of press locally also.
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