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Rail officials head for Washington with survey

Original post made on Jul 27, 2010

California High-Speed Rail Authority officials are traveling to the nation's capital this week to drum up federal support for rail projects, armed with what they say is new evidence that state residents want an alternative to flying and driving -- a week before they plan to submit an application for a share of $2.3 billion.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, July 27, 2010, 7:57 PM

Comments (31)

Posted by Bikes2work, a resident of Santa Rita (Los Altos)
on Jul 27, 2010 at 9:54 pm

Awesome. Too bad the NIMBY's around here (including the press) can't get past their own fear of change.

Posted by Doubting Thomas, a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 27, 2010 at 10:35 pm

The HSR must:
present a realistic cost estimate and time to complete;
a believable ridership estimate;
acceptance of the final route design by all cities affected by it;
agreement by SP that their right-of-way can be used from Gilroy north;
committed funding to complete;
no funding from local governments.

These cover the most important factors that have to be settled before more money goes down the drain.

Posted by PA res, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 27, 2010 at 11:16 pm

I still support high speed rail, but not if it's done so badly it ruins my town or anyone else's.

All over Europe, rail is done in a sensible way that doesn't ruin and cut communities in half. If we want this project for the long-term, it should enhance communities and quality of life, not destroy it. If it destroys it, it not only ruins people's lives, it destroys property values the taxes of which support the state.

HSR, yes. Stupid HSR, no. My problem is that the proponents here don't seem to want to differentiate.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 28, 2010 at 7:15 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

My problem is that opponents to HSR still refuse to acknowledge that the tracks are THERE! The proposal is an upgrade, not a virgin project. Towns are already divided, not always esthetically, and this crap about a Berlin Wall is an offensive trivialization of the political purpose of that wall and the lives lost attempting to cross.

Posted by resident, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 28, 2010 at 8:36 am

Walter, yes, tracks are there but High speed rail will need tow more tracks and in order to do that lot of properties will go for imminent domain and disrupt the communities and destroy the peninsula.Opponents are saying "do it right".We live near the tracks and still support the project if that is "done right".

Posted by Denise, a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 28, 2010 at 8:45 am

A push survey used to convince federal lawmakers to continue to fund billions for the California HSR turkey is just the latest chapter in this sorry political story.

Give me a break. Push surveys are used to trick people into saying they support what you want supported. It is not a scientific sampling using unbiased questions to truly discern actual opinions.

Posted by Shelly, a resident of Southgate
on Jul 28, 2010 at 9:00 am

Where is old-time investigative reporting on California HSR?

A Pulitzer awaits the first reporter or team who digs out, and clearly reports, the ugly facts behind this politically produced California HSR 3-ring circus. This is all about political manipulation to secure billions in funding from political representatives who are not doing their homework in depth.

You watch what the public sector thinks about HSR investment opportunities. Unless there is a big contract waiting in the wings, not one private investor will invest a dime. There's a $10-$15 billion gap in the $50 billion HSR needs that may prove impossible to fill. Trying to jump across a chasm that wide could prove fatal.

Posted by Robert, a resident of Southgate
on Jul 28, 2010 at 9:16 am

Yesterday CHSRA's PR firm put out a press release about the findings of a Public Opinion survey CHSRA had commissioned. The headline: "Survey Finds Strong Support for High-Speed Rail." I read this Release with care and believe the Press Release is incredibly DECEPTIVE and deeply misleading.

The actual first finding from the public opinion survey (see Fig. 1) torpedos the PR booster headline. 42% of the respondents, although they'd like HSR built in principle, have concerns about the project's timing and cost, whereas 34% want to proceed as quickly as possible. That contrast already gives a hugely different impression than the one your press release sought to convey. But besides that 42% figure, 13% of respondents oppose the project outright. So... 55% (42% + 13%) of the respondents either oppose the project or, while favoring it in principle, have time and cost concerns. In short, 55% do NOT believe that the project should be built as quickly as possible, whereas 34% of the respondents believe that it SHOULD be built as quickly as possible.

Another finding trumpeted in the press release is equally deceptive and suspect, viz., the one claiming that 77% of the interviewees would use HSR to travel between SF and LA. The problem is that this question was asked of interviewees right AFTER they were "informed" by the questioner that the cost of a HSR ticket between SF and LA would be "less than" the cost of an airplane ticket between the two cities! Yet not long ago CHSRA had to effectively double the projected cost of an HSR ticket between SF and LA. It is grossly misleading if not duplicitous to "inform" the interviewees that such a ticket would be "less than" the highest priced airline ticket between them, and THEN ask them if they'd use HSR. That's STACKING THE DECK IN ONE'S FAVOR such that the aggregated responses are worthless.

CHSRA and Ogilvy should not be allowed to get away with this misleading and deceptive Press Release, one piggy-backing on a survey that appears to have been quite biased in favor of getting the desired answers. The press release makes it seem as if most Californians want to get on with the project as quickly as possible. The survey demonstrates indisputably that that is NOT the case.

Caveat emptor.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 28, 2010 at 10:27 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Congress shall have the authority...
...To establish Post Offices and Post Roads;...
...nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
To the extent any property is diminished by a necessary public taking, adequate compensation must be given - therefore I recommend to anyone facing a taking that they seek legal representation.

Posted by Robert, a resident of Southgate
on Jul 28, 2010 at 11:56 am

If Mr. Wallis lived by the planned right of way and was at risk of having his property seized by eminent domain, he'd be singing a radically different tune, that's for sure. Instead, in an impressive display of empathy, he offers a "recommendation" to affected parties: get legal assistance. How thoughtful.

If this financial albatross of a project goes forward there will likely be an epic struggle over what "just compensation" means in this particular case. It will cost many families many thousands of dollars in legal fees to secure anything approximating the prior market value of their homes. Since CHSRA is so short of money, it is going to be as stingy as possible in compensating those near the right of way whose property is seized against their will.

Posted by resident, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 28, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Robert, You made a very good case to Mr. Wallis. thank you.

Posted by Senor Blogger, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 28, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Let's face it , folks, The tracks were here before the town was.
Everyone who bught property near the tracks did so with full knowledge that the railroad was here.

Let's see some credentials from all of the detractors who question the engineering and cost studies.

Posted by Robert, a resident of Southgate
on Jul 28, 2010 at 4:59 pm

1. Let's face it, Senor blogger, you're not an historian. From Wikipedia: "This led [Leland Stanford] to drive the formation of Palo Alto, originally called University Park, in 1887 with the help of his friend Timothy Hopkins of the Southern Pacific Railroad who bought 740 acres (3.0 km2) of private land for the new townsite. Stanford set up his university, Stanford University, and a train stop (on University Avenue) by his new town."

2. "Everyone who bought property near the tracks did so with full knowledge that the railroad was here." Really? You don't say. But that canard is not to say that the projected widening, perhaps doubling, of the long-established right of way on which CalTrain runs, in order that HSR can run only slightly faster than CalTrain between SF and SJ, must be accepted because the traditional tracks were there when one purchased near the tracks. You're not really endorsing the general principle that anyone who buys property near an established facility of any sort thereby forfeits any right to fight the physical expansion of that facility when it would result in taking his property by eminent domain? No, I didn't think so.

3. finally, you want CREDENTIALS of those questioning critical HSR studies? Ok, check this out. The most recent analysis that has been criticized is the ridership study put forward by CHSRA, based on the work of its paid consultant, Cambridge Systematics. The study seriously criticizing the methodology of that study was done by the Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS) at the University of California at Berkeley. The three lead authors of the study are

-- Dr. Samer Madanat (director of ITS-Berkeley and a professor of civil and environmental engineering),
-- Dr. Mark Hanson (UC-Berkeley professor of civil and environmental engineering), and
-- Dr. David Brownstown (Chair of the Economics Department at UC-Irvine).

Good enough credentials for you? [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

P.S. You might find the following interesting reading: "Given the overwhelming history of upwardly biased ridership and revenue projections in major transport projects, it seems far more likely that reducing the margins of error would produce projections with much smaller ridership numbers and major financial losses. Major research by Oxford University professor Bent Flyvbjerg, Nils Bruzelius (a Swedish transport consultant) and Werner Rottenberg (University of Karlsruhe and former president of the World Conference on Transport Research) covering 80 years of infrastructure projects found routine over-estimation of ridership and revenue (MEGAPROJECTS AND RISK: AN ANATOMY OF AMBITION). The evidence is so condemning that Dr. Flyvbjerg has referred to the planning processes for such projects as consisting of 'strategic misrepresentation' and 'lying' (his words) to advance projects that might not otherwise be implemented." See Web Link

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 28, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Roberts, the courts will determine the reasonableness of compensation where agreement is not otherwise reached. That is the reason for my recommendation that affected property owners get early legal assistance in establishing property value. You are whizzing upwind if you think one little city can make significant changes in a statewide project.

Posted by Groupie, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 28, 2010 at 6:28 pm

Whiz away, Robert, you're in good company. The LAO, state auditor, treasurer, legislature, and the experts you mentioned each took aim. Cities from SF to LA are whizzing at the project. This is exactly how change happens, Walter. You don't expect us to lie down on the tracks, now do you?

Posted by Bikes2work, a resident of Santa Rita (Los Altos)
on Jul 28, 2010 at 7:40 pm


In defense of Senor Blogger, please note that Southgate didn't exist before 1923 (reference: County Maps Book R, Pages 28, 29 & 48). HSR is not to blame for being opportunistic regarding the existing right-of-way. The blame for your predicament lies squarely with the City planners and Palo Alto Development Company, LLC who didn't have the vision to provide an adequate setback from the existing right-of-way in 1923.

I'm sure the former residents of Oregon Avenue didn't expect to lose their houses when they moved in. But Oregon Expressway was built anyway. As Walter indicates, at least there is compensation for the take.

"The needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few." - Spock.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 28, 2010 at 8:15 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

No, Groupie, in fact one reason I support any program that eliminates grade crossings is to reduce the numbers of folk on the tracks.

Posted by Robert, a resident of Southgate
on Jul 28, 2010 at 8:53 pm

To Bikes2Work,

Thank you for your response.

It may be that Spock said that "the needs of the man, outweigh the needs of the few." But here's where we differ: I contend that there is NO NEED to run HSR at 125 mph -- its limit on the Peninsula by law -- along the spine of the Peninsula when CalTrain already does a good job and will do an even better job when electrified and running at 110 mph. There is simply NO NEED for HSR between SJ and SF. If the money were available and a compelling business plan were in place and the ridership projections were compelling, then I could support HSR between SJ and LA. But there is NO WAY that HSR is needed from SJ to SF. It's a Kopp and Diridon memorial project.

Posted by statistics, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 28, 2010 at 10:34 pm

There are nearly 37,000,000 people living in California. If I read the fine print of the report correctly, 1,206 CA residents were polled in this survey. Based on a poll interviewing 0.003% of the states population, sponsored by HSR, HSR claims overwhelming support for their project. Could there be any other publicly released result? Seems to be right on track with all of their other bogus estimates of ridership, fares, profitability, cost, etc. Unbelievable.

HSR has no credibility as far as I am concerned. I agree with Shelly's post, where is the journalism? This is a massive fraud being perpetrated on the citizens of this state and needs to be exposed, and stopped.

Posted by PatrickD, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 28, 2010 at 11:49 pm

To statistics: I seem to remember a ballot proposition that passed in favor of it.

Posted by Robert, a resident of Southgate
on Jul 29, 2010 at 7:44 am


Yes, there was a ballot proposition that passed in favor of HSR. In November 2008, Prop. 1A barely passed, 52.5 to 47.5%.

What you apparently don't remember - or choose not to remember -- is the DECEPTION that was involved in the ballot process. CHSRA -- basically Kopp and Diridon -- had decided on the route into San Jose -- remember Diridon Station is in San Jose! -- and up the spine of the Peninsula in the summer of 2008. But they deliberately kept that route decision below the public radar. The already-decided route was not mentioned in the actual statement of Prop. 1A or in the more detailed background material on Prop. 1A contained in the voter pamphlet sent to all voters by U.S. mail prior to the election. This explains why the Palo Alto City Council voted unanimously just before the election to support HSR. No City Council member knew where CHSRA had chosen to run the train. Indeed, I voted "Yes" on Prop. 1A thinking that it was a conceptual approval, unaware that a route had already been chosen in camera. (Don't tell me that it was my obligation to do the research and ferret out the chosen route even if it hadn't been highlighted in the electronic and print media.) In short, CHSRA's deliberate keeping of its route decision in the dark until after the election, DENIED THE ELECTORATE A CHANCE TO GIVE ITS INFORMED CONSENT TO PROP. 1A. That is why it was an ethically illegitimate vote. Information relevant to making an informed choice on Prop. 1A was kept from the voters until after the election. CHSRA's behavior throughout this entire process has been OUTRAGEOUS!!! A combination of deception, fraudulent surveys, phony public input exercises, hyperbole, pathetic construction cost, ridership, and ticket cost estimates, public relations obfuscation, and arrogant refusal to take community input seriously.

Posted by Senor Blogger, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 29, 2010 at 11:01 am

With all due respect to CAL, I do not consider Academics, who have never worked in the field, as being Credentialed Enough to Count.Neither does the Industry.

Stanford built the Railroad. Palo Alto was just a "Park Bench". How can anyone buy property next to a railroad and not expect some noise?

Posted by Robert, a resident of Southgate
on Jul 29, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Senor Blogger,

You've got to be kidding. You questioned the credentials of those who wrote the critiques of the ticket cost, ridership, environmental, job, and economic viability studies that CHSRA commissioned. Credentials ARE important so that we can be confident that the analysts know how to assess those studies and decide whether appropriate assumptions and methodologies and samples were used. That's what academic experts in economics, other social sciences, and the interdisciplinary field of transportation studies are trained to do well.

Now, what exactly do you mean when you suggest that the three people I listed "have never worked in the field"? Do you mean that they've never run a railroad?! Hopefully not! But I submit that they are all highly and appropriately credentialed to do the study they did, moreover, unlike Cambridge, their paychecks and future consulting gigs don't depend on providing the answers that those who hire them and may hire them again need.

1. Economist David Brownstone is a specialist in transport economics and chair of the department of econ at UCI. Perfectly credentialed to assess the Cambridge report CHSRA commissioned.

2. Prof. Samer Madanat is a specialist in transportation systems analysis and infrastructure management.

3. Prof. Mark Hanson is a specialist in transportation economics.

Now, are you going to tell me that these people don't have the credentials to author critiques of the studies that CHSRA commissioned for big bucks? For your sake I hope not.

Posted by Kirk Fry, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 29, 2010 at 9:14 pm

The folks who run real railroads for profit don't want to have anything to do with this turkey.

Posted by Senor Blogger, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 30, 2010 at 9:34 am

Look, Stop quoting Wikipedia, the most unauthenticated reference on the internet; and the fictional TV character "Spock"; and that school in Berkeley where I can go with any BS degree and get a "Master of Anything" in one year. Get a Life.

Posted by Senor Blogger, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 30, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Overwhelming majority supports HSR

Get on the train, Robert, the train is leaving.

Web Link

Posted by Robert, a resident of Southgate
on Jul 30, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Senor Blogger,

1. Your statement that "Overwhelming majority supports HSR" is one of the more specious you've made to date. If you read the actual survey findings (rather than CHSRA's self-serving representations of same) with care and an open but critical mind, you'd see that only 34% of the respondents to this "push" survey want to proceed with HSR as quickly as possible. 13% of them are against it outright and 42%, whilst supporting HSR in principle, have non-trivial time and cost concerns about the project. In short, 55% are demonstrably NOT in favor of proceeding with HSR as quickly as possible. Not exactly the same as an "overwhelming majority supports HSR" is it?

Here's an analogy to ponder: what percentage of people in a random sample of adult Californians would be in favor of launching an exciting project to land on Mars? Let's say that 34% were in favor and 42% supported the idea, but would NOT support implementing it if it cost a trillion dollars over the next decade. So, just as it would be grossly simplistic to say in such a situation that the overwhelming majority "supported" going to Mars, it's no less simplistic to say that the overwhelming majority "supports" HSR. You should learn how to interpret survey findings with care and to identify survey questions that are loaded to produce responses desired by the commissioning entity (CHSRA).

2. As far as your attempt to cavalierly discredit the three experts (full tenured professors with Ph.D. degrees) who authored the critique of CHSRA's commissioned statement -- "that school in Berkeley where I can go with any B.S. degree and get a 'Master of Anything; in one year" -- that comment shows you lack any clue whatsoever about the level of expertise and influence in her or his field that a person must have to even have a chance of becoming a tenured full professor in a world-class research university, such as UCB.

I suggest that you try to be a little more sophisticated in the way you read the findings of public opinion surveys and cease launching silly one-liners in an attempt to discredit recognized experts in the transportation economics and systems fields. Your remarks are increasingly self-indicting.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of another community
on Jul 30, 2010 at 4:55 pm

Dan Noyes of KGO TV has done some excellent investigative journaism in the past on other topics.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 30, 2010 at 6:44 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Robert, compare the population of Palo Alto with the total votes for HSR. Sounds overwhelming to me.

Posted by Robert, a resident of Southgate
on Jul 30, 2010 at 7:55 pm

Dear Walter Wallis,

You can't be serious. OBVIOUSLY, the population of Palo Alto is a lot less than the number of votes state-wide in favor of Prop. 1A (many of which were cast, e.g., those of all Palo Alto City COuncil members, because CHSRA deliberately and deceptively omitted to mention in the Proposition language or supporting materials in the voter handbook, that they had already decided to try to run the bloody thing up the spine of the Peninsula).

The point that was being made by Senior Blogger was that "overwhelming majority supports HSR," presumably meaning that the overwhelming percentage of the survey respondents or of the adult population of California "supports" HSR. I have shown incontrovertibly that that is not the case, even given the figures shown in Figure 1 of the CHSRA-commissioned survey.

And you now inform me that the population of Palo Alto is smaller than the number of people in the state who voted for Prop. 1? Thanks for that revelation, Walter. But if posting that patently obvious claim makes you feel like you were shedding light on the argument that Senor Blogger and I were having about the survey findings, well, more power to you.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 4, 2010 at 5:37 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Statewide money is going into HSR, and so it is a statewide issue. The tracks are on an established right of way. Proponents of HSR put the best light on their ballot arguments. Well, duhhh? Eminent domain for public good is established law. [remember when an open space district tossed some elderly Nuns out in the cold?] The town has never been undivided, and so Berlin Wall analogies lack equivalence.
Palo Alto may be unique, but we are not uniquer than anyone else.

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