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High-speed-rail authority OKs new business plan

Original post made on Apr 12, 2012

Calling it a "huge step" for boosting California's transportation network, the state agency charged with building the controversial high-speed-rail line approved on Thursday a business plan for the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles system.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, April 12, 2012, 5:30 PM

Comments (23)

Posted by happy, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 12, 2012 at 6:18 pm

Glad that this project is moving forward. All the stalling is just costing us money and delaying an important transportation system. Get it done already.


Posted by ODB, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 12, 2012 at 6:31 pm

No matter how much lipstick you put on this pig, HSR is still fraught with problems. CalTrain electrification is simply more lipstick.

2012 is an election year. Where are our lawmakers in placing a referendum on the ballot to terminate this project once and for all?


Posted by Willem, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 12, 2012 at 8:19 pm

"Business" plan? this is a spending plan. Besides the roughly $3B from the feds, and the potential of nearly $10B in bonds from the state, not one additional cent of funding was identified. Allusions to mysterious private investors who will spring forth with cash flowing freely at undisclosed times is the official plan here. The HSR Authority apparently refuses to consider the possibility that the train will not be a cash cow, but rather a cash albatross, as has been predicted by several outside expert groups, such is their arrogance.

If any private business took this "business plan" to any lending institution with more than have a stewed pea of intelligence, they would be laughed out onto the street with a boot print on their back side for wasting the time of the potential lender. Lots of spending, no investors, unrealistic business projections, and the list goes on.

Unfortunately, this is California and we have a "visionary" in the Governors mansion. Gov moonbeam wants to drive CA into decades of crushing debt to build his Freudian legacy, and the democrats all over the state are salivating at the prospect of bragging about how they brought the bacon home to their districts. They will of course omit the part that the cost to their constituents will be lousy under funded schools, vanishing social services, crumbling infrastructure left to crumble for decades to come.

Pathetic.


Posted by happy too, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 12, 2012 at 8:52 pm

Yes, let's build this system. Enough of those residents near the tracks who don't want to pay the price for buying their houses near the right of way for a discounted price.


Posted by Martin, a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 12, 2012 at 10:15 pm

Time to move forward. Once the legislature approves funding, let's get Caltrain electrified by 2015. No time to waste!!

As a starting point, electric train sets can be ordered immediately, and electrical power/rail work can begin on the weekends. The whole system can be put into place, without interrupting commute service.

Let's get started!!


Posted by Get Over Yourselves, a resident of another community
on Apr 13, 2012 at 2:47 am

Palo Alto needs to get over itself. HSR is a bad plan for the ENTIRE STATE, not just for homeowners near the right-of-way in Palo Alto. Taxpayers in Barstow, King City and Eureka will receive no benefit from HSR but they will share in the massive debt burden the state takes on. For them it will be all downside and no upside. No amount of funds for CalTrain electrification will make HSR viable -- none. Electrifying CalTrain is a noble long-term goal but is not such an urgent need that the state needs to get in bed with the devil to make it happen. It may shock some to learn that until the 1950s, steam locomotives traveled those tracks.

HSR would be a great idea if money grew on trees, which some Palo Altans seem to think it does; in the real world it does not.

Get over yourself, Palo Alto.


Posted by Paul, a resident of Professorville
on Apr 13, 2012 at 5:53 am

High-Speed Rail is so last century.

There are better ways, much less expensive ways, more flexible ways to overcome travel challenges.

Air travel, the Internet, and mobile devices, to name three.
FAA NextGen, click Web Link.
Web Link

Twenty years in the planning, and leveraging GPS like the rest of us, FAA NextGen is about to:
- Greatly increase airport capacities, all of them nationwide
- Improve air safety
- Save fuel
- Reduce emissions
- Make airline approaches quieter
- Improve on-time arrivals
- Keep travel costs low

High-speed Internet, Mobile Devices. The impact high-speed Internet and mobile devices are having on travel patterns is significant. It is massive, it is changing everything.

HSR. A fixed point-to-point $100 billion train to nowhere, ripping up our landscape, is NOT the answer.

No one, except a few pols with whom the fix is in, believes anything the High-Speed Rail Authority says anymore, nor should they.

'Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.'


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 13, 2012 at 8:08 am

Paul Losch is a registered user.

I voted against HSR in the 2008 elelction, and I have weighed in since then with various reasons why it is bad policy and a huge financial risk. I won't repeat myself on this posting.

I did hear an excerpt from the press conference HSR Authority officials held the other day. One of them commented about the projected growth in population for California in the coming years is 20 million people, and building HSR was a better alternative to building more highways and adding capacity to airports.

Oh really? Does HSR Authority have data and analysis to back up such a claim? How many of these additional folks will be traversing up and down the state as opposed to mainly trying to get to work, school and otherwise trying to get around locally?

We cannot look at HSR in isolation, which is the duplicitous practice that led to the project getting passed (barely) when it was on the ballot, and continues to this day.

Maybe there is a study or studies beyond my pay grade that examines comprehensively the transportion needs of travelers in the state. If there is, I am not aware of it. If there isn't, may I need to go back and get my Ph.D.


Posted by ODB, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 13, 2012 at 11:18 am

<< Does HSR Authority have data and analysis to back up such a claim? How many of these additional folks will be traversing up and down the state as opposed to mainly trying to get to work, school and otherwise trying to get around locally? >>

Of course they don't have any such data! In all this HSR debate I have never seen anything which predicts how HSR will compete with existing modes of transportation, i.e. highways and airlines -- no marketing survey, nothing. Such a study, if it existed, would only apply to people living in proximity to the HSR route. If you ask someone in Sacramento or San Diego if they would rather take HSR, drive or fly, the answer is obviously not going to be HSR because no service to those cities is contemplated within our lifetimes. In addition, no one knows what an HSR ticket will actually cost after all is said and done. If an HSR ticket is more expensive than a plane ticket or gasoline, there will be no economic incentive to take HSR as opposed to the other modes of transportation.

Regarding CalTrain electrification, here is how millions could be saved without electrification:

Web Link


Posted by Ugh!, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2012 at 11:32 am

Trench it or kill it.


Posted by Alex Panelli, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2012 at 11:37 am

@Paul,

I wholeheartedly agree with you. There are several flaws in HSR as it is currently proposed, and the business plan is an absolute joke.

I would prefer to see a new ballot measure that amends HSR to focus the public agency on buying up rights-of-way needed for a future HSR. Subsequently, the agency would create a RFP and solicit proposals from PRIVATE companies to build and operate the HSR for a fixed period of time of 30-60 years (much like the way toll roads in many other parts of the country are built and financed), after which ownership would revert back to the state (with a re-bid for the continuing operations).

If we continue with the current plan, we will undoubtedly see outrageous construction costs, untenable operating costs (requiring government subsidies), and (unsubsidized) HSR fares that are higher than commercial aviation.


Posted by neighbor, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 13, 2012 at 11:52 am

@happy too -- please see the larger picture. Of course those living near the tracks would object. What is it about buying somewhere someone can afford justifies taking their homes for a project many, many do not support? What an incredibly ego-centric thing to say.

As to the larger picture, the opposition extends way beyond emminent domain issues -- ALL taxpayers will be left with this bill for decades to come. All independent analyses have concluded that this project is not affordable that the budget and ridership projections are inaccurate. As noted earlier, the HSRA provides no information regarding where the money will come from -- it is only partially funded now -- who do you think will foot the remaining bill? Taxpayers, of course, and perhaps at the expense of our already underfunded schools and infrastructure.

Additionally, credible sources suggest this project plan is already outdated and does not reflect changing technologies nor other transportation systems in place and under development, etc. Bottom line is that the voters were tricked into supporting this through the use of distorted info at best, outright lies at worst.

Yes, it sounds good; I love trains and have traveled extensively on European trains. The European system is fantastic. But we are not Europe. Even making a direct comparison would tell us we are heading in the wrong direction -- Europe train travel has changed dramatically since the low cost airlines entered the picture and countries are paying billions to subsidize trains with insufficient ridership.


Posted by John, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 13, 2012 at 12:07 pm

If you build it they will come.


Posted by P.A. native, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 13, 2012 at 12:46 pm

@ greenmeadow neighbor:
How right you are! We fantasize about a European style train system but it ain't gonna happen. Caltrain and Amtrak are dirty, slow, inefficient, and losing money like crazy. That's what HSR will be like. There's no way the train will compete with air travel.


Posted by ODB, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 13, 2012 at 1:13 pm

P.A. Native: I beg to differ about CalTrain. It is losing money like crazy, but I would not call it dirty or slow. The cars are kept clean and the baby bullets have been successful. Efficiency is debatable, but CalTrain now runs many more trains than when Southern Pacific owned it.


Posted by Johnny, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 13, 2012 at 10:10 pm

@ Paul

"I did hear an excerpt from the press conference HSR Authority officials held the other day. One of them commented about the projected growth in population for California in the coming years is 20 million people, and building HSR was a better alternative to building more highways and adding capacity to airports."

Perhaps this will shed some light on the future ridership demand the HSR people like to hold up as the reason why CA needs to sink hundreds of billions into a train. There are several versions of this kind of census analysis, this one was easily located: US Census Bureau report Web Link entitled "Population Projections: States, 1995 - 2025"

From page 2 of that report:

"California, the most populous state with 12 percent of the Nation's population in 1995, is expected to have 15 percent of the Nation's population by 2025. California's increase in population — 17.7 million people — is nearly the current population of New York State. Besides natural increase, international migration is expected to contribute to California's rapid growth (Table 1)."

and on page 5:

"California is projected to add the largest number of international migrants (more than 8 million). This gain would be more than one-third of the immigrants added to the Nation's population over the 30-year period."

The HSR Authority could be relying on census reports like this for their California population growth estimates. They are how ever, conveniently leaving out the bit that much of that population growth will be from international migration. "International migration" in California probably means people of limited means from south of the border hoping for a better life here for themselves and their kids.

So, undoubtedly California will have more people in the future. It is absurd however, to assume that these new immigrants (or anyone) will be eager to buy tickets ride the most expensive (perhaps excluding a last minute first class air ticket), and certainly not the fastest, transportation alternative between LA and the Central Valley or SF.


Posted by chris, a resident of University South
on Apr 13, 2012 at 10:14 pm

PA native,

Start naming other transportation systems that recover more of their operating costs through the farebox than Caltrain.

Do you know the answer or are you spouting prejudices without thinking?


Posted by Deep Throat, a resident of another community
on Apr 14, 2012 at 2:51 pm

I don't know how much to believe statements made in a newspaper editorial, but the San Francisco Chroncile editorial for Saturday, April 14, says, "State Sens. Joe Simitian of Palo Alto and Mark Leno of San Francisco, both Democrats, plus Assemblyman Jerry Hill, a Millbrae Democrat, favor an Aug. 31 deadline for legislative approval. Their argument: the votes aren't there now and extra time is needed to gain lawmakers' confidence." Web Link

Why would Simitian, Leno, and Hill want to wait to get more votes to appove using bond funds for High Speed Rail unless Simitian, Leno, and Hill are in favor of using that bond money? I don't know about Leno, but I thought Simitian and Hill are still saying publicly that they haven't decided what to do.



Posted by Anonymous, a resident of another community
on Apr 14, 2012 at 3:38 pm

@Paul Losch, the report you seek is here: Web Link

The business plan isn't quite as interesting as the supporting source documents, posted here: Web Link

Worth a read, wherever you stand on this issue.


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 14, 2012 at 5:38 pm

Paul Losch is a registered user.

Dear anynomous

Thanks for the link.

I have not read it in its entirety yet, and I am glad to see that such a document exists.

I remain skittish because it appears that this document was developed in the mid-2000's, and does not from what I have read so far address local transit -vs- North-South traveling options. Where is the most benefit for scarce resouces?


Posted by ODB, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 14, 2012 at 9:01 pm

It looks like more whitewash to me. Unless I missed it, what I didn't see is how HSR would entice people to stop driving and stop flying and take HSR instead, especially if the airlines lower their fares to compete.

For years a recurring HSR mantra has been that HSR will create jobs. This was a major theme of the Prop 1A radio ads as the economy was collapsing in 2008. Excuse me, but the underlying purpose of building a railroad is to move passengers. The creation of temporary construction jobs is incidental. Once the system is built and the construction jobs cease to exist, taxpayers will be stuck with the bill for $70 billion plus untold "cost overruns" plus bond interest. HSR may or may not stimulate the economy but it will certainly stimulate the state debt.


Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 14, 2012 at 9:44 pm

Simitian is termed out, is running for County Supervisor in Santa Clara. If he doesn't get this approved, his campaign contributions from special interest groups will dry up. He's willing to sacrifice the interests of the people he's suppose to represent. Simitian has had plenty of independent analysis, reports, etc that show the HSR cannot meet the terms on which the bond measure was sold on, yet he cannot bring himself to say No.


Posted by Christopher Chiang, a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 14, 2012 at 10:08 pm

I love California because we are willing to invest in progressive policies. I do worry that we forget that not all progressive policies are equal in their public return on investment or moral responsibility.

I share everyone's dream for California to be a 21st century state, but a truly advanced society starts with its children. It's there we should be building grand dreams.

Chris Chiang
Democratic Party Candidate for the State Senate (for San Mateo County/northern Santa Clara County)
More info: www.halfourbudget.org


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