Rail CEO pledges transparency, accountability

Roelef van Ark promises to update legislators, community on rail project in spite of governor's veto of funding penalty

California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Roelef van Ark vowed this week to keep updating state legislators about the progress of the high-speed rail, even if the reports aren't tied to funding for the controversial mega-project.

Van Ark said he "clearly understood the need to improve the public's understanding of our state's high-speed train project and how it will be built."

He said in a statement released this week that the veto would not prevent the authority from presenting to the legislators the information they seek, even though the deadline for the reports may have to be extended because of California's delay in passing the 2010-2011 budget.

"Despite the language vetoed in the budget, the Authority is committed to transparency and accountability, and will submit a project update to the Legislature and to the public at large, which voted to build this fast and efficient mode of travel for our state," van Ark said.

State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, and other legislators inserted a series of accountability measures and reporting requirements into the budget to ensure the rail authority improves its business plan and enhances its outreach effort.

The budget, which the Legislature finally approved last week, required the authority to present a better business plan to the Legislature by Feb. 1 or $55.3 million in state funding would be withheld -- representing about a quarter of the authority's budget.

But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday vetoed the fund-withholding provision, saying he was worried it would slow down the voter-approved project and jeopardize the authority's ability to meet deadlines for federal grants.

The authority estimates that the project will cost $42.6 billion. Voters approved $9.95 billion in bonds for the project in November 2008.

Despite the budget-related delays, van Ark said the agency will produce the requested reports.

"While the record-setting delay in passing a state budget has affected our timeline, I agree with the Governor that such reporting is appropriate and necessary.

"Based on my experience in the private sector, regular and accurate reporting is routine, and I am committed to ensuring that the same principles apply for this project," van Ark.

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Like this comment
Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Palo Alto
on Oct 14, 2010 at 7:00 pm

Paul Losch is a registered user.

Great that we have someone with experience in HSR, and pledges transparency and accountability.

The Elephant in the Room? This HSR project makes no sense.

If this guy is really worth his salt, he will eventually recommend that this particular concept be ended.

Like this comment
Posted by Howard
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 14, 2010 at 8:28 pm

To the contrary, HSR is at least 50 years overdue, and it is going to happen -- will ye; nill ye.

Like this comment
Posted by Lisa
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 15, 2010 at 12:30 am

High-Speed Rail is so 20th century in both thinking and technology.

Our 21st century is all about fiber optics. Fiber moves much more information far faster for a fraction of the cost of HSR.

Our state and nation should be investing in fiber rather than HSR.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 15, 2010 at 8:29 am

Paul Losch wrote:

"The Elephant in the Room? This HSR project makes no sense."

"If this guy is really worth his salt, he will eventually recommend that this particular concept be ended."

Hang on there. Although it is easy to argue that this particular project is heavily flawed, that doesn't mean that HSR in general is a bad idea. Many of us have seen HSR work very well in other countries. This particular project is making two big mistakes:
1) Making downtown SF a required starting place, combined with
2) Insisting on ultra-high-speed for the entire length.
These two things combined will greatly increase the cost, and the local impact. In France, for example, the TGV train that I rode started out at a moderate speed where it had to, and then, once it reached the dedicated, wide-open, specially-built tracks, really opened up. In Europe, on some high-speed routes, several smaller, slower trains are combined at a junction (we could imagine, here, south of San Jose), into a larger, high-speed train. Also, they seem to have lost sight of the fact that the competition, here, is Southwest Airlines -- they need to compete economically and schedule-wise with Southwest-- door-to-door for the traveler. And, taxpayers clearly don't mind paying the up-front capital costs, but, as we have seen, they will greatly resent paying large, ongoing subsidies to pay for high labor-related operating costs.

So, yes, there are huge challenges, but, there are also large benefits. Airport capacity is limited, and the cost of building new near-city capacity is ruinous also. Short shuttle flights in smaller aircraft (i.e. 737) are not nearly as fuel efficient as long flights in larger, next-generation aircraft (e.g. 787). Fuel costs will go up dramatically again once the worldwide economy perks up. So, there is a good reason to carry through with some kind of HSR. We just need to get it right.

Like this comment
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Oct 15, 2010 at 12:06 pm


You are wrong. HSR will not be traveling at ultra-high speed on the Peninsula. That knocks out your 2 objections

Like this comment
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 15, 2010 at 8:20 pm

If you slow down HSR too much, it will make more sense to drive Interstate 5 and have the use of your car at your destination.

WRT fuel, how will those electric trains get their power? For all practical purposes, the entire system will have to be powered 24/7 whether trains are running or not.

Like this comment
Posted by chris,
a resident of University South
on Oct 15, 2010 at 10:51 pm


HSR will be going full speed south of San Jose.

Your comment about electrification makes no sense. If you are an expert, you should be able to explain your theory.

Like this comment
Posted by 24/7 power
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 16, 2010 at 5:30 am

It's a good question. Has the "agency" analyzed what the power requirements are (along the line, at the stations, security and safety measures, etc.) outside of that required to move the trains, and the same while trains are not running?

A document including this, along with an objective EIR (as opposed to one written with an agenda), would help show whether or not the train will in fact reduce global warming impacts, or future weather volatility impacts, or at least the impact on our energy needs.

Like this comment
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 16, 2010 at 10:24 pm

I have seen nothing which describes how HSR will be powered despite having asked the question here several times. I haven't seen which generating facilities will be used, how the power will be distributed, how much power will be consumed per day/week/month/year. If anyone has seen this information, please post a link.

Like this comment
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Oct 17, 2010 at 8:09 pm

It's called a 'grid' and it already exists. The way electricity works is that it is consumed essentially the moment it is produced, with the grid storing relatively little energy. When a train is not in operation, it draws no power from the grid. Effects of the HSR project on the grid are discussed in some detail in chapter 3.5 of the EIR. For all the railing about the EIR that goes on around here, the discussion might be more informed if some of you actually took the time to read it.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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