Editorial: New HSR challenges

Simitian urging one-year delay, other legislators push bill to halt bond sale

Strong criticism about the financial viability of the High-Speed Rail project is making it more likely that its funding plan will either be delayed or scrapped. A broadside from a Peer Review Committee last week said flatly that the Legislature should not approve the $2.7 billion the Rail Authority is seeking to start construction on the first segment, between Fresno and Bakersfield in the Central Valley.

And this week, state Sen. Joe Simitian began to lean more toward the "no" side, telling the Weekly that unless something changes, he cannot support the bond issue this year, which the Authority says it needs to capture $3.5 billion in federal funds. Simitian said he is not prepared to make a decision yet that would be based on two bad choices: Either accepting the Rail Authority's plan to spend $6.2 billion in the Central Valley for the first segment or putting an end to the high-speed rail project if funds are not approved.

Instead, Simitian said he is trying to find exactly what the state would get for $6.2 billion; to determine whether the project meets guidelines contained in Proposition 1A and whether the federal guidelines are flexible enough to permit a delay in making a go-ahead decision on the first segment. Rather than rush into something that he and others cannot support, Simitian said he will urge the High-Speed Rail Authority to take another year to bring in a better proposal.

We appreciate the Senator's position, but we believe there is plenty of information available now that adds up to overwhelming odds against releasing any funding.

Other legislators are heading that direction. Republican Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point, introduced a bill this week to stop the project, based on a critical report by the state auditor as well as the Peer Review Committee's call to stop funding. Many Republicans in the Legislature oppose the project and some Democrats are joining them. Harkey also noted that a recent Field Poll found support among voters is dwindling for high-speed rail, with a large majority saying they would like to vote again on the project.

The City of Palo Alto is already on record as a firm opponent, following the City Council's call in late December for the Authority to terminate the project after a new business plan showed the project's cost had more than doubled to about $100 billion and would take until 2033 to complete, 13 years beyond the original estimate.

Then came the highly critical Peer Review report last week that shows how it might be possible to build a $6.2 billion, 130-mile rail segment in the Central Valley that has no trains, is not high-speed and brings little, if any, efficiency to the few passengers that might use it.

Simitian said the first segment would use up 25 percent of all state funds and 100 percent of the federal funds with no further funding identified by the Rail Authority, a point echoed by the Peer Review panel.

"The fact that the funding plan fails to identify any long term funding commitments is a fundamental flaw in the program. Without committed funds, a project of this nature could be forced to halt construction for many years before additional funding could be obtained. The benefits of any independent utility proposed by the current business plan would be very limited versus the cost and the impact on state finances."

As we have said in this space before, now is simply not the time to risk billions of dollars of state or federal money on this pie-in-the-sky project. We urge Sen. Simitian to use the remaining months of his time in the Legislature to bring this project to a halt. We see little if any hope that more funding will materialize from private or government sources anytime soon, if ever.

We worry that if the Rail Authority receives approval to spend $6.2 billion to begin the first segment in the Central Valley, there will be tremendous pressure to keep the project going until it reaches the Caltrain corridor on its way to San Francisco. This should not be allowed to happen. Sen. Simitian and other Bay Area legislators should lead the way to end this project.

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Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 14, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Web Link

See last two blog entries.

Like this comment
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 14, 2012 at 4:38 pm

How is $100 Billion spent on a fast train from San Jose to Los Angeles economically viable?

I have a strong suspicion that the citizens of this state would not even get $100 Billion worth of use out of this monstrosity.

This represents a cost of more than $2500 from every man, woman, baby and elderly person in the state.

If tickets are $50 to travel from San Jose to Los Angeles (and we ALL know that they will be ridiculously expensive), then every single man, woman and child would have to take 50 FREE TRIPS to Los Angeles just to justify the initial cost.

Of course, after this boondoggle is paid for by residents, we would still be expected to BUY overpriced tickets (compared with air travel) and also cover the costs to maintain it.

$100 Billion is way too much to justify the cost of such a limited means of travel that will only be enjoyed by a select group.

Like this comment
Posted by DS34
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 14, 2012 at 5:33 pm

The HSR should be de-funded today !!!!!

Like this comment
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 14, 2012 at 6:51 pm

Lest we not forget:

Palo Alto Weekly:

Palo Alto Weekly SUPPORTS Prop 1A, in favor of High Speed Rail. (Web Link )

Palo Alto City Council unanimously approved of HSR:

MOTION: Mayor Klein moved, seconded by Council Member Kishimoto to
adopt the Resolution 8865 Supporting State of California Ballot Proposition 1A, the Safe, Reliable High Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century.

Vice Mayor Drekmeier stated he was in support of the motion in that it was a better proposal than years prior and that high-speed rail is the one viable long-term option.

Council Member Kishimoto supported the bond measure, and states that any real issues on how this affects the peninsula are out ahead of this decision.

Council Member Espinosa supported the measure and spoke to starting talks sooner rather than later on whether or not Palo Alto would want a station. He stressed the need to keep the community informed and the need for early planning and study.

Council Member Schmid stated he would support the Motion, but also
discussed concerns over how high-speed rail will affect their area which has long been comprised of smaller networks and hubs within an automobile infrastructure and framework. He was also interested in the possibility of underground rail. Long-distance he felt rail was a competitive element but in the short-rail system, he felt it was more of a detriment.

Council Member Morton stated support in the Measure in the hope that it would solve transportation issues in the west Bay Area, and hoped there would be enough money to support Caltrains and other systems.

Council Member Burt supported the Motion, and stated raised issues could be handled at future Study Sessions.

Mayor Klein was in support of the Measure, seeing it as a step forward for Palo Alto.

MOTION PASSED: 8-0 Yeh absent

Now we see all the backtracking by the Weekly and the the Council.

Since it was very clear to me, and some others (e.g. Mike Cobb, Paul Losch) that this HSR was a turkey from the get go, because it failed on so many levels, I question the vision and wisdom of the Weekly and our current leadership.

Like this comment
Posted by Jarred
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 14, 2012 at 8:54 pm

Stick a fork in it, HSR is dead, and rightfully so.

Besides the satisfaction of seeing this turkey pass away, we can also savor the self-identification of the rubes who initially supported it, such as Simitian. Much like self-identification of the rubes who voted for Obama...

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Posted by George
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 15, 2012 at 1:00 am

While lame duck Senator Joe Simitian is giving lip service to questioning the long term viability of High Speed Rail, I'll make my position crystal clear to Joe: should you cast one more vote that does anything except kill this HSR turkey, you will never get another vote from me.

I don't care if you are running for supervisor or dog catcher, I will be off your band wagon permanently should you ever vote for HSR again.

I think we all learned a big lesson a few years back when more than half of us bought the HSR concept without considering important (negative) details. Never again.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 15, 2012 at 8:52 am

As someone who is a supporter of rail in California, I am saddened by all the negative comments here. Saying that, I will say that it has also saddened me that HSR was never looked at with other options than a two rail system. Perhaps it is now time to reconsider the proposed system in light of more modern alternatives and perhaps even the proposed route along the Peninsula.

I would like to know the cost comparisons of building some type of monorail - by suspension and also by ground rail, and also by looking at alternative routes. It makes sense to build whatever system is the best mode for the future, not what was best last century technology. We could really be world leaders, not followers, with the timing of this system. We could use some of the best ideas in the world that silicon valley is famous for, rather than continue on the way this is going.

What I also don't understand is why there is no overall transportation plan for California under one administrative body - what I also don't understand is why there is no overall Bay area transportation plan under one administrative body. It is time to do this now so that road, rail and air (and ferries) are all part of one comprehensive plan rather than competing entities. Meeting the needs of California's transportation of people and freight should be the goal, not the petty competition of price wars and less congestion.

Like this comment
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 15, 2012 at 12:05 pm

"As someone who is a supporter of rail in California"


We already have rail in California, and have had it for over 1 1/2 centuries. Freight rail is still profitable, but passenger rail is not. The automobile provides great flexibility and convenience; air travel provides unmatched speed and economy. We don't need HSR between LA and SF, we need local alternatives to the automobile, to a certian extent. The obvious answer, within the current context is CalTrain and BART. BART needs to be extended down the West Bay (HWY 280 Route) to San Jose; CalTrain needs to be continually improved, although it is not too bad, as is.

HSR is just simply something that was a pipe dream from the beginning. It was labelled 'green', and that, apparently, had an alternative reality effect on our current leaders (both political and press and others).

We need to just accept our losses, kill HSR and try to recover, with a view to realistic and practical thinking.

BTW, we are headed into another disaster, driven by yet more 'green' dreams, with the anaerobic digestion industrial plant in the Baylands (it won't work, and it will cost a ton of money)...but that is another discussion.

Even Palo Altans need to grow up and act like adults, at some point.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 15, 2012 at 1:56 pm


You are right of course, we do have an antiquated rail system in California. I should qualify my support of modern passenger rail and freight, not the joke we already have.

The day of single car ownership is a 20th century model which is quickly outdating itself. The new role of cars in the 21st century will be carsharing at all types of levels. From the seniors who give up their cars because of the efficiency of being able to modify their lives and the youngsters who will never become car owners, the outdated every person has their own car mentality is already going. The exception or the last to change will be the family car used to move families around, but even then, it will be one car per family and not the two per family we presently see.

Look to the future, it is not the same as the past.

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Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 15, 2012 at 3:16 pm

@ Resident:

You keep claiming that single car ownership is "a 20th century model which is quickly out-dating itself."

Upon what evidence are you basing this?

First of all, this IS the 21st century. In fact, we are comfortably in the SECOND decade of the 21st century. People still own and use cars as the primary source of transportation in the United States.

The ONLY way that I can see that cars aren't viable would be for individuals living and working in cities where they live close to public transportation. However, most people in this country do NOT live in a closed metropolitan area like the peninsula region of the SF Bay Area.

Secondly, this is a matter of economics. The people of this state cannot currently shoulder the burden of $100 Billion that will only take a handful of passengers from San Jose to Los Angeles.

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Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 15, 2012 at 3:26 pm

BTW, before he became a late night talkshow host, Conan O'Brien was a writer for THE SIMPSONS.

He wrote a classic episode that featured a hilariously satirical view about the hysteria surrounding expensive rail projects. It was entitled MARGE vs. the MONORAIL.

The story centered around Marge Simpson being one of the only voices of reason when she opposed spending a fortune on an expensive public transportation project.

I would definitely recommend that people watch it and see if it reminds anyone of the California HSR between 2008 until 2012.

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 15, 2012 at 4:06 pm


The single family/person automobile is not going away, in fact if current trends persist, it will increase. It probably will become ever-more technologically advanced (e.g. hybird or all electric, travelling on smart highways, toll lanes, etc.) but it is here to stay. It simply offers too much versatility to abandon.

Rail is a different beast. Our current rail system is not antiquated for freight. The question is, do we need long distance passenger rail (other than AMTRAK)? My view is no. In fact we don't even need AMTRAK. We need local and regional commuter rail in densely populated areas, such as the Bay Area. I believe it to be a fact that CalTrain will remain the Peninsula commuter mode of rail transport, although it should be supplemented with BART along the 280 corridor. HSR will not come up the the ranch on it!

Like this comment
Posted by Stan
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 15, 2012 at 9:18 pm

Gray Davis was recalled after he prevented the SOS (prop 187) Save Our State ballot initiative (preventing illegal aliens from using public health care and education Web Link) from being enacted, and signing several gun restriction laws. Apparently most of prop 187 was later declared unconstitutional, Web Link

Today, we have Governor Brown, ready to do what ever it takes to ensure California gets the 3.x Billion dollars of Federal Stimulus funding, even if it's for a pointless train, and may lead the state towards a financial black hole, but oh what a photo-op for Brown and the blinded by greed Democrats in Sacramento and Washington that still have the chutzpah to stand up and shill for the CA HSR project. Gray Davis was accused of being a coin operated governor during the recall effort as I recall. Considering the ultimate cost of the High Speed Rail Fraud will cost many hundreds of Billion dollars, when debt interest and the inevitable cost over-runs are included in the price, it makes Gray Davis's transgressions appear rather quaint.

How, or why is Jerry Brown (et. al. in Sacramento) still in office?

Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 16, 2012 at 9:25 am

Interesting article in SF Chronicle comparing Spain’s HSR to the CA proposal: Web Link

"... despite assurances from the Spanish government that the long-distance AVE trains operate without a public subsidy, academics and analysts don't believe that even the busiest high-speed route - between Madrid and Barcelona - musters enough riders to cover operating costs, much less the billions of euros invested to build the infrastructure over the past 20 years."

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 16, 2012 at 9:35 am


The trend has started and it may so far just be a slight dip in urban areas particularly near good transportation, but the move to condo style living even in the suburbs like Palo Alto are being discussed. Zipcar and private car sharing arrangements are thriving.

My own mother decided to give up her car because it was getting old and she was afraid it would become unreliable and a liability. She now walks, uses buses or trains and the occasional taxi and is saving money and is healthier. She also uses her garage space now for storing her mountain of craft supplies so has more space in her home.

I know of one young couple and their neighbors who share one car between the four of them.

Zipcar is very popular in San Francisco and places like Berkeley.

Many college students do not have a drivers license and don't plan to get one until they actually need one.

I agree that these are all anecdotes, but it is not just the benefits of car ownership that these people have in common, but it is the downsides of where to park and what happens during car maintenance, etc. that cause these people to make these decisions.

I agree that technology will be improving cars, but that will not lead to more car ownership, but it may lead to more car sharing. With the average charge on an electric vehicle taking several hours, it feasibly may be more realistic on a long drive to drive into another Zipcar facility and switch cars rather than recharge the batteries, as an example. After all, for most of us, the keeping the car clean and roadworthy are a chore and if we can always get a car that is clean, recently checked with air and fuel, and getting the right car for each particular use, the pros are even more attractive.

I don't think we will see big changes in car ownership for another 30 or so years, but I think we can see why the changes may take place.


Just because you and your husband feel that you cannot change your lifestyle of owning a car each, don't assume that everyone else can.
Rentals near transportation hubs are growing in popularity and with a Zipcar facility on site, and extra charges for private car parking, even you may find you change your ways.

Like this comment
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 16, 2012 at 11:01 am

@ Resident:

I didn't ask you about what you thought about vehicle ownership for OUR family. I asked about the evidence upon which you base your assertion that car ownership is "a 20th century model which is quickly out-dating itself."

Yes, it costs money to own and operate a car. However, it is considerably cheaper in most circumstances (outside of individuals confined to cities) to purchase a decent used vehicle than to rely on public transportation.

If I needed to take CalTrain to work each day from Zone 3 to Zone 1, it will cost me approximately $13.50 per day (for 250 work days). That works out to about $3375 per year. In addition, I would need to WALK to work (which might require public transportation depending on how far a person lives from the rail or in days of rain or extreme cold).

Now, if the HSR was completed at $100 Billion, it only provides a trip from Station A to Station B. A person would still need transportation AFTER they arrive to the Station. So, the only "car reduction" would be the number of cars that aren't on the Interstate (only between San Jose and Los Angeles) at the time of the trip. Those rail riders would still need to take public transportation (or rent-a-cars) to and from rail stations.

But, all of this is beside-the-points. You are making a strong assertion about automobiles. I don't know if you have evidence to back up your claims, if your claims are based upon personal observation or if they are based upon nothing more than "wishful thinking."

The great thing is that automobiles are becoming more fuel efficient and environmentally conscious. By the time the proposed HSR is completed (somewhere around 2035), technology will likely have increased to the point that automobiles will be relying more upon "green technologies" rather than fuel.

Zipcars are a novel thing -- but the concept isn't economically viable to most residents of the Bay Area (let alone the rest of the country).

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 16, 2012 at 1:27 pm


I am not into wishful thinking, but I am into using anecdotal evidence which is what I said in my post.

You have said on my occasions that your personal choices for where you live and where you work mean that car ownership for each of you rather than carpooling a triangular route is what you and your husband have chosen. I am not criticising that decision.

I am saying that what works for a couple like yourselves will not necessarily be the norm in x number of years.

At present, most rental apartments include the rent of two (?) parking spaces included in the rent. The time will come when perhaps those who do not own cars would like a discount on their rent for not using the spaces, or perhaps will sublet the two spots, or even a small extra charge will be made for car spots in rental units. It may seem strange to us now, but it exists in other places and it could spread.

Many companies supply free parking for employees and that perk may go. It is possible that many office buildings will start charging for parking spots and these charges may be passed on to employees. It may start simply with companies offering bonuses to those who come by means other than their own cars (I believe facebook in Menlo Park is doing its utmost to get employees to come to work by other means than their own cars).

London already has a congestion use charge and other cities are looking into it. London may increase its charge well into the suburbs. We are a suburban area even if we don't all travel into SF or SJ for employment or recreation because we are not a rural area. Who knows if some type of fasttrak monitoring of paying for car travel isn't invoked to get cars off the roads during commute time. The technology exists and it may end up being cheaper to do this rather than increase the lanes on our freeways.

Our highways are getting very congested and already in the East Bay there is one carpool lane that costs money and talk of more in the Bay area starting with our own 101 on the Peninsula. These costs are going to become more and more prolific.

The expense of car ownership in comparison to other means of transportation can change. Just because you think it works out well for you now doesn't mean that for a similar couple in the next generation will make the same choices weighing all the options.

We have no idea of the cost of fuel - either gasolene or electricity in the future. The more electricity used for transportation, the more the cost will increase. Electricity is going to be more of a political issue also as solid fuels are used to generate the bulk of this extra use electricity unless we go completely to wind power or nuclear, both very contraversial.

No, I don't have a crystal ball and I don't have real data to back my predictions. But, I can see the way things are going. The signs are around that driving personal cars will become more and more expensive. The better the public transportation options become, the more they will be a realistic choice.

As I said earlier, this probably won't make a big difference for the next 30 or so years. But I see the signs. I may be wrong but I may not be around to see it. But, just because something is working now as it has for the last x number of years, it doesn't mean that things won't change. Transatlantic travel used to be by ocean liner which was slow but immensely cheaper than the infant air industry and when this new fangled flying thing took off, it surprised the liner companies. They compensated by turning their business into luxury cruises rather than passenger travel. We have no idea how the future may change our present thinking. It was never believed that flying would be cheaper than cross country rail, but it is now very competitive. This may be the same for long distances, but not necessarily for the short haul.

I see the writing on the wall for change over this century as a whole, not the next decade.

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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 16, 2012 at 1:55 pm


I agree with some of your comments about local auto travel. One needs only look at San Francisco, where auto ownership is especially expensive, and parking spots are their own free market, for rent. Auto sharing, public transit, car pooling, commuter buses, etc. all make some sense especially when a pattern commute is established on a frequent basis (e.g. commuting to work). A lot of people, especially young people, do not want to own an auto in the City. However, many of them do not have families, and they kinda dig on the commute adventure (as long as WiFi is available!). Once they settle down though, out in the burbs (or even inthe City), they tend to want the flexibility of the private auto. I don't see this changing for a long time.

Since this post is primarily about long range HSR, I fail to see how your analysis makes sense. HSR, LA to SF fails on so many levels....

Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 17, 2012 at 11:43 am

@ Resident re: ocean liners and flying example.

You leave out one huge and important factor. Both ocean liners and airlines are run by for profit companies. The government does not run those industries --- it may regulate, but it does not fund it or run it.

California HSR would not be run by private enterprise. The state would run it and would essentially have to fund the revenue shortfall via taxpayer funds. Not the way to run a railroad!

If there is a viable way for HSR to exist, certainly private industry will figure it out. The fact that no one from the private sector has stepped up to be "an investor" in HSR should be an obvious sign of how bad the business plan is organized (recall that the HSR business plan relies heavily on private sector "investment").

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Duveneck School

on Jun 5, 2017 at 7:16 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

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