News

New high-speed rail plan faces criticism

Assembly members, Legislative Analyst's Office share concerns about the project's new alignment, funding plan

High-speed rail's recent pivot toward the Bay Area may have energized the project's Silicon Valley supporters, but it is also raising new concerns from local and state watchdogs about the project's viability.

The rail system, which now has a price tag of $64 billion, would be launched with construction of a stretch between Bakersfield and San Francisco under a business plan that the California High-Speed Rail Authority released last month. This is a dramatic change from the rail authority's prior plan, which called for constructing the entire first segment in Central Valley.

The decision was driven by financial constraints, officials acknowledged at a Monday hearing in front of an oversight committee of the state Assembly. Dan Richard, chair of the rail authority's board of directors, said that financing has limited the agency's range of actions for the program. These restrictions include the rail authority's commitments to the federal government (for the allocated federal funds) and the requirements of Proposition 1A, the voter-approved measure that authorized a $9.95 billion for high-speed rail and related transportation improvements.

"Our charge wasn't to deliver to you a politically correct business plan; it was to deliver a correct business plan," Richard told the Assembly committee.

Jeff Morales, CEO of the rail authority, said the goal of the plan is to get a system segment in place as quickly as possible so as to encourage private investment in future system expansions. Rail officials asserted at Monday's meeting that the document offers, for the first time, a plan for fully funding the first segment. It relies on a combination of bond funds, federal grants and allocations from the state's cap-and-trade program.

But according to the Legislative Analyst's Office, there is a flaw with this plan: It assumes the availability of cap-and-trade revenues (which make up roughly half of the funding plan for the first leg) beyond 2020, something that the current law doesn't authorize and that would require new legislation.

The LAO also noted that the rail authority plans to securitize the net revenues from the first segment to pay for other line segments. But it is unclear, the LAO report states, "whether the system will actually generate an operating surplus."

"Moreover, the plan estimates that the amount of funding that could be generated would fall significantly short of the level needed to complete Phase I and does not identify how this shortfall would be met," the LAO report states.

The rail authority also made a case in the business plan that connecting Central Valley and Silicon Valley will create great opportunities for both regions.

"New job markets will be opened up for people living in the Central Valley, and creating a high-speed connection to the Central Valley would help address the affordable housing crisis in the Bay Area," the business plan states.

But not everyone was thrilled about the change. Rep. Adam Gray, D-Merced, expressed frustration about the rail authority's recent shift away from Merced (which was the line's northern bookend under the prior plan and which would be completely bypassed in the first segment of the new plan) and criticized the rail authority for not notifying the project's proponents in the area about the change before the plan was released.

"There was no heads up, no input, no notice of this significant change," Gray said.

Richard apologized for what he acknowledged to be inadequate communication but argued that the only thing that has changed when it comes to the project's plans is the sequence. No part of the state, he said, will be left behind.

"We're not doing things in a way that would necessarily be optimal or that would be a logical sequence if we didn't have those constraints," Richard said.

Committee Chair Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, also expressed frustration about the shift away from Merced, even as he touted the project's potential to give the Central Valley a boost. He characterized the Merced situation as one in which "people were putting skin in the game and then there was a bait-and-switch."

The LAO also raised concerns about the new plan, noting that the southern terminus of the first segment "does not appear to be an effective approach because it would not have the necessary facilities to support train passengers."

On the Peninsula, where the project has been galvanizing significant opposition since 2009, local officials are also finding causes for concern. Last Wednesday, the Palo Alto City Council's recently reconstituted Rail Committee authorized two of its members to work with city staff on a draft letter to the rail authority, expressing concerns about the project.

Mayor Pat Burt, who sits on the committee and who is also a member of policymaker group that meets monthly to discuss the project, said the business plan raises a "bunch of questionable issues" about the project's cost. He cited the fact that the plan relies on cap-and-trade funds that may never materialize and that it only accounts for the costs of stretching the line from Bakersfield to San Jose and not to San Francisco, the proposed northern terminus of the first segment.

Committee Chair Marc Berman concurred and said that there are "a lot of arguments to make about the inadequacies of the plan, and the impacts it would have."

Comments

6 people like this
Posted by Jay Tulock
a resident of another community
on Mar 30, 2016 at 9:18 am

"people were putting skin in the game and then there was a bait-and-switch."

In other words, Frazier and Gray, you were playing politics behind the scenes in order to secure federal money for your area. When you lie down with dogs, most especially when you yourself are a dog, you get fleas.

And Karma's a bear.


21 people like this
Posted by mutti
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 30, 2016 at 10:18 am

This has been a boondoggle from the beginning. I voted against the original $10 billion bond because I knew it wasn't near enough money. And those of us who go between LA and bay Area need our cars on both ends. I'd rather drive than fly or take the train. Train security will have to be as tough as airports. It won't work for commuters.


19 people like this
Posted by SuperD
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 30, 2016 at 11:00 am

Kill the high speed choo-choo train. Kill it now. Every time I hear an update, the cost increases far more than originally stated. This trend will continue. It's another Bay Bridge in the making! Maybe in 50 years, it will be a practical transportation solution, but that isn't the case today.


2 people like this
Posted by SuperD
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 30, 2016 at 11:00 am

Kill the high speed choo-choo train. Kill it now. Every time I hear an update, the cost increases far more than originally stated. This trend will continue. It's another Bay Bridge in the making! Maybe in 50 years, it will be a practical transportation solution, but that isn't the case today.


13 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Mar 30, 2016 at 11:03 am

TSA's recent improvements at some airports provide hope. Commuters who use the same train stations repeatedly will figure it out. Amtrak's trains don't do security, but HSR would be on dedicated rails and right of way, ie more safe. Estimates have been made that without HSR we'll need $150 Billion in Freeway and Airport improvements to keep up with population growth. We don't have that money either. When HSR was voted on, my family started counting our trips. Family of four would have already bought 200 HSR tickets since January 2009. I know people in NorCal who go to Disneyland once a month. There are all kinds of ridership scenarios. They have to attract private investment, and as an alternative to flying, I'd bet they will.


14 people like this
Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 30, 2016 at 11:27 am

I understand that some folks might not like a HSR line running through Palo Alto, but the constant calls for "kill this project" and "boondoggle" are, IMHO, rather short-sighted.

How exactly is California supposed to support 50 million people by 2050, as predictions estimate, without new transportation infrastructure? That's 12 million more people! Do we just stop growing, institute population controls, and shut down immigration? Build a wall?

Or perhaps we'll expand highways and build more airports? A quick reality check indicates that we've followed this approach for decades, and we're still stuck with clogged highways and ever-worsening air comfort, not to mention unsustainable levels of emissions. Regardless, building roads+airports to meet the capacity that would've been supported by HSR would cost an est. $170b+, which is far more than the current $64b for HSR.

We need a thoughtful conversation about the best solutions for supporting California's ever-growing demand for transportation options, not knee-jerk "boondoggle" slogans.


16 people like this
Posted by juan olive
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 30, 2016 at 11:35 am

Super D
Killing it is not up to you or me. Only the elected officials apparently have a say in this "Boondoggle" and they say
YES, YES ALL THE WAY...TO BAKERSFIELD. ummm...Catchy
The only thing we have is our right to vote and what we should do is vote ALLl the officials behind this
OUT OF OFFICE.

I know I'm dreaming.

But so are they.
Only difference is there dreams will cost us untold millions for years to come.


11 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 30, 2016 at 11:38 am

@ Old Steve....the estimates that we'll need 150 billion for freeway and airport improvements to accommodate increased population won't go away once the train is built (if it ever is). We'll still need those improvements. We live in a car culture in California and the train ridership will never be what they tell us it will be. While you and your family may have purchased 200 tickets since 2009, most think the numbers won't support break even and certainly not a profitable endeavor. We were sold a bill of goods and should demand the deal be killed before another taxpayer dollar is wasted on this boondoggle.


9 people like this
Posted by Vicky
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 30, 2016 at 11:53 am

I think HSR is practical now for everyone who lives with the terrible traffic and parking situations in Bay area. How many more auto lanes can be added for Hwy 101? If we do not have an alternative to automobile use, soon Eminent Domain will probably be needed to accommodate the auto traffic. HSR can be the engine for serious public transportation effort.


12 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 30, 2016 at 11:55 am

This whole project needs to be put to another vote by the people who will have to pay for it - the citizens of the State of California. Note here that SOCAL is now out of the picture because they cannot tunnel through the mountains. You will never see this go to SOCAL because they are busy upgrading their own transportation systems. What is even worse is that this is the excuse for electrifying Caltrain. Note how that is going for BART - they cannot control the frequency needed and maintain the tracks for the electrified system. And what drives electricity? Coal and Gas!
Read Letters to the Editors in your major papers - a decent comment was for HSR to go to Sacramento via Fremont to Oakland then up the right of way for the Capitol train. That made some sense. Taking a high speed train up the peninsula is looking for a lot of trouble that they cannot control.


8 people like this
Posted by vern
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 30, 2016 at 12:09 pm

jerry brown is the key and he must have made a big bad deal with the unions.


5 people like this
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 30, 2016 at 12:13 pm

Listen to Vicky, not this paper.
The vocal detractors have been against HSR from the beginning and change their story every time HSR management makes a move.
Its going to happen folks, the train is leaving. get on the train.
The Golden Gate Bridge took 17 years until it beat the detractors.


14 people like this
Posted by southbayresident
a resident of another community
on Mar 30, 2016 at 12:37 pm

It's comical when you look back on several years of HSR opposition on the peninsula and all the hyperbole about HSR being the menace that will "destroy civilization". For a bit of perspective let's not forget there is in fact the possibility Cruz or Trump could be our next president. If you enjoy dreaming up disaster scenarios there you have it!

Remember the GOP is the only organization of it's kind in the world that denies the existence of global warming. The GOP calls every infrastructure investment they don't agree with a "Boondoggle" because like every CodeSpeak they use it dumbs down the conversation and that's what they want.

Hopefully the GOP will implode in the next few years and we can be spared of their menace. Hillary and Bernie are both committed to investing in HSR. Bernie warned against making false choices pitting CA HSR against water storage projects. In a rational world he said you cut the bloated military budget and you do both. There is no sense trying to structure long term projects based on future GOP support. We all know the GOP are beyond reason so CA might as well "go it alone".

Our society has much bigger problems than lack of funding for HSR if we let the GOP dictate our future.


8 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Mar 30, 2016 at 1:41 pm

@38,

I have been here 50 years (thus old). I have a wager for you. I have a Thousand Dollars on HSR. Your side of the bet is that gas stays below $5/gal as long as we both shall live. HSR works where gas is expensive. When the whole world charges carbon taxes to stop climate change, gas will be expensive. Electrical generation is much more energy efficient than all our hybrid cars could ever be. If you win the Nobel for hydrogen fusion, I'll contribute the $1,000. I am trying to think of my kids and their kids as far as their planet goes, not just their tax rates.


23 people like this
Posted by Apple
a resident of another community
on Mar 30, 2016 at 2:05 pm

I don't know why the pro-HSR think HSR will alleviate Bay Area congestion. HSR is primarily for longer distance travel among Northern, Central, and Southern California. It may alleviate some congestion within the Bay Area, but not much. What it does alleviate will come at the expense of Caltrain, which is not a good thing. Caltrain may end up in poor financial shape if it has to compete for ridership.

To alleviate Bay Area congestion, here are several ideas that would improve commute times, but just require funding. If HSR funding were diverted to these projects, our daily lives would be much improved.

1) Additional BART transbay tube tunnel. BART transbay travel is already at capacity.
2) Caltrain to Fremont. If you've ever driven on the Dumbarton, you may have noticed an old rail bridge just to the south. That rail bridge connects from the Caltrain tracks in Redwood City to Fremont. It could be rehabilitated to help the East-West commute.
3) More Caltrain grade separation. There are numerous congested intersections along the rail corridor. Eliminating at grade crossings will greatly reduce car travel times, plus improve safety.

The Bay Area is not unique in its congestion. Central and Southern CA have their own plans to alleviate regional congestion, but need more funding to make them happen.

If you want to help the environment, don't waste a hundred billion dollars on INTER-region transportation when you can eliminate much more greenhouse gases by improving INTRA-region transportation. That's the transportation people take the most.


13 people like this
Posted by Jean
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Mar 30, 2016 at 4:13 pm

I just flew from LA in 1 and a half hours. Who is going to sit on a train instead? Stop this nonsense. Passenger trains are more expensive than planes. Who is going to use it? And at the end one will need a car to move around after the ride. Who wants to go to Bakersfield? wouldn't a connection to Sacramento be more useful?
I vote for ending the whole high speed nonsense.


9 people like this
Posted by morris brown
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 30, 2016 at 4:17 pm

Nice article:

Anyone willing to invest a little time and learn, posted to YouTube are
excerpts of the Assembly Transportation Committee meeting of the 28th.

Chair Frazier concluding remarks

Web Link

Legislative Analyst input:

Web Link

Legislative Input on Cap and Trade as a funding source:

Web Link

The project is an outright disaster, but it keeps marching on due to support from Governor Brown. Thus you hear objections, even from some Democrats, but when push comes to shoves, the Governor shoves and forces the Legislators into line.

Thus as expressed by Frazier, he doesn't want this turn into another "Bay Bridge" disaster, but when a final vote comes he,(along with his Democratic Legislators), will most likely tow the line and approve funding.


14 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 30, 2016 at 4:18 pm

Why is it that the pro HSR crowd never wants to talk about the costs to build the project, the costs to operate and maintain the project and the huge gap between where all of this money is going come from? Further, the plan calls for significant investment from the private sector....and yet not a soul wants to touch HSR with a 10 foot pole. And no one wants to admit that it will never break even or come close to that.


8 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 30, 2016 at 5:18 pm

Why is it that some commenters assume that if you are opposed to HSR then you must be a member of the GOP? Reading the comments from southbayresident make me laugh but I guess you have to expect that from a Hillary and Bernie "believer." Common sense democrats and republicans both are opposed to HSR simply because it's not what we voted on, won't work and will need lifetime subsidies to operate. Not to worry though, Bernie will find a way to pay for it.


1 person likes this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 30, 2016 at 6:58 pm

Do you recall a vote we all had on a giant Indian casino in Madera? That is one of the towns that the train will go through. Even though we voted down the casino they are going to build it anyway. So that is one of the private supporters of the train. Can you see it now? Take the HSR to the casino for a day of gambling. Jerry will not be living here then so what does he care?

Jerry is so into trains. How about the coal train to Oakland? I heard on Bloomberg Asian News yesterday that China is over-produced in coal and is going to lay-off over a million coal workers - or keep producing and sell the coal to the US. So Oakland will become a storage terminal for coal and mess up the whole bay. Which way does the wind blow?
So rants on the GOP above notwithstanding our "BLUE" state and "BLUE" government power house are hosing the state to their own advantage. Business as usual.


Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 30, 2016 at 7:54 pm

Comment on rant on GOP - we live in a BLUE state. However the color of BLUE changes based on where you are and your generational age level. If you need your child - or grandchild to help you with your computer which is continually upgrading whether you want it to or not then you are clueless regarding the HRC debacle. You don't get it. Both HCR and Bernie don't get it. The technology is beyond their generational grasp.
I grew up in SOCAL - West Hollywood - as liberal as you can get - but you only achieve based on skills - not sexual orientation. Hollywood BLUE is not the same as SF Blue - or peninsula BLUE - don't count on the herd mentality here. You have to be able to present a clear picture what ever shade of BLUE you are.


4 people like this
Posted by SEA_SEELAM REDDY
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 30, 2016 at 9:14 pm

SEA_SEELAM REDDY is a registered user.

We do not need high speed rail.
It damages our environment.

We should use that money to modernize Caltrain.
We need trains every half hour.

Respectfully


12 people like this
Posted by Ben
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 30, 2016 at 9:28 pm

HSR was a $10B fraud in 2008, it's advertised now as a $6xB fraud now, with little to show but some dirt pushed around the central valley, and will almost certainly be a $100B to $200B super fraud if it's ever finished, and the CA legislature kind of maybe thinks there are some tiny problems, like no funding. Brilliant. Please note, the biggest supporters of HSR are the politicians beheld to Jerry in Sacramento, big labor groups, and the multi national constructions firms. Big Labor and the construction firms stand to reap literally billions in profits, and of course, the politicians hope to be fed generous campaign contributions for years to come.


12 people like this
Posted by Alan S
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 30, 2016 at 11:33 pm

HSR is a waste of money. It is not a project we need.

Take a fraction of that money and instead improve the local transit system. Give us a system that is clean and actually works well.

Clean the damn BART stations so the don't smell like piss.
Make sure the escalators work more than half the time.
Finish the BART extension time-time before my grandkids are due to retire.
Improve the rail lines so the train isn't screeching every time they go around a corner.
Make the link into the airport more meaningful.


We don't need High Speed Rail. It is a project which few will use and destined to lose huge amounts of money. It is a diversion of resources away from what should be our priority which is making the daily commute in the local area better.




Complete the connection


1 person likes this
Posted by southbayresident
a resident of another community
on Mar 31, 2016 at 2:07 am

Alan S,

Those are problems unique to BART. BART is well funded and can fix it's own problems. No fix however for the noise problem. That's an inherent flaw in the unique design of BART's wheels and track. Would require replacing every piece of track in the system. Caltrain and HSR don't have that flaw.

HSR investments will make Caltrain significantly better than BART for peninsula service. Much faster service than BART yet also more flexible and adaptable.

HSR investments are exactly the same as needed for Caltrain anyways so there is significant mutual benefit. The inter-city vs. intra-regional transit arguments don't hold any water in this case. I don't know why it's so hard for most people here to figure that one out. It shouldn't be such a puzzle!


11 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 31, 2016 at 2:35 am

The Caltrain ROW improvements courtesy of the unabashed taking of *State* HSR funds will definitely help local service (e.g., electrification). However we do not need HSR and its colossal price tag in order to upgrade Caltrain service. Why is that so difficult to figure out?


1 person likes this
Posted by southbayresident
a resident of another community
on Mar 31, 2016 at 8:33 am

Crescent Park Dad,

You forgot to mention the full grade separation and extensive passing track mileage HSR was also going to provide to Caltrain. Passing tracks or better yet 4-tracking the entire route allows for the addition of unlimited local service without compromising express service.

Both that and the grade separation are of complete independent utility to Caltrain regardless of whether or not there would be HSR. How is that not a benefit to local service?

Caltrain has been pressing the need for these upgrades for a long time. The state finally offers to pay for them via another project with the same demands and all of a sudden a certain group of people tries to argue that the improvements weren't necessary to begin with. Completely ridiculous!


9 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 31, 2016 at 8:57 am

As the saying goes, the end does not justify the means.

Spending over $60B in state money just so Caltrain can get a small portion of the free money is borderline criminal. And then add in the potential for greater spending on HSR construction and requirements to supplement operational costs....it is unethical to build such a huge albatross just so Caltrain can get what it wants.


2 people like this
Posted by Ron
a resident of another community
on Mar 31, 2016 at 8:58 am

Is the real issue here NIMBY? Sure, saving the environment is important, unless it impacts your town, and lord forbid, real estate values. Consider your environmental footprint when you fly or drive to SoCal. Save the earth, support the train.


2 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Mar 31, 2016 at 9:27 am

@southbayresident

Their position makes a whole lot more sense when you take into account that arguing for "local transit improvements" is a red herring and they don't actually support Caltrain modernization.


9 people like this
Posted by PA Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 31, 2016 at 9:48 am

The amount of magical thinking on the part of HSR and development proponents, Jerry Brown included, boggles the mind. Just where does everyone think the water is going to come from to support the amount of population growth projected for California? If last year wasn't a wake-up call for everyone, it should have been.

California is a desert with high mountains that catch moisture in the form of snow which melts, providing water which we catch in reservoirs. That is where our water comes from. Read up on the State Water Project. It was not designed to support the level of population we have now. It will not support the future projected population. Here is a link to get you started:

Web Link

And energy is an issue. A considerable percentage of our electricity is provided by hydropower. When there is no water to run the turbines, the electricity shortfall is made up by combustion - burning oil, gas, etc. Which pumps more GHG into the atmosphere and makes the problem - global warming, climate change - worse.

Think about it . . .


Like this comment
Posted by PA Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 31, 2016 at 10:01 am

There is no free lunch, for those who thought fracking would provide low-cost relatively "clean" power - here is another link. The article doesn't go into detail on how fracking pollutes groundwater, but once aquifers are polluted, that's it. You can't flush them like a toilet.

Web Link


5 people like this
Posted by Apple
a resident of another community
on Mar 31, 2016 at 11:34 am

@southbayresident

The Caltrain improvements from HSR money is great. I support that. It will alleviate some of the current problems in the rail corridor.

The problem is the vast majority of the money won't be spent on improving the intra-city transportation issues. I propose to redistribute all the HSR money to address these desperately needed local transportation issues.

Politically, the labor unions should be ok with this. We're still spending the money on infrastructure, just a different type of infrastructure and the progress won't be slowed down by the anti-HSR lawsuits.

Besides my earlier proposals on where to spend the HSR money locally, the region could use more money to finish all the BART extensions, more VTA light rail extensions, a new carpool lane on 101 from Redwood City to north San Mateo County, and expanded bus service.

The other problem I have with HSR on the peninsula is that it would compete directly with Caltrain's bullet trains. One government entity is competing against another government entity for riders with the taxpayer subsidizing any losses these two incur. This is not a winning formula.


Like this comment
Posted by Commentator
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 31, 2016 at 4:39 pm

The purpose of HSR is to get built. They will still be planning it long after that is done.


3 people like this
Posted by stanhutchings
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 31, 2016 at 6:18 pm

stanhutchings is a registered user.

I'll have to say it again:
I strongly oppose the High Speed Rail. It is too little, too late and too expensive. It will not serve the bulk of Californians at all, and will only serve a small portion of the travelers between its too few destinations.
The funds would be better spent developing an autonomous vehicle system: all vehicles, smart roads and highways, incentives to companies and vehicle purchasers to research, develop and manufacture autonomous vehicles and the infrastructure to support a state-wide system.
Autonomous vehicles would benefit ALL Californians by reducing traffic congestion, improve safety dramatically, lower fossil fuel consumption by using renewable fuels or solar electricity, serve younger as well as older citizens, and make cheap point-to-point transportation a reality for all.
California has the manpower, technology and manufacturing capability to set an example for the rest of the country and the world.


6 people like this
Posted by morris brown
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 1, 2016 at 6:36 am


Evolving California High Speed Rail Now Degraded To Only A Commuter Train!

Web Link


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

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