News

Newsom scales back high-speed-rail plans

Governor plans to limit system to Central Valley

California's decadelong dream of building a high-speed rail system between San Francisco and Los Angeles hit a dead end in Sacramento on Tuesday, with Gov. Gavin Newsom declaring his plan to significantly scale back the hugely ambitious but deeply flawed project.

Newsom said in his State of the State speech that he plans to focus the state's attention and spending on the one stretch of the line where construction is already in full gear: the segment between Merced and Bakersfield. He also said he remains committed to improving regional rail projects in the northern and southern parts of the state.

For Newsom, the move marks a sharp turn from the direction of his two predecessors, Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger, both of whom were big proponents of high-speed rail. But with the project's price tag rising from the initial estimate of about $40 billion to $77.3 billion, and recent audits raising red flags about wasteful spending and insufficient contract oversight, Newsom acknowledged in his speech that the project, as currently planned, "would cost too much and take too long."

Newsom also faulted the project for having "too little oversight and not enough transparency."

"Right now, there simply isn't a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A. I wish there were," Newsom said. "However, we do have the capacity to complete a high-speed rail link between Merced and Bakersfield."

The proposed Merced-to-Bakersfield line is a significant departure from the project that California voters approved in November 2008 through Prop. 1A, which earmarked $9.95 billion for the new high-speed rail system and related transportation improvements. The revised scope will bring some solace, however, to the project's many opponents in places like Palo Alto, where public sentiment on high-speed rail has gradually soured.

Though the City Council had initially supported Proposition 1A, it adopted in 2010 a position of "no confidence" in the project, citing unrealistic ridership and revenue projections, insufficient funding and a problematic design, which initially called for four tracks running along a berm. Things settled down in 2012, when the California High Speed Rail Authority agreed to adopt a "blended system" on the Peninsula, where high-speed rail would share two tracks with Caltrain.

Since then, the rail authority has repeatedly changed its strategy for rolling out what was frequently billed the most ambitious project in California's history. After initially considering launching the project between the Central Valley and Los Angeles, the agency in 2016 declared its intention to instead start the line between San Francisco and Bakersfield in what it called a "Valley to Valley" segment.

But while the scope of the project changed, it remained plagued by the very problems that had haunted it from the start: insufficient funding, poor contract management and flagging political support.

In November 2018, State Auditor Elaine Howle released a scathing report on the project, entitled "California High-Speed Rail Authority: Its Flawed Decision Making and Poor Contract Management Have Contributed to Billions in Cost Overruns and Delays in the System's Construction."

The auditor's office found that the state rail authority has failed to complete "many critical planning tasks before moving forward with construction." The report cited the rail authority's failure to acquire sufficient land for building upon, to determine how to relocate utility systems and to obtain needed agreements with external stakeholders, including local governments and railroad operators.

"These risks have contributed to more than $600 million in changes to construction contracts to pay for work for which the authority had not sufficiently planned or budgeted," the audit states.

The authority had countered that it needed to move forward with construction to meet the deadline for $3.5 billion in federal grants, of which it had already spent $2.6 billion.

The audit also found significant flaws in the rail authority's contract oversight, which was outsourced in 2016 to a group called the Contract Management Support Unit. The unit, the audit found, is staffed by consultants and has "performed only weak and inconsistent oversight."

The rail authority, the audit stated, "has in essence placed portions of its large contracts into the hands of outside consultants, for whom the state's best interests may not be the highest priority," the audit stated.

Despite his new direction for the project, Newsom stressed in tweets Tuesday that he is not abandoning high-speed rail. Doing so, he said, "means we will have wasted billions of dollars with nothing but broken promises and lawsuits to show for it."

"I'm not interested in sending $3.5 billion in federal funding -- exclusively allocated for HSR -- back to the White House," Newsom tweeted.

He also said in his speech that he plans to adopt new "transparency measures" and government changes, including the appointment of Lenny Mendonca, his economic development director, as the new chair of the rail authority.

"We're going to hold contractors and consultants accountable to explain how taxpayer dollars are spent -- including change orders, cost overruns, even travel expenses," Newsom said. "It's going online, for everybody to see."

Newsom said he plans to continue the state's regional rail projects in north and south, while pushing for more federal funding and private dollars. He also pushed back against the characterization of the proposed system as a "train to nowhere," calling the description "wrong and offensive."

"The people of the Central Valley endure the worst air pollution in America as well as some of the longest commutes," Newsom said in his speech. "And they have suffered too many years of neglect from policymakers here in Sacramento. They deserve better."

After Newsom's announcement, rail authority CEO Brian Kelly said in a statement that the agency is "eager to meet his challenge and expand the economic impact in the Central Valley," as well as to complete the environmental work statewide and to pursue additional federal funding for rail.

"We welcome this direction and look forward to continuing the important work on this transformative project," Kelly said.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, whose district includes Palo Alto, Mountain View, Menlo Park and much of San Mateo County, called Newsom's announcement a "wise decision." Hill, who helped lead the effort in 2012 to adopt the "blended system" plan agreed with Newsom that the state doesn't have the resources to pursue the full project at this time.

The project's expectations, Hill said, were too high and the execution has been faulty. He noted that when the project was first proposed, the state was planning to fund the project through a combination of state, federal and private funds. And while some of the Proposition 1A bonds have been sold, the rail authority's hopes of getting significant outside funding never materialized, he said.

"I think there's still a strong need for a high-speed-train system from Southern California to Northern California, but this doesn't seem to be the time to continue that plan," Hill told the Weekly.

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Comments

104 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 12, 2019 at 5:28 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

Isn't this what many people predicted would happen ten years ago? Billions have already been spent and, a decade later, a new governor wants a train from Bakersfield to Merced (you know...that extraordinarily "busy" route).

Let's just cancel this boondoggle once and for all.


170 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 12, 2019 at 6:01 pm

During the same time China has built 18,000 miles of high speed rail.

But this seems to be good news for Palo Alto.


36 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 12, 2019 at 6:26 pm

Closer to home, hopefully this means the end of the "blended approach" where the Caltrain ROW would be shared with HSR, complete with "passing tracks".

Caltrain has reaped the side benefit of having its ROW electrified.

Hopefully Newsom will find a way to sweep the Merced-to-Bakersfield route under the carpet.

All those years of the Gubernator and Cash-and-Carry Jerry and we are no more prepared for California's next drought than we were before, and there WILL be more droughts.


89 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 12, 2019 at 6:37 pm

"During the same time China has built 18,000 miles of high speed rail."

The things you can do when you oppress your own people as a communist dictatorship.


86 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 12, 2019 at 6:38 pm

"Right now, there simply isn't a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A."

News flash for Governor Newsom: nowadays they have these things called Jet Airplanes. You can go from SFO, Oakland or San Jose to LAX, Burbank, Sacramento and many other destinations in the blink of an eye. These jet airplanes fly many times a day.

"However, we do have the capacity to complete a high-speed rail link between Merced and Bakersfield."

I can't count the number of times I've been in Merced only to wish I could be in Bakersfield in less than an hour. Gawd forbid I should take a Greyhound bus rather than the state spending millions on a money-losing train to, um, Bakersfield.

Seriously?


22 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 12, 2019 at 7:14 pm

"Isn't this what many people predicted would happen ten years ago? Billions have already been spent and, a decade later, a new governor wants a train from Bakersfield to Merced"

To be fair to Newsom, he inherited a voter-approved, partially-built boondoggle, the blame for which lies squarely with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown who squandered millions in taxpayer money.


50 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 12, 2019 at 7:20 pm

@Me2, 2 billion riderships recorded in Chinese high speed rail system last year alone . I can’t imagine they are all corrupt communist officials. I understand China bashing is in fashion now. But a spade is a spade. Otherwise should we all boycott Chinese food too?


46 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 12, 2019 at 8:00 pm

The Chinese Communist Party's rush to build rail is not just motivated by the need for transportation, it also used by the Communist Party as a tool for social engineering and consolidation of political control. Many of the new rail lines are designed to move ethnic Chinese into regions where the culture, politics, and religion are heavily influenced by potentially rebellious ethnic minorities.


43 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 12, 2019 at 9:50 pm

But, but, but, the latest Democratic Party Plan is a green deal which will ban flying and everyone will cross the country by HSR.

Didn't anyone explain that to the Governor!

Or can't they read?


57 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 12, 2019 at 10:33 pm

@Ahem [Portion removed.] By far the most concentrated areas of high speed rail in China is along the east coast and south coast, where the dominant residents are Han Chinese. The busiest routes are there too, such as between Beijing and Shanghai. On the other hand Xinjiang and Tibet have no high speed rails.

Your logic is so convoluted. It is as if to say that if Hitler likes Michelangelo then Michelangelo must have something to do with the atrocities committed by Hitler.

By the way many say that Nazis invented the highway system. Should we ban highways in the United States?


20 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 12, 2019 at 10:45 pm

Woohoo!! So does this change the plans for what the rail would look like going through PA even though Caltrain will still be electrifying by 2022? All the talk of below grade, above grade, eliminating Churchill crossing, eminent domain, etc. I believe Caltrain and HSR were to share tracks through the peninsula, but it would seem that eliminating HSR will mean a much smaller scale project just to electrify Caltrain????


8 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 12, 2019 at 11:34 pm

Any new construction on the ROW supposedly had to support four tracks. I wonder if this will still be the case.


19 people like this
Posted by bob.smith
a resident of another community
on Feb 13, 2019 at 3:16 am

HSR opponents recently sued claiming that it was unconstitutional for the Legislature to modify the text of a voter approved project. Web Link The court ruled that the Legislature could change the text of a voter approved project only to the extent that it:
---
"Does not truncate the project or divert the funds to a tenuously connected separate project... Does not release the Authority from its obligation to spend the subject funds on the voter-approved high speed rail project".
---

Until another state wide ballot reverses Prop1A, the State is still obligated to (eventually) build "a high-speed train system between San Francisco Transbay Terminal and Los Angeles Union Station and Anaheim".

The headlines claiming the project has been "cancelled" are incorrect. Only the voters can cancel a voter approved project.


38 people like this
Posted by JR
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 13, 2019 at 7:26 am

This just shows why you don't build infrastructure to accommodate pie-in-the-sky future projections that are all vapor. Palo Alto needs to keep all rail crossings at grade and not bend to fear-mongers who want to divide the city in half with a train wall.


48 people like this
Posted by Scotty
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 13, 2019 at 8:50 am

Next time I'm stuck in all that traffic in Merced on my way to Bakersfield I'm absolutely using it!


10 people like this
Posted by Who Are These People?
a resident of Stanford
on Feb 13, 2019 at 8:56 am

> Let's just cancel this boondoggle once and for all.
>> News flash for Governor Newsom: nowadays they have these things called Jet Airplanes.

Yes. It's called PSA.


26 people like this
Posted by Max
a resident of another community
on Feb 13, 2019 at 9:34 am

Besides simple trips to ballgames and such around the bay area, i would NEVER take a train. Anyone who sees HSR being adopted and heavily used by Americans are out of touch.


35 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 13, 2019 at 10:18 am

Nayeli is a registered user.

Does anyone even have an accurate measurement of the daily traffic between Merced and Bakersfield that does NOT include big rig trucks and farming/agricultural workers? We drove that route once and it almost felt...desolate.

The politicians have already spent $10 Billion "studying" this. I wonder if they even considered the demand for such a train along that route. The $40 Billion estimate makes the $5 Billion for a reinforced border wall system seem like pocket change.

Leslie: If my memory is correct, didn't Governor Schwarzenegger try to curtail the process for a HSR due to budget issues? That was even before the "Great Recession." Otherwise, he would deserve just as much criticism over this particular project as Governor Brown.


22 people like this
Posted by Boondoggle Dude
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 13, 2019 at 10:48 am

What Boondoggle? There was no boondoggle.

Millions have been distributed to politically connected consultants to pocket and then reinvest a portion into political contributions.

Millions was sent selling the HSR or to 'incentivize' communities that this expenditure was a wonderful idea through the use of 'incentives' (parks, electrification of rails, extra state funds) and campaign support of friendly legislators.

But don't worry.

There'll be another political boondoggle coming down the road shortly. After all, the funds were authorized and the political elite aren't about to let that go.

Get ready for "HSR2 - The Return Trip"



72 people like this
Posted by timeline
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 13, 2019 at 11:09 am

>> If my memory is correct, didn't Governor Schwarzenegger try to curtail the process for a HSR due to budget issues? That was even before the "Great Recession."

Your memory falters. Arnold actually applied for funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 for funding (thus *after* the Bush Great Recession.)

You remember Arnold, don't you? He goes on that list of politicos you do not like, because they were cheaters: Arnold, Gingrich, Kerry, Clinton, Edwards, etc..) One assumes you detest Arnold and Trump for that, as well as other, reasons. Apologies - I might have missed that post of yours.


34 people like this
Posted by Robert Cronin
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 13, 2019 at 11:17 am

Will somebody please tell me why France (population 65 million, GDP $2.6 trillion) can build a high-speed rail network of thousands of miles, connecting many cities, while California (population 39.5 million, GSP $2.7 trillion) cannot build a single line linking Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Francisco? I think that any of the detractors of California HSR would change their tune if they had a chance to ride the high-speed trains in France.


8 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Feb 13, 2019 at 11:51 am

@ "Will somebody please tell me why France..."

It's the system. Building anything in California is a obstacle course of bureaucracy and litigation. Just look at the building contractors monthly reports, they are typically full of "waiting for authorization from agency X".
It can take more than a year to get PG&E to move a power line 10 feet to the left.

Typical items from monthly reports Web Link :
• Provided a Stop Work Notice for clearing and grubbing within 50-feet of a known Hairy Orcutt grass pool.
• Provided a work restriction at Road 27 for ponded areas with California Tiger Salamander (CTS) larvae.
• Relocation of AT&T facilities at several locations is critical or near critical. Coordination is ongoing with the Contractor and AT&T to develop work-arounds and mitigate possible delays.
• California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) is hindering the projects ability to start work in new areas due to ongoing permitting issues. Previously approved trapping plans have been rescinded affecting the ability to work in the south end of the project.
• Parcel acquisition is behind the dates specified in the Right-of-Way Acquisition Plan and continues to be a schedule risk
• Environmental Reexams, Incidental Take Permits and/or other environmental issues are preventing construction activities throughout the site.
• BNSF track outages to perform work are very limited.

It is not a train problem, it would be the same obstacles for any infrastructure project, government or private. It's the system.


10 people like this
Posted by CA public transport is a joke, an expensive one at that.
a resident of another community
on Feb 13, 2019 at 11:57 am

Happy to hear Peninsula not going to be torn up for decades building HSR, the entire project should be shelved, I suppose lobbyists were involved in the decision to build Merced/LA HSR service. CA should use that money to improve much needed train service in metro area. For example a commuter train that runs more than once an hour after 7:30pm, and connects directly to a subway station that can actually take you places within the city (BART is a joke). If the Brits could do it in the 1800's California should be able to figure it out, so far they haven't. Web Link


13 people like this
Posted by Robert Cronin
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 13, 2019 at 12:03 pm

TBM hits the nail on the head, and it's not just California. I just read an article in the Washington Post, specifically about HSR, and about the difficulty of upgrading existing rail and constructing new systems to HSR standards in different parts of the country that appear to be suitable for HSR. The problems are legal, environmental and historical, and 21st-century America is not up to the task of solving these problems. We have truly become the country that used to know how.


19 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 13, 2019 at 1:28 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Agree that "the system" is the problem. But WE, the voters, are part of the system and thus part of the problem. When HSR was on the ballot it was on with a paucity of details. I think voters approved a concept, not realizing that the vote mattered as it did. Sadly, it passed and we are paying a pretty penny for it.

When it comes to voting, we screw up a lot. If we want to see things change for the better, we need to discipline ourselves to be informed voters. That includes not being swayed by name recognition achieved through shiny flyers. It also includes paying attention to "endorsed by" lists. And reading the small print on flyers to determine who is paying for a candidate's name recognition.

Being informed also means not voting for something that is not sufficiently well explained. Obfuscation is a much-used trick.

Voting smart can also mean sometimes not voting for your friend or neighbor. And that's okay b/c ballots are confidential.

Fixing the entire system of over-spending and collusion and graft will take more than well-informed votes, but the ballot box is a good place to start.


11 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 13, 2019 at 1:29 pm

"I wonder if they even considered the demand for such a train along that route."

They did not, and that's why California HSR was such a fraud. They went to Cambridge Systematics and sat down with an Excel spreadsheet and cooked up fictitious ridership figures that they thought would make it saleable to the gullible and naive public.

In 2019 America, passenger rail is a guaranteed recipe for losing money. That's why the big RR's abandoned passenger service in favor of freight decades ago, and why Amtrak came into existence in 1970. RR's faced too much competition from jet air travel and the new-at-the-time Interstate highway system. Nowadays Amtrak loses millions for the U.S. taxpayer. Why repeat the mistake in California unless you're Jerry Brown and you want to reward your political benefactors? The subsidies needed for CA HSR would have sucked money out of CA taxpayers' pockets for generations.

There is no reason for the state to be in the money-losing passenger rail business which private industry won't go near. And yes, Arnold S. was a big-time enabler of HSR.


7 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 13, 2019 at 1:32 pm

"I understand China *Governement* bashing is in fashion now."

FTFY, m2grs

There are things a dictatorship can take away from you without due process. I'm sure if we were routing HSR through your home in Midtown, you would be happy to give it up willingly, because the government says so.

Using China is probably not the example you want to use if you actually support HSR.


57 people like this
Posted by Robert Cronin
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 13, 2019 at 1:40 pm

The question remains: Why was France, a country with a population only slightly greater than California, with less money, able to build a wonderful HSR network, and we are stuck with a few slow trains and a lousy, congested system of so-called freeways?


4 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 13, 2019 at 1:59 pm

"The question remains: Why was France, a country with a population only slightly greater than California, with less money, able to build a wonderful HSR network"

How much taxpayer money did the French put into HSR, both for construction and for ongoing operating subsidies?

How does French HSR compete against their highways and jet air travel?

Why did the big U.S. RR's exit the passenger business leaving us with Amtrak?


11 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Feb 13, 2019 at 2:17 pm

@ "How does French HSR compete against their highways"

In France highways are not massively subsidized by the taxpayer like in the US.

In Capitalist France, highways are built and maintained by private for-profit corporations, and drivers pay by kilometer travelled Web Link .


Like this comment
Posted by WP article
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 13, 2019 at 2:22 pm

WP article is a registered user.

@Leslie, if helpful, here is the WP article Robert mentions: Web Link


7 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Feb 13, 2019 at 2:58 pm

This New York Times article about the most expensive subway tunnel in the world is also instructive: Web Link

The lack for Universal Healthcare in US makes health insurance for dangerous construction jobs higher than anywhere else. A litigious system encourages a web of consultants for mutual ass-covering, consultants then feel they need to impose changes to justify their existence.


30 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 13, 2019 at 3:49 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

@ timeline: Let me address a couple of things in regard to what you've written.

First of all, Arnold Schwarzenegger applied for FEDERAL funds only AFTER it was approved by voters and after Obama was in the White House indicating federal support for the project. Great Recession or not -- it would have been stupid for a California governor to not seek federal funding for a voter-approved California project that was already being supported by the Obama Administration.

My point about Arnies's reluctance is that was delayed to the 2006 state election because Governor Schwarzenegger had concerns about budgetary issues. In fact, he omitted the initial funds for the project from his $222.6 billion Public Works Bond (with its schedule for the subsequent 10 years) in 2006. The only actual funding that he approved was $14.3 million for an exploratory engineering study by a CA-HSR Authority in the 2006-2007 budget.

I voted against the HSR in 2008 (as a new resident to the state). Like many others, I was afraid of the vague rhetoric and infamous "ballooning costs" associated with many such public works projects in California.

I don't remember Governor Schwarzenegger ever pushing this project -- especially compared with the insistence by Governor Brown and other Democrats in the state. If there are degrees of fault, Arnie is much less culpable than Jerry and others who pushed this boondoggle at every turn. I'm not a big fan of Arnie (not even his movie roles), but I wouldn't indict him for this mess.


28 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 13, 2019 at 3:55 pm

This is evidence of how zealous and irrational the 1-party state that is CA behaves in its pursuit of "reducing single-occupant commuting". They are fixated on SOV's and its a total obsession, related to climate change alarmism, which makes them throw common sense out the window and there is no alternative party that can challenge them.
They can't face the "inhumane" reality that the reason for traffic & pollution is simply this: overpopulation & density.


33 people like this
Posted by Resdent
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 13, 2019 at 4:17 pm

By the way, stop with the phony Europe comparisons. Wasn't the whole point of the USA to be unlike Europe, now European countries are some kind of paragon and we've fallen way behind? I don't buy it.


30 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 13, 2019 at 7:05 pm

The worship of everything European is part of the residual 60s culture still desperately clinging to life long after the demise of communes, yurts, and bell-bottom pants.

The rail fans figured out the solution to all of the world's woes back in the 1960s and have been stuck there ever since waging a Quixotic war on polluting gas guzzlers that no longer exist, except for the few that remain in the hands antique collectors.

Within the next decade almost all motor vehicles will be nearly silent, zero emissions, all electric vehicles, or powered by some other equally clean technology.


12 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 13, 2019 at 7:58 pm

In the interest of general knowledge it would be interesting to see disclosed (in a convenient way, not via wading through hundreds of pages of minutes, etc.):
- who has received our taxpayer funds so far
Names of engineering firms, consultants, unions, planners, public relations firms
The ties between the above and our ruling party in CA

There is no need for a train much less high speed between these cities. I could possibly imagine a minir use if it connected up north to Sacramento.
....but, in any case, what will the fickets cost?!
Surely not enough to support even a minor elevated “hugh speed” rail line like this.

We taxpayers will continue to get soaked.

Let’s try to get some accountability for this “project,” past, present, and future.


15 people like this
Posted by What did you vote for
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 13, 2019 at 8:53 pm

I voted on a proposition that stated: “The CHSRA may not begin construction on any segment until a full funding plan is in place“ and that all but $9B would come from private investors and the federal government. The state’s funding of this project is limited by the proposition.

This requirement has still not been met. It is not enough to finesse or BS this funding plan.


6 people like this
Posted by Pat Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 13, 2019 at 10:26 pm

Pat Burt is a registered user.

Perhaps the best independent source of HSR information in CA is the CARRD website. CAARD is led by Palo Altans, Nadia Naik and Elizabeth Alexis, who have been remarkable citizen watchdogs and transparency advocates on the project.


56 people like this
Posted by Robert Cronin
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 13, 2019 at 10:35 pm

Leslie. In France the rail system is in two parts: The rails are owned and maintained by the state, like our highways, at taxpayer expense. The trains are operated by SNCF, and according to the Economist magazine are profitable. There is some competition with airplane travel. For example, you can travel from, say Paris to Toulouse by plane or train. The plane spends less time in the air than the train spends traveling on the ground, but the door-to-door time is the same, because you don't have to check in two hours before takeoff. The train is cheaper, and I can assure you that the train is more comfortable and altogether more pleasant. Europe is different from the U.S. With regard to rail travel, it is better.


5 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 13, 2019 at 11:04 pm

Here's a photo of the rail viaductery that our new governor just spared Palo Alto Web Link

... unless we decide to do it unto ourselves on our own dime.


12 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 13, 2019 at 11:54 pm

Whatever money is left in the CalHSR budget should be used to tear this aborted boondoggle down and return displaced people to their beloved homes, instead of a pathetic attempt to save face by continuing the folly from Bakersfield to Merced.


5 people like this
Posted by No go slow
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 13, 2019 at 11:55 pm

High-speed rail speeding through Palo Alto without even slowing down. Great plan it was.


12 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 14, 2019 at 12:31 am

Cronin,

How many people living along the rail line must suffer an unrelenting assault on their senses so you can enjoy a "pleasant" trip from Paris to Toulouse?


9 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 14, 2019 at 2:54 am

"We taxpayers will continue to get soaked."

"We taxpayers" passed Prop 1a in 2008. If you voted for Prop 1a and are wondering who is responsible for the HSR mess, just look in the mirror.

The Palo Alto city council initially endorsed Prop 1a. They did an abrupt about face when they came to their senses and realized what a boondoggle it was, but by then it was too late; the election had been held and the proposition passed.

Brilliant.


3 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Feb 14, 2019 at 9:03 am

Prop1A is a good plan that would work elsewhere.
The lie is the one Californians told to themselves about their superior ability to execute a plan.
Private investors have run away because the "system" allows minority groups to successfully sabotage the project.
The High Speed Rail Authority explains how dysfunctional the system is and why private investors should stand well back Web Link :

----
... Kings County protest was not offered in good faith and represents nothing more than the continued effort by the County to delay and obstruct the High Speed Rail Project.
From its inception, the County has actively opposed the Project by filing multiple legal actions attacking the Authority's funding, its environmental approvals...
The County's open hostility to the Project ... resulted in the recusal of the entire bench of Kings County Superior Court from all Authority's cases filed in the County. This mass recusal required the Judicial Council to appoint Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge ... to the bench, this on a two day per month schedule causing significant delays to the project.
The County tactics had delayed the project to such a point that the Authority was forced to exercise the State's sovereignty over sections of County roads..
Having impacted the Project to the extent possible by its prior actions, the County now turns its sights on attacking the project at the project element approval stage and presents before this Commission, not with good faith concern about the design of the grade separated crossings, which... fully comply with all appropriate engineering and design standards, but with the wrongful intent of furthering its misplaced opposition to the Project itself.
----


22 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 14, 2019 at 9:04 am

Nayeli is a registered user.

@ Robert Cronin - I do think that smaller European countries are a bad comparison when deciding whether there is a anecdotal comparative need for a HSR.

I studied in Europe for a semester. When I flew in, I was trying to decide how to travel from the major airport to the university located roughly 250 km away. I was advised by the academic partnership coordinators to take a taxi.

They explained that it would cost roughly the same amount of money. While the train was a bit faster, the rail station was on the other side of the city. Thus, it would drop me off and necessitate further transportation (with my luggage for the semester). Moreover, the HSR didn't go to my school's city and would necessitate a rail change (meaning layover). I asked about air travel, but I was informed that there were no regular commercial flights to the city (like we have in the U.S.) and small commuter flights are typically more expensive. Even today, Google Maps lists it faster to travel by auto than rail.

Regarding Paris to Toulouse: I checked Google Map's transportation estimates. The fastest HSR route would save two hours from driving alone (4:38 vs. 6:35). However, you would still have to add time in order to account for the drive to and from the station to your destination. Other rail routes would add up to about an hour to the commute. I was surprised that the flight from Paris to Toulouse is very affordable and fast (1:20). Thus, even a two-hour airport check-in time would still result with less overall time spent traveling.

I suppose that this is the point. Our state is very different from France, Germany or European countries. We have extensive road system that isn't too congested outside of cities. We also have regional airports with commercial flights that are readily available and affordable. We also have traditional rails and buses.

The issue with the HSR is that for it to be effective and viable in California, the ENTIRE state would need to have lines that could take passengers throughout the state. However, this is cost prohibitive. The Brown system was estimated to cost $77.3 Billion (knowing California it would cost quite a bit more by completion) and this was for Phase 1.

Now, Governor Newsom wants to limit Phase 1 of the HSR to the Merced to Bakerfield route. He wants this because the state's audit revealed what many taxpayers feared ten years ago -- it has been mismanaged. The cost controls are severely lacking and the entire project is ballooning.

One critic pointed out that the real estimate for completing a HSR system that supporters originally envisioned would cost upwards of $300-500 Billion.

The grand irony is that there just isn't that much demand for such a state system. Inter-city highway/interstate traffic is not a major problem in the state. The airports are working well and provide inexpensive tickets. The auto industry's shift toward electric cars will likely be complete around the time that construction of the HSR would finally be complete.

The HSR would cost hundreds of billions of dollars to complete and it would likely cost more per mile than any other method of travel. It also would be slower and less safe than air travel.

Is the amount of time saved by an HSR system (versus traditional rail or existing transportation options) really worth fleecing hundreds of billions of dollars from taxpayers?

That system might be viable in Europe with its much higher fuel costs, fewer major airports and smaller roads with less cars. It just doesn't make much sense here.


11 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 14, 2019 at 9:16 am

I was a supporter of HSR at the time it was first discussed, but have since come to the conclusion that other technologies are going to overtake the need for such a service.

What would make a lot more sense nowadays is to investigate some type of hyper rail along the present highways such as I5 where by cars could link to some type of rail embedded in the roadbed which would transport vehicles at high speeds which would enable drivers to sleep or relax without driving type of system. Cars could pay per mile with congestion type costs. The only traffic on these embedded rails would be those linked to the system which would make the system safe and a simple barrier would prevent other traffic from using it. Bus services would also be able to access the system.

There are other types of technologies that could be used in similar fashion. We have roadways all over the state, making them more efficient for high speed travel without the need for all the vehicles to have alert drivers would make for a sensible system that would enable high speed ground travel without the problems of needing another vehicle either end.

We are Silicon Valley. We can develop something smarter. It would make a lot of sense for the boffins and eggheads to design something better, something smarter and something cheaper.


9 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 14, 2019 at 9:54 am

"We are Silicon Valley. We can develop something smarter."

Now that's funny. Thanks for the laugh.

We can't even separate the roads from the rails in Palo Alto and we're going to ask taxpayers to build "some type of hyper rail along the present highways such as I5 where by cars could link to some type of rail embedded in the roadbed which would transport vehicles at high speeds". How many billions will that cost to develop, build and operate?

Maybe Elon Musk can pull "some kind of" mass transit technology out of his entrails.

We have jet airplanes to take you just about anywhere in the state at a reasonable cost in no time, and we have the Interstate highway system. In addition, U.S. taxpayers subsidize Amtrak to the tune of millions of dollars per year if you're not in a hurry. So there are plenty of travel options at zero cost to Valifornia taxpayers.

Eough already!


5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 14, 2019 at 10:20 am

Leslie, I think you are so wrong.

I'm not talking about building something in congested suburbia around LA or SF Bay. I am talking about I5, in the middle of open space where adding a lane beside an existing road would be a lot cheaper than building a railroad system.

And yes, flying is great to get to the East Coast, but I am not convinced about flying to LA region.

Over the past couple of years, myself or family or close friends have had flights canceled, delayed, overbooked, numerous times. TSA rules, and oversized baggage rules and charges, lack of decent public transport, cost in time and money to get to and from airports, etc. make a simple 1 hour flight a half day experience.

There has to be a better, smarter, more efficient method of getting people these sorts of distances in an acceptable time.

The sort of talk that belittles innovation is what is putting Europe ahead on such matters. Many European cities have inner city airports! Their subway systems are vastly superior and improving all the time. Getting to London from Paris can be done much more efficiently with various options. We are just ignoring the fact that technology can do things today that were only pipe dreams a decade ago.


13 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Feb 14, 2019 at 10:38 am

@>> "We are Silicon Valley. We can develop something smarter. It would make a lot of sense for the boffins and eggheads to design something better, something smarter and something cheaper.<<"

What about a Stargate that can take people instantly from SF to LA in the fifth dimension?
If not, "inertia negation" technology would be useful for 300mph travel on existing roads Web Link, Star Trek has been using this tech for decades.


4 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Feb 14, 2019 at 10:48 am

@>> " I am talking about I5, in the middle of open space where adding a lane beside an existing road would be a lot cheaper than building a railroad system."<<

Nobody is going to buy an expensive high speed vehicle with added rail wheels just to drive in the middle of the I5. Tens of thousands of rail miles would need to be in place everywhere, at enormous cost, before people would see the benefit of investing in special cars.


40 people like this
Posted by timeline
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 14, 2019 at 11:13 am

Nayeli:

> I don't remember Governor Schwarzenegger ever pushing this project


He was listed as a SUPPORTER in all the ballot material - see Ballotpedia Web Link)

And as noted, Arnold applied for funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 for HSR funding.

NY Times: "The high-speed train in California, championed by Mr. Brown, a Democrat, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, his Republican predecessor, is the most ambitious public transportation project underway in the nation today."


7 people like this
Posted by Buses ftw
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 14, 2019 at 11:22 am

Buses ftw is a registered user.

We don't need fancy new technology. We just need comfortable, frequent, low-emission buses. The infrastructure is already there, and these can be (much) greener than rail, particularly when you consider the emissions of building the rail infrastructure. We should stop all HSR asap in my opinion, and double-down on bus service, with designated lanes as needed to ensure speed.


9 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 14, 2019 at 11:22 am

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Resident - It would be easier and cheaper to just improve the TSA screening process at the airport. Hell, for $77 billion you could hire a personal TSA agent for every single person flying. They could pick you up, drive you to the airport, and drop you off at the jetway,


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 14, 2019 at 11:50 am

OK, my idea might appear to be pie in the sky, and I am not thinking about a physical rail that we are used to seeing. But some sort of invisible laser or something.

Sounds like science fiction a bit, but then so did self driving cars at one time.


24 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 14, 2019 at 12:23 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

The $77.3 Billion price tag (and we all know that it would cost much more than that when all is said and done) would come out to roughly $2000 for every living person (39.54 Million total including babies) in California.

I just logged onto Southwest Airlines website. The cost of a ticket from SFO or SJC to LAX or San Diego starts at $49 for adults.

Thus, the $2000 per living person price tag for the mere construction of the HSR infrastructure could buy each person 40 plane tickets from the Bay Area to southern California.

Of course, that doesn't even count the actual cost per ticket to HSR passengers. With so little demand for travel through the state, I suspect that the cost of tickets would skyrocket -- particularly if Caltrain is used as an example. The GoPass cost has doubled since 2011 (from $140 to $285 per user).

I just think that California can use $77.3 Billion (and likely more) on much more pressing matters in this state.


6 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 14, 2019 at 12:37 pm

At this moment Google Maps says driving from Palo Alto to Los Angeles takes 5 hours 58 minutes for 357 miles. Accurate from my experience. Non-stop 12 gallons at 30 mpg highway, less than $40 at Arco. Stop for a steak at Harris Ranch to increase your carbon footprint. Plenty of Teslas there at the Supercharger.


8 people like this
Posted by AAA
a resident of another community
on Feb 14, 2019 at 12:49 pm

@musical "357 miles ... less than $40"
The AAA calculates on average, all in, driving 375 miles costs about $215
Web Link


1 person likes this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 14, 2019 at 1:22 pm

"some sort of invisible laser or something."

Good luck convincing millions of California voters to approve an invisible laser along I5 — or something.

What's the per-mile price tag for an invisible laser on I-5?


1 person likes this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 14, 2019 at 1:29 pm

"that doesn't even count the actual cost per ticket to HSR passengers"

It also doesn't count the ongoing subsidy of HSR by California taxpayers.


15 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 14, 2019 at 1:39 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

@ AAA - I can't find the figure that you're quoting from AAA. However, their methodology focuses primarily upon overall maintenance costs -- everything from auto insurance prices, oil changes, tire tread, coolant, average repair costs over time, etc.

Such use of "big picture" stats ignores the fact that vehicle owners are going to pay most of those costs whether they drive or not.

Yes, maintenance is a normal part of auto ownership. However, it's a bit disingenuous to say that it costs me $80 to drive to San Francisco and back when, in reality, it only take two or three gallons of gasoline at most.

During previous debates over Caltrain pricing effectiveness, proponents of Caltrain price increases argued that things like parking fees, insurance costs, gas prices, regular vehicle maintenance, and even Hwy 101/I-280 road maintenance should be considered when justifying the increases in each Caltrain ticket (for comparison's sake).

Yet, the more immediate consideration to consumers is direct costs. To them, the direct immediate cost is the price of gasoline. Everything else will have to be funded anyway (whether someone drives to San Francisco in their vehicle on Saturday or not).


26 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 14, 2019 at 2:05 pm

Sanctimonious City is a registered user.

I love the story title.

Saying that the HSR is scaling back is like saying a person flat lined with cardiac arrest is taking a breather.

Sure, it may suck out another few $ billion on its way out but in the brilliant words of the Monty Python blue parrot sketch the HSR...

"is no more",
"has ceased to be",
is "bereft of life,
is "resting in peace",
and it is officially an "ex"-budget-busting-boondoggle


56 people like this
Posted by bob
a resident of another community
on Feb 14, 2019 at 2:06 pm

"The $77.3 Billion price tag .. would come out to roughly $2000 for every living person."

But $77bn is a one-time cost spent over 20 years, so only $100 per person per year.
California's 2018 transportation budget is $22.5 Billion, or $570 per person.

The population is growing, which is why new infrastructure needs to be built.


10 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 14, 2019 at 2:23 pm

What would have been the actual price of a ticket between L.A. and S.F. on CA HSR?

What would have been the annual subsidy needed by CA HSR?

Anybody? Anybody? I hear crickets chirping.


14 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 14, 2019 at 2:31 pm

Sanctimonious City is a registered user.

It would have been more than an airfare ticket and slower than driving. It would have made a great Mythbusters episode to confirm it though.


17 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 14, 2019 at 2:37 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

@ bob - Except that the $77.3 Billion price tag is NOT a one-time cost. It isn't even the cost of the HSR. It is the estimated cost (which an audit said will assuredly be exceeded) for only part of the initial Phase 1 of the project.

The overall cost of connecting areas like San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles and San Diego would likely reach much more than this -- possibly exceeding half a Trillion dollars! Moreover, the project would need enough passengers paying big money to prove that it is self-sustainable.

I would also point out that the $2000 per capita cost (based upon population and the current estimate price tag -- one that would like be exceeded according to the state's own audit) is for the entire population -- including babies, the unemployed, etc. The fact remains that a particular segment of the state's population would bear the brunt of this cost and it will be significantly higher than the $2000 per person (even over 20 years).

The original bond measure supported by a slight majority of voters in 2008 was for $10 Billion. That has nearly been exhausted with no viable and cost-sustainable plan in place.

By the way, the population of California is growing by THAT much. In fact, a recently published Edelman poll showed that a majority of California residents want to leave because of the high cost of living. Their primary destinations includes states with lower tax burdens and better cost-of-living "bang for their bucks."

Web Link

Interestingly, the same poll found that 68% of California residents indicated that they do not trust the government. Public boondoggles like this are probably one of the reasons.


Like this comment
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Feb 14, 2019 at 2:45 pm

"some sort of invisible laser or something."

What problem are you trying to solve?
If you are trying to make cars travel at high speeds, the challenges are: fuel consumption, tire wear, aerodynamic drag, stability, and making it affordable while having more than 2 seats and some luggage space.

Web Link


5 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 14, 2019 at 3:19 pm

"The overall cost of connecting areas like San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles and San Diego"

Those cities and more are already connected:

Web Link

What's with this mindset that every major city in California must be connected BY RAIL at a huge expense to taxpayers in a state which is mired in debt?

There is the Interstate Highway System, built and maintained at taxpayer expense.

There is Amtrak, slow but also subsidized by taxpayers.

These are in addition to air travel at the traveler's expense.

With all these options why do taxpayers need to build more rail?


4 people like this
Posted by bob
a resident of another community
on Feb 14, 2019 at 3:22 pm

@Nayeli

"Except that the $77.3 Billion price tag is NOT a one-time cost. It isn't even the cost of the HSR. It is the estimated cost for only part of the initial Phase 1 of the project."

77.3bn is the estimated one time cost of the entire Phase1 from San Francisco to Aneheim in YOE$. i.e. already adjusted for estimated inflation between now and 2033.

"A Phase 1 System estimate which includes the sections from Bakersfield to Anaheim and from Madera to Merced and completing final improvements between San José to San Francisco (Salesforce Transit Center). The overall estimates for these remaining sections have also increased, now estimated at $77.3 billion. For purposes of preparing an updated estimate for Phase 1 System, a completion schedule of 2033 was assumed." Web Link

The original bond measure supported by a slight majority of voters in 2008 was for $10 Billion to "initiate" construction.


8 people like this
Posted by Paly Grad
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 14, 2019 at 7:45 pm

From MapQuest - Driving from Palo Alto to Los Angeles -

6hr 24min 357mi
Est. fuel cost: $31.80


4 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 14, 2019 at 9:17 pm

Have to say as a longtime driver I've been impressed by the accuracy of these map routing sites, particularly local here in Silicon Valley during rush hours, suggesting best realtime route among traffic backups, crashes, and construction. Driving anywhere in the old days was a more stochastic process.


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Posted by CharlesRedd
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 15, 2019 at 1:39 am

CharlesRedd is a registered user.

It's a good new!


5 people like this
Posted by Huh?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2019 at 3:54 am

So we should spend the money on illegal immigrants instead? How did Gavin get voted in? He let S.F. become a wasteland and will run CA into the ground too, attracting homeless for all the freebies he’ll offer. U


11 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 15, 2019 at 6:07 am

"Over the past couple of years, myself or family or close friends have had flights canceled, delayed, overbooked, numerous times. TSA rules, and oversized baggage rules and charges, lack of decent public transport, cost in time and money to get to and from airports, etc. make a simple 1 hour flight a half day experience."

There's an implicit assumption that HSR would not eventually be subject to security screening, which all it takes is for one event to change that completely. As for your complaints about flying, I have flown between SFO and LAX quite a few times over the last couple of years. I've been able to do day trips and have productive meetings and still come home to Palo Alto in the evening. If each way actually took half a day as you claim, I wouldn't be able to do that.

And I've done it a number of times less than $120 round trip.

Imagine that. I already have the proposed HSR experience. Today.


3 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Los Altos
on Feb 15, 2019 at 12:23 pm

Pat Burt: "Perhaps the best independent source of HSR information in CA is the CARRD website. CAARD is led by Palo Altans, Nadia Naik and Elizabeth Alexis, who have been remarkable citizen watchdogs and transparency advocates on the project.

Is CAARD still active? Their website is two years out of date? I wouldn't recommend anyone use it unless they were writing a history paper.

bob: "But $77bn is a one-time cost spent over 20 years,"

Yeah, "one-time" until it is time for major maintenance in 30 years.


58 people like this
Posted by bob
a resident of another community
on Feb 15, 2019 at 1:08 pm

Bill: 'Yeah, "one-time" until it is time for major maintenance in 30 years.'

Most of the right-of-way is an earth berm which will last forever with minimal maintenance.
The civic works have a design life standard of 100 years: Web Link


1 person likes this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Los Altos
on Feb 15, 2019 at 2:32 pm

Fine, so the berm will last forever, but the tracks, switches/turnouts and Train Control and Communications Systems need to be replaced every 30 to 50 years, depending on use. VTA has already had to fix 30 year old tracks on light rail Web Link


11 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 15, 2019 at 3:01 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

@ bob - Again, correct me if I am wrong, but I think that the original Phase 1 plan has been changed for quite some time. Regardless, it is now.

More importantly, my point is that the state's audit showed that the $77.3 Billion price tag was a pipe dream due that came crashing to reality due to cost overruns and mismanagement.

This was one of the primary arguments against the HSR a decade ago -- because many California voters understood the long history of California's various public works projects and how the costs (and time period) typically balloons beyond initial "estimates."

I remember reading a joke when people were debating HSR:
Q: What do you call a California public works project that comes in under time and under budget?
A: Fiction.


50 people like this
Posted by bob
a resident of another community
on Feb 15, 2019 at 4:01 pm

@ "Fine, so the berm will last forever, but the tracks, switches/turnouts..."

The majority of the $77bn goes to one time cost of acquiring the land and constructing the right-of-way. The switches, turnouts, electrification etc are <10% of the cost. Maintenance of consumables after 30 years would be a small part of the $22.5bn California already spends every year on maintenance of transport systems.

@ "More importantly, my point is that the state's audit showed that the $77.3 Billion price tag was a pipe dream due that came crashing to reality due to cost overruns and mismanagement. "

The state audit only audited how funds had been spent so far, they didn't estimate completion costs. The auditor acknowledges that the cost overruns were mostly due to the urgency to spend Federal funds before a deadline, something that won't be repeated. Web Link

The High Speed Rail authority, based on lessons learned, now estimates Phase 1 (SF to LA & Anaheim) will cost $77.3bn, in Year-Of-Expenditure $, assuming and completion date of 2033.

The cost and time overruns of large projects are caused by bureaucracy and litigation that are endemic in the system, and are not limited to public works.

It does beg the question of how the US can be globally competitive long term if it can't build new infrastructure, or if it can build it but only for 4 times what everyone else pays.


11 people like this
Posted by George
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 15, 2019 at 7:51 pm

In all likelihood, Newsom reels in Brown’s largesse in order to redeploy it in his own good time and for his own pals. We should be wary. We should insist that that the project be fully shut down.

Scarce transit dollars belong in towns and cities to solve local transit needs and for relatively short distant intracity improvements.

We should understand that a new age of smart vehicles will soon provide tremendous opportunities for vehicles that are not track dependent and where routes and schedules are demand generated. New possibilities. It’s certainly possible that HSR on fixed tracks becomes obsolete before it’s first day’s passengers ride.

California has so very many go-it’s-own-way positions these days it’s often hard to understand the intended end game. Clearly, voters approved a plan with too many undisclosed or hidden problems. Unfortunately, simliar to other big issues in California, HSR seems to be more about the pockets of a few than the best public policy for the most. In this case, it’s a better choice to leave this one stuck in the station.


3 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 15, 2019 at 9:02 pm

"The majority of the $77bn goes to one time cost of acquiring the land and constructing the right-of-way."

I'll keep hammering away at these points:

Why does there need to be a state-owned and -operated rail network, to be built anew at a cost to taxpayers of billions of dollars at a time when the state is mired in debt?

Put another way, why is the state getting into the money-losing passenger-rail business? Passenger rail costs more to operate than it brings in through ticket sales and has for decades. Since the end of WWII there has been too much competition from jet air travel and the interstate highway system. Passenger rail is a formula guaranteed to lose money. It lost money for the big railroads which abandoned it decades ago, leaving us with Amtrak to lose millions each year for the U.S. taxpayer.

In 2019 Californians already have myriad options for traveling between dozens of cities on the commercial airlines and without spending a dime on new rail infrastructure. A state-owned railroad will require taxpayer subsidies for generations to come. The state has no business undertaking such a risky venture as passenger rail.

Spendthrift Jerry Brown and his fantasy of free money are out of office for good and won't be back to reward his political benefactors. It's time to wipe the slate clean of his spectacularly-failed high-speed-rail legacy. How about taking a big chunk out of the state debt or preparing for the next drought? To me a desalination plant is more important than a high-speed ride to Disneyland.


3 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 15, 2019 at 9:16 pm

"It’s certainly possible that HSR on fixed tracks becomes obsolete before it’s first day’s passengers ride."

It became obsolete decades ago when jet air travel became available to the masses and when the interstate highway system was built.

"a new age of smart vehicles will soon provide tremendous opportunities"

I'm not impressed. A car is a car whether piloted by a human, a computer or Rosie the Robot from The Jetsons.


5 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 15, 2019 at 10:09 pm

"California's various public works projects and how the costs (and time period) typically balloon beyond initial 'estimates'."

My theory is that they intentionally put out an unrealistically low figure to the general public, knowing full well that the actual cost will be much higher. The public votes and approves the project based on the lowball figure. When they get part-way through, they discover that the voter-approved funds will not finish the project due to those pesky "cost overruns" and they need even more money than the voters approved.

Whenever I see that a public-works project will cost "X" bilion dollars, I double or triple that figure in my mind. c.f. the bay bridge.

It's a scam pure and simple.


11 people like this
Posted by buses-work
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 16, 2019 at 7:00 am

@buses ftw. Yes, buses are the way to go. I've traveled all over Mexico by bus including premium-quality buses between Mexico City and Querétaro: service is affordable, convenient, and omnipresent. Here in California we'd only need to ask the government to invest in more park-and-ride lots - that would help local commuters as well. Let's optimize our existing infrastructure, rather than indulge in radically new and wildly unrealistic projects.


7 people like this
Posted by George
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 16, 2019 at 7:59 am

@Leslie - planes certainly cut into passenger rail in the West quite some time ago but rail is certainly still a big part of the mix on the Easy coast. Car companies killed off light rail to sell more cars and create car dependency, urban sprawl, urban flight, and a completely senseless and wasteful landscape of suburban boxes as far as the eye can see. If the technology succeeds its likely that people will not own the cars. Cars, running 24x7 as on demand services, alongside buses, could then maximize existing roads. If companies want to continue to build out on the pennisula, they need to increase work from home opportunities - reducing the need for so many to waste so much precious time stalled in 101, etc. traffic. Facebook and Google have been so adept at spying on it’s customers, surely it can figure out how to spy on it’s remote workers.

A large fleet of smart buses can criss-cross the bay area using on-the-fly routes that change as demand changes so, like uber, free from the constraints of fixed rail and timetables is much more efficient.


4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 16, 2019 at 8:13 am

I completely agree with George on express buses across the Bay Area region. Unfortunately what we have at present is far from what could be done.

As far as I can see, buses are the best way forward for Bay Area traffic but we have to get away from the present several agencies that cater for people who have all day to get where they are going. We need express routes that cross city and county boundaries as well as take us across the Bay. If Google can do it, so could another private entity. We could start with an efficient service between airports that we get at freeway ramps rather than downtown areas.


Posted by Leslie
a resident of Old Palo Alto

on Feb 16, 2019 at 12:43 pm


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1 person likes this
Posted by Buses ftw
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 16, 2019 at 1:09 pm

Buses ftw is a registered user.

@Leslie -- buses aren't good enough yet. We need to do much more with them. They are a better answer than HSR, because they use existing infrastructure, and can be greener than rail (and much much much greener than air). Here is one example of much-needed experimentation: Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 16, 2019 at 1:35 pm

"buses aren't good enough yet. We need to do much more with them."

It looks like ridecabin is a going concern that already has that covered.

No need for the State of California to get into the mass transit business. Let the private sector assume the risk.


26 people like this
Posted by bob
a resident of another community
on Feb 16, 2019 at 3:41 pm

@ "There is no need for the State to get into the mass-transit business"

It was the State that built all of the roads and airports.
The State currently spends $22.5bn per year maintaining these mass-transit networks, so I think the State is very much involved in the mass-transit business.

The plan for HSR is the State builds the right-of-way and a private company has a franchise to operates trains. No so different from existing options.


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Posted by Leslie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 16, 2019 at 4:16 pm

"It was the State that built all of the roads and airports."

It was Southern Pacific that built the rail infrastructure in California.

In common parlance, "mass transit" typically does not refer to individual autos on a highway such as I-5, 99 or 101. It refers to multi-passenger conveyances such as buses, trains, planes, etc.

"the State builds the right-of-way and a private company has a franchise to operates trains. No so different from existing options."

A lot different. Currently the RR tracks on the peninsula north of Tamien are owned by JPB. ACE and Amtrak lease trackage rights and the use of the San Jose station from JPB.

South of Tamien the ROW is owned by UPRR, with trackage rights leased to Caltrain and Amtrak.

ACE and Amtrak are not private companies.


8 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 16, 2019 at 11:08 pm

If they used the Interstate 5 route this would have already been completed. I-5 is land already purchased and crosses the mountains to LA. It could have been on an elevated rail system in the median of I-5. By ignoring the obvious route my feeling is that the actual intention was to take farm land by eminent domain.


5 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 17, 2019 at 9:53 am

"If they used the Interstate 5 route this would have already been completed. I-5 is land already purchased and crosses the mountains to LA."

Then we would be stuck with a multimillion-dollar white elephant, with trains running up and down the peninsula including Palo Alto.

They have no clue what the actual ridership would be or the actual ticket price or the actual costs or whether the system would break even, turn a profit or a loss. The cost estimates for HSR have been ballooning over the past few years. All they have are the made-up figures cooked up by Cambridge Systematics.

What bob doesn't understand is that CA HSR would be operated and maintained by an independent contractor who gets paid no matter what. This is how ACE and Caltrain operate (Caltrain has a five-year contract for $62.5 million). The independent contractor has no equity stake in the system and does not participate in the profit or loss or bear any of the business risk. The system would be owned by the State of California who would assume all of the business risk. If it loses money, the State of California (taxpayers like you and me) are on the hook for the loss as the state sinks further in debt.

Why should the state assume this business risk with a demonstrated unprofitable business like passenger rail, especially when there are myriad other travel options for getting around the state? The state is billions of dollars in debt and taxes are high enough already.


42 people like this
Posted by bob
a resident of another community
on Feb 17, 2019 at 11:18 am

@ "What bob doesn't understand is that CA HSR would be operated and maintained by an independent contractor who gets paid no matter what."

bob does understand.
German Train operator Deutsche Bahn has already been awarded the contract to operate the first trains.

Part of their contract is to develop the long term franchise agreement between the High Speed Rail Authority and the Operator.

The plan is: "in collaboration with the Authority through the development of concepts in the Franchise Agreement which seek to incentivize the Operator to deliver the Authority’s objective to operate the franchise without subsidy while at the same time ensuring the Operator makes an appropriate level of financial return ... it is anticipated that the Operator will be able to exercise a substantial degree of freedom in managing its business by concentrating on growing income and lowering costs"

Deutsche Bahn is the largest operator of multi-modal integrated transportation systems in the world with over 1,600 miles of high speed rail in Europe, so they know all about the economics of operating passenger trains systems.


7 people like this
Posted by Getting Out of Dodge
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 17, 2019 at 12:58 pm

Is a Sacramento to Bakersfield high-speed train route that critical?

I've been to Madera, Modesto, Manteca et al & the only high-speed transportation I'd like to see would be heading west or east rather than north > south.

No wonder nobody from around here wants to reside out that way...hot, red & so incredibly boring.


Like this comment
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 17, 2019 at 1:56 pm

"in collaboration with the Authority through the development of concepts in the Franchise Agreement which seek to incentivize the Operator to deliver the Authority’s objective to operate the franchise without subsidy while at the same time ensuring the Operator makes an appropriate level of financial return ... it is anticipated that the Operator will be able to exercise a substantial degree of freedom in managing its business by concentrating on growing income and lowering costs"

Who gets stuck with the losses?

There is nothing in that language to shield Operator or the Authority from financial loss.


7 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 17, 2019 at 4:07 pm

Breaking news from the Honolulu Star Advertiser:

"Feds subpoena Honolulu rail authority for construction documents"

"The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation has been served with a sweeping federal subpoena seeking construction documents in connection with the $9.2 billion rail project, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser has learned"

Link: Web Link

This kind of puts Newsom's recent move into a whole new light. Are Federal subpoenas in to works for CalHSR?


15 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 17, 2019 at 6:40 pm

Sanctimonious City is a registered user.

Liberal Progressive governments love perpetual, ever increasing, un-funded liabilities. In that perspective, HSR operating budgets would be no different than CA workers union pensions.

Imagine the votes that could be bought with that whopper!


39 people like this
Posted by @Sanctimonious Poster
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 17, 2019 at 6:49 pm

Spoken by someone who approves of a president that increased the national debt by $2 TRILLION -- in TWO years!


6 people like this
Posted by Sky
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 17, 2019 at 8:21 pm

interesting discussion. I feel people *might* largely underestimate the big? economy benefits of connecting LA/SF much closer.

It's OKAY to go by air, but it's not reliable and it's a lot of overhead, it's still considered as *heavy* to go to LA from SF, particularly it's not a easy thing to do on round trip within a day.
With HSR, which would be more reliable and overhead, people can go between LA and SF a LOT easier, for any business. for example, tech in silicon valley, and media industry in LA could be a lot closer and bring up a lot more disruptive innovations and accelerate the economy.
I don't have data point for that, but I think people in Asian believe the economy upside so investing so much on HSR, between large cities.


3 people like this
Posted by maguro_01
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 18, 2019 at 8:40 am

maguro_01 is a registered user.

A disturbing conclusion from this and other projects is that California simply cannot plan and execute large projects and should not try until it's possible.

So why have some more modestly sized projects apparently succeeded? Examples might be the 1000'+ Salesforce Tower in SF, Apple's donut in Cupertino, or Levi Stadium in Santa Clara. Or did they? Postmortems to the degree possible would be helpful. What worked and what didn't with reports on what was done, not who did it.

The Transbay Terminal and the Eastern span on the Bay Bridge have had problems. For the Terminal, if it has had the structural problems so far detected just sitting there, what problems may it have in a major earthquake? It's a "signature" structure. Does that mean that it's hard and expensive to simulate on computers? Its problems, at first glance, don't appear to be political or in project management but they could be. If simulations were required to be submitted with building plans for approval, would that add ten more years to every ambitious project with all the simulations being accused in court of being "fatally flawed"?

Claims that we have problems because California is too big and diverse are unlikely to be fundamental given the endless "Palo Alto Process" within one municipality. For example, it is unlikely that anything will be done about grade-level rail crossings. People will just have to live with increasing traffic jams and that's that.

It's not just California, of course. Boston's Big Dig was extended and way over cost, we read. We see that one reason the US is out of the nuclear power business is because such a building project can no longer be successfully executed here. It is even possible that the 1930's Hoover Dam project would not be possible today though there were no computers at that time.


3 people like this
Posted by RalphE
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 18, 2019 at 11:51 am

The president of Cal Train said last week that the train system is still going to be electrified from San Jose to San Francisco. They still plan on running two to three times the number of commute trains. You may as well close the four streets that cross the railroad tracks.


7 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 18, 2019 at 1:11 pm

"You may as well close the four streets that cross the railroad tracks."

Better to install quad gates and leave them as at-grade crossings as now.

"They still plan on running two to three times the number of commute trains."

They may add additional trains at peak hours when there is the most demand. Outside of peak hours there is much less demand and there is nothing overnight. Empty trains don't carry fare-paying passengers.

Have they put out a sample timetable for this expanded service?

I'll believe it when I see it.


3 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 18, 2019 at 3:45 pm

Sanctimonious City is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


13 people like this
Posted by @Sanctimonious Poster
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 18, 2019 at 3:50 pm

[Post removed.]


8 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 19, 2019 at 10:01 am

[Post removed.]

Just kidding. Was feeling left out.


6 people like this
Posted by Chet
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Feb 20, 2019 at 7:32 am

I am proud of the role we Palo Altons played in keeping this looming disaster out of California. Imagine all the people that could take a train right to our downtown then. It would have been scary.


4 people like this
Posted by Chad
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 20, 2019 at 8:08 am

I heard that Palo Alto was a good place to live. Now I’m not so sure. I just moved here for a job with google. I’m thinking of going back to Austin. It’s much more progressive and forward looking there. People here are so angry and fight about everything. This is a very toxic environment.


5 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 20, 2019 at 8:36 am

Sanctimonious City is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 20, 2019 at 12:52 pm

"I am proud of the role we Palo Altons played in keeping this looming disaster out of California."

What role was that?

The project was barreling along full-steam-ahead all those years Arnold and Jerry were in office until Newsom came along. Palo Alto was no more responsible for electing Newsom than the rest of the state.


Like this comment
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 20, 2019 at 1:46 pm

@maguro_01

This is a good article on the subject of "cost disease."

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 20, 2019 at 3:04 pm

Annette is a registered user.

@Leslie - I very much appreciate your comments about the cost of HSR. It's hard to imagine a costlier, less well managed project that is as important as HSR and with as many ramifications. If the numbers weren't so mind-bogglingly high I think the public would tolerate some level of loss IF that loss was offset by important though possibly unquantifiable gains such as a reduction in the number of SOV using our over-crowded highway system, an appreciable reduction in commute times for workers, better overall circulation, and measurable reduction in harmful emissions.


17 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Feb 20, 2019 at 5:13 pm

Old Steve is a registered user.

In the early sixties San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties both opted out of BART. Now both counties pay BART to operate here. We have bonding capacity for water projects, but we can't agree on how to spend it. Amtrak trains take forever in the Central Valley due to freight priorities. Flying and freeways are fine, but I-5 was closed for part of the weekend, not much capacity then.=) HSR is a shot into the future. All it would take would be oil at $100 a barrel again, and we'd be asking "Where's our HSR?". Visionaries build for the Future, the rest of us complain about decisions made in the Past. Self-driving cars and buses will be helpful, but remember when they need their own lanes, we'll be starting at $10 million per mile and going up.


22 people like this
Posted by Chet
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Feb 21, 2019 at 8:49 am

@Leslie:

Our persistent activism dramatically raised the project cost of the project and we erected several barriers to building HSR through or near our City. We knew we were being disingenuous with much of our opposition ("environmental" concerns about storm water runoff, idle exhaust and air pollution, etc) but we decided that the ends justify the means when protecting our piece of paradise. It worked and we should be proud.


10 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2019 at 12:46 pm

Graft, corruption, and incompetent management is what dramatically increased the cost of the project. If not for that, CalHSR would have likely steamrolled over Palo Alto's environmental concerns about storm water runoff, idle exhaust and air pollution, etc.


8 people like this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside
on Feb 21, 2019 at 1:08 pm

Government in the United States is simply too corrupt and inefficient to allow these large infrastructures to be built for anything approaching a sane cost. The good news is that HSR was never needed in the first place.


6 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2019 at 4:51 pm

Posted by Me 2, a resident of Old Palo Alto

>> This is a good article on the subject of "cost disease."

IMHO, CAHSR made two strategic mistakes. First, in starting to move dirt before they had the full, end-to-end right-of-way acquired. Unfortunately, politicians, both corporate and governmental, are always eager to show "immediate progress" and get the earthmovers digging too soon.

There are so many examples of how not to do it, but, an example of far better project planning that mostly succeeded (yes, I'm aware that there was a worksite death), was the new Stanford stadium constructed 2005-2006. Web Link Constructed Nov 26th 2005 - Sept 16 2006.

The point being that it really helps to get everything lined up before you start digging. Too bad CAHSR couldn't or wouldn't do that.

The second strategic mistake was making promises and commitments wrt downtown SF to downtown LA travel times and end-to-end service. They would have been much better off in restricting Phase 1 to the Burbank - San Jose segment, and leave the downtown SF and LA extensions for later.


Like this comment
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 21, 2019 at 6:14 pm

"the public would tolerate some level of loss IF that loss was offset by important though possibly unquantifiable gains such as a reduction in the number of SOV using our over-crowded highway system"

Annette: Point well taken, but for that they have the airlines. In addition, no one knows if HSR would lose a little money or a lot of money. It's a total crap shoot. They haven't even nailed down a ticket price and I've never seen an operating budget for such things as labor and the electrical power the trains will use, or even a sample timetable. CA HSR won't be a very good commute service given the limited number of stops anticipated.

Quentin Kopp, former head of CA HSRA, says in a YouTube video that CA HSR will be no faster than Amtrak (you have to hunt for the video).

"IMHO, CAHSR made two strategic mistakes. First, in starting to move dirt before"

Strategic mistake #1 was not realistically assessing market demand for HSR between S.F. and L.A. and how HSR would compete against air and auto travel.

"we erected several barriers to building HSR through or near our City."

This statement makes no sense. HSR was going to run up the peninsula through Palo Alto to S.F. no matter what Palo Alto had to say about it. It was going to run on land not owned by CPA so we couldn't erect "barriers" to keep HSR out. See "blended approach".


Like this comment
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 21, 2019 at 6:35 pm

Web Link

Quentin Kopp speaks at 1:45 in the video.

At 6:21 Quentin Kopp compares CA HSR to Amtrak.


2 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Feb 21, 2019 at 8:13 pm

Old Steve is a registered user.

@Anon:

Stanford was mostly well done, but a private financing source and a project at least 2 orders of magnitude smaller than the initial segment of HSR, means it is not a valid comparison. When construction costs are escalating rapidly, sometimes we have to start before everything is "nailed down". Stanford started before they had all the details as well, just operated in a more straightforward permit environment. Given the complications of the Pacheco and Tehachapi tunnels, starting HSR at either end would expend available funds without even being able to build a demonstration segment, making any federal funding a non-starter. Trump is unlikely to get his money back. Just another lawsuit for AG Bacerra to win!


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

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