Friday, April 30, 2010

Chinese High Speed Rail Fails

Before clocking out for the weekend, I have to take one more swipe at high speed rail. If ever there was a project that is contrary to conservative principles, it is this one. The State of California cannot afford this project, private funding is not coming through, and the powers that be-shockingly many of them claiming to be conservative Republicans themselves-will sell us as indentured servants to the Chinese to pay for this thing. But wait-even the Chinese are now admitting that THEIR high speed rail systems do not work as well as they hoped! The article below has been translated from a Chinese paper, and some clarity is lost in that translation, but government waste is a universal language that reaches across all cultural barriers.
Experts debate merits of high-speed rail
14:39, April 30, 2010
Experts argued on a TV talk show Tuesday about whether the construction of China's high-speed railway is the path to a low-carbon economy or simply a waste of energy and resources.

Zhao Jian, professor of Beijing Jiaotong University, said high-speed railways and high-standard networks are not good news for China's economy.

Zhang Lu, a senior rail analyst, responded that the construction of high-speed railways promotes an eco-friendly economy because it consumes electricity instead of coal or gasoline and has almost zero emissions. In addition, the construction of high-speed railways helps to adjust economic structure and promote development.

But Zhao Jian said generating electricity needs power. According to experts' research, when the speed of the high-speed railway in Britain increased to 350 kilometer per hour form 200 kilometer, the energy consumption increased to nearly the amount a plane consumes.

According to Japan's experiences, the high-speed railway has more advantages than airplanes for distances less than 500 kilometers, but is inferior to aircrafts for distances over 1,000 kilometers. And the higher standards of the high-speed railway cause it to not be compatible with the old rail lines.

For example, at least 128 pairs of trains from Wuhan to Guangzhou will be put into operation, but only 28, with only 50 percent of passenger load factor, run along the line.

The Beijing-Tianjin high-speed rail, in a densely-populated area of China, has only more than 100 kilometers and sees 700 million yuan in losses per a year.

Zhao believes China should stop the large-scale construction of high-speed rail and build large-scale road networks.

If the Wuhan-Guangzhou rail is an ordinary one, any transportation bottleneck along this line can be broken. Migrant workers in Guangzhou and the Pearl River Delta will never ride motorcycle to go back home.

China plans to build 18,000 kilometers of high-speed rail by the year of 2020.
By People's Daily Online

The Audit Debate Continues

This post is stolen quite shamelessly from activist Martin Engel. Thanks Marty.

There are numerous articles today about the State Audit of the high-speed rail's books. They all bring different issues to light. Here are two of them, including one from Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee, the Dean of California's political reporters.

Based on these articles, the actual Auditor report, all the prior Legislative Analyst's Office reports, the statements by Senators Simitian and Lowenthal, and the several reviews of the misconceived ridership numbers, a solid, unambiguous case is gradually coming together. The California High-Speed Rail Authority is leaving a trail of mis-management and incompetence. They persist in committing sins of omission and comission. It's time to say, sin no more!

Let me say that another way. The organization that has successfully convinced the California voters of the efficacy of this HSR project, has now become its own worst enemy. If this project is terminated or fails mid-stream, so to speak, it will be their own fault. If California loses the $2.34 billion ARRA stimulus fund award by 2012 (a credible possibility), it will the rail authority's own fault. If the Legislature and Governor fail to remove this Board, relieving them of their duties, and place this project within a competent Transportation organization in this state where it belongs, it will be THEIR fault.

What was to have become a legacy and vanity project for the Governor and the politicians closely affiliated with this project, will become a political mill-stone around their necks. It will certainly be a legacy, but just he opposite of what they have in mind.

It's time to bombard the Legislature and the Governor's office with letters. When is enough, enough?

When do we, mercifully, render a coup de grace and put this severely damaged creature to rest? When will our state government send out the clowns and bring in the professional grown-ups to run this project?

And, as DeSaulnier's new legislation suggests, anything this big ought to be subject to Legislative/Senate control, including the appointments to manage this project.

The first step is for the Legislature, both houses, to acknowledge that we cannot go on like this and major, fundamental changes are in order.

Final point: California is positioning itself as the high-speed rail leader in the US. So far, not so good. Unless things are turned around, and quickly, we will be the leader all right, but not they way we hoped for.

Good job, Ben Silverfarb.

Printed from THE DAILY JOURNAL, dtd. 04/30/2010

Auditor lists high-speed rail's pitfalls

April 30, 2010, 03:40 AM

By Bill Silverfarb Daily Journal staff

The California High-Speed Rail Authority risks delays or an incomplete system because of inadequate planning, weak oversight and lax contract management, according to a state auditor's report released yesterday.

The report by California State Auditor Elaine Howle is critical of the rail authority's reliance on federal funds to the tune of nearly $19 billion despite having no commitments beyond the $2.25 billion the state received in January in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.

The rail authority's plan for spending includes nearly $12 billion in federal and state funds through 2013, more than 2.5 times what is now available, according to the auditor's report.

The report was released just as legislation authored by state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, to increase oversight of how public money is spent on high-speed rail passed the Senate by a bipartisan vote of 26-8.

Senate Bill 965 will help expedite the creation of thousands of California jobs, according to DeSaulnier.

The auditor's report echoes concerns local leaders on the Peninsula have made for months - that the rail authority's business plan and ridership estimates are inaccurate and that there is not enough money to build the "right" system from San Jose to San Francisco.

The rail authority is planning a route with electrified bullet trains traveling from Los Angeles to San Francisco at a cost of more than $40 billion. It received a significant boost when voters approved Proposition 1A, a $9.95 billion bond in November 2008.

But Burlingame Mayor Cathy Baylock contends residents in her city approved the bond without the knowledge that the Caltrain corridor would be used to accommodate high-speed rail.

Burlingame, along with Belmont, Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto formed the Peninsula Cities Consortium in 2009 to put pressure on the rail authority to build the right system.

Three of those cities, Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto, sued the rail authority last year to try to force the system over the Altamont Pass as opposed to the Pacheco Pass.

The approach to sue, however, riled leaders in other cities who said litigation is only meant to delay the project and jeopardize hundreds of thousands of statewide jobs.
High-speed rail trains will not run through Daly City, for instance, but the city still has a stake in the project, said Councilman David Canepa.

Any attempt to stall the project, Canepa said, risks thousands of jobs on the Peninsula. Daly City's unemployment rate, after all, is about 12 percent, well above the rest of the county.

"Our unemployment rate is unacceptable," Canepa said. "This project will bring in white-collar and blue-collar jobs. Too many other cities have been dominating the conversation regarding high-speed rail. Let's get people to work."

The rail authority held public meetings in 2008 regarding its environmental impact report that concluded the Pacheco Pass, and therefore the Caltrain corridor, would be the preferred route for high-speed trains. But those meetings were held in San Jose and San Francisco, Baylock said, leaving the Peninsula's 17 other cities that straddle the train tracks without a voice in the review process.

Burlingame has made it clear it wants the tracks to be buried underground. The alternatives analysis document recently released by the rail authority highlights the track's vertical options as it zips through each city on the Peninsula.

In Burlingame, the tracks will either be in a cut-and-cover trench or on an aerial cement structure, according to the alternatives analysis report.

Neither option suits Burlingame, however, Baylock said.

"A 100-foot right-of-way would be needed for this project in Burlingame," Baylock said. "It will put our historic resources at risk and possibly split our city in two."
The rail authority estimates construction of a cut-and-cover trench in Burlingame alone to cost up to $1.2 billion.

"They better have the money before they break ground," Baylock said. "We're worried they will get it half built and then run out of money."

The announcement of $2.25 billion in federal stimulus money has also put pressure on competing segments of the project to get construction started as soon as possible so that more federal grants may be sought.

"All these things are closing in on us. There is a push to break ground to meet an artificial deadline for federal funds," Baylock said.

Baylock is also not happy with the rail authority's contention that if a city wants the tracks buried then the city needs to pay for it.

"We do not have $900 million sitting around," Baylock said.

An idea to float local bonds to pay for the added expense of tunneling tracks, for instance, has gained steam in recent weeks.

Palo Alto Mayor Pat Burt has suggested a regional bond measure should be considered to build the "right" system. Burt is also critical of Caltrain's contention that it will fail financially if high-speed rail trains do not one day come up the Peninsula.

Caltrain needs to electrify and grade separate all of its crossings to maintain future service, an impossibility without rail authority money.

Burt wants Caltrain to have a plan "B."

The state auditor, in yesterday's report, wants high-speed rail to also have a plan "B."

"The program risks significant delays without more well developed plans for obtaining or replacing federal funds," according to the state auditor's report.

Creating a viable funding plan may be a challenge as matched funding for the least expensive corridor eligible for Recovery Act funds - Los Angeles to Anaheim - amounts to $4.5 billion, while projected costs total $5.5 billion, according to the auditor's report. Barring additional non-Proposition 1A funding, the rail authority may have to settle for a plan covering less than a complete corridor. The rail authority must decide relatively quickly which corridors will receive federal funds, according to the auditor's report.

DeSaulnier's legislation is meant to address some of the state auditor's concerns.

"SB 965 provides the oversight needed to assure that the concerns of the state auditor are resolved," according to DeSaulnier. "Additionally, because of some of the mismanagement issues identified in the report, I am asking the Senate leaders to consider whether those appointed to the Authority in the future should be subject to Senate confirmation. This would include a public hearing where these kinds of problems can be anticipated, discussed and avoided."

Bill Silverfarb can be reached by e-mail: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.

Here is a point that I have made before. One major trigger in the Recession from which we are now ostensibly emerging was the sub-prime mortagage/housing bubble. This HSR project is also a form of sub-prime mortgage. The bond issue funds, anticipated private investments and other capital revenue borrowing to build the train are not yet in hand and may well never materialize. The State bonds are to be released only on a matching basis. Essentially, it's all going to be borrowed money. The federal funds are also borrowed, but are expected as a 'gift' for the State.

There will be interest payments due and, at the end, a return of principal to the lenders. None of that funding is in hand and it looks very iffy. Nonetheless, the rail authority is going ahead, making vast committments that they can't cover, even with loans. That is one definition of a sub-prime mortgage.

Like Wall Street, they are gambling with our money.

One scenario maye that they will start digging holes, run out of cash, and have to foreclose/default on the initial investments and what they have started. The rail authority, in its arrogance, believes itself to be "too big to fail" and will get bailed out by the federal government.

CHSRA, don't count on it.

Dan Walters, a senior journalist for the Sacramento Bee, has written this article about the State Audit for the Modesto Bee.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

HSR meeting in Fullerton tonight

The Friends for a Livable Fullerton sent this out, and it is worth watching, as their leg of the Anaheim to Los Angeles segment ties into Anaheim's. I willbe attending, hope they get a good crowd. If you cannot make it in person, you can watch at the link shown below.
***High-Speed Rail in Fullerton - Community Meeting

Thursday, April 29, 2010, 5 to 8 p.m., presentation at 6 p.m.

Fullerton Senior Center, 340 W. Commonwealth Ave., across from the Fullerton Public Library

Free parking at Senior Center and City Hall / Served directly by OCTA bus route 26 (Commonwealth).

OCTA routes 24 (Chapman), 43 (South Harbor), and 143 (North Harbor, Brea Blvd.) are a short walk away.

Can’t attend in person? Watch the presentation live online and participate in the discussion at April 29, 2010 at 6 p.m.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) will host a public open house in the City of Fullerton to provide the community with a project update, information about the proposed alternative alignments, design options, and station locations being considered, as well as details pertaining to the environmental process.

Residents will be able to see which areas might be needed for right-of way acquisition.

Fullerton is being considered for a station, in competition with Norwalk for the only other station between Anaheim and Los Angeles.

CHSRA is planning high-speed train service for travel between major metropolitan areas of California. The high-speed train is proposed to connect Anaheim to San Francisco in less than three hours. The Los Angeles to Anaheim high-speed train section proposes to travel adjacent to the existing Los Angeles to San Diego Rail Corridor from LA Union Station to the future Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (ARTIC), although OCTA and Metro are now proposing a shared-track agreement.

For more information, call the CHSRA at (877) 724-5422 or visit
*** Friends for a Livable Fullerton Contact Info:
Phone: (714) 607-0380
Postal: 149 W. Whiting Ave., Fullerton , CA 92832

Monday, April 26, 2010

High Speed Rail: A Warning and a Prediction

By Cynthia Ward

While we celebrate the survival, at least in an amended form, of Diane Harkey’s AB2121, as reported by Matt Cunningham we need to keep in mind that the folks in Sacramento are constantly introducing bills to siphon more and more money into the High Speed Rail program, even while it is still under study! Not a single segment of the project has completed its Environmental Review, and yet, AB289 (Galgiani) attempts to go ahead and immediately grab over $2 Billion dollars in the ARRA funds we were awarded, to begin use on a single segment!

“This bill would appropriate $2.25 billion to the authority from federal ARRA funds awarded to the state for high-speed rail purposes and would identify the corridors eligible for those funds.”

Their reasoning?

“This bill would declare that it is to take effect immediately as an urgency statute.”

What is so urgent about a project that has not yet completed its Environmental Review?

Believe it or not, the folks in the Obama Administration are not completely out of the loop. The Feds know California is behind the 8-ball on the studies. They get it. They do not get much else, but they get this. If those bean counters in Washington have figured out that the Golden State’s custom tailoring has left the Emperor strutting along the El Camino Real bare-butt-naked, then by golly we better just spend their money before Washington takes it all back! Our tax dollars at work, folks.

Here is my prediction-and I am no rail expert by any stretch-but I am smart enough to surround myself with others who are experts. Based on what I have heard, read, and can guess at, I predict that:

A) Someone (likely Galgiani, who loves to write these inane bills for HSR hoping to bring jobs to her District) will introduce a bill, or amend a bill already in place, that allows the CHSRA to skirt around the requirements of AB3034, and allow construction of any segment with “independent utility” to use ARRA funds, as well as allow the sale of those Prop1A bonds, to build one segment without the rest of the system being cleared as currently required by law. Keep an eye out for this.

B) I predict the Anaheim to Los Angeles segment will be the first to begin construction. Indeed I have repeatedly heard HSR experts refer to Anaheim to Los Angeles as having “independent utility”, and therefore they can build it even if no other segment ever gets done!

C) Now this part is not a prediction of my own, but a repeating of HSR’s own studies. The HSR systems of other continents run through greenfield development in straight lines, not the gerrymandered route of the California system as planned. We are shoving the square peg of HSR into the round hole of a rail line run 100 years ago to serve the needs of an entirely different transportation system. If the HSR system is built alongside the current Amtrak-Metrolink line, the engineering limitations of 100 year old curves in the track, starts and stops for promised stations, and noise and vibration limitations of use in an urban setting, limit the speeds at which the train can travel, pretty much negating the idea of running a “bullet train”. In fact, the CHSRA’s own documents show a time savings of HSR from Anaheim to Los Angeles of only TWENTY MINUTES over the current Amtrak schedule!

Yes, we could very well spend billions of dollars that came from our pockets before becoming “stimulus funds”, combined with billions more that must be paid back, with interest, as State Bond sales, and potentially lose private homes and businesses in 2 counties, in order to save twenty minutes off someone’s commute! All that with no promise of this system connecting northward to San Francisco, if we spend all of the money here at home! Don’t think so? This is brought to you by the same government that values the lives of delta smelt over food crops.

I may well be mistaken, in fact hope and pray I am wrong. But I figure I can put this out there as an estimate of what may happen, and hope that others will help me watch for these signs, much like we watch for signs and wonders indicative of the Second Coming (hopefully before Obamacare takes effect). We can all check back with each other in a year or so, and hopefully have a good laugh at my expense. Because if I am right, none of us will be laughing.

TAGS: Diane Harkey, Cathleen Galgiani, high speed rail

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Local Politician Takes a Stand

This is an opinion piece from Fullerton Councilmember Shawn Nelson. Shawn is running for 4th District County Supervisor, which would give him a seat on the OCTA Board, and therefore a voice in high speed rail. Please vote for him on June 8 for the Primary. He is a good guy. If you would like to help with the campaign, contact me and i will plug you in.

Friday, April 9, 2010

good news for once

Here is the latest update. I am up here on the peninsula for HSR meetings, and have some good news.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Spinmachine Backfires on HSR leaders

Here is another of my long rambling diatribes, but I missed much over the last few days, and we need to catch up, so bear with me. I promised myself I would not blog over the holiday weekend, but boy did my email inbox fill with links from others who wanted to be sure I was in the loop on the latest High Speed Rail fracas. Oddly enough the firestorm appears to have been set off by those who are in charge of the operation!

First we had a letter written last week from OCTA and MTA to the CHSRA Board, telling them in the nicest way possible to go pound sand. The local transportation community is taking a stand against an arrogant organization, who has literally been designing the system without agreements from those transportation organizations that control the right of way. This is why the “public outreach” meetings lack real information regarding how much property needs to be taken, leaving the public twisting in the wind over whether they will have a home or a business in a year or two! After seeing CHSRA ride roughshod over local citizens, local governments, and in some cases the projects of OCTA and MTA themselves, the two groups got together and sent off a letter telling CHSRA that they need to look at shared track options again, in an effort to get them to stop designing an invasive system that destroys neighborhoods. Or, as my neighbor Kevin so eloquently put it, “we're going to design this as if we were building it in a context-free bubble on the moon.”

The irony of this is not lost on us, as Curt Pringle has a seat at the table at the OCTA Board, and he has publicly supported OCTA’s Kris Murray for Anaheim City Council. That request from OCTA-MTA will be considered by the CHSRA Board on Wednesday in San Jose, and I am flying up to watch that bundle of bottle rockets go off, and will report in from a peninsula Starbucks.

Meanwhile, Curt Pringle launched his own press opportunity, working hard to sell the project.

His spin was picked up, and disputed, by online press throughout California. Both the new media outlet Voice of OC and Sign on San Diego grabbed it and ran as well as the local blogs in Fullerton and even the Orange Juice people, who received some scathing comments about Curt’s involvement. Ironically, the OC Register continues to ignore the issue.

But the 800 pound gorilla was the LA Times piece that ran yesterday, which included quotes from the transportation leaders who are pushing back on high speed rail.,0,226389.story

The MTA and OCTA have become very vocal about their position on this project, with the Times reporting, "We are big-time unhappy with the conduct of the high-speed authority," Leahy told the officials who oversee the Los Angeles-to-San Diego train corridor.

"I really can't understand their approach," he said. "In many cases they've ridden roughshod over the host of cities in Orange County and in Los Angeles. They have ignored input and there are assumptions that are just astonishing."

Among other things, Leahy questioned designing the system to run trains every five minutes. "That's extraordinary," he said. And widening the corridor to add dedicated bullet train tracks could require taking out hundreds of homes in Anaheim alone, he noted. "I mean, just crazy stuff," he said, according to a recording of the session obtained by The Times.

If the planning process does not become more rational, Leahy warned, "I don't think there is going to be a project."

I feel for Curt, he has committed a lot of years to this beast, introducing the idea the first time back when he was Speaker, so to watch the thing come unraveling before his eyes has to be frustrating. Many are convinced that his passion for this project has destroyed his objectivity, because nobody with a sense of fiscal responsibility to the taxpayers of California could possibly believe what the spinmeisters are telling us about this project. The LAO has vilified the HSRA’s Business Plan after the HSRA turned it in over a month later than required by law, and incomplete. Among the charges by LAO:

The report lacked specifics required by law under AB3034, and fails to include details required by law, including inadequate and incomplete discussion of risk. The report includes an uninformative timeline, lacking definitive and measurable milestones against which progress can be determined. That is handy for the contractors, but not very constructive for those of us who expect some level of accountability for how our money is being spent. The LAO says the report lacks risk management strategy, and includes projections for ridership, costs, etc, based upon unknown factors. (Are they guessing at how many people will ride it and how much it will cost? Magic 8 Ball?) The report bounces all over the place on scheduling, with an inconsistent timeline that claims procurement of equipment prior to regulatory approval.

But the really big argument against this project comes through review of the financial claims. While Prop 1A explicitly forbids operating subsidies, the CHSRA seems to want to skirt that issue by calling it a “ridership guarantee”. AB3034 promoted this as a profitable project that would fill the coffers of the State saying, “those revenues shall be deposited in the General Fund.” AB3034 also assumed that the taxpayers would never bear the full burden of the construction, claiming, “revenues generated by operations above and beyond operation and maintenance costs shall be used to complete construction of the high speed train system.” So we were sold the pig in a poke of high speed rail never being subsidized, paying for its own costs, and generating revenue, only to find that we will pay the full weight of construction, either through “local contributions” or Federal Stimulus dollars (picking our pockets one way or another) and we will subsidize the cost of running this boondoggle with “ridership guarantees” to the private parties who will run it. Private parties from out of the country by the way, those jobs generated will not be our home town heroes.

And the California State Senate Republican Caucus lit into the program, calling it the “Big Dig West” which seems appropriate since the largest contractor so far is Parsons Brinkerhoff, the same folks who are over-budget and answering some nasty charges for the Boston Big Dig.

And yet, when “we the people” question the value of our money spinning into the porcelain vortex, we are labeled NIMBYs and lives and livelihoods are threatened.

When asked to comment on Diane Harkey’s AB2121, which would cut off finding for this boondoggle, Rod Diridon Jr. said, "It's interesting that one person has tried to put herself above the people of the state of California."

Actually, Mr. Diridon, I think YOU and your HSRA Board have put yourselves above the people of California by continuing to promote, and publicly misrepresent, a project that no longer complies with the Prop 1A that the people of California voted for.

Diane Harkey’s AB2121 will be heard by the Transportation Committee on April 19th, and I have heard a tremendous outpouring of support for the bill, from unexpected sources! Clearly there must be enough support for the bill to make the HSR people nervous or they would never have gone to the trouble of defending their project in the press. While AB2121 may have initially looked like jousting with windmills, it appears to have at least a fair chance of making it to the next level. For those who understand that the emperor is naked and we are overpaying the tailor, Harkey’s office would love to hear from you. Contact Sharon Gonsalves (916) 319-2073sharon.gonsalves for more information on the bill and how you can support it.

In the meantime, the spin of Pringle and Diridon and Barker is failing and failing big. And I have the full inbox to show for it.