Against California High Speed Rail

Against California High Speed Rail by Mark R. Powell

“Support for High-Speed Rail is higher now than when California voters approved funding”……Really??

A Factually Incorrect Survey Question Needs to be Corrected

Critics say opposition to the project is at an all-time high while proponents claim support for it is at an all-time high.  This contradiction was succinctly stated in Congresswoman Lofgren’s  January OpEd piece (authored jointly with Congressman Costa and Congresswoman Hahn) entitled “Another View: Debate about high-speed rail should be based on facts” where she and her colleagues wrote:

“They (Denham, McCarthy, and Coupal) say that opposition to the project is at an all-time high. But recent polls show support for the project is higher now than when California voters approved funding in 2008.” [Note 1]

A staffer working in Congresswoman Lofgren’s San Jose Office confirmed that the poll cited is the Public Policy Institute of California Statewide Survey: Californians and Their Government.  PPIC has conducted this poll annually in March for the past three years. The survey’s high-speed rail question asks:

“As you may know, California voters passed a $10 billion state bond in 2008 for planning and construction of a high-speed rail system from Southern California to the Central Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area. The estimated costs associated with the 800-mile high speed rail system are about $68 billion over the next 20 years. Do you favor or oppose building a high-speed rail system in California?” [Note 2]

However, this is a fictitious question.  Estimated costs associated with the 800-mile high speed rail system will NOT be about $68 billion over the next 20 years.  The rail authority’s recent business plans put the cost of the 520-mile segment connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles at between $68 and $80 billion [Note 3] and they have not given the public an estimate for the cost or completion date for the entire 800-mile statewide system in nearly a decade.  No Californian knows how much a statewide system will cost or when it would ever be completed.

A second error in the question is the phase suggesting that Californians voted in 2008 to approve “planning and construction of a high-speed rail system from Southern California to the Central Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area.”  The 800-miles of rail approved by the voters would have connected “the major metropolitan areas of San Francisco, Sacramento, through the Central Valley, into Los Angeles, Orange County, the Inland Empire (San Bernardino and Riverside Counties), and San Diego.” [Note 4]  The fact that a $68 billion expenditure would still leave Sacramento and San Diego without a connection to high speed rail is totally obscured to the survey’s respondents.

In spite of wording that biases respondents to favorably answer the question, the survey’s results for the past three years are anything but favorable as the following table illustrates.


                                                  Likely Voters                                  All Adults  
Year                     Favor   Opposed    Don’t Know    Favor  Opposed  Don’t Know
2012                      43%       53%            4%              51%      45%        4% [Note 5]
2013                      43%       54%            3%              48%      50%        2% [Note 6]
2014                      45%       50%            5%              53%      42%        5% [Note 7]
Actual 2008 Voters   52.6%   47.4%                           


Likely Voters now consistently oppose the project they once approved, even when worded in a fictitiously favorable light, while All Adults vacillate in their opinion.

The Public Policy Institute of California will shortly be asking this question again in their 2015 Statewide Survey.  PPIC has been notified about the errors in their survey question as have the Congressmen and Congresswomen who site the polling data.  Hopefully the question will be rewritten to be factual.  Something along the following lines was suggested to the PPIC.

“As you may know, California voters passed a $10 billion state bond in 2008 for planning and construction of a high-speed rail system connecting the major metropolitan areas of San Francisco, Sacramento, through the Central Valley, into Los Angeles, Orange County, the Inland Empire, and San Diego. The 2008 Official Voter Guide showed an estimated cost of $45 billion for the 800 mile high speed rail system  to be spent over the next 20 years. The Rail Authority now estimates spending $68 to $80 billion   on 520 miles of the system connecting the San Francisco Bay Area to the Los Angeles Basin by the year 2029  and provides no cost or completion date for the entire 800 mile statewide system.  At this time no track has been constructed.  Do you favor or oppose building a high-speed rail system in California?”

Polling should play a role in the formation and implementation of state policies.  But to be meaningful, the survey questions need to be factually correct.  Let’s hope PPIC gets it right in this year’s Statewide Survey.

A New California High-Speed Train Environmental Study is Required


Work on the Statewide HST Environmental Impact Report was started nearly two decades ago  and all of its key environmental and economic assumptions have proven false. [Note 1]

Today, Project Level EIR’s for track sections from Merced to Fresno and Fresno to Bakersfield continue to reference the benefits publicized in the Statewide Environmental Study as justification for the local environmental damage caused by the construction and operation of the train even though all key economic and environmental assumptions made in the original study have proven false.  More importantly, the statewide system described in the original study will probably never be built.

Then and Now
The line connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles was to be in service by January 1, 2016 with lines to Sacramento, San Diego, and Irvine in service by January 1, 2019. [Note 2]   Now the Rail Authority hopes to piece together a blended system of high-speed rail and local commuter lines linking San Francisco and Los Angeles by 2029 [Note 3]  and remains silent on a completion date for the entire system.

The Statewide HST System was to cost as little as $33 billion. [Note 4]   Now the Rail Authority has said it could cost nearly $100 billion to link San Francisco to Los Angeles [Note 5] and they have refused for the last decade to update their projected cost for the entire statewide system.

The economic benefits and environmental impacts of only the Statewide HST System were compared to two statewide alternatives; the  No Project and Modal Alternatives.  Projected population growth made the No Project Alternative “neither a viable nor realistic alternative” [Note 6]  and the Modal Alternative, requiring most of 2,970 miles of new freeway lanes, 90 new airport gates and 5 new runways in service by January 1, 2016 and the remainder by January 1, 2019 [Note 7] was judged to be environmentally and structurally inferior to the HST system while costing more than twice as much to build. [Note 8]  Now the Rail Authority proposes an operating system as small as one linking Merced to San Fernando while new California Department of Finance data [Note 9]  indicates that the population growth originally envisioned [Note 10] will be delayed by more than three decades making the No Project Alternative quite feasible and Modal Alternative unnecessary.

Energy savings were based on Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards for automobiles and light trucks (27.5mpg and 20.7mpg respectively) enacted in the late 1990’s. [Note 11]  Now new standards doubling fuel economy will be in place before the first train is scheduled to run. [Note 12]

Supply and demand projections for the electricity needed to power the train were only available out to the year 2008, but showed ample supply. [Note 13]  Now new CAFE Standards spurring the use of electric vehicles, the shutdown of San Onofre nuclear power, and an aging transmission system make the electrical power to drive the train anything but certain.

Greenhouse gas emissions arising from construction were not quantified nor was their environmental impact evaluated.  Now Sacramento politicians, through passage of California’s Global Warming Initiative,  have decided that  that CO2 emissions are a threat to the environment.  The construction of the Statewide HST System will be extremely energy intensive and result in the need for massive quantities of concrete production (responsible for nearly 2% of all  U.S. CO2 emissions). [Note 14]   Yet CO2 emissions caused by construction of the Statewide HST System and the means to mitigate these emissions remains unstudied.

The train was to be financed mostly by federal grants and private equity.  Now the Rail Authority has no secure funding source to complete even a line linking Merced to San Fernando.

The risk of an incomplete HST system was not evaluated. Now it is the predominant risk  and Federal Grant Agreements for construction of HST in the Central Valley call for more than $100 million to be set aside in an  “Interim Use Reserve” to be used, if necessary, to tie  HST track into existing track used by Amtrak to provide “operational independence” [Note 15] in the event of a failed HST system.

Federal and State Law Mandate a New Statewide HST Study
Under both the National Environmental Protection Act and the California Environmental Quality Act a new statewide HST environmental study is mandated when (1)substantial changes are made to the project or (2)new information arises that would significantly change the analysis of impacts. [Note 16]

Clearly, the Authority’s original proposal has changed substantially and new information significantly affecting the analysis of impacts is available.  Now is the time, before the Authority condemns more property in the Central Valley and releases its bulldozers on family homes, farms, schools, and businesses, to demand a moratorium on all HST construction activities until a new study is prepared demonstrating that the environmental damage caused by the Statewide HST System is justified by its benefits.

High Speed Rail – the TRUTH!

Corrupt behavior at the offices of the California High Speed Rail Authority would be a surprise to nobody.  In early November information was sent to this blog’s administrator alleging such corrupt and illegal practices at CHSRA, but the sender provided no way to contact him/her to begin verifying the accusations. As everything posted on this blog is painstakingly documented, a follow-up email with contact information is requested.

Farmer’s Lawsuit Against Rail Authority and Lawless State Government Moves Forward

“We cannot expect people to have respect for law and order until we teach respect to those we have entrusted to enforce those laws.”
― Hunter S. Thompson

Following the appropriation of rail bonds by the state legislature this past July, the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) began adding highly paid executives to its staff and embarked on a spending spree to advance the rail project.  Against the formidable forces of the state stand two Kings County farmers, their lawyer, and the Law. Continue reading

Lessons Learned from High Speed Railroaders…of Public Funds

High Speed Railroaders, Governor Brown and democrats in the State Legislature, possess an insatiable appetite for taxpayer money. California has the highest sales tax and the highest gasoline tax in the nation [Note 1] [Note 2].  Our maximum state income tax rate of 10.3% is second only to Hawaii’s 11% [Note 3] and yet the railroaders propose sales and income tax increases they hope voters will approve this coming November [Note 4].  The railroaders’ problem is not lack of revenue. Theirs is a spending problem.  To say  railroaders spend money like a drunken sailor is an insult to drunken Continue reading

Let Your Voice Be Heard…Now

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” (Edmund Burke)

Do something good.  Don’t let evil and crony capitalism triumph.  Take a few minutes to write to your state legislators (senator and assemblyman) or better yet, call their office(s) and voice your opposition to Brown’s Boondoggle.  Voice your concern over the high cost, non-existent funding plan, unfounded ridership claims, environmental damage, or anything else you find offensive about the high speed rail project.   Make your voice heard now before the legislature votes this week to release billions of your tax dollars to begin construction of the high speed Train to Nowhere.

Your legislators’ email addresses and phone numbers are only a click away.

Good luck and thank you for your time.

Mark R. Powell
Against California High Speed Rail

Release of California Rail Bonds May Be Ruled Illegal

An Argument Against the California Legislature’s Release of $2.7 Billion in Proposition 1A Rail Bonds
As a safeguard against what might be termed a “stranded investment”, the Californian High Speed Rail Authority is required to submit to the legislature (and other parties) a “detailed funding plan for the corridor or usable segment thereof”, for which they are seeking state bond funds [Note 1].

AB 3034 section 2704.01 paragraphs (d) through (g) define important terms:
(d) “High-speed train” means a passenger train capable of sustained revenue operating speeds of at least 200 miles per hour where conditions permit those speeds.
(e) “High-speed train system” means a system with high-speed trains and includes, but is not limited to, the following components: right-of-way, track, power system, rolling stock, stations, and
associated facilities.
(f) “Corridor” means a portion of the high-speed train system as described in Section 2704.04.
(g) “Usable segment” means a portion of a corridor that includes at least two stations.

In their Draft 1012 Business Plan released in November 2011 the Authority proposed building an “Initial Construction Segment” (ICS) in the Central Valley using roughly $3.3 billion in federal funds and $2.7 billion in state rail bonds.  The proposed ICS was not to be electrified and there was to be no high-speed rolling stock.  In other words, it would not be ready for high-speed train service when completed. Opponents of high-speed rail Continue reading

California Rail Authority and Senators Question the Legality of the Revised 2012 Business Plan

State Senators ask Legislative Counsel and Rail Authority asks Attorney General to Comment on Legality of the Business Plan.
Senator Joseph Simitian, Chairman of Budget Subcommittee, and Senator Mark DeSaulnier, Chair of the Policy Committee on Transportation wrote to the Legislative Counsel, Ms. Diane Boyer-Vine on April 18 in search of an opinion on the legality of the Authority’s Revised 2012 Business Plan.  The entire body of their letter reads as follows:

On April 12, 2012 the California High Speed Rail Authority adopted a “business plan” for the statewide high speed rail project.  We are writing to ask your office to review the adopted plan and advise us as to whether or not the plan is legally compliant with the provisions of Proposition 1A, as approved by the voters in Continue reading

Rail Authority Puts Lipstick On Their High-Speed Pig

Makeover depicted in new Revised Draft 2012 Business Plan
The California High-Speed Rail Authority’s Draft 2012 Business Plan released in November of 2011 (November Plan) was widely criticized for starting construction in the Central Valley, high costs, lack of a credible funding plan, and its completion date of 2033.  But a careful read of the Revised Draft 2012 Business Plan (April Plan) released the Monday following April Fool’s Day reveals the same foul Continue reading

Rail Authority admits in Senate Hearing it lacks a clear Funding Plan

And yet they still propose spending $6 billion on a Central Valley Railroad

Dan Richard, Chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, told Senators and the public at a Senate Hearing held March 13 that with respect to the about-to-be-released Revised 2012 Business Plan:

“I don’t believe we are going to be able to look you in the eye or look the public in the eye and tell them that we have any greater clarity about the funding today than we did on November 1st when we issued our draft plan.” [Note 1]

The risk of a $6 billion “stranded investment” in the Central Valley
The Authority was created sixteen years ago and tasked with preparing a high-speed intercity rail plan and to “designate an entity with stable and predictable Continue reading