Against California High Speed Rail

Against California High Speed Rail by Mark R. Powell

High-Speed Rail Evolution

A History of Deceit and Broken Promises
With a lull in news about California’s high-speed rail project as both proponents and opponents await the release of the Final 2012 Business Plan it is worth looking back over the past two decades at the promises and the reality of this project.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority was created in 1996 so that California might “have a comprehensive network of high-speed intercity rail systems by the year 2020.  To achieve this goal it was to immediately “begin preparation of a high-speed intercity rail plan similar to California’s former freeway plan and designate an entity with stable and predictable funding sources to implement the plan.” [Note 1]

Early Promises (2000 Business Plan)
Now mostly forgotten, and with only remnants of the plan still available on the Authority’s website, this plan’s highlights promised:
• 6 years of environmental and preliminary design work followed by a 10 year construction schedule for the statewide system that would connect all major metropolitan areas [Note 2].
• a $25 billion cost (expressed in 1999 dollars) [Note 3].
• a proposal to fund the project with a temporary sales Continue reading

Hints of a New Path for California High Speed Rail

Senator Feinstein and Bay Area Representatives Call for Initial Construction in Bay Area.
Two high profile letters to the proponents of high-speed rail hint at a major shift in construction plans.  The most recent, a letter from Senator Diane Feinstein to Governor Brown [note 1], culled seven action items from the recent High-Speed Rail Peer Group Report and urged these “be addressed quickly with a concerted effort under your leadership”.

1. select an initial operating segment as soon as possible,
2. include a deployment plan for electrified high speed trains with positive train control systems,
3. further develop the business plan to address risk and cost issues,
4. involve the private sector in project design,
5. increase project management capacity,
6. subject demand forecasts to greater scrutiny, and
7. “reduce the risk to the state of a stranded project” by investing initial funding in the segments that currently serve significant train ridership (San Jose to San Francisco Continue reading

California’s High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group…

…Knowledgeable, accomplished, well-educated and definitely NOT “peers” of the Rail Authority
The Peer Review Group is composed of successful engineers, scientists, and economists with expertise in transportation and large infrastructure projects.  The group notably contains no lawyers or persons who have ever held elective office.  Their backgrounds are in stark contrast with their supposed “peers” on the California High-Speed Rail Authority (the Authority) who’s membership includes four lawyers (three who have served in elective office) and two union organizers in addition Continue reading

California High-Speed Rail’s Fraudulent Funding Plan

Rail Authority Relies on Non-Existent Federal Programs and All $9 Billion of Proposition 1A Bonds to Build the Initial Operating Section.

The voter approved High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act, Proposition 1A, stipulates that a funding plan must be in place for a usable high-speed rail corridor before any Rail Bonds can be released for construction of that corridor [Note 1]. 

The California High-Speed Rail Authority’s Draft 2012 Business Plan purports to show funding plans for usable Continue reading

Californians Turn 2 to 1 Against High Speed Rail

Only Californians Aligned with the “Occupy Movement” Remain Strongly Supportive.
A Field Poll [Note 1] conducted by telephone between November 15-27, 2011 involving 1000 randomly selected registered California voters posed the following question:

“Suppose that 9 billion dollars in state bonds for the California High Speed Rail project were put before voters again in a statewide election ballot. If the election were being held today, would you vote Yes to approve or No to reject this bond package?”

In a stunning rebuke of the California High-Speed Rail Project and Continue reading

High-Speed Rail Ridership Forecasts are Preposterous!

The California High-Speed Rail Authority’s newest Business Plan forecasts that when Phase 1 is completed in 2033, 8.7 million high-speed train (HST) trips will be made annually between San Francisco and Los Angeles/Anaheim [Note 1] [Note 2].   These 8.7 million HST riders must essentially come from two sources; airline passengers or automobile passengers.  Listed below are three reasons why airline and automobile passengers will not switch to the HST in anywhere near the numbers claimed by the Rail Authority.

Reason #1    Travel Times by HST are Closer to Driving than to Flying.
Traveling by high-speed train between the Bay Area and the LA Basin will take  2 ½  hours longer than flying.  While the Authority speaks of traveling from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 2 hours and 40 minutes on an Express Train, Express Trains will be the exception and not the rule.  According to the Peak and Non-Peak Train Schedules [Note 3] included in the 2012 Draft Business Plan only 22% of trains will be Express Trains  and the average time for all trains traveling between San Francisco and Los Angeles Continue reading

New Plan Says Phase 1 of California High Speed Rail Could Cost $117.6 Billion…..Plus Finance Charges of another $94 Billion

Rail Authority suggests simply charging it all to the American Debt card
California’s High-Speed Rail Authority (the Authority) rolled out their 2011 Business Plan first to the press and then later put the entire plan on-line.  The Authority’s practice of dribbling out selective information to the press resulted in banner headlines across the state that read, “High-Speed Rail Could Cost $98.5 Billion”.  A thorough reading of the Authority’s plan reveals that $98.5  Billion is merely the low end of a range of cost estimates that go up to $117.6 Billion  depending on the route and the construction features. [Note 1]  And these costs totally ignore the interest over the next 22 years on the borrowed Continue reading

A Peek at the Pathetic Situation of California High-Speed Rail

Much like a failing student who delays bringing home a report card, California’s High-Speed Rail Authority  (the Authority) is stalling in the delivery of their Business and Funding Plans.  However, the state legislature passed  AB-115 in June requiring minimal Business and Funding Plan details be reported to them by October 14, 2011 as a requirement for the Authority accessing the second half of money budgeted for it this fiscal year.  This just released information gives considerable insight into the wretched state of the soon to be released High-Speed Continue reading

High Speed Rail Business Plan Release Will Miss Critical Deadline

In a press release where the headline, “High-Speed Rail to Release Business Plan Nov. 1” ,is at odds with the wording of its first paragraph, California’s High Speed Rail Authority announced a delay in meeting a critical deadline for their project. 

Board Chairman Tom Umberg today directed California High-Speed Rail Authority staff to postpone its planned release of the business plan until at least Nov. 1 to give Gov. Jerry Brown’s new appointees a chance to fully immerse themselves in the plan and offer their own feedback.”      [emphasis added]  [Note 1]

More importantly, the delay is at odds with comments made by the Authority’s CEO, Roelof van Ark, in the Authority’s Finance Committee meeting of March 2, 2011. [Note 2]  In that meeting the following exchange took place between Board Member Kopp and CEO van Ark:

Member Kopp:
 “Let me ask another question.  What is the present date for formulation and publication of our revised Business or our Financial Plan.  Is it October?”

CEO van Ark:
“October the 14th .”

Member Kopp:
And that’s, refresh my memory, pursuant to our expectation of a reasonable time?”

CEO van Ark:
“There are two reasons to meet that date.  There are two different reports that we have to actually submit.  The one is a Draft Business Plan.  The Draft Business Plan then has to be in the public view for 60 days before it is finalized by the Board.  Then it has to be submitted to the Legislature by the first of January 2012.  The second is the Funding Plan…the Funding Plan to meet the requirements of the Prop 1A funding and the release of Prop 1A funds.  That too needs to be supplied to the Department of Finance 90 days before the budget is actually submitted.  The interpretation thereof is 90 days before the budget is submitted by the governor.  And that’s why with all concerned it was agreed that the 14th of October is the latest date for us to submit these two reports.” [emphasis added]
Member Kopp:
“That January 2012 date is statutory, correct?”

CEO van Ark:
“That is correct.” 

Member Kopp:

CEO van Ark:
“And obviously the Funding Plan date is as necessary because it is also statutory.  It’s just that that date is not as well defined.  But we need to put in a Funding Plan to be able to get the state funds…the prop. 1A funds released in the next budget cycle.” 

Member Kopp:

Absent from the Authority’s press release is any mention of the Funding Plan for their project. 

Perhaps both plans are delayed because the Authority is finding it difficult to write a good Business Plan for a fatally flawed business and equally difficult to write a Funding Plan for a project that has no government body or private corporation  stepping forward to fund it.  The Authority at their next Board Meeting, still scheduled for November 3, should expect tough questions from their constituents who mostly wish this project would just go away. [Note 3]

Statements made in this article are supported by footnotes shown below.  Original source documents can be obtained by clicking on the highlighted notes imbedded in the article.

Note 1  High Speed Rail Authority Press Release dated October 4, 2011 entitled “High-Speed Rail to Release Business Plan Nov. 1

Note 2 Audio tape of March 2, 2011 Rail Authority Finance Committee meeting, 19 minutes 42 seconds into meeting

Note 3  Probolsky Research LLC, California Voters on State Spending and High-Speed Rail, Sept. 28, 2011

High Speed Rail Proponents Defend the Indefensible

It’s not just kids who say the darnedest things.
Facing the prospect of all future federal funds for high-speed rail being cut off, Undersecretary of Transportation Roy W. Kienitz was quoted in the Los Angeles Times declaring:

“I can’t think of any mega-project like this that had all of the funding in place before it began.” [Note 1]

Not to be out-done in the silly remarks category, Roelof van Ark, California’s High-Speed Rail CEO, was quoted in the same LA Times article exclaiming:

 …and if money runs out and the system is only partially built, it would leave in place a cornerstone that “my children or my grandchildren can continue to build to San Francisco or in a southerly direction into L.A.” [Note 2]

Readers can decide which statement is dumb and which one is dumber, but first the facts.

Every major infrastructure project across this nation from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Golden Gate, from the first spike of the Transcontinental Railroad to the last mile of the Continue reading