Category: High-Speed Railroad

California Choo Choo (Cont’d.)

This is one of those items where a newspaper headline and subheading  tell it all and require no comment. From today’s L.A. Times:

Bullet Train Won’t Meet Target Travel Times, Panel Says

“Regular trips are likely to take longer than the anticipated two hours and 40 minutes.”

But in case you are a non-California flatlander, here is an explanation:

“The faster trips were held out to voters in 2008 when they approved $9 billion in borrowing to help pay for the project. Since then, a series of political compromises and planning changes designed to keep the $68-billion line moving ahead have created slower track zones in urban areas.” Ralph Vartabedian, Bullet Train Won’t Meet Target Travel Time, Panel Says, L.A. Times, March 28, 2014, at p. AA1.



California Choo Choo – (Cont’d.)

A California Court of Appeal has issued an order expediting the review of a trial court decision whose effect has been to stop the sale of railroad bonds by the state, thereby dooming the proposed Los Angeles to San Francisco “bullet train.” The appellate court decision does not reverse that ruling; it just lets the railroad authority cut into the line of cases awaiting court review on the merits.

Stripped to plain English, the issue in this appeal, inter alia, is whether bond promoters are free to mislead the voters when they submit their proposed state bond issue for voter approval in an election. Specifically, can they represent the public debt to be incurred by those bonds as $X but then go ahead and issue bonds for it that are ten times that amount.

The ruling is covered by the L.A. Times (Ralph Vartabedian, Appeals Court Stays Judge’s Bullet Train Bond Ruling Pending Appeal,  Feb. 16, 2014,,0,155139.story#axzz2tV7leS8Z ).

Stay tuned.

California Choo Choo (Cont’d.)

If you have an ongoing interest in the California L.A.-San Francisco high speed train and its misadventures, we recommend an article in the New York Times, of January 6, 2014, High-Speed Train in California Is Caught in a Political Storm — click on

It doesn’t contain any hot, latest news but it sums up the status and the controversy surrounding it in an admirably concise way.

California Choo-Choo (Cont’d.) — There’s Trouble Ahead.

We recently noted that the press reports on the recent trial court’s ruling, mostly against the high speed railroad promoters, cast a menacing cloud over that project. In a nutshell the ruling put a serious block in the path of its funding, on several grounds. One reason was that the trial court thought the voters were misled when the state got their approval on some $8.6 billion worth of state bonds in 2008,  but it turned out that the project, even in its reduced shape, will require a budget of  some $86 billion. As we noted, this is a complex story as are the court’s rulings. So if you are interested in this tale we recommend that you read a more thorough, yet more readable account of this fiasco, which you can find in a front-page story in today’s Los Angeles Daily News.

The bottom line is that those on the side of the project’s promoters are arguing that they can still spend some $3.3 billion in federal funds, and get started on the construction, whereas the challengers disagree and contend that the federal funds may not be spent until the promoters’ financial house is put in order. “In a separate lawsuit, [the judge] also ordered the rail authority to redo its $68 billion funding plan before continuing construction.”  In any event, as things stand, even under the optimistic scenario, there would be only enough money to build a railroad segment between Fresno and Bakersfield — the proverbial middle of nowhere in the Central Valley. So we will have to stay tuned on that one and await the outcome of the appeal which now appears inevitable.

See Jessica Calefati, California High-Speed Rail: Judge’s Decision on Bullet Train Funding Also Endangers $3.3 Billion in Federal Funds, [Los Angeles] Daily News, 11/29/13, at p. A1.  Click on

California Choo-Choo (Cont’d.)

With all due respect to the press, we have problems figuring out exactly what Monday’s ruling of the California trial court ruling was, regarding the legality of  funding for the high-speed rail project that is supposed to link Los Angeles and San Francisco in the sweet bye and bye. So here it is, and you can do the figuring outing yourself:

“A Sacramento Superior Court judge on Monday ordered the agency building California’s high-speed rail system to rescind its original funding plan, a decision that figures to halt state bond funding for the $68 billion project until a new plan is put in place.

“But, in another ruling in the same case, Judge Michael P. Kenny refused to block the California High-Speed Rail Authority from spending the $3.4 billion in federal money it already has obtained to build an initial rail segment near Fresno.

“In a second case, Kenny declined the rail authority’s request to validate its issuance of $8 billion in bonds that California voters approved in 2008 in Proposition 1A. The ruling sets the stage for several of the project’s opponents to challenge its financing even further.”

The bottom line appears to be that the high-speed train builders can proceed with spending the federal money they received, but not the state money. Which means at best that there is going to be another delay in construction of the rail line.
But we knew that already.

California Choo-Choo (Cont’d.)

It has been a while since we noted the progress (or the lack thereof, as the case may be) of the California high-speed train between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Now word comes from the Associated Press, via the San Jose Mercury News that

“The body overseeing plans to build California’s bullet train has started the daunting and expensive process of acquiring thousands of acres in the Central Valley, where the rail line’s proposed path would slice through farms, stores and motels.

“But months after shovels were supposed to be in the ground, the California High-Speed Rail Authority is in escrow on just one parcel of the 370 it needs to buy or seize through eminent domain for the first 30 miles of construction. The agency says it is within 30 days of reaching deals on another 38 parcels and is negotiating over hundreds of others.”

Not exactly surprising, but there it is.

As usual in eminent domain reportage this dispatch contains stuff that makes clear that its authors are not what you might call well informed.

“California’s eminent domain law limits the amount of money the rail authority can offer above the county’s assessed value.”

Not so. Compensation in eminent domain has little or nothing to do with valuation for property taxes. The constitutionally required “just compensation” in eminent domain cases is defined by statute as “fair market value” which is the highest price that would be paid by a willing but unpressured buyer to a willing but unpressured seller in a voluntary market transaction, with both parties aware of the property’s good and bad features, and giving due consideration to the property’s highest and best use (i.e., its most profitable use). See California Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 1263.320. Also, fair market value may not include any increase or decrease in value attributable to project influence or any steps taken toward its construction. Section 1263.330.

And if the taking is partial, compensation also includes the diminution in value, if any, of the remainder — the part of the subject property that is not taken.

For the full AP story, click here

California Choo-Choo (Cont’d.)

The Los Angeles Times reports that in a recent poll Californians indicate that they are no longer in favor of that “bullet train” that is supposed to be built to run between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The title of the story says it all.  Ralph Vartabedian, 52% Want Bullet Train Stopped, L.A. Times, Sep. 28, 2013 — click here.

“Fifty-one percent of respondents called the project a waste of money, and 63% said they would never or seldom use it. Given the choice, 58% of voters would rather fly or drive from Southern California to the Bay Area, and 39% would take a bullet train.”

California Choo-Choo (Cont’d.)

Readers with a special interest in this subject should find interesting a new article that covers the fight between the construction of California’s “bullet train” project and our environmental laws.  It focuses on Madera County (between Fresno and Merced), an agricultural region where the first leg of the “bullet train” is going to be built. It contains considerable detail of this controversy and a list of all cases that have been  filed against the project. Glenn Martin, Collision Course — Holding Up the Bullet Train; It’s the cover story of the latest issue of the California Lawyer, May 2013, at p. 18. The article is on line — go to California Lawyer on Google, and you’ll find it there.

Related item: Today’s L.A. Times informs us that there is a controversy  over the report that the selected contractor for that first leg of the California “bullet train” submitted the lowest bid of $985 million “even though its design quality, safety plan and engineering, among other factors, ranked at the bottom of five teams seeking the works.” Ralph Vartabedian, Bullet Train Builder Faces Tests, L.A. Times, May 28, 2013, at p. AA1.


California Choo-Choo — (Cont’d.)

Latest word on our proposed but misbegotten California “bullet train” is that our governor — in the words of a Los Angeles Times article subheading — “. . . hopes a booming nation will invest in California’s troubled rail project.” Anthony York, Brown Wants China Aboard, L.A. Times, April 12, 2013, p. AA1. Which nation might that be? China, of course; California isn’t exactly “booming.” In fact, it doesn’t have the proverbial two nickels to rub together by way of funding so major a project. To bring any newcomers to this blog up to date, the projected cost of the California “bullet” choo-choo hovers somewhere around $68 billion, while the voters, in their wisdom, having been duly snookered by overly optimistic politicians in the 2008 election, have approved only $9 billion. You can take it from there.

The L.A. Times article expresses vague platitudinous hopes about the prospects of a Chinese deal, but it is not clear what the Chinese “investment” would be. Rather, it sounds to us that what these guys are talking about is a deal in which the we would pay the Chinese for construction projects and maybe some rolling stock (since it seems like whenever anything comes up that requires any rolling stock, we have to buy it abroad because, it seems that these days nobody in America knows how to make a decent subway or railroad car). The Chinese would then “invest” our money, as is their wont, by putting it in their pockets, or using it to finance the People’s Red Army. But we digress. Or do we?

If you read the whole L.A. Times piece, it appears that the “investment” is nothing of the sort. What the Chinese are more likely after is our money — they may want to sell us rolling stock or maybe do some construction work which means that we would do the “investing” while they would pocket our money. That would get things done, but would also add to the balance-of-payments deficit and export more jobs across the Pacific. That may not be all bad, at least as seen by the global trade junkies. The Chinese do things cheaper, and — being unencumbered by our often absurd environmental laws (to say nothing of a hostile bureaucracy bound and determined to slow things down, stop major projects altogether) — faster.

Speaking of which (getting things done), don’t miss our governor’s quotable quote about how things are done in China:

“People here do stuff. They don’t sit around and mope and process and navel-gaze.”

We resist the urge to leap on that straight line by reminding the guv about the many California projects that languish for years while bureaucrats, courts and environmentalists use the law to “mope and process,” delaying construction of needed projects forever — or so it seems.  You don’t believe us? Try building something in the California coastal zone, or for that matter in any upscale community — e.g., check out our recent posts about Marin County frustrating the expansion of LucasFilm studios until Lucas gave up in disgust. And in Los Angeles, the legislature had to waive environmental laws in order to get a new football stadium built, even though we don’t have an NFL team. A case of  “If you build it, they’ll come,” if there ever was one.

So stick around and see how it goes. But don’t hold your breath while you’re at it. Remember, this is California, so as our governor concedes, we are in for some “moping and processing.”