Category: High-Speed Railroad

High Speed Railroad (Cont’d.)

A new dispatch from the Los Angeles Times informs us that the transportation nabobs who say they are about to give us our very own, la-la land “bullet train,” had been consulting successful high-speed train operators, namely the French SNCF and the Japan Railway Co., operator of the Shinkansen “bullet trains” over there. Dan Weikel and Ralph Vartabedian, High-Speed Rail Officials Rebuffed Proposal From French Railway, L.A. Times, July 9, 2012.,0,4539140.story

The French wanted to work with us but they thought that it would save money to select a route along the Central Valley’s Interstate 5 corridor. One would have thought that they know what they are talking about, being that they have been successfully operating their Train a Grande Vitesse system with 1100 miles of track, running 800 high-speed trains a day. Which goes to show that the French may know something besides good cooking.  According to their approach,  money would be saved by using existing state-owned rights-of-way along a shorter, more direct Central Valley route. Their conclusion: “California has a wish list, not a plan.”

As for the Japanese who successfully  run the famous Shinkansen train, they “turned their attention elsewhere when the [California railroad] authority decided to save money by sharing tracks in major urban areas with freight and passenger trains.” Which sounds like a sensible thing for them to do. And if your memory runs that far back, you may recall that the Japanese are also experienced with the concept of Kamikaze, and they know that you don’t do it with trains, so they prefer dedicated high-speed tracks for high-speed trains.

High Speed Railroad (Con’t.)

Big news from California. The State Senate and the Governor worked out a deal whereby the senate gave its imprimatur to the funding of construction of the high speed rail, by voting in favor of issuance of some $5.9 billion — including $3.2 billion in federal funds, and $2.6 billion in state bond funds, and — here it comes,  folks — another $2 billion for “other projects, such as electrification of of Cal Train tracks in the Bay Area and improvements for Metrolink in Los Angeles County.” The latter expenditure is evidently the price the senate insisted on to fund the initial link of the high speed rail. And that link will be — ta, da! — in nthe California Central Valley  between Bakersfield and Modesto.
If you are thinking of hopping on the Central Valley choo-choo anytime soon, you can unpack your bags. The completion date is now estimated to be 2028, and the project has yet to overcome a few obstacles:
“It is unclear when construction on the largest infrastructure project in the country can begin: the state still needs a series of regulatory approvals to start the first 130 miles of track in the Central Valley. The plan also faces lawsuits by agriculture intertests and potential opposition by major freight railroads. Chris Megerian and Ralph Vartabediean, Vote Keeps Bullet Train Alive, Los Angeles Times, July 7, 2012, at p. A1.

High Speed Railroad (Cont’d.)

We are indulging in the possibly unjustified presumption that if you are reading this post, you have an interest in the adventures and misadventures of the proposed high speed railroad in California, that as proposed would run from Los Angeles to San Francisco.  It is even possible that you have been checking out our posts on that subject from time to time.

It hasn’t been beer and skittles for the railroad planners, and the proposed high speed railroad’s projected cost (that snookered the voters into approving it in 2008 with a grossly unrealistic estimate of $9 billion) has ballooned up to, first, $98 billion, and now, after the state recoiled from  that lofty number, has settled down somewhere over $60 billion. But whatever that figure is or will turn out to be, construction has to get going or California will lose some $3 billion in federal money, a prospect that, if you are a local politico, is a fate worse than death. After all, if you can’t get your hands on federal money wherewith to fund nifty local stuff like garlic festivals and railroads, what’s the point of having a federal government? So construction has to get going to placate the feds, and Governor Jerry Brown wants the legislature  to appropriate $6 billion right now, to get things started.

But as you may recall, construction plans call for acquiring the right of way and beginning construction in the Central Valley from Bakersfield to Fresno (or is it Modesto?). Anyway, the idea is that this right-of-way  segment will become the backbone of the new rail line, and will require the state to complete it at a later time, or failing that, to die of ridicule.

But now, here comes a zinger from out in left field. Though passage of this appropriation is said to be a shoo-in in the California Legislature, things don’t look so rosy in the state Senate. It seems that some Senators don’t like the governor’s if-you-build-it-in-the-Central-Valley-they’ll-come approach, and are thinking along the line of bulding the initial segments of that railroad in their own populous districts where — they argue, not without merit — the people are, and where one can count on some utility and some revenue-generating ridership as soon as trains start running, as opposed to the Central Valley where . . . Have you ever been there? Great place for growing veggies and stuff, but who would actually want to go there?

Anyway, whether Governor Brown will be able to muster enough Democratic votes in the State Senate to fund his plan his way is now in some doubt. Republican votes don’t count because California is for all practical purposes a one-party state. So once again, stay tuned and see how it all turns out.

To get the Los Angeles Times story about all this, check out Ralph Vartabedian and Chris Megerian, Bullet Train Faces “A Tight Vote,” Los Angeles Times, June 24, 2012, at p, A27. For another, detailed discussion of the latest, go to

High Speed Railroad (Cont’d.)

The high-speed rail drama continues in California. To add to the high speed rail project’s woes, it turns out that California voters, having by now realized that they were snookered  back in 2008, when they voted for a $9 billion high-speed railroad between Los Angeles and San Francisco — a project whose estimated cost zoomed up to $98 billion but has now been scaled back to $65 billion — have now turned against it, and by a large majority, are opposed to building it, particularly at this time when the state is flat-broke. See Ralph Vartabedian, Voters Have Turned Against California Bullet Train, Poll Shows, L. A. Times, June 3, 2012 — click here . Most Californians would like to see another referendum on the “bullet train” project, and if it took place, 59% of them would vote “No.”

And that isn’t all. Yesterday’s L. A. Times brought the news that the  high-speed project is (predictably) being hit with several lawsuits demanding that the start of construction be enjoined, on the grounds, among others, that its environmental report is flawed. See Dan Weikel and Ralph Vartabedian, Bullet Train Hit With a Double Blow, L.A. Times, June 2, 2012, at p. AA1 — click here.. To add to this project’s woes, the Orange County Transportation Board has weighed in, pointing out that the priority in giving California a viable north-south railroad should be to close the gaps in the existing line, build up ridership, and then capitalize on it by adding a high speed railroad. It turns out that the existing north-south railroad has gaps between Palmdale and Bakersfield, so that if you want to go from Los Angeles to Oakland by rail (there is no railroad to San Francisco) you have to go as far as Palmdale, then take a bus to Bakersfield, and then do it again between Stockton and Oakland — all of which makes the trip last some nine hours, as compared to one hour by plane.

While all this is going on, the State if facing a multi-billion dollar budget deficit, which Governor Jerry Brown wants to close by asking Californians to vote for a tax increase.

Stay tuned.

High Speed Railroad – (Cont’d.)

Let’s see, where were we? As the sun set in the west, the feds made it clear that if California wants to get its hands on that federal money for the high speed rail line eventually connecting San Diego and San Francisco, it will have to complete its first 120-mile segment by September 2017. For openers, to accomplish that, the railroad builders will require 120 permits from different regulatory bodies, will have to acquire 1,100 parcels of land for the right of way, and will have to spend money at the rate of $3.5 million per day, or $2,430.55 per minute, 24/7.

The problem is that it has never been done on that scale before. Earlier feats of California public project building efficiency had a money “burn rate” — love that term! — of only $1.8 million a day, and even given California’s well earned reputation for profligacy, the idea of doing so at twice the earlier rate gives one pause. And did we mention that the project is now months behind schedule?

We suggest you read all about it in Ralph Vartabedian, High-Speed Spending: Bullet Train May Need $3.5 Million a Day, Los Angeles Times, May 13, 2012 — click here.

And oh yes, just the other day California Governor Jerry Brown let it be known that past estimates of the budget deficit that is facing California this year, were optimistic, and that the projected deficit for the coming year is now up to $16 billion, which will require severe cuts in state spending.

For a fuller treatment of California’s budgetary problems see Adam Nagourney, Fiscal Woes Boomerang for Brown in California, N.Y. Times, May 14, 2o12, at p. A1 — click here.


High Speed Railroad (Cont’d.)

When we started keeping track of the ups and downs (mostly downs) of the proposed California high-speed rail that, if built, would run between San Diego and San Francisco in a couple of hours, twelve times each day in each diretion, we had no idea that we were sticking our little harpoon into a big whale. But foreseen or not, the doings of that high-speed railroad have now gone beyond the ridiculous — you just couldn’t make it up if you tried.

The March 31st issue of the Sacramento Bee brings the news that, faced with the growing anger of California voters who were snookered into approving a $9 billion bond issue for this railroad whose estimated cost jumped first to $43 billion, and then to $98.5 billion, the folks in Sacramento are retreating. Now we are told that the projected cost has been reduced by $30 billion. How? Our technical background is in rocket engineering, not railroads, but even so we don’t know how you can reduce the cost of a massive project like a railroad by nearly one-third and still come up with something like what was intended in the beginning. But here it is in black and white: Our Governor Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown has told reporters that, by golly, he spent “several hours” on the changes this week. There, that should do it. Dan Smith and David Siders, Gov. Jerry Brown to Change High-Speed Rail Plan, Lower Cost by $30 Billion, Sacramento Bee, March 31, 2012 – click on

At this point we stopped reading this stuff and are trying to brace ourselves for the next absurdity. Bear with us. We need to recover before plunging into it again.

In the meantime, California is approaching insolvency.

Afterthought: If the first $2.3 billion batch of railroad bonds is actually authorized to be issued and sold by April 12th, like it says in the paper, then (a) what will be the rate of interest payable by those bonds, and (b) what will be the source of the money used for those interest payments?

Correction. The original plans called for 12 trains per hour, not per day, in each direction.

High Speed Railroad – (Con’t.)

We appreciate the fact that today is April Fool’s day and that therefore this may be some sort of a joke. However, the latest dispatch from the California High Speed Rail front indicates that the plans of those wonderful folks who have been saying that they want to give us high-speed train service going between San Diego and San Francisco, but which would start by going from Bakersfield to Merced, have metamorphosed again. The latest shtick is that the first high-speed rail segment would go from los Angeles to Merced, although what Angelenos would be in a hurry to travel to Merced in sufficiently large numbers, has not been explained. And no indication whether there would be a separate right-of-way dedicated to “bullet train” service, or whether those trains would use existing trcakage and share it with Thomas the Tank Engine.

So what’s going on here? If the Los Angeles Times is to be believed, the real purpose behind all this foofaraw is to start building something — anything — before the end of this year, so California can glom on to some $3.5 billion in federal funds (that’s your money folks, even if you don’t live in la-la land). To get the story go to Joe Mozingo, New Plan for Bullet Train Could Cut Costs by $30 billion, L.A. Times, April 1, 2012.

This can’t be the end of the story, so stay tuned. There is bound to be more. Or, as they used to say, “Round and round she goes, and where she stops nobody knows.”

High Speed Rail (Cont’d.)

Herewith the next installment of “The Perils of Pauline,” which was a serial movie early in the 20th century. Its shtick was that at the end of each episode, Pauline, the heroine, was left tied to railroad tracks while a train was rounding the bend and rushing at her, leaving the audience in suspense and eager to return the following week to see how it turned out. So here we go again, with the California high-speed rail farce. And make no mistake, it is beginning to assume farcical proportions.

To sum up for the benefit of newcomers, back in 2008 the ever gullible California voters approved a ballot proposition that would approve and finance a high speed train line operatting between San Diego and San Francisco. There were several conditions in that proposition: those using it would be able to board at one end and go to the other without changing seats, as many as 12 trains an hour would operate each way, and the system would operate without taxpayer subsidies. (Good luck with that one.) And oh yes, the funding approved in that vote woud be $9 billion.

Long story short, by the time the preliminary plans were unveiled, the cost went up ten-fold to $98.5 billion, and the rail authority announced that it would start by building a segment of that line, not in the populated areas in need of rapid mass transit, but rather in the Central Valley, between Bakersfield and Fresno (which if you are not a Californian, you should know is the middle of nowhere).

Naturally, politicians all over Californis, particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area decided to get in on the action, and before you knew it, instead of being planned to run on a separate bullet-train track, the envisioned high speed rail  would serve their bailiwicks and run on the same tracks as ordinary passenger and freight trains — no, we are not making this up. That’s what it says right here in black and whie in the Los Angeles Times (Ralph Vartabedian and Dan Weikel, Concessions on Bullet Train May Violate Law, L.A. Times, March 26, 2012, at p. AA1).

Now, it turns out that there are other problems. Big problems. Persnickety readers of the law enacted by the voters in 2008 have noticed that the currently proposed high speed rail layout and manner of operations deviate from the terms of that law.

“Whether a court would actually stop the project because of such alleged violations is not clear, said UC Berkeley assistant law professor Bertrall Ross, an election law expert. The conditions in the law, he added, were not in the ballot summary that voters saw at the polls, and judges often attach more importance to that than the underlying statute. On the other hand, some conditions were in voter pamphlet and a judge could rule against the [current] plan on that basis.”

Ain’t law just swell? Aren’t you glad we live under a rule of law, rather than the say-so of judges who according to Professor Ross, can just approve a project likely to consume $98.5 billion (and counting) rather than the $9 billion solemnly promised to the suckers, er, we mean of course the voters.

You can draw your own conclusions from all this, but it seems to us that if the railroad types pull off that one, California will deserve whatever it gets, including, alas, insolvency.

Sigmund Freud Said That Sometimes a Cigar Is Only a Cigar, But Is California’s Proposed High Speed Railroad Only a Railroad?

We have been keeping track of the misadventures of the proposed California “bullet train” high speed railroad, that if and when built, is planned to run from San Diego to San Francisco, but which, according to its planners is getting started by blowing a few billion dollars building its first segment in the Central Valley (aka the middle of nowhere) between Bakersfield and Fresno. All along, viewing it as a transportation/engineering issue, we wrote about its problems, but it turns out that we may have been barking up the wrong tree. If today’s Los Angeles Times is to be believed, what’s afoot is a stealth attempt at doing some disguised social engineering. At first, we had trouble believeing it, but hey, why would the Times lie about something like that? See the front-page story  by Ralph Vartabedian and Dan Weikel, A Collision of Visions on Bullet Train, L.A.Times, March 8, 2012 – click here.

It turns out that the high speed rail promoters’ plans “are also a means to alter the state’s social, residential and economic fabric.” According to these folks, “[t]he fast trains connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco would create new communities of high-density apartments and small homes around stations, reducing the suburbanization of California, . . .That new lifestyle would mean fewer cars and less gasoline consumption, lowering California’s contribution to global warming.”. . .”The rail system would reduce the economic and transportation isolation of the Central Valley, which would grow by 10 million or even 20 million people, according to Gov. Jerry Brown.”

Others disagree and “regard the ambitious project as a classic government overreach that will require taxpayer subsidies. But they also see something more sinister: an agenda to push people into European or Asian models of dense cities, tight apartments and reliance on state-provided transportation.”

So the proponents of this brave, new model of living, are assuming — optimistically, as Governor Brown concedes — that California will grow to 60 million people from the present 37.5 million, “with most of the growth [of some 10 million] in the agricultural heartland.”

We could go on wending our way through the various arguments pro and con, but it seems to us that California historian Kevin Starr hit the bull’s eye when he asked: “What are all of these 10 million additional people going to be doing for a living in the Central Valley?” What indeed? When California was absorbing lots of new residents they were attracted by employment opportunities in the  the aerospace industry (among others) and comparatively cheap housing  available to ordinary people on friendly terms. But what would attract them today, especially to the Central Valley? Besides, Californians, particularly those of the gringo persuation, are leaving California in droves. We don’t know any Californians, and can’t visualize many, who would pull up stakes and move from the higly developed Los Angeles-Orange County-Vetura County area (where, as Wille Sutton used to say, the money is) to, say, Fresno, because if they do, it’ll be only a two-hour hop on the “bullet train” to San Francisco.

We’ll just have to wait and see. We are pessimistic because we remember Jerry Brown’s last gubernatorial reign, when he cut back on freeway construction in order to worsen traffic and thereby motivate people to use public transportation. Except that there was no available public transportation equal to the task, and so he gave us gridlock instead.

Stay tuned.

High Speed Rail (Cont’d.)

We quote from an article in today’s L.A. Times:

“The California High Speed Rail Authority wants to use $2.7 billion of the bond
money and $3.3 billion in federal grants to build a 130-mile section of track in
the Central Valley. The entire first phase of the system between San Francisco
and Anaheim will cost an estimated $98.5 billion. The cost of the full system,
extending to San Diego and Sacramento, has not been calculated.

“With the state short about $86 billion to finish the initial phase, . . .”

Truth to tell, we stopped reading at this point. This thing is just plain loony tunes because California is broke. To read the L.A. Times article in its entirety (Ralph Vartabedian and Dan Weikel, Borowing Cost for Bullet Train Revised Upward, L.A. Times, March 7, 2012), click here.

Oh yes. We learn from this article that an effort has begun to put the “Bullet Train” project back on the ballot, to give Californians the opportunity to cancel it, being as current incomplete cost estimates are running over ten times the $9 billion sold to the voters in the 2008 election as the cost of this project.