Category: High-Speed Railroad

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.”



California Choo-Choo. Again.

The ongoing California Bullet Train mess has entered a new stage. It appears that so many compromises (read, political deals) have been made that the current plan violates the criteria that were included as conditions to the voters’ approval of the deal back in 2008. The problem is that the proposed first segment will fall short of the minimum distance required to have a usable train operation. In the meantime lawsuits are pending to stop the current version of the train, and to enforce the one presented to the voters at the time they were asked to approve (and did approve) it. In short, it’s a mess.

The voters approved a $9 billion bond issue, but to build the first usable rail segment (between Merced and the San Fernando Valley) will require $31 billion, and in the words of the Los Angeles Times, “the state does not have this kind of money in sight.” Got it? And to make matters worse — if that is possible — some of the leaders of the bullet train effort have now evidently come around to opposing it in its present form. It’s all there in black and white, and if you have an interest in this mess, read Ralph Vartabedian, High-Speed Rail’s Strongest Backers Have Concerns, L.A. Times. March 27, 2013, at p. AA1. Click here,0,6470905.story

High Speed Train. Continued?

We caught a news program last evening on cable news (CNN?) on the progress, or more accurately, the lack thereof, of the high speed train project on a national basis.

Bottom line: In California a billion dollars has been spent, but not a single spadeful of dirt has been moved. Res ipsa loquitur. We’d love to see the results of a competent audit.

Up in Washington State $800,000,000 (that’s eight hundred million, in case you lost count of the zeros) has been actually spent on a “high speed rail” but all it produced so far is a reduction of 10 minutes in the railroad trip from Seattle to Portland, using the existing railroad. Local officials did not appear very eager to charge on with any “bullet trains.”

Stay tuned.

California Choo-Choo (Cont’d.)

No project in human experience has ever been completed on time, on budget and on spec.

                                                    Cheops’ law

This won’t come as a surprise to our faithful readers, but the latest dispatch from the California Choo-Choo front informs us that things are not going according to schedule and the budget has grown woefully inadequate to complete this projects. Ralph Vartabedian, California Still Hasn’t Bough Land For Bullet Train Route,  Los Angeles Times, January 27, 2013, at p. A1. The problems:

1.      The actual construction of the railroad is supposed to start in six months, in order to secure promised federal funds  but so far, permits from various regulatory agencies are lacking. These include the Corps of Engineers and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution  Control District. “Last month, the federal Government Accountability Office reported that about 100 parcels were at risk of not being available in time for construction.” In that connection, we offer for your consideration this quote of a GAO investigator as a promising candidate for the understatement of the year: “Not having the needed right of way could cause delays as well as add to project cost.” It could indeed. Reminds us of a sign we saw once in an office of the Navy Department in Washington D.C. It said: “A collision at sea could ruin your entire day.”

2.     Another feat of timing: “[T]he formal right-of-way plan indicates [the authority] does not expect to acquire the first properties until Sept. 15, despite other documents that  indicate construction would start in July. Last month, the federal Government Accountability Office reported that about 100 parcels were at risk of not being available in time for construction.”

3.     And to make things more interesting, last year, agricultural land prices have been rising, the average price going to $28,000 per acre, from $8000 per acre. Quoth the chief executive of the railroad authority: “We don’t thing we are wildly off.”

If you have an interest in such matters, we suggest you read Mr. Vartabedian’s entire article — click  here.

California Choo-Choo – (Cont’d.)

It has been a while since we had anything to say about the progress (or the lack thereof, as the case may be) of the planned California high-speed train that — the Lord willin’ — will some day connect Los Angeles and San Francisco, but for now will be started in the middle of the Central Valley, which is to say in the middle of nowhere, if you’ll pardon the redundancy. If you haven’t been following this controversy, here is a capsule summary.

Governor Jerry  Brown wants to have one of those schmaltzy high-speed trains (like in Europe and Japan) that will allow Californians to go betewen LA and San Francisco in a couple of hours, thereby taking a load off north-south freeways which, so goes the plan, will also save energy, reduce emissions  and sharply reduce highway traffic. Make no mistake we are all for such a happy state of affairs, but there are big problems involved here that by our lights have not been properly considered. Like whence cometh the electrical power to run all those trains — estimated to require about a quarter of the output of Hoover Dam. Then there is the question of whether actual ridership  figures will be sufficiently high to make this scheme work out economically. California is broke and her prospective sugar daddy (Uncle Sam) is even broker ($16 trillion in debt and counting), which raises the question of where all those billions are going to come from and whether, given the prevailing economic conditions, this is the best time to start a project of that magnitude.

California voters, many of whom are now wondering if they were snookered, approved a $9 billion bond issue to finance this high-speed railroad, about a half-dozen years ago. What is wrong with that, you ask? For openers, estimates have been running to — not $9, but $68 billion. Moreover, instead of routing the new railroad through populated parts of the state where the prospective riders are, the line is being laid out on the east side of the Central Valley, an agricultural area that has lots of fruits and veggies, but few people, and offers prospects of meager ridership figures.

Then there are the usual problems with timing. Indeed, that’s what this post is about. The California High Speed Rail Authority has just revealed “that it was adding 12 months to the construction schedule for 130 miles of track in the Central Valley,” the first segment going in between Madera and Bakersfield.  And bear in mind that so far these folks haven’t yet turned over a single spadeful of dirt. But not to worry. We are assured that the railroad builders will make it up with lower overtime figures, though they still plan to be spending $3.5 million per day (we have no doubt they can do that part with one arm tied behind their back).

So keep your eye on the progress of this project, and mark December 2017 on your calendars, for that is the time when that first segment of the California high-speed train is supposed to be completed.

You can read up on all that in Ralph Vartabedian, Bulet Train Leg to Finish Later, L.A. Times, Nov. 16, 2012, at p. AA1.

Follow up. In the meantime, a trial court in Sacramento denied a preliminary injuction that would have stopped work on the railroad until completion of a full review of the environmental impact report – click here. The lawsuit challenging the EIR  was brought by a gr oup of Central Valley farmers.

High Speed Railroad (Con’t.)

Comes now word from Sacramento that Governor Jerry Brown has signed the bill providing for funding the construction of the initial segment of the proposed California high-speed railroad. It authorizes $2.6 billion in bonds to fund construction of the railroad’s first segment in the Central Valley, and another $1.9 in such bonds for other, local railroad improvements (Brown’s consent to the latter was evidently the political price he had to pay for getting this legislation passed). No word on what the interest rate will be on those bonds. Jerry Brown Signs California High-Speed Rail Bill,, July 16, 2012 — click here.

Cute political touch: The signing ceremony took place in Los Angeles — at the Union Station, what else? and will be repeated in the Bay area. But not in the Central Valley where opposition to the high-speed choo-choo is intense.