California High-Speed Rail Faces Trouble In Palo Alto - And More In Washington

Can the nation invest in and build a high-speed rail line during these uncertain financial times? Should it?

ATHERTON, Calif. -- Walk down Ashfield Road in this well-heeled town of 7,000 on the San Francisco Peninsula and you'll find million-dollar homes surrounded by tall fences and lush, manicured landscaping. Down by the railroad tracks at the end of the street, the post office, the police department, the library and a small town hall cluster together - a perfectly self-contained unit of municipal government.

It conjures a postcard vision of the way the Golden State was always meant to look, its residents must think, before politicians brought California to the brink of ruin with decades of financial mismanagement and pie-in-the-sky ideas.
Now this town fears one of those crazy schemes will land right where Ashfield Road meets a commuter railroad's right of way. High-speed rail is coming to Atherton's back yard, and Atherton isn't happy about it.

However testy Atherton may get about it, though, if a high-speed train does whisk down these tracks at 125 miles per hour, it will be a sign that the the United States is still a country that can build big, daring infrastructure projects. And it will be a sign that the country is willing to spend big, on the scale of $60 billion dollars or more, on ambitious public projects that might create hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs.
The train would prove that Dick Durbin was wrong when he spoke about the death of Keynesian economics during the deficit debate. The more than $3 billion in federal funding guarantees the project has secured make it perhaps the most daring recipient of economic stimulus funding under the Recovery Act.
If the train never comes, the moral of the high-speed rail story will be considerably more complex. Residents, legislators, and analysts are likely to dispute its meaning for decades, whenever bullet trains are offered as a solution to the transportation problems of an America where highways will only get more crowded, airplanes less reliable, and gas prices more infuriating.
Countries from France to Spain to China to the central Asian nation of Uzbekistan have built high-speed rail lines. In America, however, even Amtrak’s Acela trains often travel at speeds no greater than those once accomplished by steam engines.

Meanwhile, California’s high-speed rail program hangs in a state of suspended animation, with boosters confident ground will be broken in late 2012 as planned, and opponents equally certain they have already killed it.
The critics got more ammunition two weeks ago when California’s High-Speed Rail Authority announced that just one segment would cost $3 to $6 billion more than planned - and the cost of the total project could skyrocket even more in October when the Authority releases a business plan.
"The cost of a project of this magnitude are always going to have some variance," said Thomas Umberg, chairman of board for the High-Speed Rail Authority. "In my view this is not a significant variance."
Umberg is confident the project will proceed. "I do not think the project is in danger," he said. "I think that the leadership exists in California and elsewhere to complete the project. And I think that the popular support for the project in California will also continue."

For now, the leadership Umberg referred to is toeing the line. Last Wednesday high-speed rail got a vote of confidence from Governor Jerry Brown, who had campaigned as a backer but had lately seemed to waiver, when he told the Fresno Bee that he still supported the project. "I would like to be part of the group that gets America to think big again," Brown said.

Just holding on to Jerry Brown, however, might not be enough.

The Golden State's dream of building a bullet train line between Los Angeles and San Francisco started back in 1996, with the establishment of the High-Speed Rail Authority. For years that agency, underfunded and understaffed, had a whiff of science fiction about it. Then in 2008, the state passed a referendum, Proposition 1A, hoping that it could knit together Northern and Southern California while creating jobs to lift the state out of its Great Recession doldrums.
Price tag: $9.95 billion in state bonds, to be matched by federal funds and complemented by private investment for a total of $45 billion spent. It would be the largest infrastructure project in the nation, something as audacious in its aims as the Interstate Highway System. The pro argument in California's voter guide touted the project's potential to create 160,000 construction jobs and 450,000 permanent jobs.
Daniel Curtin, director of the California Conference of Carpenters, said "the jobs themselves in building it are quite substantial, but more important is the economic engine in it that drives economic development."
If the train is built, he believes, far-flung places like Fresno, which is currently "three hours from everywhere," would essentially become suburbs of the state's two big metro areas. "There are foothills in Fresno that are fabulous, just beautiful, but you can't get there. It's easier to get to Tahoe, for crying out loud, from the Bay area."
When Prop 1A passed, bullet train boosters were ecstatic. The then-chairman of the authority, Quentin Kopp, said the vote proved Californians were "as intrepid and energetic as the argonauts of the 19th century and our forefathers during the Depression who built the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge."
Kopp neglected to mention that the vote approving the Golden Gate Bridge happened long before the Depression. The California State Legislature created bonding authority to finance the project in 1923. Another ten years passed before construction began, then another four years before the bridge was finished. Nobody expected California's train to be done before 2020, but if Kopp's analogy is more apt than he intended, it would be 2018 before the state breaks ground.
The Golden Gate Bridge's design employed a novel theory that allowed it to sway in the wind and perfecting that innovation, along with the manifold other engineering challenges involved in designing the bridge, took years of hard work. The high-speed train project has taken so long, however, not because it is engineering innovative new trains - the state can simply buys those off the shelf from Europe or Japan - but because it must assemble the nuts and bolts of financing and a route plan.
A typical week on the Authority's calendar from last year highlights some of the many political stakeholders who need to be placated or at least disarmed along the railroad's 800-mile stretch: a meeting at the Rancho Cordova Rotary Club, a public information meeting in Fresno, a meeting with the Southern California Association of Governments, a scoping meeting in Stockton, a community meeting in Anaheim, another scoping meeting in Merced, and a legislative hearing two state senators held in Palo Alto City Hall.
High-speed rail is an all-state effort, but if California is ever going to build the system it will have to break ground in some smaller section of the state. Yet what might seem natural for the first phase - putting tracks along the highly populated areas near San Francisco and Los Angeles, so trains could start running immediately and making money - isn’t what will happen.

In order for the high-speed rail project to receive federal stimulus money, it needed to prove that it could start building quickly, before the end of 2012 deadline included in the Recovery Act. For that reason, the state will have to break ground along the path of least resistance. And one reason why a San Francisco spur won't be where high-speed rail debuts: the angry citizens of Atherton and its partners on the Peninusla, Menlo Park and Palo Alto.
Most people involved in the rail debate seem to agree that while the High-Speed Rail Authority was busy drawing up its routes and negotiating with federal officials, it was doing an abysmal job of communicating with the people whose homes would soon lie along its tracks. There weren't enough meetings on its calendar, and the ones that were happening weren't going very well, especially on the San Francisco Peninsula's shoulder.
Take Atherton. The strange thing is, this town already has trains. It's had them for a long time, and they've always been ugly and noisome. At least nine passenger trains an hour blow through here at peak times. Cars halt at the railroad crossing. Horns blare so Caltrain can ferry its loads of commuters to and from San Francisco. Discussion in the town hall - including hearings aimed at killing high-speed rail - pauses when the trains come through.
Despite all that, there seems to be something about the train Atherton doesn't know that is scarier than the one it does.
And it's not just Atherton, even though this Republican outpost in an otherwise liberal Congressional district has always served as a convenient poster child for intransigent conservatism. In nearby Palo Alto, which supported the high-speed train referendum by a 2-1 margin, just five months later signs of dissent were boiling.
At a meeting in the city, the Metroactive paper reported "protesters holding signs saying 'Deceived by Prop. 1A' ... charging that elevated train tracks above cross streets, and proposed security barriers, will divide their community like a Berlin Wall."
Some of those protesters, of course, had opposed high-speed rail from the start. But others were taken aback by the realization, prompted by the Authority's environmental review process, that it could take a hulking viaduct, hoisted 40 feet or so in the air and bearing four tracks, to send the trains through their town without slowing down for road crossings.
Thus began the Berlin Wall metaphor, which has likely done more than anything else to curb enthusiasm for fast rail on the Peninsula. Rod Diridon, the executive of the Mineta Transportation Institute and the chair emeritus of the High-Speed Rail Authority Board, acknowledged problems with the effort's outreach efforts.
For one slice of Californians, he said, those part of the "the conservative group who are going to oppose any major investments, especially investments that are going to undermine the automobile," there was no way to save high-speed rail. They are part, he said, of an effort promoting "carefully choreographed skepticism on high-speed rail across the nation."
But for other people, the "maybe 15-25 percent that want high-speed rail, but are skeptical of the way it's being pursued," the authority fell down on the job. One public relations group was contracted to handle the statewide outreach, engineers were left to talk to people in cities and towns, and the result was a resounding mess. Locals criticized .
State Senator Joe Simitian, who represents the area, said that part of the problem was that "you have a relatively small agency" - which at one point just a few years ago had only 11 employees - that "woke up one morning, after the election was over, and discovered they were responsible for the design, development, operation, and financing of a $43 billion megaproject, and that has not been a smooth transition. And perhaps with benefit of hindsight we should not have expected it to be a smooth transition."

Others agree.
"From 2008 to 2010 we went from playing fantasy football to playing in the NFL," acknowledged Thomas Umberg, the chairman of the High-Speed Rail Authority's board.
As the planning process dragged on from 2008 to 2010, opposition along the Peninsula, and elsewhere in California, deepened.
On January 28, 2010, the President Obama announced the winners of the competition to win the billions of dollars for high-speed rail included in the Recovery Act. California applied for $4.7 billion; it received $2.25 billion. That fell far short of the $17-19 billion in federal funds the authority said it would eventually need, but it was a start.
Last fall and winter, the federal government gave the program additional funding boosts of more than a billion dollars. But that money was something of a double-edged sword. For starters, California only got some of it because Republican governors had launched a national assault on high-speed rail.
In Wisconsin, Scott Walker campaigned on a pledge of refusing $810 million in funding from the feds, calling it a "controversial train boondoggle ... that taxpayers literally cannot afford." In Ohio, Governor-elect John Kasich's spokesman referred to a "so-called" high-speed rail project that was "wildly unrealistic." Kasich, presaging this year's deficit battle, requested that the money be used to pay down the federal deficit, not to create public works programs that might generate jobs.
State officials in California were ecstatic about the windfall those governors' decisions represented for them. But the new federal funds came with a catch: California would have to start construction in the state's Central Valley, better known for its grape growers than its cities.

The feds had gotten wind of the Peninsula's high-pitched agita over high-speed rail and feared it could prevent speedy construction. The benefits in turning to the Central Valley instead: flat land and a desperate need for jobs, which translated to increased support from local politicians. The drawbacks: there weren’t many people ready to ride trains in the Central Valley.
Diridon, the chair emeritus of the High-Speed Rail Authority, defended the decision to build in the Central Valley. If people on the Peninsula "decide they want to raise hell, they can do so, and they have in previous years and it's caused huge delays," he said. So it was better to start in the Central Valley, and to try and work out a compromise on the Peninsula in the meantime.
That compromise, if it is to come, will need to work around a pending lawsuit. In October of 2010, just as California was getting more money for rail, the municipalities of Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton raised a little hell. They sued the High-Speed Rail Authority, alleging that the its ridership and revenue forecasts were so off-base that they were fundamentally flawed, . They made particular use of alleged violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), long a friend of those determined to thwart development in the state.
In interviews with HuffPost, two Democratic Palo Alto councilmen who voted for Proposition 1A vented their frustration with the high-speed rail program and described their evolution towards opposing it.
Palo Alto Councilman Larry Klein is a Democrat who was endorsed by the Sierra Club in his last election. But in the months after Prop 1A's passage, he became concerned - at first, about that Berlin Wall of a viaduct. But then his concerns grew to cover more "macro" issues.
"The more you get into this, as many of us have over the past two years after the voters passed the bond measure in the '08 election, he numbers just don't work," Klein said. "The people who were the chief proponents, I think, were more enthusiastic than realistic."
Klein's opposition to high-speed rail is not on the ideological level - he's doesn't deny economic stimulus spending can create jobs - but he does share the GOP's skepticism over high-speed rail projects.
"There are infrastructure projects and there are infrastructure projects. You can't just look at all of them and say they're all the same. Egypt three or four thousand years ago had a big infrastructure project called the pyramids. Should we build pyramids just because that'll create a lot of jobs?"
Decrying the "mad rush to chase federal dollars," Councilman Pat Burt said, "We don't have the money to have one of the best local commuter train systems survive because we're borrowing all this money to pay for things like high-speed rail, which is looking more and more like a boondoggle."
Concerns like Burt and Klein's marked a shift in opposition to the rail project. Whereas complaints over ridership estimates had previously been the province of conservative and libertarian outfits like the Reason Foundation (which released a highly critical report just before the Proposition 1A vote alleging that the San Francisco to Los Angeles line would lose $4.17 billion a year), opposition was now filtering down to relatively liberal local politicos.
The metastasis of this argument against high-speed rail typically pushed by Republicans - that it simply cannot make money in the United States, or maybe just outside of the Boston-Washington corridor - creates a formidable hurdling block for the project within California. The Peninsula's politicians are among the most well-connected in the state.

Local politicians U.S. Representative Anna Eshoo and state Sen. Simitian have proposed “blending” high-speed rail with the local commuter service Caltrain, which has been undergoing dire financial problems. . If the High-Speed Rail Authority agrees, that could go some way towards smoothing local opposition - but at the cost, potentially, of sending fewer fast trains all the way to San Francisco.
Even if the Peninsula can be placated - still a big if - the High-Speed Rail Authority faces mounting opposition in DC that could prove far more life-threatening than give-and-take over a viaduct in Palo Alto. Though California has already received more than $3 billion in federal high-speed rail funds, Republicans in Congress are trying to get that money back. The GOP recently attempted to use high-speed rail monies to cover emergency relief in flooded areas along the Mississippi - surely a worthy aim, but one intended more to deal President Obama's big ticket infrastructure project a fatal blow.

At a meeting of Peninsula cities in July, Pat Burt, the councilman from Palo Alto, seemed to treat the bullet train's death as a foregone conclusion. Even Governor Jerry Brown's spokesman has admitted that funding the project will be an uphill battle given the GOP's hostility at the national level.
If high-speed rail dies, some will say it was because Atherton, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and all the other well-off towns nearby couldn't see past their own back yards. They will blame California's onerous environmental review process, which was more or less designed to let local communities stop big projects and has created a culture of lawsuits.

That argument makes Elizabeth Alexis, who volunteers with Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design, upset.

“Too many people want to make it a referendum on trains or NIMBYs or whatever,” Alexis said. “Those are convenient scapegoats for opposition or things you don't like.”

For her, the numbers for the project simply do not wash. She feels vindicated by the radically increased cost estimates for the Central Valley, which she says are in line with her group’s estimate that the overall cost of the project will rise to $65 billion. Chip in inflation and the price tag might be as much as $100 billion.
Even somebody who has been critical of the way California handles environmental review for big projects does not think the Peninsula deserves the blame if high-speed rail goes down. Gabriel Metcalf, the executive director of San Francisco Planning + Urban Research (SPUR), said "The Congressional Republican chokehold on America is the real threat to this project. They seem to dream of 1955 when highways and suburban tract homes were the only kinds of infrastructure you had to worry about."
In October, the California High-Speed Rail Authority must release a long-awaited business plan. If California is to take advantage of stimulus funds, the last opportunity for a federal assist in the foreseeable future given that Congressional Republican “chokehold,” the clock is ticking: it must break ground on that Central Valley segment before the end of next year. Whether it will get in under the wire is an open question, as is the question of what will happen next.

For now high-speed rail's future funding is unclear, particularly the $14 billion or more in additional federal funds California will need to finish its project. Even if a segment starts being built in the Central Valley, Atherton may ultimately get its wish: the Republican majority in the House may try to kill the project. If the project's costs do increase, federal inaction could be enough to do the job. Despite engineers’ dire warnings that our infrastructure is falling apart and our roads are overcrowded, much to the detriment of our economy, Congress has shown little readiness to fix our transportation deficit.
If the project dies in a few years, critics have pointed out, the decision to build first in the Central Valley instead of near San Francisco or Los Angeles will be doubly regrettable, since the tracks will be good for nothing more than a "train to nowhere," or, at best, a train from Merced to Bakersfield. They say that's a reason to stop the project now, before billions are spent on it.

Rail boosters paint a bleak picture of what stopping high-speed rail would mean for the state and the country. California is projected to see its population soar from 37 million today to some 50 million by 2035. All those extra people will be crowded into a state that seems to have already added as many freeway lanes and airport gates as it possibly can. But if California must add more, rail backers claim, the costs will outstrip those of the project, since "the cost of doing nothing is not zero." They believe population growth would require $90-100 billion more in highway and airport investments.

The country is nearing a breaking point, Authority chairman Umberg argues, and rail is the only way out.
"I think we should take a look at countries like Afghanistan and decide whether that's where we want to end up," said Umberg, who recently served a tour there with the Army.
"I think that's where we end up without investments in infrastructure, if we don't maintain our transportation infrastructure and improve it too keep pace with population and the rest of the world. That's where we end up. I know that sounds like hyperbole - but we have hard choices to make."

Julie Carlson August 26, 2011 at 04:18 PM
And if I don't feel like being groped, I can always get in my car and drive to LA, thereby avoiding not only the groping, but the hassle of renting a car, waiting for baggage, etc. AAA did a study that found that for many people traveling as families, the time spent in the car driving to LA (to say, Disneyland) was about equal with flying/car rental, etc. or even a bit less. We just get up early to leave and accept the fact that there will be traffic in LA. I'd prefer that to some TSA with a latex glove. But OH NOOOO! My carbon footprint!
CJ August 26, 2011 at 09:37 PM
Dan-You will be groped the same on a HS train. Count on it. I fly 1-2 times a week and have yet to be groped. Maybe I am doing something wrong? or right? I will gladly trade getting groped by a some TSA employee over spending multi billions for a slow trip down memory lane of a railroad that my kids have to pay for.
CJ August 26, 2011 at 09:44 PM
Adam- When will you HSR advocates acknowledge we are NOT anything like europe. Europe is very city centered and focused. The US is not built that way and thankfully will never be that way. That is why HSR will fail in the US and the individual flexibility and freedom of autos the highway system will continue being the least expensive and time eficient form of transport. Liberals seemed to be fixated on this idea of HSR as some romantic return to civility. When all it is in relaity a Union jobs program and a shining example of government overreach. If people want an HSR then a private company can acquire the rights to build it and charge a fair rate for the ticket. We will then see if it pencils. As I have stated many times this thing will NEVER see the light of day. We will blow billions in Engineering and EIR studies and see nothing happen.
Dan Perkins August 27, 2011 at 02:38 AM
Yeah driving to LA is soooo much more relaxing than taking a train. Whatever.
Tony Rodriguez August 27, 2011 at 03:20 AM
Even the most ardent supporter has to pause at the price tag. Or should.
joel November 06, 2011 at 04:39 AM
you are missing the point , by building the high speed train , which will take less time than flying to LA , less pollution, they will have to upgrade the entire infrastructure , so yes it will create more job , now one point should be made we should use American made product and not buy equipment like the port of oakland which bought all their in china .
joel November 06, 2011 at 05:04 AM
ever taken in consideration how much it actually cost you to drive to LA , factual .
Eileen November 06, 2011 at 05:11 AM
@ joel, many of us who "brag" about European public transportation have, in these comments, noted that once you disembark a high speed train in London or Paris, you can easily transfer onto a subway train, local bus, commuter rail or regional train to continue your onward journey to your final destination. Such options are often available in the more densely-populated Northeastern US, but much less so in the west, and especially in Los Angeles. I still suggest that we invest more dollars in expanding our local metro area transportation systems - in terms of geographic reach, synching of schedules at transfer points and inter-connecting fares/ticketing - in the SF Bay Area and LA, before we spend millions or more on a high speed rail link between SF and LA that few will use. Such an investment, in local systems, will also bring "jobs" and the work will have a greater public impact, IMO.
Tony Rodriguez November 06, 2011 at 05:28 AM
I don't think you're giving due acknowledgment of the Metrolink, Metro, and bus (local and regional) connections that are available at Union Station. A lot has changed there in the last 20 years. World-leading, I think not, but good enough to warrant a little higher credit than you are giving it.
Eileen November 06, 2011 at 05:40 AM
Yes, Joel, I can. It's about 400 miles from Lamorinda to LA. My car gets about 20 MPG highway, so I'll consume ~20 gallons of gas, and @ $3.80/gallon, I will spend $76 on gas, one way. Adding in another 20 cents/mile for wear-and-tear (generous), I add another $80 onto my one way bill. So, we have $76 + $80 = $156 in direct and indirect cost for a car trip for our family of four from Lamorinda to LA, that would take about 6 hours, incorporating food/potty/gas breaks if we avoid peak traffic (which we can do easily). Let's contrast that with the cost for we four on the train, assuming the cost of a high speed rail option is, at best, equal to the lowest-priced offering of std fares on current routing. (This, of course, if ridiculous. High speed rail is priced at a premium in the Northeastern US and in Europe, but for the sake of argument....) The lowest fare for a family of four, on Amtrak, one way from Martinez to downtown LA is $165. Add to that the fact that to continue our onward journey, from the high speed rail's terminus, to our various destinations in the greater LA area, like Disneyland and friends/family in Santa Monica and other westside communities, we'd need to rent a car, and the ultimate cost of a "train" trip is higher - in terms of both $'s and "hassle" - than a well-planned drive of one's own car between the Bay Area and LA. High speed rail is a great idea, once we have invested in MUCH more robust local public transport networks, IMO.
Eileen November 06, 2011 at 05:56 AM
@ Tony, yes, kudos to LA for making improvements - and by all means, Angelenos, please continue to embrace the possibilities of public transport investments - but I don't think any LA resident or visitor can credibly claim to be able to "make their way around" town the way a New Yorker, Bostonian, Dc-er or Chicagoer could, on their home turf, using public transport. MUCH work remains to be done before, IMO, LA area public transport networks match what we have in the SF Bay Area, much less what the public enjoys on the East Coast.
joel November 06, 2011 at 07:46 PM
Eilein: A/c transit was the absolute model in pubklic transportation in the USA , used as a template for countless transportation agency including large metropole , we alloed it to become what it is . High speed train are far cheaper andv economical than your 20 mpg car which you forgot to mention you need to buy {$20 to $40 000} there is also a strong distinction between once a year trip to LA to a weekly and or bi Weekly , then the cost add up . As far as premium prices for high speed train in europe , you are mistaken most of them have 1 and 2nd class at good price and it beat driving. I do not believe this country ewill ever see an high speed train , they have been squabling about rebuil;ding the Bay bridge since 1989 , it took the British and the French {an interesting team} 4 years or less to dig the euro tunnel to save 5 hours by the ferry ,and less than 4 to built the Millau bridge one of the highest in the world if not the highest { I strongly recommend you google it } all this to save 2 hours .......
CJ November 06, 2011 at 11:17 PM
I wouldn't ever consider riding public transportation in any American city much less Los Angeles. The fact is America and particularly California is very focused on the flexibility and freedom of auto/air travel. It will take another 200 years to nip away at the fringes of this idea and infrastructure. The collective fantasy of a utopian public transportation system that is zero polluting and efficient is like dreaming of unicorns and fairy princesses and destoys any real achievable public discourse on the nibbling around the fringes. HSR will NEVER be built in our lifetime. We do not have the money. Period. All we have is liberal politicians pissing away our tax dollars so they can appear to be creating a massive union driven project before the next election.
Eileen November 07, 2011 at 02:48 AM
Joel, we are debating the economics of a marginal trip to LA. I will own a car to drive around the Bay Area regardless of whether I make one, five or fifteen trips from SF to LA in any time frame. Thus, the investment in my vehicle, is a sunk cost and not relevant to this analysis. It's the And, no I am not mistaken about the cost of high-speed rail relative to its slower "traditional" cousins. They may have multiple tiers of service, but they're priced at a premium to std offerings (where they still exist). And of course it beats driving on a continent where you're paying more than double what we do, on a per unit basis, for gas. The govts have added high taxes to the price of fuel and the costs of buying a car in a concerted effort to limit car ownership, encourage consumers to buy smaller, more fuel efficient cars when they do, and thus to make public transport more competitive. It's a positive reinforcement loop that I wish we'd initiated during the middle of the last century, as they did....
Eileen November 07, 2011 at 02:51 AM
I guess you haven't lived in one of the major metro areas - NYC, Boston, DC - back east. The subway, buses, commuter rail, make getting around by car more trouble than it's worth - in terms of dollars and hassle. Heck, when I went into labor in NYC with my daughter, I took the subway, as it was the only reliable way of getting from home to hospital in a timely fashion.
Chris Kapsalis November 07, 2011 at 03:56 AM
Many of the greatest innovations and inventions were before their time and the people of the time never lived to see the potential of the idea or benefit from it. Many did. Oil is running dry, causing war, and with the heat that is under us everywhere on earth a endless source of energy, just a few miles below us, I can see high speed rail very very soon, within 20 years taking over air travel and even autos as the way most humans get from place to place on earth, and fast, efficiently , non polluting and safely. If only people have the foresight and make it a priority, and expect glitches, just as there was in air travel at first. Rocketry, if we gave up at the first few disasters, and nay sayers, cost, we would not have global satellite communication and so on, which changed the world, we are using it right now to debate this topic in fact.
Chris Nicholson November 07, 2011 at 05:13 AM
@Chris K: This is not a case where we need to "prime the pump" for technological innovation. We know how to build high speed rail. We can't unlearn that. We also know how much it will cost (although proponents will always lie about initial estimates). Finally, we know that it doesn't make economic sense. If and when it makes economic sense, private capital will be available to build it quickly and more cheaply than the current proposals.
Chris Kapsalis November 07, 2011 at 05:19 AM
@Chris N: We also knew how to build cars before Henry Ford.
Chris Kapsalis November 07, 2011 at 05:28 AM
We need to rethink this a bit I believe. So the current proposal is flawed, too much, a waste, maybe so, won't work, a monorail or sorts like in the Simpson's, but I can easily see high speed rail of some sort taking shape soon in America, and taking more travelers from say SF to LA and other places than air travel, maybe not cars for a long time though. In time, maybe. Now a fairy of sorts driving your vehicle onto a trian of sorts and having it sped to LA in one hour, then off you go in your own vehicle, that might work well. Air travel is a pain. When I flew fly to Toronto, it is what, 4 1/2 hours of fly time, but time to drive or take bart to the airport, check in, lines, all that, taxing, security, it is more time waiting, not flying. Delays. Sitting around, and forget it if you have to take a connecting flight. I had to fly 1000 miles in the wrong direction once to get to where i was going. What?
Eileen November 07, 2011 at 05:48 AM
Your post rambles a bit but seems to be suggesting that the SF-LA train include a car-transport option, like the Virginia-to-Florida Amtrak "auto train." This would be viable, IMO, because I need my own car (with car seats) for trips to SoCal to be economically viable, short term.
Chris Nicholson November 07, 2011 at 05:48 AM
Henry Ford did not use taxpayer money to build his cars. I have no objection to private companies seeking to build high speed rail with private capital. In terms of routing efficiency, planes will always be best. Once you build an airport, the "tracks" connecting it to all other airports are "free." Contrast a railroad. If you want a direct route to/from all cities/destinations, imagine how much track you'd have to build.
Tony Rodriguez November 07, 2011 at 05:53 AM
Various arguments in favor of HSR are all well and fine, but do they override any cost considerations? If $100B won't throw cold water, what will?
Chris Nicholson November 07, 2011 at 06:00 AM
If it's not your money, it doesn't count as "cold water."
Eileen November 07, 2011 at 06:00 AM
@ Chris, your argument only holds water west of the Mississippi. Centrally-located train stations in most major East Coast metro areas offer faster journeys to other eastern seaboard destinations than would air travel via local airports that are typically located 45 min outside of those cities. I know so because I've lived (and paid for) it. In the west, where our cities are less densely-occupied, our public transport networks are less developed and our fuel taxes are so low, that Chris' assertion that the on-ground freeway "tracks" "are free" depends - mistakenly - on this "subsidized" assumption.
Chris Kapsalis November 07, 2011 at 06:04 AM
Going to the moon was thought to be a waste of money at the time, but what we gained was monumental. And job creation, the golden gate bridge and Empire state building were built during the great depression. Sometimes the best time to invest, build, is the worst financial times. And no, no trains to every destination, just the most traveled, lots of people go from LA to SF, and LA to Phoenix, so I see a line From Seattle to LA, East to Phoenix and beyond. Stay south of the Rocky's let air travel take over where tracks are not feasible, or even possible. Over water of course. Also we learn from trying, and failing sometimes. If they gave up on air travel just before the DC 3, or just before the jet liner, we would have lost out on a way to go around the globe in literally a day or less. Air travel was very unpopular in the early 30's. I can see the same argument, and in fact the same arguments were made not to build air ports or build a new plane way back. Your nuts. No one will fly. A waste. BTW the DC 3 was also built in the great depression.
Chris Nicholson November 07, 2011 at 06:16 AM
@Eileen: I was speaking of "free" air routes, not trucking routes. I also have ridden the trains up and down the Eastern seaboard. Very convenient, albeit sometimes more expensive and slower than planes-- but more productive (can use phone/computer the whole trip). I am not saying that we should halt rail service everywhere, just that we should only build new lines where it makes economic sense to do so. @ Chris K: Your analogies are flawed. If it doesn't make sense, it doesn't make sense. No analogy will change the underlying math/logic. Don't get dreamy about rail being something new. The analysis is the same as "should we build a new road." This is not the space race or the dawn of commercial aviation....
Chris Kapsalis November 07, 2011 at 07:53 AM
@ Chris N: Again Chris, Rail is nothing new yes, also Shipping is nothing new, but things evolve, change, and shipping has been around for thousands of years, trains for hundreds , rails, but much has changed. We are not talking about the same rails our grandfathers built. My analogies are valid. Sorry.
CJ November 08, 2011 at 04:31 PM
OK Eileen, NYC maybe is the exception out of necessity. But I have been there and just took cabs where I needed to go. LA rail is horrendous. LA travel is horrendous in general but the auto is still and will remain king due to the layout of the region. People do not live in LA proper. They flood out to the surrounding burbs. Weekends the place is a ghost town. Most folks live outside metro city limits and will more often than choose the flexibility, convenience and efficiency of auto travel. I don't even care to use BART and it stops here in my town. I can always get to SF/Oaktown or wherever faster and cheaper with a family by driving with very few exceptions.
joel November 09, 2011 at 05:00 PM
it take: 11/2 hour to board the plane over 1 hour to get there , all of us who have flown there know it is over 1 hour It take 2- to 30 minutes to get out of LAX then you get stuck in the freeway right away , sometimes you might be lucky this is with good weather and no "screw up" at either airport . reality on the overall the train will beat the plane , one of the reason a couples of airlines want to partner with the train , there are only so many planes that can take off safely , they all burn a fairly high amount of jet fuel , as a matter of fact one single jet with 150 peoples opn board waste more energy than a train loaded with 300 passengers . This fight of to be or nort to be remind me of WW1 , when General Pershing {hope not to be mistaken} refused to allow US soldier in the front because they were ill prepared coming out of the Indian war on horse back to find tank , planes and MOD from both sides , there are not many differences , we either go with progress and move the masses or we will become a third world Country . This also remind me so much of the Xerox corporation which totally blew the PC saying those guy in california are not to be taken seriousely .
joel November 09, 2011 at 05:21 PM
eilein: somewhere along the way you made a mistake in your math . Lamorinda to los angeles 5 hours 47mn minutes that is assuming you do not get stuck on the freeway in LA , then add 1 more hour . And yes I have done the trip in 3 hours from Alameda , low cloud light patch of fog CHP can't get accurate reading on radar and can't fly , At times driving at speed in excess of 130 mph and like everyone else got stuck in the Los Angeles traffic mess.


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