With the price tag for the first segment of California’s proposed high-speed rail jumping from an estimated $7.1 billion in 2009 to between $10 billion and $13.9 billion today, members of California’s Legislature are becoming a bit more critical in their thinking with respect to the project.
California lawmakers may put brakes on bullet train [Business Times]
High-Speed High Jinks? [SocketSite]

Comments from Plugged-In Readers

  1. Posted by badlydrawnbear

    Look there are plenty of studies out there that show the coast of building rail vs roads is basically equal.
    The difference is the rail cost are much more upfront and more visible. The cost of roads have a lot of hidden costs that occur over time.
    But when you look at something like the interstate highway system, that sucker would cost something close to 1/2 Trillion dollars to build today. If it didn’t already exist how gung ho would we be to build it?
    Finally, I would like to know what is the alternative? More roads, wider roads, more air airports, more air travel?
    Where are we going to build those airports? How much will it cost to upgrade air traffic control to handle the additional load? With most roads already locked in by development how will we widen the roads? Will the government use eminent domain? How much will that cost?
    Upgrading exising rail right of ways to support HSR actually seems the most feasible solution when looking at medium range travel, IMHO. I certainly would prefer to get on a train in downtown SF and take it to Sac or LA then drive or fly, but maybe that’s just me.

  2. Posted by zig

    a dysfunctional crony capitalist system and we also suck pretty bad now at public works projects.
    Sad that we can’t figure out how to do this correctly

  3. Posted by badlydrawnbear

    If you want to see how alternatives to HSR play out I can point to several Chicago sagas
    A new airport (first proposed in 1968, first land purchases began in 2002, as of 2011 still nothing but an empty field)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proposed_Chicago_south_suburban_airport
    Expanding O’Hare estimated at 6 Billion in 2002 dollars, no completetion date yet, ongoing legal fights (including from the airlines themselves as the implemented capacity reduction efforts in the late Aughts)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O%27Hare_International_Airport#Modernization_plan
    And in an effort to improve traffic flows Chicago will soon allow commuter buses to use road shoulders during commutes (since there is no room to further expand any highways, similar to the roads in the Bay Area and LA)
    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-quinn-signs-measure-for-shoulderriding-buses-on-stevenson-20110811,0,3649139.story

  4. Posted by gh

    Current market cap of Southwest Airlines is $6.6 billion, so why doesn’t the State just buy it? And United-Continental is $5.87 billion, so we could buy that too, and just dedicate all the airplanes to SFO-LAX route. Departures every five minutes…
    At some point soon this ridiculous project will die…especially with projected tax receipts headed down.

  5. Posted by sfrenegade

    Look there are plenty of studies out there that show the coast of building rail vs roads is basically equal.
    The difference is the rail cost are much more upfront and more visible. The cost of roads have a lot of hidden costs that occur over time.
    If anything, the alternatives are more expensive. From the EIS:

    Statewide, over the next two decades, California’s HST system would alleviate the need to spend more than $100 billion to build 3,000 miles of new freeway, 5 airport runways, and 90 departure gates to meet the transportation needs of a growing population. In fact, the San Joaquin Valley is projected to grow at a rate higher than any other region in California. Four counties – Fresno, Kings, Tulare, and Kern – are projected to grow by 72% by year 2035.

    Turning CA-99 into I-9 is not cheap either, and neither is increasing airport capacity.
    Oh well, I guess we should find another country to blow up. Probably a better use of our funds.

  6. Posted by Patrick

    Been to Anaheim airport lately? I have — and it’s quiet, roomy, and slow. Ontario. Oakland. Santa Rosa. Glendale. Long Beach. There’s plenty of unused capacity in regional airports. And the costs for expanding this capacity is a trifle compared to HSR costs. The ability to expand/contract service to these airports is also a trifle, compared to building physical infrastructure.
    Add this to the other sad fact: even once you get to LA or Fresno, HSR riders will likely still switch to rental cars to GET to points like Ventura, Petaluma, Tracy, Venice, Lomita, etc. You don’t solve much by just offering point-to-point rail and then having crappy local transit infrastructure. It’s cart before horse with HSR.
    Of course HSR sounds great to *me*, as a San Franciscan, because it serves me so well. I sit on top of a key railhead. But I’m not blind to see how HSR is no transportation dream for outlying residents. And HSR is bankrolled by generalized public monies, to a much smaller degree than air transport (ticketing) and road (gas taxes). In those modalities, actual users bear a high proportion of actual costs. HSR ticket fees, given railroad history and ticket price realities, will never come close to covering even the maintenance cost for the system.
    The huge amount capital spent on a single thread of HSR should be spent on greatly expanding and improving local transit infrastructure — where every single day, hundreds of thousands of people are driving 50 miles or so because their local system is so crapped out. Building a shiny, expensive rail shuttle that will see only big ridership LA -> SF is rather shortsighted. It’s cart before horse.
    No surprise SF people, me included, are jonesing for HSR. But I’m under no illusion that it’s a *selfish perspective*. And not one that offers credible benefits over regional airports until we have a greatly improved intra-regional transit options that keep people from jumping into cars once they get off the HSR at LA (or Sacramento… or anywhere).
    And I guarantee you, we’ll all be shocked at how few people actually take the HSR compared to $49-$79 one hour flights to LBC or LAX. It’s a huge cost boondoggle, albeit one that I’ll personally benefit from. If I was a resident of Modesto or Santa Rosa or Dana Point, not so much.

  7. Posted by anon

    ^Again with the $49 to $79 nonsense. Those are NOT average fares, those are sales for fares bought in advance. HSR could very well ALSO have $49 fares for certain tickets if the marketing necessitated it.
    Southwest isn’t making money off of filling flights with folks paying $49. And they certainly won’t be doing that in the future.

  8. Posted by Arn

    Have you heard the story of the Trojan Horse?
    Do not build this.
    If ever gets built, taxpayers will be on the hook for generations.

  9. Posted by sfrenegade

    “Been to Anaheim airport lately? I have — and it’s quiet, roomy, and slow. Ontario. Oakland. Santa Rosa. Glendale. Long Beach. There’s plenty of unused capacity in regional airports. And the costs for expanding this capacity is a trifle compared to HSR costs. The ability to expand/contract service to these airports is also a trifle, compared to building physical infrastructure. ”
    Do you mean John Wayne, mailing address Santa Ana, bordered by Irvine and Costa Mesa? Also do you mean Burbank, not Glendale (unless you mean the defunct Grand Central Airport)? Yeah, that’ll work. If you think NIMBYs are bad now, good luck having adding flights at SNA and BUR with their noise abatement and limited operating hours. Most of those airports are already hemmed in and are restricted by many requirements. Sometimes the presence of one airport inhibits additional traffic at another (see flight paths for OAK and SFO, for example).
    “Add this to the other sad fact: even once you get to LA or Fresno, HSR riders will likely still switch to rental cars to GET to points like Ventura, Petaluma, Tracy, Venice, Lomita, etc. ”
    As opposed to on planes which magically whoosh you off and then have you transfer to a flying unicorn to your final destination.
    “And HSR is bankrolled by generalized public monies, to a much smaller degree than air transport (ticketing) and road (gas taxes). In those modalities, actual users bear a high proportion of actual costs. HSR ticket fees, given railroad history and ticket price realities, will never come close to covering even the maintenance cost for the system.”
    That’s bogus. Every HSR system has made money thus far. Both air transport and roads have plenty of subsidies going into infrastructure. Gas taxes certainly don’t cover all costs, and neither do landing fees. History is just that — we don’t have this kind of system here.
    “And I guarantee you, we’ll all be shocked at how few people actually take the HSR compared to $49-$79 one hour flights to LBC or LAX.”
    Have you flown recently? The $49 flights of before are gone or at least extremely rare barring a huge fare sale. Even a weekday flight a month from now is $59 minimum on Southwest from OAK to LAX, and a weekend flight is either $69 or $85. That rises to $115 when you get closer and $146 or $161 when you get even closer. I haven’t paid anything lower than about $100 each way in a while.
    It’s also not an hour — even scheduled time is 17-25% longer than that — 70-75 mins. Add security and routine delays during popular flight times. HSR is not that much slower — airplanes are actually relatively inefficient at some of these routes.

  10. Posted by lol

    More tired arguments from the naysayers who don’t want any tax dollars used for anything (except roads and wars).
    I usually step up in the defense of HSR but I’ll sit this one out. I’ll let successes of other countries speak for themselves. China, Germany, France, South Korean, Spain, Italy, England, Belgium, etc… HSR changed their countries in ways they could never had imagined and they’re not discussing how much it has cost. The tunnel under the Channel was the only financial disaster but an incredible game changer benefiting everyone.
    They succeeded but somehow it would fail? Grow a spine, people.

  11. Posted by gh

    I think most of those countries were solvent when they undertook HSR though…

  12. Posted by lol

    A ton of HSR rails were laid in the 70s and 80s in Europe. Refusing to invest in the future is a self-inflicted disability.

  13. Posted by Delancey

    …all hail the return of the long-silent posters from atherton, menlo park, and palo alto

  14. Posted by obro

    Absolutely missing the point. What was the cost of putting someone on the moon?
    How much would the taxpayer have paid in 1970 to “build the internet?” What’s the “internet” worth to the world economy these days? Who saw that coming?
    Will high speed rail pencil by predicting people’s anticipated tolerance for the cost of a ticket? Is this what people are arguing about? It’s not the cost of the ticket that High Speed Rail brings us, it’s what a trip on High Speed rail brings us.
    We can’t afford NOT to do High Speed Rail.
    We can’t afford NOT to send a man to Mars.
    We can’t afford NOT to think big and great and have the confidence that by thinking big and great we become big and great.
    The stuff politicians argue about now is ridiculous to a point that I lack the literary skills to describe it. Symbolic of the decline of an empire. So much wasted energy.
    Do you know that there are engineers (in their spare time) that are trying to design an elevator to space?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_elevator
    Does this not blow you away and inspire you to pay more taxes to get these guys going?
    I don’t know, call me crazy but I’m pretty convinced this country has irrevocable lost its way.

  15. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    Those quoting low airfare costs should consider that they’re affected by the cost of Jet-A fuel. The cost of Jet-A and pretty much anything else made from petroleum is expected to rise significantly in the coming decades. It would be a bummer to be stuck with a long distance transportation infrastructure that no-one can afford to buy the fuel to use.
    And yes HSR operators also offer discounts. I just checked and you can travel from Munich to Hamburg for just 29 euros if you’re can book a few weeks in advance.
    As for the underutilized SoCal airports don’t forget that you need at least two airports to travel between LA and SF. Though OAK has a little room to expand but SJC just completed their last expansion *ever* and expanding SFO’s capacity is an enormous capital project and will produce a controversial EIR as well.
    The cost of not building HSR will be greater than building it.

  16. Posted by gh

    Wow, quite the sales pitch for HSR! As evidenced by Amtrak, it is critical for us as a nation.
    I think this State has so many other more effective ways to stimulate the economy…by promoting private industry basically.
    These shovel ready Obama-bucks investments have just added to our debt pile and continue the long, long legacy of extreme government wastefulness.
    Rick Perry is eating CA’s lunch simply by giving tax breaks to companies and keeping the enviro-mentals at bay. No HSR in that huge state.
    But build now or forever be lost! (I think I heard that in 2006)
    I think we’re missing the point with the cheap airfare reference. The State could seriously buy two major airlines for the ‘preliminary’ cost estimate of HSR (actual cost is 4x higher), manage the businesses to breakeven, and charge $30 each way.
    I do agree that we can’t afford not to send all realtors to Mars though.

  17. Posted by lol

    gh,
    Amtrak, just like USPS is typical of the GOP message. Break it beyond repair then show the ugly wreck as an example of why we should not support them. They have wet dreams of the US defaulting and collapsing as a country.
    Twisted reverted logic. Karl Rove must be an inspiration to you.

  18. Posted by FormerAptBroker

    badlydrawnbear wrote:
    > Look there are plenty of studies out there that
    > show the coast of building rail vs roads is
    > basically equal.
    I’m sure there are studies that show this just like there are studies that show that the Iraq war is a great idea. The first thing I would do if I wanted my heavy construction company to make tons of money from the government is join up with the union guys that work for me and produce a “study” that says building a high speed rail line is a great idea…

  19. Posted by lol

    FAB,
    The union conspiracy angle. There’s a new one. Got proof?

  20. Posted by gh

    Karl Rove and I will ride the rails together as hobos, given the rate of our demise.
    But seriously, I just see government trying to spend its way out of recession with their bloated projects as repulsive. Not really a GOP thing as I don’t vote on that platform, more just a case of spending within one’s means. I don’t see how bond financing for something of this nature is prudent and an absolutely necessary expenditure at this juncture, but I might be very shortsighted. Too many other basic things we already can’t afford.

  21. Posted by badlydrawnbear

    Rick Perry and TX are eating CA lunch, Really?
    http://www.texastribune.org/texas-taxes/2011-budget-shortfall/
    “A budget shortfall as high as $27 billion is projected as lawmakers work through the 2011 legislative session, according to estimates from economists and the comptroller’s office.”
    Amazon Offers Texas Jobs for Tax Breaks, To No Avail
    http://www.texastribune.org/texas-legislature/82nd-legislative-session/amazon-offers-texas-jobs-tax-breaks-no-avail/
    And TX may not have HSR now, but plenty of people in TX are sure working hard to make it happen
    http://www.thsrtc.com/

  22. Posted by FormerAptBroker

    lol wrote:
    > Amtrak, just like USPS is typical of the
    > GOP message. Break it beyond repair then
    > show the ugly wreck as an example of why
    > we should not support them.
    I am no fan of the GOP, but it is not their fault that people (GOP, Dem & Independent) are not taking the train as often as they once did and mailing a lot less letters. Southwest and UPS has figured out how to move people and packages without my tax dollars. Like many people (not just Republicans) I don’t want to pay a ton of taxes every year for a HSR system that never covers its cost with ticket sales.

  23. Posted by kg

    Auto/Gas industry PR engine hard at work to ruin the credibility of this project. Everything will be fine as long as you keep on buying their gas guzzlers.

  24. Posted by badlydrawnbear

    “I don’t see how bond financing for something of this nature is prudent …”
    Then you should look at this …
    http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/data-chart-center/interest-rates/Pages/TextView.aspx?data=realyield
    Considering the US government can currently borrow at NEGATIVE real interest rates, financing the project is actually cheaper than spending cash.
    http://thinkprogress.org/yglesias/2011/08/10/293197/negative-real-yields/

  25. Posted by FormerAptBroker

    lol wrote:
    > FAB, The union conspiracy angle.
    > There’s a new one. Got proof?
    It is not a “conspiracy” that heavy construction firms use union labor on close to all government projects, it is a fact. I guess you must not listen to the radio since I bet I’ve heard over 100 ads from “Rebuild CA” that are paid for by unions and big construction firms.
    http://www.rebuildca.org/

  26. Posted by badlydrawnbear

    “UPS has figured out how to move people and packages without my tax dollars”
    FYI – The postal service receives ZERO tax dollars and is funded by stamps and other user fees. The only people paying for USPS are the individuals who use the USPS to mail letters and packages.

  27. Posted by FormerAptBroker

    badlydrawnbear wrote:
    > Considering the US government can currently
    > borrow at NEGATIVE real interest rates,
    The government can not sell long term bonds at NEGATIVE interest rates.
    > financing the project is actually cheaper
    > than spending cash.
    Even if the government could get the money to build the system for free we will still need to pay to keep it going (the Wikipedia says we pay
    $2.6 billion a YEAR to keep Amtrak going)…

  28. Posted by lol

    Union representing workers who support work that will provide jobs to workers. Geez, these people are really corrupt for wanting investments that provide jobs.
    Plus this work would have a great use and ROI for everyone.
    Not like bankers where successive $1T bailouts provide 10s of Bs in kick ass banker bonuses and no extra jobs. That’s a good use of taxpayer money.

  29. Posted by FAA

    Hmmmmm…countries with nice rail systems have AAA ratings. Putting the good ol’ US of AA+ back on track sure would be nice.

  30. Posted by lol

    Ratings are more political than everything.
    France has a high deficit and debt but yet they retained their AAA rating. S&P’s justification: France pension reform will help lower the deficit and this is what they want to see in the US.

  31. Posted by NoeValleyJim

    Any company using airports or roads for transportation is getting a massive taxpayer subsidy as well.

  32. Posted by Delancey

    lol — S&P seems to have only very recently moved into the political advocacy business. As far as I know Moody’s does not do this.
    As far as I am concerned, S&P now has about as much credibility as the WSJ editorial page. Not that S&P had much anyways after their repeated multi-level years-long failures to accurately assess and rate mortgage backed securities and their derivatives.

  33. Posted by lol

    Delancey,
    Yes, I should have precised “this rating”. Point taken.

  34. Posted by badlydrawnbear

    “Even if the government could get the money to build the system for free we will still need to pay to keep it going …”
    And we don’t have to keep bridges, roads, airports, dam, sewers in good repair?
    By that logic we should never fund a new infrastructure project because it will require on going maintance.

  35. Posted by lol

    Sewers you say? Surface flow of refuse is working perfectly. The country doesn’t have the money to bury those union lobbyist – taxpayer financed sewer systems that will make our country bankrupt,

  36. Posted by Legacy Dude

    I’m sure I’ll get flamed or called a pessimist for this, so let me start by saying that I really wish it were possible for this idea to work as planned – I totally share Patrick’s view above and love the concept. That said, here’s my admittedly cynical view of how this would probably unfold in real life:
    1) NIMBYs who oppose airport expansion also don’t want a bullet train zipping through/near their town. So the route would need to get renegotiated or slowed. Add a few years to the timeline and double the cost.
    2) Ditto for environmentalists who demand studies on the effects of HSR on the habitat of the spotted turdworm et al. Add a few years and double the cost again.
    3) America has no experience building these, so we would probably have much of the design & brain work done by the Japanese or Germans, and the trains would likely be built in China and shipped over here. So much for creating American jobs.
    4) Because of 1 and 2, that 2:40 trip to LA would now take closer to 4 hours, so ridership would be way below projections. In any event, business travelers will continue to fly since they’re relatively insensitive to airfares but their time is important. Regular people will still drive since you need a car when you get to LA anyway.
    5) The program would incur huge losses that would need to be subsidized endlessly by taxpayers, just like in Spain. No, not “instead of” but “in addition to” the bridges, roads, and airports that we already subsidize. Because those aren’t going away.
    The final denoument would be a gigantic circle-jerk of finger pointing and blame-storming, with everyone involved trying to demonstrate why they weren’t the reason HSR failed in California.
    I would love to be wrong about this, but I just don’t think California has the political will or density to do this correctly. And it’s not worth doing unless it’s done correctly. Flame away.

  37. Posted by sfrenegade

    “Not that S&P had much anyways after their repeated multi-level years-long failures to accurately assess and rate mortgage backed securities and their derivatives.”
    But let’s not forget their other failures too. While they repeatedly rated mortgage-backed securities as AAA, they also sucked at a lot of other stuff:
    Lehman was AAA 3 days before failure.
    Iceland was A- the day the banks guaranteed deposits.
    Even Bear Stearns was BBB (still investment grade) 2 days before being bailed out by JPM.
    Let’s not forget that AIG was AA- only 2 days before their massive bailout.
    All these guys have shown repeatedly is that they aren’t very good at their job. Even with the recent downgrade, they made massive mistakes on the day of that had to be corrected.

  38. Posted by gh

    Legacy Dude…you are right on, finally some clear thinking on this subject.
    Interesting/baffling how many on SS feel that the government would actually complete this project sucessfully, given their horrendous track record.
    Think of the Bay Bridge debacle x 400 miles + right-of-way issues…it never happens.

  39. Posted by sfrenegade

    “Because of 1 and 2, that 2:40 trip to LA would now take closer to 4 hours, so ridership would be way below projections. In any event, business travelers will continue to fly since they’re relatively insensitive to airfares but their time is important. Regular people will still drive since you need a car when you get to LA anyway. ”
    The requirement in the ballot proposition is a 2:40 trip non-stop from LA to SF. I’m not convinced that business travelers are losing that much time — easier to get work done on a train than a plane. A lot of environmental review has already been done:
    http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/library.aspx
    (and as if you don’t need a car in the Bay Area…)
    The report by the US Conference of Mayors thinks this project would have a $7.6B benefit to Los Angeles alone, which would go a long way in terms of paying the project off, considering the additional revenue:
    http://www.usmayors.org/highspeedrail/documents/report.pdf

  40. Posted by Mole Man

    The newly available draft environmental impact report for Merced to Fresno shows how many of the issues raised can be handled.
    Regarding the spotted turdworm, that really isn’t going to be an issue because essentially all the land involved is either already right of way, adjacent to existing right of way, or intensively farmed. Any spotted turdworms would have been wiped out long ago by brake dust, methyl bromide, or some other such.
    Speaking of rights of way, objectors have pretty much nothing to go on. That is even more true now that CalTrain is negotiating to share track for combined service.
    Because of increasing crowding at airports and on roads the a four hour time would still be competitive, and less than three hours is still projected. Compared to the ongoing losses and costs of roads and air corridors even an unsuccessful project would be relatively cheap and worthwhile because of the road and air capacity that would be freed up. Control of air traffic corridors has been getting increasingly complex and expensive over time, just to point out one problem with existing services.
    The trains will probably be imported from overseas, but there is a lot of shovel ready work to do right now. There is risk of failure, but this is so basic. I, for one, refuse to believe that this nation has degenerated so thoroughly that it can’t build a train.

  41. Posted by sfrenegade

    “America has no experience building these, so we would probably have much of the design & brain work done by the Japanese or Germans, and the trains would likely be built in China and shipped over here. So much for creating American jobs.”
    Last time we had a big train project, we created Chinese jobs in America. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
    We could do that again and must because the Obama administration did set “Buy American” standards for HSR.
    Japan (a country which has a tiny bit of knowledge about building in an earthquake zone) has already said they are willing to invest in HSR here, and Kawasaki already builds trains in the US:
    http://www.cahsrblog.com/2011/01/%E2%80%9Cwe%E2%80%99ll-put-up-half-the-money-for-california-hsr%E2%80%9D-says-japan%E2%80%99s-ambassador-to-the-united-states/
    GE already has a deal with CSR of China to build trains in the US, and Alstom of France and Siemens of Germany have factories here (in California!) already:
    http://www.cahsrblog.com/2011/01/chinas-role-in-funding-california-high-speed-rail/
    The French have a 211 page proposal and it projects 2:40 with 2 stops, I might add:
    http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/sncf/California.pdf

  42. Posted by lyqwyd

    I agree with the pro-HSR crowd. HSR is an important project, it will create jobs here, and it is good for the future of Cali and the U.S. Not building it means we will have to build more roads and expand and build airports, these are big projects, and suffer from the same cost overrun problems as any HSR project. Remember Boston’s Big Dig project?
    I’m fiscally conservative, but I still strongly support HSR because it’s a project that will pay off in the medium and long terms. I’d be fine with extending the duration of the project and spending less each year (although that has it’s own problems and I’m not in favor of it), but killing the project would be plain stupid.
    There are plenty of other bad projects that honestly deserve to be canceled, HSR is a good project and should be completed.

  43. Posted by FormerAptBroker

    gh wrote:
    > Interesting/baffling how many on SS feel
    > that the government would actually complete
    > this project sucessfully, given their
    > horrendous track record.
    > Think of the Bay Bridge debacle x 400 miles
    > + right-of-way issues…it never happens.
    Back in 1933 my grandfather and the union guys he worked with started building the San Fancisco Bay Bridge. Three years later two entire bridges and a tunnel through an island were completed at a cost of about $60 million (About $900 million in current dollars adjusted for inflation). In 1989 after the earthquake they decided to repair or replace the Oakland side of the bridge. In 22 years they still have not finished one side of a bridge that was build in three years back in the 30’s. It looks like the cost is now up over $7 BILLION dollars (according to the NY Times) and remember this is for just HALF the bridge and no tunnel.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/26/business/global/26bridge.html?_r=1
    I really wish that it was possible to have the government build something like a HSR system in California since despite my fear of starting to dig the biggest money pit in US histroy I like HSE and have used it a lot in Europe and Japan (most recently from Tokyo to Kyoto).

  44. Posted by badlydrawnbear

    “… business travelers will continue to fly since they’re relatively insensitive to airfares but their time is important.”
    You are right that airfare matters less (but probably more than you might think)
    However, the idea that a business traveler would rather spend time in security, a crowded gate area and then crammed on a plane instead of using the same amount of time to continue working on the trains wifi network, taking cell phone calls, practicing their sales pitch and/or taking meetings with other customers is simply untrue. Business travelers with clients in Sac, SF, LA and SD and frequently travel within the region would greatly prefer HSR over flying or driving.

  45. Posted by badlydrawnbear

    You know, no one looks the the NYC subway system today and says, wow they really wasted money building this.
    No one looks at the HSR Chunnel between London and France and see it as a waste of money (especially when that icelandic volcano closed airspace over Europe for days one end)
    Even Boston’s ‘big dig’ is now being seen as success despite a budget ballooning from $2 Billion to $15 Billion.
    “But in the four years since the elevated Central Artery highway disappeared beneath the surface of Boston, opening up the downtown for the first time in nearly 50 years, there’s a growing consensus that Boston’s mega project is now a mega success. The traffic and congestion has not only disappeared, but has been untangled, thanks to the massive road, bridge and tunnel realignmment.
    The economics of this infrastructure overhaul are beginning to look better and better as businesses evaluate the transportation situation in Boston and like what they see. For example, Southwest Airlines has been expanding its presence at Logan International Airport because of how the Big Dig has improved the movement of people and goods in the area.”
    http://www.governing.com/blogs/view/Boston-Big-Dig-Success.html

  46. Posted by anon

    I’d be fine with this compromise, how about the rest of the folks here?
    Instead of the state running the building of the project, the state simply allows an independent contractor or group of contractors to pick the route, then provides the $9 billion (plus however much in federal funds) that has been allocated. The rest must be found in the private sector.
    This is EXACTLY what several contractors have proposed to do (Virgin, SNCF, JR, even Bechtel).
    The catch? The state must hand over a lawsuit-free and ready to construct routing, meaning that the state must be ready to use eminent domain and/or other force to remove liability and time delays from the routing. This is the ONLY reason why private dollars are not flooding in – UNCERTAINTY over routing and/or timing of construction.
    Everyone KNOWS that HSR between LA and SF will make buckets of cash, but if and only if NIMBYs don’t drive the cost of construction through the roof, as is happening now.
    The government needs the power to pick the route, everyone who wants to stand in the way be damned. How do you think the interstate highways and airports built in the 40s-70s didn’t come in billions over budget? Government power to snuff out the protesters standing in the way.

  47. Posted by Toady

    “I’m fiscally conservative, but I still strongly support HSR because it’s a project that will pay off in the medium and long terms. ”
    Uh, right.
    “The government needs the power to pick the route, everyone who wants to stand in the way be damned. ”
    Yeah! Now can someone tell me how to get on the Panhandle Freeway to get to the Golden Gate Bridge? I take the Embarcadero Freeway off 280, right?

  48. Posted by anon

    ^You joke, but that’s exactly how we were able to get a gigantic freeway system built without massive cost overruns – by using a massive amount of government power to just get stuff done – farmers, city landowners, environmentalists, etc be damned.
    We can either have stuff for a decent price or give everyone an effective veto. We can’t have both.

  49. Posted by Jimmy (No Longer Bitter)

    Why don’t we build a 3rd lane on I-5?
    It would be for German cars driven by competent drivers only at > 100 mph. Kind of a California Autobahn, but straighter and sunnier.
    e.g. I drove the M3 up from LA two weeks ago at sustained speeds over 120mph, punctuated by occasional slowdowns due to idiots passing trucks at 85.
    My all-time record, Palo Alto to Pasadena is 4:13 door to door (11pm departure). I doubt even HSR could do that.

  50. Posted by Legacy Dude

    Guys, nobody here is arguing against the IDEA of HSR. We all support the concept. At least I do. We’re just highly skeptical that today’s California can do this correctly, and extremely skeptical that it can be built on budget or on time.
    This is not like a highway that doesn’t get finished properly. If you try to build 50 miles of 6-lane highway, and unforeseen delays/cost overruns force you to scale down to 25 miles of 4-lane highway, then guess what? That highway is still useful. If HSR turns into RSR (regular speed rail) or the system is half-finished or not fully connected, it’s basically useless. This is my biggest concern – the binary nature of a project this large. It has to be finished exactly as designed to be a success, otherwise it’s a write-off. There’s no middle ground here.

  51. Posted by Legacy Dude

    My last comment here – badlydrawnbear wrote, “Business travelers with clients in Sac, SF, LA and SD and frequently travel within the region would greatly prefer HSR over flying or driving”
    Yeah…so I’m that guy, and you’re wrong. Sorry, but Southwest allows me to day-trip SF to LA because of short flights through small airports. With a 3-hour train trip, you are unlikely to day-trip and will have to spend the night, or spend ~6 hours of your day on a train. Not very convenient. People would rather pay more and fly home that night to be with their families. At least I would.
    At 2:40 you may get some ridership. But if I’m right and the trip is really more like 4 hours, then this is a waste since business people will keep flying until the planet runs out of jet fuel (cue somebody posting a link showing a study that says we’re running out of jet fuel next week…).
    As I said above, this project has zero margin for error combined with high uncertainty and unpredictable, spiraling costs. Not exactly a confidence-inspriing combo.

  52. Posted by Rillion

    FAB: “Back in 1933 my grandfather and the union guys he worked with started building the San Fancisco Bay Bridge. Three years later two entire bridges and a tunnel through an island were completed at a cost of about $60 million (About $900 million in current dollars adjusted for inflation).”
    That’s great and all but we can’t really compare it too much because the goal wasn’t to just build another bridge that would fall apart in an ~7.0 earthquake that wasn’t that close to the bridge. They repaired the oakland side of the bridge pretty darn quick and not too expensively. Haven’t heard too many complaints about the retrofit of the western side. Further there is a large amount of additional cost involved in building a bridge around another bridge in active use rather then building on a fresh site or not having to worry about all those traffic reconfigs. Finally, 24 workers died building the original bay bridge. Part of the additional cost of bridges today are related to increased safety measures.

  53. Posted by sfrenegade

    Instead of the state running the building of the project, the state simply allows an independent contractor or group of contractors to pick the route, then provides the $9 billion (plus however much in federal funds) that has been allocated. The rest must be found in the private sector.
    This is EXACTLY what several contractors have proposed to do (Virgin, SNCF, JR, even Bechtel).
    There is a plan to use a public-private partnership. Certainly several groups have expressed interest, as you said. The exact details, obviously, are up for negotiation.
    But if I’m right and the trip is really more like 4 hours, then this is a waste since business people will keep flying until the planet runs out of jet fuel (cue somebody posting a link showing a study that says we’re running out of jet fuel next week…).
    It might be 4 hours as an intermediate point when not all track has been laid, but Prop 1A requires a 2:40 time for the project. Again, as I mentioned, SNCF thinks it’s possible with 2 stops. The 2:40 won’t work stuff seems overblown because flying will take 2+ hours all told, even without flight delays.
    My all-time record, Palo Alto to Pasadena is 4:13 door to door (11pm departure). I doubt even HSR could do that.
    You can use the trip planner:
    Redwood City (since Palo Alto seems to be full of NIMBYs and doesn’t deserve the mid-Peninsula stop) to Burbank is 2:17.

  54. Posted by NoeValleyJim

    2:17 is with current technology, odds are it will be even faster when in operation.

  55. Posted by lyqwyd

    @Toady
    when I said conservative I meant it in the traditional sense of “moderation and caution” not neo-conservative which means “don’t do anything unless it makes the rich richer”
    When I said HSR will pay off in the medium and long term, I was speaking based on evidence as provided by just about every existing HSR system in the world to date, which is operationally profitable. Something that can’t be said about roads & highways.

  56. Posted by Po Hill Jeff

    Like many on here I’m pro-HSR, but I’m *also* pretty skeptical about our ability to execute, which makes me wonder if I shouldn’t be anti-. A failed project might sour people on HSR for a long time.
    Would a more incremental project work? Upgrading a few existing regional lines, and especially connecting LA to the central valley, would cut down travel times a lot – not enough to compete with airlines, but possibly a boon for regional commuters.

  57. Posted by Jimmy (No Longer Bitter)

    Well, in my defense, remember that my 4:13 time was (a) door-to-door, and (b) I was unable to use the full speed of my car (168 mph with speed limiter disabled, 155mph with it) because of the risk of being arrested.
    The 3rd lane (and a performance chip) would solve all of those issues and cut down my travel time significantly. People in better cars could do the trip even faster!
    I think its a perfect free-market solution: travel time depends on your ability to buy better equipment.
    And no matter what kind of car you drive, you’ll still never beat a private jet.

  58. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    Po Hill Jeff – though an incremental solution would be a lot easier to swallow you really need a quantum leap in performance to attract the ridership to fund a series of incremental projects. Amtrak already bridges the LA-Bakersfield gap with a bus and yet predictably not many people use it because it isn’t time-competitive with driving or flying.
    We already have a direct Amtrak link from the bay area to LA but it is very slow: 12 hours. So that route isn’t really usable to normal travelers. It is really sort of a tourist route if anything. It is amazingly scenic (especially south of SLO) though and I recommend it to anyone who has the time.
    The target journey times for HSR are designed to make taking the train a no brainer for these short regional hops. Anything slower becomes … um … “a brainer”.
    Jimmy – Impressive I-5 run times though I’m sure you realize that isn’t practical for the masses.

  59. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    Oh yeah one other unrelated observation: if you read some of the objections to the pilot segment you’ll see that agricultural property owners are already lining up gouge the project by inflating the emotional importance of their land. Here’s a requote from the cahsr blog:

    “It’s going to be the toughest possible reception we can give them,” said Helen Vierra Sullivan, whose family farms almonds north of Hanford. “My land is not for sale. … How can they take away my heritage, my livelihood, something my family has invested blood and sweat in for more than 80 years? It’s wrong on so many levels.”

    I can understand this sort of reaction if the project was going to demolish a 100 year old family house. But in reality we’re talking about eliminating a couple of rows of trees in a large orchard. How is this taking away one’s heritage and livelihood?
    It is yet one other challenge that HSR faces: how to acquire the RoW without becoming victim to greedy insincere property owners.

  60. Posted by Toady

    “when I said conservative I meant it in the traditional sense of ‘moderation and caution’ not neo-conservative which means ‘don’t do anything unless it makes the rich richer'”
    That’s not what I read. You claimed you were a “fiscal” conservative, which means limits to government waste and ineffectiveness and not just spending money on every problem out there, whether they are real or imagined.
    From my perspective, HSR is the poster child for all that and more. We already know the ridership numbers are bogus, and now the price tag is getting higher (duh). I don’t think there’s any justified economic benefit from this white elephant.

  61. Posted by anon

    I’m with Jimmy. I propose a separate toll-based ‘autobahn’ lane on I-5. Except for the grapevine, any competent driver in a decent German car could average 120+ mph. It would be cheaper and faster then flying or the train, not to mention much more convenient.

  62. Posted by sfrenegade

    “It would be cheaper and faster then flying or the train, not to mention much more convenient.”
    I’m not actually convinced it would be cheaper or faster. You may have to stop for gas more than once at that speed. I seem to remember that many cars get something like 6-8 miles per gallon at those speeds. Even with a 20 gallon gas tank, you could be stopping more than twice.
    And it would never work because too many Californians are road boulders.

  63. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    All this talk about HSR, buses, and driving fast on the freeway calls for a reprise of The Onion’s excellent news story on Obama replacing HSR with the High Speed Bus: http://www.theonion.com/video/obama-replaces-costly-highspeed-rail-plan-with-hig,18473/
    … and driving only seems cheaper because we externalize the true costs.

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