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High-speed rail wins legal battle

Original post made on Mar 1, 2013

An effort by Peninsula cities to stop California's high-speed-rail project came to a screeching halt this week when a Sacramento County judge upheld the California High Speed Rail Authority's environmental-review process for the highly controversial project.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, March 1, 2013, 11:45 AM

Comments (43)

Posted by Rolling On, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Mar 1, 2013 at 6:43 pm

This High Speed Rail issue is a disgrace! How can a politically biased judge way up in Sacramento rule to obligate peninsula cities for the disruption and cost of an unwanted train? If the people were allowed to vote again, it is clear that the outcome would be very different than it was in the election when they were fooled into thinking this was a good idea. Like so many other Big Government projects, this HSR project would diminish the quality of life for everyone along its route. The plan to begin by building an expensive "railroad to nowhere" down in the valley is preposterous. Our government and the HSR bunch are themselves a runaway train and must be stopped! :-(


Posted by Forging On, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 1, 2013 at 7:33 pm

Rolling On please speak for yourself. Get your head out of the sand and allow yourself a vision. The Golden Gate Bridge had to overcome the same kind of opposition. It was "unrealistic, economically unfeasible, and a disaster in the making"


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 2, 2013 at 4:49 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" The Golden Gate Bridge had to overcome the same kind of opposition. It was "unrealistic, economically unfeasible, and a disaster in the making"

In fact the Golden Gate bridge project was finished $1.3 million under budget.
Web Link

That will NOT happen with HSR.


Posted by John, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Mar 2, 2013 at 7:32 am

Forging On:

At least the GGB has a useful purpose. HSR has zero purpose other than to spend money the state doesn't have to prop up union contractors and grease the pocket of politicians and then to provide a "service" that very few people will actually use. All at the expense of many communities (not just the peninsula; many small family farms in the valley are fighting just as hard) that will be destroyed.

HSR was sold to the people of California based on a lie at a time when we thought we had money (i.e., prior to the economic crash in 2008). Now, we don't have they money and I cannot imagine how it is morally acceptable to use debt payments to build a train when our schools are failing and municipalities are otherwise in complete shambles. Yeah, that makes sense.


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 2, 2013 at 10:00 am

Even Joe Simitian, who sponsored the original HSR bill, has turned on it and voted against it during the last legislative session.

To paraphrase Joe, HSR has morphed into something that is totally different than we were promised... and those promises were mostly lies.

There's no "high" in high speed rail - it's now just a train. It will be used by a fraction of the people they said would use it. The fares will be much higher than promised and tax subsidies will be higher than promised. There is no private industry support for it as promised. It will cost FAR more than any estimate that has ever been provided. And unlike the Golden Gate Bridge, there are already several very efficient, fast, low cost, non-governmental services providing transportation between Northern and Southern California.

For our state to spend $100 billion - or likely much more - at a time when we don't have enough money to pay for schools, fire, police or roads (let alone pensions...) for a transportation service that already exists is absurd.


Posted by Logic, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 2, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Forging, I've been dying to meet someone like you! I'd love a high speed zip line between my house and downtown Menlo Park. It will cost millions of dollars, only benefit my family, and lots of people will be opposed, but hey, if something is ridiculously overpriced, serves only a few people, and attracts major opposition, then that means the public should foot the bill for it. Right?


Posted by Norman, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 2, 2013 at 3:24 pm

The cost that is projected by HSR does not include the interest that will have to be paid on the bonds during construction which is to take 20 years. I think just from this the total real bill will be 40% higher.

The closest analogy to HSR isn't the Golden Gate Bridge but the Super Sonic Transport (airplane)(SST) which was to be fast and was a disaster. At least the US let France and Great Britain get skunked on that one.

Buses are the answer. Let's see what it would cost to run buses instead of HSR. I suspect the cost would be only 5% of what HSR will finally cost.

The Legislative Analysts Office in their report says that HSR will INCREASE GREENHOUSE GASES. What? you say? Yep but let's hide that.


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 2, 2013 at 4:38 pm

Actually, Norman, the answer is high speed airplanes.

And they are not only easy to find, they fly all the time, are even faster and cheaper than a train, more convenient (because they go far more places than downtown SF and downtown LA) and there's no government money involved.

Don't need to buy buses or even spend a nickel of government money. In fact, if you wanted to spend that $100 billion on high speed travel, you could buy about 100 million round trip tickets on most of the airlines. That would take care of California travelers for a few years.


Posted by Donald, a resident of another community
on Mar 3, 2013 at 8:01 am

POGO, do you really believe that there is no government money involved in air travel? What about TSA, FAA, air traffic controllers, etc? Do you know how much federal money has been spent on paving runways? The fact is that ALL modes of transportation are subsidized by the government.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 3, 2013 at 9:00 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"The FAA's Airport and Airways Trust Fund receives money primarily from excise taxes and fees paid by airline customers and by purchases of aviation fuel from passenger and cargo airlines. It pays for facilities and equipment, including the air traffic control system; research and development on safety and mobility; and the airport improvement fund (including airports and runways)."

The TSA is funded by user fees included in airline fares.


Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Mar 3, 2013 at 9:48 am

I support the high speed rail idea, have issues with planning and marketing of the system. Yes I understand the need to build in the central valley first, you need to build a entire support area for the network. See train yards, shops, warehousing, offices and employee areas. Between L.A. and San Jose makes sense, transfer points to other lines and networks.

Stations and other station related used, are they going to produce income from rents, leases or user fees. See stores, office space, hotels, parking lots or services.

Could we have a mock up of rail cars, showing First Class, Business Class and Coach Class. Dining/Bar car, small meeting/office space, special group cars.

Seating, color style, ticketing ideas.


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 3, 2013 at 9:58 am

Donald -

People often make this argument and, as Mr. Carpenter pointed out, it is factually untrue. But the distinction between the business models is more important in inescapable.

If I were to take your point to it's absurd extreme (admittedly absurd), the guy who runs the ice cream store is government subsidized because his employees drive to his store on roads paid by the government and his store is not being bombed because it is protected by the Armed Forces. I suppose you could make that argument (and the new Senator from Massachusetts proudly does so), but that ignores the central point about the business model.

In the case at hand, unlike NSR ("normal" speed rail), the airlines purchase their own airplanes and they fund their operations primarily by selling airline tickets which are paid - entirely - by their customers. NSR, on the other hand, has been built and paid by taxpayers and the vast majority of operating costs will be funded by taxpayers, not riders.

Almost every one of the representations made by the NSR proponents - the speed, the cost to build, the cost to maintain, the anticipated ridership, the frequency of service, the time to build, the route, etc. - have been wildly incorrect. The fact that one of our most valued political figures, Joe Simitian, who is hardly a right-wing zealot and was one of the original supporters of NSR, said as much when he reversed his position last year.

It's never too late to call out a bad idea. We do not need to spend $100+ billion (that we don't have) to duplicate an existing, efficient service provided entirely and quite well by private industry.

When California citizens discover there is no money for essential programs, they have only to look at a very expensive set of unused train tracks between Modesto and Bakersfield to find the reason.


Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Mar 3, 2013 at 10:00 am

I hear and read how much it will cost, when it will get done, the lawsuits. Yet expenses, costs of day to day. Like the above posting, income, revenue from ticket sales, and other users. Think Airport, Mall and Stadiums, money is made just by getting them in the door.


Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Mar 3, 2013 at 10:14 am

Look at SFO, most likely built with public funds but that money comes back by form of fees, leases and user tax.

I don't want see or spend money on rails that no one will ride, stations with a ticket machine, a restroom that might be open, and a bike rack.



Posted by Donald, a resident of another community
on Mar 3, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Pogo and Peter,
You did not address all of my points, and Peter's reference is only to part of the FAA's budget. The FAA is part of the U.S. Deptartment of Transportation. Air Traffic Controllers are federal employees, and the sequester is going to cut their hours. Many millions of stimulus funds went to runway repairs at various airports.
I am not using this as an argument against air travel or in favor of HSR. I just want to point out that planes, trucks, boats and trains all use facilities and infrastructure that the government helps support. Arguments in favor of or against HSR should not be based solely on the fact that the government will pay for all or part of it.


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 4, 2013 at 11:40 am

The difference, Donald, is that the government is paying for airplanes or airfares... which is what pays for the actual service.

But using your argument, any business that has a single employee driving through a single traffic light is subsidized by the government. We all pay taxes to support infrastructure (not to replace services already provided quite efficiently).

Which is the bigger point... do you think our state can really afford to spend $100+ billion on a train to duplicate existing services at a time when we are running a serious deficit, have enormous debt and our unfunded liabilities are measured in the hundreds of billions?

Seriously?


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 4, 2013 at 11:41 am

Meant to say the government ISN'T paying for airplanes or airfares (as it is for HSR).

Sorry.


Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Mar 4, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Yes we don't pay for planes or airfares, but we do enable the airlines with places to land and take off. We do provide public money to build, maintain and operate airports, but with leases, user fees, and other charges that airport related pays to the SFO board. SFO is in pretty good shape.

We do pay for other airports elsewhere, just like we pay for seaports, highways and rail improvements.


Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Mar 4, 2013 at 12:44 pm

Oops.

Airport related businesses pay the SFO board which is used to pay off buildings, maintain and operate the airport.


Posted by Flight, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Mar 4, 2013 at 2:02 pm

POGO, Peter,

Your arguments making the case for airlines vs. trains, are weak at best, specious at worst. If we look back, virtually all airports were initially developed by government entities using public money. Yes, some of the bonded money eventually came back in the form of use fees, but most of the initial development came in the form of conversion of military airports to commercial - taxpayers bought the land, built the runways, and funded initial access infrastructure. Plus even in the current environment 1/3 of the salary load for airports is carried by the Feds, between the FAA and the TSA.

You may carp all you want about how HSR impacts your property values, but don't for a moment make this about "private" airlines vs public rail. That's just disingenuous and stupid.


Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 4, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Flight:

neither POGO, Peter nor I are complaining about property values. We're complaining about spending in excess of $100 billion for a system that is not what it was sold as. It was sold as high speed rail. It's not. It was sold as making the trip from SF to LA in two hours and forty minutes. It won't. It was sold telling us tickets would be less than $40 per person if I recall correctly. That won't be even remotely close. It was sold as costing "only" $38 billion. It won't. It will cost in excess of $100 billion.

The fact is that surveys show the electorate have realized they were lied to, we can't afford it and it won't be what they thought it would be. The electorate, if given another chance, would vote this project out of existence.

No. No complaints about property values. Just complaints about a ridiculous project that we can't afford sold with a pack of lies just to reward the unions and by extension the politicians that serve them.


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 4, 2013 at 5:15 pm

First, HSR doesnt DIRECTLY impact my property values because I live in Woodside. But it will impact all of our property values as our state goes broke trying to build this folly.

With regard to using public funds to build airports (although I would be opposed to that as well), at least airplanes represented a new opportunity that was faster, easier, cheaper, more efficient than other travel, especially over longer distances or overseas. And planes flew more places than between that "highly" traveled Madera to Bakersfield corridor (which would be a joke... if it weren't true).

And way back then, at least governments could afford to finance it through bonds. In the case today's NSR, none of those things are true. NONE. At least Joe Simitian had the courage to admit that things had changed.

And it's so interesting that none of NSR supporters address the most important issue of all - that we can't afford it. I am 100% confident that this project will go down in history as our state's biggest cash sink.


Posted by Donald, a resident of another community
on Mar 4, 2013 at 7:22 pm

I don't consider myself an HSR supporter - being a POGO annoyer is much more fun. As far as CALIFORNIA HSR is concerned, I am basically on the same page as Joe Simitian. As far as HSR in general, though, I feel differently. HSR is obviously very popular and successful in other countries. I have used it in France and Spain and found it to be far superior to air travel in terms of time and convenience for the trips I was making. Of course there are lots of factors that go into that success, many of which are different in California, but categorically condemning rail in favor of air travel only damages your credibility. Of course nothing that we say on this forum will change the future of California HSR. The real decisions are being made elsewhere, so feel free to spout whatever nonsense makes you happy here.


Posted by Flight, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Mar 4, 2013 at 7:37 pm

POGO,

That's like saying the state will go broke paying for roads... 22M$/mile for 3.2 miles worth of auxiliary lanes on 101 between Embarcadero and 85. Another 179M$ for the 85/101 exchange in Mt. View. It's more a matter of long term priorities. But the price tags for urban widening are beginning to exceed per mile costs for HSR.


Posted by Greg, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Mar 4, 2013 at 9:00 pm

City Councilmembers up and down the Peninsula supported high speed rail when the 10% downpayment appeared on the statewide ballot as a bond measure. More recently, when some councilmembers started to wake up to the high cost and terrible burden high speed rail presented to the Peninsula, they were too disorganized to counter the special interest groups lined up for the public money. We need to STOP ELECTING GULLIBLE LIGHTWIEGHTS to City Councils.


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 5, 2013 at 9:05 am

Donald - you have about as much fun annoying me as I do annoying you. And you are "on the same page as Joe Simitian?" Welcome to Club Enlightenment.

Flight - California's gasoline taxes, which are now the very highest in the nation, are specifically designated for road construction and repair which would seem to make sense. I have no problem with "you use it, you pay for it" for these kinds of projects (bridges, roads, airports). Similarly, I would be perfectly fine if NSR fares were set at a price that would cover the true costs of the service. The chances of that are zero.


Posted by Flight , a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Mar 5, 2013 at 9:51 pm

POGO,

Almost right, but still wrong. Today, California does not have the highest gas tax of all the states. Let's see if you are sharp enough to come up with the right answer. Second, the state gas excise tax only partially funds the roads, bridges, etc. A component for state roads also comes out of general sales taxes and the general fund, so your argument that roads are self funded out of gas taxes doesn't hold water. Don't base your arguments on false information.

It might also be instructive to see how roads in California were first bootstrapped into being - the first major roads in California were built under a voter approved 18M$ ballot initiative in 1912. No gas taxes were used to fund.


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 6, 2013 at 9:48 am

Flight - The new gas tax is NOW in place but won't take effect for 120 days. I hope I passed your test. So we can rightfully claim title to "highest gas taxes in the nation" on July 1. Congratulations on this critical 120 day distinction... without any difference. Web Link

And by the way, not all gas taxes go to highways, as was promised. A large portion goes to things like MSR and buses. Not what was promised, but what's a promise to officials in Sacramento. At least Joe Simitian stood by his promise.

Way back when we funded roads, California had a balanced budget and didn't pay 90% of salaries to employees retiring at age 50 or pay $140k to prison guards. Today, our state cannot afford to spend $100+ billion on a train, which unlike those roads that were built in the first half of the 20th century, duplicates an existing service nicely provided by the private section.

Our state, with the highest sales, income and gas taxes, has failing K-12 schools, roads that are crumbling, state colleges and universities giving preference to out-of-state students, a public employee pension program that is unsustainable... and we're building a train. Delta House, the fraternity featured in Animal House, was more responsible.


Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Mar 6, 2013 at 11:06 am

Bakersfield is one of the fastest growing cities in CA, OK it keeps growing, somewhere down the road they are going to want to be connected to the rest of California? That is fair, train or airport, which one will be the question, how much money to get there.

Have any of you ever look at a map, it seems a Interstate highway needs to come right to the coast. Hwy 99 needs to be improved, so does a highway coming in from 99 to 101 just south of San Jose.

Hey don't get me stated on the Willow Freeway, a route from 580 to 280.


Posted by Wrong plan, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Mar 6, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Any professional civil engineer would not put HSR through the middle of a town, unless underground as the Europeans do in their cities. We should not support a plan designed by politicians.


Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 6, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Bakersfield already has a commercial airport, Meadows Field, so why would they need HSR?


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 6, 2013 at 2:01 pm

There must be quite a bit of travel between Bakersfield (population 347,483) and Madera (population 61,416) for it to be the recipient of the first leg and $6 billion for this project.

It would make no sense to try to connect San Francisco and San Jose or San Diego and Los Angeles FIRST, where people actually live and travel.

Right.


Posted by No Easy Solutions, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 6, 2013 at 11:08 pm

You have to start somewhere and might as well start it out in rural area to test the system, tracks and trains first before expanding it to more expensive areas, especially if it doesn't work. I think its a relatively good hedge.

For example, it is costing SF $1.578 billion to build 1.7 miles ($928M per mile) for their central light rail line. While Madera to Bakersfield is $2.6 billion for 130-miles ($20M per mile).

Source: Web Link.


Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Mar 7, 2013 at 8:45 am

The idea to build out in the Central Valley makes sense, land and living costs are lower. You have to put a train yard somewhere. Running the tracks underground would make sense, but just to expansive, lets look at building a subway under El Camino.


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 7, 2013 at 10:38 am

For a broke state to be building a train for $100+ billion when transportation is already served quite nicely is never a good idea.

And waiting until the "expensive" land in cities is even higher before it gets purchased is stupid. Just ask Disney how he acquired all that land in Orlando.

And getting "near zero" bang for your buck by building this in nowhereland is a joke. You could have put the same effort into busy corridors (like SF/SJ and like SD/LA) and instantly helped thousands of people with their daily commute... regardless if anything else ever got built.

This is only smart management in Sacramento and Fantasyland.


Posted by Jason, a resident of another community
on Mar 7, 2013 at 5:56 pm

I can fly RT from LAX to SFO for under $150 and be there in roughly 1.5hrs. Unlike Europe, long trip train trips in CA are completely discretionary and will serve mainly Asian / European tourists (at least while the $ is relatively cheap). This is the boondoggle of the century (including the 20th). If we are going to invest in rail infrastructure, focus it on the ports, the true lifeblood of CA (Panama Canal Expansion opens Q1-15').


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 7, 2013 at 7:07 pm

MSR may make sense if you want to go from downtown San Francisco or San Jose to downtown Los Angeles or downtown San Diego.

Most travelers to LA don't go downtown at all. They go to Burbank, Beverly Hills, Glendale, Hollywood, the beach, the San Fernando Valley, Disneyland, or Orange County. I guess you could rent a car at the Los Angeles train station and add another hour or two to their three hour train ride and another $100 to their $300 train fare. Then again, just driving your car, conveniently from door to door, would probably be faster, easier and cheaper.

And we get all that for the bargain price of $100+ billion. All those travelers using the busy Madera to Bakersfield corridor will have it all to themselves for a couple of decades... and probably forever.


Posted by No Easy Solutions, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 7, 2013 at 8:55 pm

The initial phase of the HSR plan does include improvements for major metropolitan areas, such as electrification of Caltrain line for HSR. The electrification will allow more trains to run and quieter as well. So there are benefits for us locally in the near term.

As for flying don't forget the time you'll save not having to go through airport security. You'll still have to rent a car to get from the airport to all those So Cal attractions, so that is a mute point. Furthermore, the HSR has stops other than LA in So Cal, i.e. Burbank, Irvine, etc.


Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 8, 2013 at 6:43 am

No Easy:

I think you'll be unpleasantly surprised if you think when the time comes they won't implement airline type security. HSR, if it ever gets built, will be a juicy terrorist target.


Posted by Donald, a resident of another community
on Mar 8, 2013 at 10:15 am

Security will be required, but not the extreme amount that is used at airports. Terrorists have tried to blow up trains, but they have not yet tried to hijack them and drive them into buildings! In Spain the HSR has modest security, with bags being X-rayed, but when I used it the wait was only a few seconds.


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 8, 2013 at 12:14 pm

Menlo Voter is right.

If you think you're going to walk right onto one of those MSR trains without going through a TSA check, metal detector and xray, you're naive.

There's nothing high speed about this system at all.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Mar 8, 2013 at 6:40 pm

Billions of dollars for HSR in Calif. from the Federal government and yet, no more tours of the White House. Can't afford it.


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 9, 2013 at 8:07 am

There's very little additional money coming from the Feds on this project.

Web Link

From the above link: "Despite that admonition from the committee chairwoman, Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, challenged Morales about what he suggested were overstated claims about the number of jobs the project will create, the lack of private investment and the wisdom of proceeding WHEN THE PROSPECT OF ADDITIONAL FEDERAL FUNDING APPEARS DIM."


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