Saturday, January 7, 2012

High Speed Rail, For THIS Generation

I recently read a Burlingame Patch article where a local officials said this:
“What I would like to see…is for us to take a position saying not just that we think the current plan does not make sense…but to say what we do need for transportation,” said Councilmember Terry Nagel.  “If we could start a plan to have the money reallocated…that would make more sense.”
"However, Baylock countered that as long as high-speed rail exists, all transit money will go towards it, and a ballot measure would be necessary to unfund the project and redirect funds towards local transit."
There have also been other places where really strong transit supporters such as Huffington Post writer Joel Epstein have suggested that the money be reallocated to local transit as well and that HSR should be killed on spot.

After reading the Patch article and remembering the Epstein post I wrote the following tweet:

"Sorry, but defunding HSR won’t make local agencies $10b richer."

My thinking behind this was that while local folks and advocates might feel that killing HSR will benefit local transportation funding, the truth is that the money will just disappear.  There won't be a $10B bond measure for local expansion and even if there were it wouldn't come back to the voters for at least another 5 years to a decade, or perhaps even a generation.  At 31 I'm becoming acutely aware of the fact that if I live to be as old as my 99 year old Gramma, I'm a third done with my life and would like to spend the next third building things that I will use in my final third.

But in response to my tweet, blogger Market Urbanism tweeted "But it might start a long-overdo convo on costs" and wrote a post on Forbes about how my thinking was wrong because if we lower the costs and fix the construction we can actually build the line faster.  In my opinion this ignores political realities about these types of large projects and a little how California is operating at this time.  This probably gets us more into the technicals vs politicals discussion that Alon Levy brought up a few months ago, but I feel like we can still have the cost or design discussion without killing the project outright or thinking we can redistribute the funding to local projects.  Stephen goes on to admit that the first segment is likely well designed but that folks are rightly spooked about the somewhat vague project funding realities and future possibilities of value engineering.  I don't think we should be too worried since these projects have a way of moving along as they should and people like Stephen are always going to be pushing those buttons.

I feel that there are a lot of things that could be fixed or fleshed out about the project.  People who know more about these types of issues than me (ie Clem).  But also, if we kill the project now, it's dead for a generation.  I'm a huge fan of fixing the issues of hand rather than putting them off for a later date.

Now full disclosure, I have a personal stake in this project.  My sister and her family live in Bakersfield.  I live in San Francisco.  I also hate driving I-5.  So this project would directly benefit me by getting me there faster and likely more often.  Some people think this project is just about San Francisco and LA and that the Central Valley is nowhere.  I beg to differ and this is why.


Martin Engel said...

Would you settle for regular Amtrak going 110 mph to get you there, or do you require the 220 mph version?

You do know that these will be the most expensive rail tickets available, right? Like in every other HSR country.

Perhaps you can afford such tickets. Most of us can't.
In Europe I take regular express trains, not the TGV, for example.

And, I gather that you are OK with the expenditure of well over $100 billion by the time this project actually operates between our two population centers. Those are mostly borrowed money to be replaced by our taxes.

Should people in Maine be making tax payments so we can have a train between SF and LA?

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Martin that's kind of silly. California is a donor state such that they don't get back as much transportation money as they give to the feds. The real question is whether we in California should pay for the rural states who refuse to urbanize.

Also do you believe that plane tickets will be cheaper to Bakersfield? I'm banking on the fact that it will be cheaper than the current $500 ticket and will be comparable to a car trip which wastes about 8 hours of my time.

I'm fine with an expenditure of $100B. Are you ok with expanding more runways into the bay with Oakland and SF? Are you ok with greater GHG emissions from airplanes making that trip? Are you ok with paying to expand I-5? All of these things will cost more than $100B. This is the choice we have. Not building HSR is not a zero sum game.

Anonymous said...

Martin, he'll need 220 mph service to get there in a reasonable amount of time.

And it'll be cheaper than flying. Ever priced tickets to Bakersfield? Yeesh...

And if you don't want people in Maine to pay taxes for a train between SF and LA, Maine should secede from the Union. As long as it's in the Union, yes, people in Maine should pay taxes for rail lines in California, just as people in California pay taxes for rail lines in Maine.

I guess I could sum this up as "Get a clue".

Adirondacker12800 said...

...don't hold your breath...

Anonymous said...

Interesting speech from LBJ. It shows some of the problems we've been having in the US.

The "non-rail" high-speed ground transportation schemes were duds. The gas turbines were duds.

The high-speed electric trains worked just fine. As could have been predicted by Japan, who'd already built the Shinkansen. But no, the US had to spend money trying to do something DIFFERENT. (To be fair, France wasted money on silly schemes at the same time. But they got over it.)

At least in '65 SOME of the money went for the obviously-correct thing, fast trains from Washington to NY, not that it came quick enough to save Penn Central from bankruptcy.