Monday, August 11, 2014

"SMART" train starting to look dumb

Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit

From a Sonoma County Grand Jury report (pages 15-22):

At the time of its acceptance[by voters], the cost of constructing the rail and pedestrian/bicycle system between Cloverdale in the north and Larkspur in the south was estimated to be $541 million. Eight months later, the 2007-2009 economic downturn was taken into account, and the estimate increased to $664 million. Today, construction plans have been scaled back and are being managed in segments. The first phase, between Sonoma County Airport and San Rafael, represents approximately 60 percent of the system’s intended distance at a projected cost of $428 million. SMART estimates another $230 million will be required to complete the entire 73-mile project. SMART’s inability to generate accurate cost and revenue projections puts into question the reliability of its forecasting methodology (pages 15-16).

If/when the project is built, how much will the system cost to operate? "Although the current strategy of ‘only build what we can afford’ has provided a tighter control on budgets, SMART has yet to quantify future train operating costs" (page 17). In other words, they don't know the answer to that important question:

To date, SMART has only identified operating and maintenance reserves in its long-term forecasts. Actual costs will not be understood until labor contracts and operating logistics are better known—probably in 2015. The unpredictability of operations and maintenance costs represents an enormous economic risk. SMART has limited options for dealing with unexpected costs.

Questions have been raised about ridership projections and other issues: "What if SMART got voters to approve the [sales]tax in 2008 by promising the moon but minimizing the actual cost of the system?"

Sound familiar? That's what supporters of the state's high-speed rail project did---make a lot of promises about costs and future ridership that were so implausible they had to be abandoned after state voters passed Proposition 1A in 2008.

Thanks to Richard Hall's Planning for Reality.

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24 Comments:

At 10:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can't wait to take the train to Cloverdale! It will be a beautiful trip.

 
At 11:03 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

You're going to have a long wait. That will be hundreds of millions of dollars from now.

 
At 1:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While it would be great if it went to Cloverdale in theory, the roads up there aren't bottlenecked and adding train capacity might solely have the impact of adding additional growth where water supplies can't handle it. I'm skeptical it ever happens - despite the random government grant that built a brand new train station (before SMART was even planned) that sits up there collecting dust.

Further South in Santa Rosa, the roads are gridlocked from SR to the bridge, with a lot of Sonoma residents commuting to Marin. It is proving to be ridiculously expensive to widen the freeway - in Petaluma they are widening the bridge from 4 lanes to 6 lanes while keeping the bridge open, requiring a very expensive dance. Frontage roads are being built but the project to actually widen the narrows is not funded. This project that amounts to almost nothing has cost a lot more than the train.

Even when widening happens, the roadways in Marin can't handle the current traffic volumes coming from Sonoma/Novato - the widening will just allow more to dump into Marin, and there is no way in hell we can widen 101 in Marin to 8 lanes.

The train won't drive the sort of ridership we see on Caltrain because with the single track sections they simply won't be able to run the frequencies that Caltrain runs. However, it won't take a "lot" of ridership to mitigate the traffic on US-101, Caltrain "only" handles 60,000 riders per day but that is enough to prevent the need for an extra lane in each direction to accommodate peak traffic.

It's not that we can't afford to build roadways for less than a train, or more than a train. It's that it will be IMPOSSIBLE to build more roadways in Marin. SMART is basically a cheap bandaid on a tricky problem - with the side benefit of opening a freight line.

 
At 4:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Less than a billion dollars! Well worth it. I can't wait to take the train.

 
At 4:03 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

This train will be a financial drain for Marin and Sonoma forever. Construction costs have already been significantly underestimated, and they don't know how much it will cost to actually operate it. As I say, it was sold like high-speed rail was sold to state voters---with bogus passenger projections and under-stated costs.

But Marin/Sonoma County taxpayers deserve what they get---higher taxes sooner or later---since the SMART train measure required a two-thirds vote! Really dumb.

The high-speed rail project was passed with only 52% of the vote, and opinion polls show that voters would like to have it back on the ballot.

 
At 7:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're being disingenuous. Caltrain is subsidized to the tune of 30 Million dollars a year right now, running 98 trains per day. SMART will throw off a deficit perhaps one quarter of that from passenger operations a lot - so let's say 7.5 Million.

However - the rails will then be in top shape for the off peak freight usage that will more than cover that operational subsidy of the passenger business.

THEN - throw in the development that will happen near the stations that people like Richard Hall are so upset about. That development will throw off property taxes to Sonoma and Marin county far in excess of the operational deficit. That is a tax increase - paid for by people who are voluntarily opening their wallets. Which frankly, I don't have a problem with.

The project pencils out. I think HSR pencils out too, but that's a far more tricky proposition, with SMART, acquisition of right of way cost zero dollars - the right of way was in place and there is a federal mandate that the ROW stay in place. The cost is acquisition of rail infrastructure - which if nothing else turns the railway back on for freight - and acquisition of rolling stock, and even if SMART crashed and burned rolling stock is an asset that can be resold (Caltrain is buying 16 trains from Metrolink in LA because they are running full capacity on current rolling stock).

 
At 7:30 PM, Anonymous James said...

I find it just a little bit odd since if someone suggested what's currently happening as a viable traffic solution. I doubt anyone would buy into it "we have this system where cars just get jammed up every day. You're going to be stuck for hours"

Costs always matter, but sometimes they people only talk about costs for things they don't want

 
At 7:38 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"Costs always matter, but sometimes people only talk about costs for things they don't want."

Sometimes people don't want to talk about the cost of things they do want.

When the SMART measure was on the ballot and I questioned it, a woman in Marin responded, "We[she and her husband] like trains."

End of discussion!

 
At 8:55 AM, Anonymous James said...

When was it on the ballot to create the freeways?

 
At 1:16 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The point here is that the SMART system was on the ballot, and it required a two-thirds vote to pass--and people still voted for it! Just very, very dumb.

 
At 2:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're going to have a long wait. That will be hundreds of millions of dollars from now.

I know, two whole years! It's hard to wait that long, but I can do it.

 
At 3:17 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

No, moron. Phase 1 to Santa Rosa will supposedly be ready in 2016. The Cloverdale station is in phase 2 of the project. Look through the SMART website, and you won't find any timeline for completing phase 2, because they have no idea if/when that will be done.

 
At 4:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

More bad news: Caltrain electrification funds are on the way:

http://www.smdailyjournal.com/articles/lnews/2014-08-12/caltrain-electrification-gets-court-boost-court-of-appeal-ruling-allows-for-high-speed-rail-bond-sales-local-modernization-project-to-benefit/1776425128235.html

 
At 5:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If they put a nice billboard by the Petaluma clusterfuck/parking lot/freeway that says "would you rather be on a train than this shit hole?" they'll quadruple ridership.

 
At 9:13 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"More bad news: Caltrain electrification funds are on the way."

I think electrifying Caltrain is a good idea, but it doesn't really have anything to do with high-speed rail. The high-speed rail project threw some money at Caltrain and Los Angeles to try to get political support for that dumb project.

 
At 11:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think electrifying Caltrain is a good idea, but it doesn't really have anything to do with high-speed rail.

Wait. The lawsuits involving HSR frequently claim that what is being built is not what was promised in terms of the speed of the line from LA to SF. Without electrifying Caltrain, the speed goals cannot be met. Improving the Caltrain line is a requirement for HSR.

 
At 11:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Which ballot measure approved the construction of freeways throughout California? When was it approved?

 
At 11:46 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"The lawsuits involving HSR frequently claim that what is being built is not what was promised in terms of the speed of the line from LA to SF. Without electrifying Caltrain, the speed goals cannot be met. Improving the Caltrain line is a requirement for HSR."

Wrong! The opposite is the reality. By "blending" and sharing tracks with the Caltrain system, the high-speed rail project ensures that it can't possibly make the trip between LA and SF in two hours and forty minutes and that it won't be able to run as many trains as advertised in Prop. 1A. The HSR Authority threw that money at Caltrain and LA just to generate some local political support for the project.

See #16 in Quentin Kopp's declaration in support of litigation against the high-speed rail project. While you're at it, check out #17 on the SF Central Subway connection:

"For HSR to succeed financially, it must use dedicated trackage reserved exclusively for HSR as is the case in all countries with HSR.HSR will not succeed financially if it must share tracks with conventional or commuter rail.As noted, without its own dedicated tracks, not nearly as many HSR trains can operate per day.The 'track-sharing' arrangement with Caltrain represents one example (Los Angeles to Anaheim represents another) of the Authority's current alteration of the project from a genuine HSR system to a distortion of such, using such terms as 'blended system' to describe the present plan. Those concepts contravene the Authority's representations to the public that a true HSR system would be built with all $9,000,000,000 in bond money from Proposition 1A spent for exactly that. To me, the Authority Chairman during all the planning and pre-November 4, 2008 efforts regarding the bond measure, this constitutes the greatest betrayal of all in the context of the original intent and promises to voters. The project, as now planned rather than what was promised, constitutes a distortion and mangling of California's HSR project and promises to California voters."

 
At 8:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wrong! The opposite is the reality. By "blending" and sharing tracks with the Caltrain system, the high-speed rail project ensures that it can't possibly make the trip between LA and SF in two hours and forty minutes and that it won't be able to run as many trains as advertised in Prop. 1A. The HSR Authority threw that money at Caltrain and LA just to generate some local political support for the project.

No shit sherlock. CAHSR didn't want a blended system but the shitheads on the peninsula blocked the added trackage.

 
At 1:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://www.pressdemocrat.com/home/2551849-181/bumpy-stretch-of-highway-101

67 million to repave US-101 from Healdsburg to Cloverdale. That isn't money to *construct* a new road - that is just maintainance, the equivalent to the operating budget of a train. 14 miles of the 70 mile SMART corridor is costing 67 million - that would be the equivalent of years of operating subsidy for the entire 70 mile line. And the pavement has a lifespan of maybe 15 years. Then we get to pave it again.

Not to mention we have poured 500 million dollars into the 10 miles from Petaluma to Novato, and are still 250 million short to complete the project.

Compared to this, SMART is a bargain.

 
At 12:32 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"No shit sherlock. CAHSR didn't want a blended system but the shitheads on the peninsula blocked the added trackage."

Yes, how odd that people on the Peninsula didn't want a train tearing through their towns. And then there are the shitheads in the Central Valley who also, unaccountably, don't want a train tearing through the middle of their profitable farms.

 
At 12:35 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"Compared to this, SMART is a bargain."

But those projects were on a highway that carries many thousands of people every day all day. The SMART train won't be any help in alleviating traffic on 101 because it won't carry enough people to make a difference. And, just as important, no one knows how expensive it will be to operate.

 
At 1:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

BULL SHIT! They lied about the cost; and with the "economic down turn" and high unemployment labor and materials would have been more available and the cost should have gone down!!!
More importantly; At the original cost, for only a fraction of that cost we could have purchased a large fleet of buses which could move people to and from exactly where they want to go and instead of washing them and chancing the oil just replace them every 4 months!

 
At 2:15 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Agreed.

 

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