Wednesday, June 20, 2012

High-speed rail: "Delusional"

Graphic from the Antiplanner
San Jose Mercury News editorial

There is a fine line between visionary and delusional. California's high-speed rail project whizzed across that line long ago and now is chugging toward the monorail station at Fantasyland.

The latest end-run tactic by the train's chief engineer, Gov. Jerry Brown, would have California's Legislature suspend its tough environmental laws so the state could put this pet project on the---pardon the pun---fast track.

Never mind that every independent analysis has been highly critical of it.

Never mind that the High-Speed Rail Authority's own peer review group said it was terribly flawed.

Never mind that the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office said even the new, new, new and improved incarnation still is not nearly "strong enough" and relies on "highly speculative" funding sources. That is bureaucratese for "not a snowball's chance in hell of finding the money to pay for it."

Never mind that the state's projected budget shortfall is now greater than the total budget of 39 states and that the debt service on the sale of these rail bonds would create another fiscal chasm to be filled by another cockamamie budget gimmick.

Never mind that the new, new, new plan bears so little resemblance to the one voters approved that going ahead with it now borders on ballot fraud.

Never mind that poll after poll---including a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll released June 2---has shown that a strong and growing majority of voters does not want the state to proceed with the project.

Nope, none of that matters. Casey Jones is at the controls of his legacy project, so reason and fiscal prudence have been abandoned on the far side of the turnstile.

We say all this despite having supported high-speed rail when it was on the ballot in 2008. Rail is important to America's future, and we know the first steps toward any visionary plan face hurdles and may require leaps of faith.

But back then nobody foresaw the economic plunge that still leaves California mired in budget deficits. We lost faith in the original board and its planning and construction team. Then last year an updated plan with wildly higher costs for a smaller system sent us leaping to the sidetrack. (Oopsie, did we say $45 billion? We meant $98 billion. No, no, wait, $68 billion. Well, you know, around there. Did we say San Diego and Sacramento would be included? Um, our bad, they're not.)

How can anyone believe a word of what comes from the High-Speed Rail Authority now? As to Brown's legacy, he still has to get his tax plan approved in the fall. If voters perceive high-speed rail as a waste of money, they will be more dubious of taxes.

This is like a family that is deeply in debt choosing to finance a $120,000 new Tesla because it runs on electricity and will create jobs for a time at the Fremont plant. Besides, you know, the bank gave us a really good interest rate.

That makes no sense. Neither does going ahead with high-speed rail in California. The Legislature needs to stop it if the governor won't.

On High-Speed Train Talk, Martin Engel methodically monitors the high-speed rail project.

For in-depth analysis of every aspect of the boondoggle, the Community Coalition on High Speed Rail is best.

Mark Powell does good work on Against California High Speed Rail.



At 2:04 PM, Anonymous Darius Paulson said...

This guy is just another whiner.

High speed rail, any of the examples listed there, is FASTER... let me repeat that .... FASTER than the Jet.

.... As long we're talking door to door times between urban areas less than 350 miles apart. Why? Security, airport transit, getting there an hour in advance, etc.... this has been proven over and over when people race from NY to DC (many articles on this, and that's crappy train, not real HSR).

It's as simple as that.

The train is FASTER than the Jet
The train is MORE COMFY than the Jet
I can actually work on train and walk around and get some food
The train revolutionizes life in the central valley and would make backwater places like Fresno blossom

I'm so fucking sick of hearing people whine about this. It is worth every penny and we need to get this train built YESTERDAY.

At 2:44 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

You can repeat that as many times as you want, but it's still an unconvincing, fact-free argument.

The speed of the high-speed trains promised to state voters in 2008 is supposed to be 220 mph,while the jet speed on the graphic for this post is 561 mph. Hard to see how the proposed HSR train will be faster than that. Travel time between LA International and SF International is 37 minutes by airliner.

Any high-speed train system would have worse security problems than the airlines. How do you secure hundreds of miles of railroad track?

And, like getting to and from airports, passengers on high-speed rail would have the same problem: getting from the train stations to their actual destinations.

At 3:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Travel time between LA International and SF International is 37 minutes by airliner.

That is only time in the air. Just runway time alone adds almost an hour. And flight delays to SFO are frequent and legendary.

At 10:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've gotta agree. SFO - LAX time is meaningless. What is more meaningful is the time from downtown SF to downtown LA. On a jet, that's at least four hours with checked baggage, and more during busy traffic times. HSR will cut that more or less in half.

How do I get four hours? You need to arrive at the airport an hour prior to your flight to ensure that your baggage makes it and you can clear check-in and security formalities with enough time to get to your gate (the airlines all recommend 90 minutes now, but I think an hour is usually sufficient.)

The typical SF-LA flight is scheduled at 1:20, which should normally include runway and taxi time. So now we're up to 2:20.

It takes 30-60 minutes each way to get from downtown SF to the airport, depending on traffic, and I'd guess at a minimum of 45 minutes to get to downtown LA from LAX. But I'll be generous and allocate an hour, total for to-and-from downtown. So that's 3:20.

Then there's the time to wait for your luggage and to get through the airport to baggage claim and then to your car, taxi, etc. That's easily 40 minutes. Boom, 4 hours.

Add more time when traffic is heavy, or if you drive to the airport and have to park in a long-term lot and take a shuttle to and from the airport. I've done all of this hundreds and hundreds of times. It's a four hour one-way journey at best.

I'm sure the proposed HSR in California isn't perfect. But I'd choose it in a heartbeat over the airlines. I hope it gets built.

At 9:02 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

You still haven't explained why getting to and from high-speed rail stations with your luggage would be any easier than doing so from airports.

And of course you don't address the money issues, since where the money is going to come from to even build the HSR system is unexplained by its boosters.

At 12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And of course you don't address the money issues, since where the money is going to come from to even build the HSR system is unexplained by its boosters.

Easy. Print money, inflate the currency. Inflation only hurts old people and screw them.

At 6:21 PM, Anonymous sfthen said...

Last November the Bay Guardian editor babbled about how horrible it was that he, his two kids and a driver had to take a car to LA on I-5 and about how wonderful it would have been if the four could have been whisked down there via HSR. He envisioned that the ride would take "half the time . . . and cost about the same." But in typical SFBG fashion he had no numbers.

Quite possibly a door-to-door trip via HSR would take around the same amount of time and cost a whole lot more.

Let's say last November they got picked up at 8a.m. and were on the freeway ten minutes later headed south. We'll be generous and say the 400 mile drive takes eight hours so they arrive at their destination at 4p.m. that day. And they used ten gallons of gas (because no doubt he wouldn't travel in a gas guzzler).

With HSR they leave their house at 8a.m. but allocate almost an hour to get to the train station on time via Muni. Reasonable assumption. Getting through security, checking bags, etc., gets them departing at say 10a.m. No one in this world knows how long the trip to LA will take, the proposed route map shows about ten stops on the way to LA. Will the train stop at all of them? If so for how long? Is there an express train? If so, how much extra does it cost?

We'll pretend that this magic train does get to the LA station in three hours. It's now 1p.m. and the four are picked up by a friend with a car and driven to their final destination doorway. They arrive at 2p.m. and thus have a whopping two full hours extra in LA because of HSR.

But at what cost? How much is four tickets to LA? It sure ain't gonna be $15 per person which is the cost of the tank of gas (again, giving them some slack and assuming a gallon of gas is six dollars).

Or maybe Tim Redmond thinks he and his kids will just walk outside their door, click their heels together three times and say, "There's nothing like High Speed Rail!" and *poof* they'll be in LA.

At 7:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sadly most cars going SF->LA are populated by one person, not 4...

At 9:44 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, why can't they just ride bikes?

From now on any comment that uses "sad" or "sadly" will be rejected.

At 9:52 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"Rail is important to America's future, and we know the first steps toward any visionary plan face hurdles and may require leaps of faith."

This is the one grossly dumb and untrue statement in an otherwise sensible editorial. Only freight rail is sensible in America's future, not heavily subsidized passenger rail. Buses, while also subsidized, are much cheaper. All this crap about "visionary plans" and "leaps of faith" must be rejected and reserved for churches, not planning departments and other government agencies investing taxes in public transportation.

At 3:24 PM, Anonymous Let's be real said...

SFthen: Have you ever taken a train? You don't need to get to the station an hour early. Maybe 10 minutes early, 20 if you want more cushion. You don't check your bags (at least on European trains, no idea how they'd do it here.) You carry them on and put them above your seats (even large bags fit) or in areas designated for luggage. And unless you live in the outer Sunset or something, it's not going to take an hour to get to the HSR station on Muni. So I'd subtract at least an hour from your estimate.

As for the cost, I don't know of a car that will carry four people and luggage and get 40 mpg on the highway. Remember that hybrids get WORSE mileage on the highway than in the city. I think 25-30 mpg is a more realistic number for four plus luggage.

Of course, the cost for taking the train will still be much higher than driving, though not so much more if you consider the full cost of driving (wear and tear on the car, etc.) The IRS says that rate is currently 51ยข per mile, so about $200 for the trip, or $50 per person. That's getting close to what HSR fares might be. And I'd certainly pay more to be able to relax and not have to drive and fight traffic.

A realistic comparison shows there would definitely be a significant time advantage to HSR, and probably not a huge cost disadvantage compared to driving.

At 3:43 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

You still haven't addressed any of the issues raised in this post, especially the cost to state taxpayers to build this system. Nor is it reasonable to think that getting to and from a HSR train station will be any easier for travelers than to an airport.

At 11:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nor is it reasonable to think that getting to and from a HSR train station will be any easier for travelers than to an airport.

That is such a crock of shit. From the Mark Hopkins to the HSR terminal at Transbay is a few blocks. From there to SFO is 10+ miles. In the time it takes you to get a cab in this town, you'd be at the train station.

At 5:24 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

That's great---if you live at the Mark Hopkins. The rest of us would still have to get to and from the various HSR train stations, just like we do to airports.

At 11:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

More people from LA fly to SF, than vice versa.

At 11:02 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

What does that have to do with the terminal issue?


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