A Word About This Site

Important Note: This site is designed to be a one stop shopping place for information relevant to the HSR project, the potential impacts to our communities and how to participate in the process. Since this is an all volunteer effort, a lack of funding relegates us to using the freeby sites. With no perfect fit available, this site is being treated like a hybrid blog/website. Like a blog, it is not stagnant, but like a website, information is categorized. Therefore one should not treat it as a blog by always looking for only the latest entry, yet periodically refer back to older posts for updated information. To make it easier, HSR-PREP has a newsletter designed to be used in conjunction with this site. If you wish to be notified of new information appearing on the site, it is recommended that you sign up for the HSR-PREP Newsletter. Another way is to create an RSS link on your homepage.

Spread the word. Be informed. Get involved.

Spread the word. Be informed. Get involved. If you have any issues at all with the high speed rail project as it exists, if you say and do nothing, it means you agree 100%. We are all busy in our lives. This cannot be used as an excuse later. If you have issues, you must participate in the process or forever hold your peace. Call, email or write your legislators. It takes 15 minutes using their websites. Participate in the public input opportunities with the High Speed Rail Authority (HSRA). But don't wait.
Spread the word. Be informed. Get involved.

The November 2008 Prop 1a Ballot

The Ballot. In the wake of June 2008's high water mark for gas prices, November's Proposition 1a passed state wide 52/48%. If you relied solely on information provided at the ballot, you might have missed a lot. Here is the complete ballot summary.  Here's the analysis.

The opening statement:
"To provide Californians a safe, convenient, affordable, and reliable alternative to driving and high gas prices; to provide good-paying jobs and improve California's economy while reducing air pollution, global warming greenhouse gases, and our dependence on foreign oil, shall $9.95 billion in bonds be issued to establish a clean, efficient high-speed train service linking Southern California, the Sacramento/San Joaquin Valley, and the San Francisco Bay Area, with at least 90 percent of bond funds spent for specific projects, with federal and private matching funds required, all bond funds subject to an independent audit?"

Prop 1a did contain certain voter protections, including those listed below, in the form of State statute AB3034.

"Californians deserve the opportunity to vote on a high speed rail proposition that includes taxpayer protections and financial guidelines," said Governor Schwarzenegger. "With these technical changes, voters can now be assured that if the bond is approved, high speed rail would be built as planned and with fiscal controls ensuring financial accountability."

  • CA taxpayers will not be obligated for more than the bond amount ($9.95B), plus the debt servicing. (this means no matter how much it costs to build, moneys needed beyond this amount must come from other sources.)

  • A complete system shall be built between LA and SF. (this means there has to be a reasonable expectation that the project will not run out of money before completion.)

  • Must operate without subsidy (there is no stipulation that capital costs or debt service need to be included in the equation, and the HSRA is therefore not including them. However, despite this advantage, the HSRA saw the need to include a legally questionable "revenue guarantee" in their 2009 Business Plan in order to attract private money. See the business plan for more information.)

  • Bond money can only be spent if there are matching funds (so far we have $2.25B from the fed if construction starts by 2012, so there is a total of $4.5B available for the CA HSR system to date, $0 if construction does not start on time.)

  • There will be an independent peer review committee (the peer review group is suppose to be made up of eight people. so far there have been 3-5 people.)

  • A revised business plan be produced September 1 before the November 2008 ballot (note: this never happened)

  • Must be capable of travelling between SF and LA in under 2 hours 40 minutes. (The HSRA claims they can do it non-stop in 2:38. With 24 stations planned, not every train will be non-stop.)

The Business Plan required prior to the ballot measure was not produced as required by the law. See this Senate hearing on October 23, 2008. The reason per HSRA board member Quentin Kopp was the state had not approved the state budget in time. Shouldn't this have meant a hold on the bond measure on the part of the legislators AND the HSRA? Instead, both proceeded without being in compliance.

January 28, 2011 Legislators were found to have broken the law by writing the high speed rail bond summary themselves instead of the Attorney General's Office. And yet the bond measure was not revoked. Here is the opening brief by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and an article on the court ruling.

HSR and the Environment

June 5, 2012.  Sierra Club comes out against Governor Brown's proposal to circumvent CEQA in order to get the shovels in the ground before the federal deadline for the ARRA funding runs out.  See the letter by Sierra Club Director Kathryn Phillips here.

The "Green" Argument.

Pro. What you read at the ballot; "...while reducing air pollution, global warming greenhouse gases, and our dependence on foreign oil..."

High Speed Rail Authority board member Quentin Kopp; "The proposed route of the system intersects with many of the state's best location for wind, solar and geothermal facilities. High-speed trains will help California meet the goals set out by the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; using new clean energy technologies to power the system will be an added bonus and establish California as a leader in reducing global warming while developing renewable energy sources."

The 2008 Navigant study funded by the HSRA.

Con. Is high speed rail as "green" as it is made out to be? U.C. Berkeley tried to answer this question by looking at and comparing the full life cycle of trains, planes and automobiles and found that unless the trains are running at nearly full capacity, they will not be cleaner than planes or autos, and this assumes little improvements in autos and planes. Quotes from the study:

  • “We find that total life-cycle energy inputs and greenhouse gas emissions contribute an additional 63% for onroad, 155% for rail, and 31% for air systems over vehicle tailpipe operation.”

  • For the scenario with the average inter-city auto trip having 2.25 occupants, airlines having today's 85% load factor, and HSR achieving 50% load factor, it would take 71 years for HSR to achieve GHG "break-even"-i.e., for its GHG savings to offset the GHGs released by its construction.

  • Update January 2011. Thanks to a discovery by blogger Clem Tillier, it turns out the HSRA provided UC Berkeley with some bad numbers that actually work in the Authority's favor. The outcome, all things being equal, puts HSR on par with air. Unfortunately, as Elizabeth Alexis of CARRD points out, this latest finding is more than offset by the fact that they will be pouring much more concrete than the original design called for. The end result is the environmental argument remains weak for HSR.

For a look at the full study, take a look here. For a summary see this article. For Clem's findings see here.

Consider this. Both trains and automobiles powered by electricity directly or requiring electricity to recharge their fuel cells have an advantage over planes in that electricity can be generated by multiple sources, whereas planes rely solely on fossil fuels. The only problem remains that a majority of California's electricity is generated by natural gas. Less than 3% is generated by truly clean renewables - wind and solar combined - with total renewables at 11%. See the CA Energy Commission for more information. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, nationwide, coal is the biggest source for electric energy, with renewables at only 3%. For this reason, high speed rail is not a short term solution for weaning us off of foreign oil.

You have to ask yourself what if, as a state (as a nation), instead of encouraging people to continue to travel for business, we were to discourage urban sprawl in combination with encouraging telecommuting, and use the money for high speed rail instead to install solar panels on businesses and homes? $80B would pay for solar systems on roughly 4 million homes, and that is a direct weaning from oil without the risk, while creating immediate jobs.

Construction. Some images from China. This is only 2-track without the need for shoofly tracks needed to keep an existing rail, such as Caltrain, operable.

Siemens wants to build the train cars and has been advertising heavily for the right to do so. They even bought an extra twenty acres in Sacramento with the intention of building a new plant for manufacturing the HSR trains.