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.

China HSR. Should We Follow Their Lead?

The Pros and Cons. The Pros and Cons of the burgeoning Chinese HSR system are discussed in this article by Bloomberg News dated December 3, 2010. Bouyed by Government spending, cheap labor, and lax environmental laws, the new rail systems have produced job growth for some and as long as they are pouring concrete there is good opportunity for investment in Rail. Only time will tell if the benefits to Chinese society outpace the capital costs ($300B), the debt service and maintenance of such a vast (16K km/10K mi) HSR system. The article points out that, long term, the better investment will likely be in businesses along the rail route, rather than in the HSR building industry. In the US, it has been freight and not passenger rail that has proved profitable over the long run. Is it possible to reverse the trend with higher speed trains based on a more flexible fuel source? (The question is important for Californians because the bond measure stipulates that there can be no operating susbsidy.) Some think so, but this author has his doubts. At best, it is an extremely risky use of taxpayer money, as few systems in the world have proven to be profitable. Their incremental benefits to the economy as a whole are hard, if not impossible, to measure.

A cautionary tale to China is pointed out in the above article, "Railroads played a role in the collapse of the U.S. corporate bond market in the late 1800s. The market had grown in prominence on Wall Street as railroad barons looked to raise cash to expand into the American West. Then came a flood of defaults, which prompted lenders to start demanding certain protections, known as covenants, written into bond contracts. The 1870s proved to be “a disastrous decade” as default rates reached 35 percent, according to a Stanford University research paper."

If America decides to build a new HSR network, could we be risking a repeat collapse of the bond market? Consider that California ran a $19B deficit in 2009 and is looking at a $25.4B budget deficit thru June 2010's. This is with minimal HSR spending. The California bond rating has already been degraded from AAA down to A- (the lowest in the country along with Illinois), and our percentage of debt-to-GDP continues to grow. Debt servicing from July 1, 2010 to June 31, 2011 is expected to consume 7.71% of the $86.6B General Fund, up from 6.69% the year before. The United States as a whole is running a debt-to-GDP ratio of 84% and a deficit-to-GDP of almost 11%, which may explain why it is so hard for Washington to find federal funding for state HSR projects.

For more California Budget information, see the following: CA Dept. of Finance site here, the State Controllers office here, and Sunshine Review. To view in graph form see usgovernmentspending.com.

Should China Rethink HSR? In the first openly critical report, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) urged the State Council to re-evaluate the large-scale HSR construction projects in China. According to articles such as this one, "The CAS worries that China may not be able to afford such a large-scale construction of high-speed rail, and such a large scale high-speed rail network may not be practical." "The report submitted by the Chinese Academy of Sciences said China's high-speed rail construction has caused debt that has already reached unsustainable levels."

China's Quality Issues. In this article, the quality of coal ash being used in the making of the concrete HSR beds is called into question and may prove a costly maintenance issue sooner rather than later for China.

China's HSR Displacing Low Cost Alternatives. This Jan 13, 2011 article titled "Bullet train rides in China pinch travellers" seems to back the notion some have that HSR is a luxury for the rich.

"... the opening of more fast train [HSR] services has led to fewer regular trains being available, leading to the displeasure of the budget-conscious passengers, China Daily reported.

Many travelers who used to take the regular trains [over HSR] because of the cheaper fares have opted for long-distance buses this year, which will put extra pressure on road transport, said transport ministry spokesman He Jianzhong."

February 18, 2011. Article: Will Massive Debt Derail China’s High Speed Train Plans? The paper quoted Zhao Jian, a researcher at Beijing Jiaotong University, as saying that “the debt had at least reached 2 trillion yuan by now, and the interests of those debts have grown too large for the government to afford.”

Corruption! In this same article Liu Zhijun is listed as just the first big name to fall in the ongoing corruption probe of China's lucrative railways industry, said analysts and the local media. This is the same man who met with Governor Schwarzenegger and Rod Diridon in January 2011. Diridon said, "you are able to build this system rapidly, you have good experience, you would be a formidable bidder." The Chinese press is reporting that rail magnate Ding Shumiao is also under investigation, with business magazine Caixin citing unnamed sources that the case 'may involve something much bigger'.

Fatal Crash. Lightening strikes on Chinese high speed trains seem to be an ongoing problem causing power outages resulting in incapacitated trains, and now a Fatal Crash when the control system lost power, too. Death toll as of this writing at 43, injured at 210.

Japan. Buyer beware. One must remember, similar to how we feel about China now, in the late 1970's/early 1980's many Americans were concerned that Japan owned too much of America and that we should be investing like they were, only to watch their economy collapse.

Jobs American?

Who Will Really Get the Jobs?

Opportunity costs: Will building HSR create more jobs than it kills? I can't speak to the numbers in this article about the state of our existing nationwide infrastructure, but it does provide food for thought because building HSR will mean having to forego expenditures on long overdue repairs to what we already have in place. With the nation's and the state's current fiscal shape, building HSR is not a matter of not needing to expand highways or airports. It is also about giving up what we already have. We can't have it all. If we could, we wouldn't be behind on what we have. Add to these lost jobs those that will be taken out by the construction of HSR along the right-of-way.

December 1, 2010. State Engineers Sue Over a Highway to Golden Gate Bridge Because of Foreign Investors; Potential Impact Nationwide. Read the article here. "the "Gateway to San Francisco" is being built in a partnership with foreign investors under a new law that allows private firms to build public roads in California. And state engineers, who are missing out on much of the design work, are suing to stop it."

Along with the fiscal oversight, Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoes bill that would preserve American jobs for HSR in order to prevent delays.

Galgiani’s Build California legislation was vetoed by our favorite vetoer.

I am returning Assembly Bill 1830 without my signature.

This bill would require the High-Speed Rail Authority to make every
effort to purchase high-speed train rolling stock and related
equipment that is manufactured in California.

While I support job creation in the state, this bill could result in
unnecessary additional costs and delays in the constructing of
high-speed rail in California and for this reason I am unable to sign

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Minority Jobs. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights in San Francisco and the Associated Professionals and Contractors filed an administrative complaint Wednesday against the California High Speed Rail Authority, charging it with unfair contracting practices that violate federal civil rights laws. According to the complaint (found here), less than 4 percent of contracting dollars have gone to small or micro-businesses. The authority is supposed to take steps to meet or exceed a statewide small business goal of 25 percent, the complaint says.

HSR in CA Dwindling Down - Plan B

November 29, 2010. Is this is what the promised SF to LA HSR system is coming down to? The private investors have yet to step forward, the full amount of federal money is not materializing. Because of a lack of funds, it seems the HSRA Board can only consider building 65 miles of elevated, pseudo HSR track connecting not two major cities, but two small towns without stations in the central valley. Optimists call this the beginning of something big, while others call it a bridge to nowhere and a major boondoggle, and others still call this an indication that the end is near. Meanwhile republican legislators such as Californian Republican Congressman Jerry Lewis are looking at defunding what little federal funding there is.

The HSR Board will decide on the corridor they will start with at their next board meeting scheduled for December 2, 2010 in Sacramento. See CARRD's preview of the HSRA's Plan B here.

Congressman demands investigation into California high speed rail authority. After learning of the choice for the first section to be built, California Democratic Congressman Dennis Cardoza sent a two-page letter Tuesday to the heads of the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) calling the idea a "gross misuse" of taxpayer funds. Cardoza's letter argues that it "defies logic and common sense to have the trains start and stop in remote areas that have no hope of attaining the ridership needed to justify the cost." See this Mercury News article for the full story by Mike Rosenberg.

December 2nd Update. The HSRA did not clear the legality of the initial segment selection with their counsel before voting to approve it. Their attorney, George Spanos, did not think it met the terms of the bond measure, namely that it meets the requirements of a "usable segment". See the video here. The full December 2, 2010 board meeting can be viewed here.

Cities Lining Up Against HSR

Cities Lining Up Against the the HSR Project as it Stands.

City Councils Vote "No Confidence" in the HSR Board.
Menlo Park
Palo Alto
City of Orange
Redwood City (said it in a letter but did not vote "no confidence"
Atherton (took it further voting to outright oppose this project as it stands)

Law Suit Questioning the Legality of the Program Level Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
Palo Alto
Menlo Park
Belmont files amicus brief

A Statewide Grass Roots Movement

High Speed Boondoggle is a statewide grass roots movement to raise awareness using visual aids, including lawn signs and videos, in an effort to control the wayward high speed rail project by driving citizens to the legislators because it is the legislators that pull the purse strings. They have a website here and a facebook fan page here. The website contains easy cut and paste forms with the critical legislators' e-mail addresses. The Facebook fan page will be used much like a petition to show the legislators how many people are not happy. In addition to these sites, you may request lawn signs by e-mailing them at the address on the website.

After over a year of frustration in trying to work with the High Speed Rail Authority to no avail, in a show of our own "vote of no confidence", HSR-PREP has decided to take a less neutral approach. In an effort to get citizens' concerns heard, we now support this very visual grassroots effort to drive people people to the legislators and to further raise awareness. We ask that you use the above sites as they are intended to drive the legislators to stop playing all sides and finally acknowledge the lengthy list of state recognized issues, and take action to correct things.

November 7, 2010 A video of the kick-off rally in Burlingame, CA from KTVU Channel 2 News.

HSRA Re-Configured Website

October 6, 2010. The HSRA has redesigned their website. Unfortunately, in the process, they have relegated all of the HSRA links found in this HSR-PREP useless. Please bear with me as I try to unearth all of the new locations for each link. This will take some time as I have a life outside of HSR. Thank you very much HSRA!

HSR Authority Board Members


January 1, 2011. Governor Schwarzenegger made several appointments to the California High Speed Rail Authority Board on the eve of his departure. The Governor is allowed to appoint 5 of the 9 members of the Authority board, and none of those appointments require Senate confirmation. The Governor took action on three of the slots. According to the Governor’s press office, he left Lynn Schenk (whose term expired in 2004) and his special advisor David Crane in place and made the following changes: Curt Pringle (term ending 12/31/2010) – ReappointedVacancy created by Richard Katz’s resignation – Filled by Fresno developer and Schwarzenegger political donor (a $25,000 donation in 2009 to the “California Dream Team”) Thomas Richards; Rod Diridon (term ended 12/31/2009) – Replaced by Los Angeles Business Journal publisher Matt Toledo

December 1, 2010. In private e-mails, the Chairman admits the engineers are not listening to communities. See this Voice of OC article from December 1, 2010. "They seem to be so dense ... they are not able of understanding the impacts of their words and actions. I sincerely do not know how they can work on a project of this size!" "How a project of this size could ever move this far without EVER talking to the public is inconceivable!" "How can I demonstrate any degree of confidence in this team? I can not represent to ANY person from any region in this state that I have confidence in this team.
"I am very angry. ... I am NOT KIDDING!"

December 2, 2010. The Attorney General (AG) finds HSRA Board members, Chairman Curt Pringle and Richard Katz, have conflict in serving on HSRA Board. See this Sacremento Bee article.

Board Members.

For a list of the active Board members, visit the California High Speed Rail website here.

See CARRD's link for more information on the positions and their terms. Click here to see who appoints the board members.

History since the passing of the bond measure:

Curt Pringle, Chairman - resigned July 2011. On August 19, 2011 Jerry Brown appointes his replacement, Dan Richard (see Sac Bee article here), a BART veteran. Vice chairman Tom Umberg steps up as Chairman. See Orange County Register article here.

Tom Umberg, Vice Chairperson. July 2011 becomes Chairman after Pringle.

Lynn Schenk, Vice Chairperson

David Crane - Resigned. August 2011. Replaced by Jerry Brown appointee Michael Rossi. Rossi is Brown’s senior advisor for jobs and business development and had a long banking and finance career prior to joining his Democratic administration. See LA Times article here.

Richard Katz - Dec 1, 2010 resigned due to incompatible office (see below). Replaced with Thomas Richards (1/11)

Fran Florez - April 2011. Not re-appointed after termed out and moves on. April 7, 2011. The mid-Peninsula's first board representative, Redwood City mayor Jim Hartnett was named to the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board of Directors by California Senate President Darrell Steinberg yesterday. See the Daily Journal article here.

Russ Burns

Quentin Kopp - Resigned April 2011, Replaced by Bob Balgenorth, president of the California Building and Construction Trades Council. See San Mateo Daily Journal article here.

Rod Diridon - Schwarzenegger replaced controversial board member Rod Diridon (among other things, he called those who questioned the project "Rotten Apples") with Matt Toledo (1/11), a Los Angeles Business Journal publisher. See the Palo Alto Daily Post article here.

Roelof van Ark, CEO - Replaced Mehdi Morshed who retired.

The HSRA website has a section on the board members here.

There is a conflict of interest for board members Curt Pringle and Richard Katz who are occupying conflicting offices in the eye of the law. Read this September 28, 2010 LA Times article.

(See the update above)

Curt Pringle also has a lobbying firm, Curt Pringle & Associates. From the company website: "Specializing in perception management."

For a full explanation of the conflict of interest issue and a timeline, see CARRD's report. A letter from the Attorney General's (Jerry Brown's) Office to the CEO of the HSRA asking that the HSRA Board clear these issues up. The letter is cc'd to board member Quentin Kopp.

Update December 1, 2010. Attorney General (AG) makes formal opinion: state attorney general has concluded that the mayor of Anaheim (Curt Pringle) and members of Los Angeles County and Orange County transportation boards may not serve simultaneously on California’s High-Speed Rail Authority board.

Ethics Issues.

According to this LA Times article from October 31. 2010, Board members paid tens of thousands of dollars in consulting fees and campaign contributions by firms who stand to gain from HSR decisions.

November 4, 2010. Board members received gifts in violation of their own policies. See CARRD's report here.

PCC (Peninsula Cities Consortium)

The Peninsula Cities Consortium (PCC). Six Peninsula cities - Burlingame, Belmont, Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton and Brisbane (new 10/10) - joined forces to share resources and ideas for protecting their respective city's interests as they pertain to HSR. They also hoped a collective voice would have more impact than that from individual cities. Some other cities have chosen not to join as they are concerned they they will be perceived as non-cooperative/combatant by the HSRA if they associate with this consortium as some of the cities (not the PCC) have sued the HSRA.

In an attempt to respond intelligently during the various scoping periods following the HSRA's Environmental Impact Reports (EIR) and Alternatives Analysis (AA), the PCC has repeatedly submitted pertinent questions to the Authority without response. See the list of questions here (to follow).

The PCC took their strongest stance yet in a formal letter asking the reset button be pushed on this project. See this article in the "Sacramento Bee" Capital Alert section.

In response the Bay Area Council writes a letter to the PCC members calling the the PCC's policies 'obstructionist and dangerous' essentially saying it will be the PCC's fault if this doesn't get built and there are no jobs because of it.


TransBay Terminal in San Francisco. See a link here.

HSR Pro or Con?


HSRA Board Member Rod Diridon on HSR. See this July 9, 2010 Vimeo interview.

CALPIRG Executive Summary of June 29, 2010. Read the summary here.

View America 2050 Director Petra Todorovich's presentation on the benefits of high-speed rail to regional economies and where high-speed rail works best here. The presentation was given at the conference of the U.S. High-Speed Rail Association in Hollywood, California on June 17, 2010.

Dedicated Freight Corridors & High Speed Rail India’s Ultra Low Carbon Mega Rail Projects Anjali Goyal Executive Director Finance (Budget), Ministry of Railways, India

CON. (See also the business plan section)

Congressional Research Service: High Speed Rail (HSR) in the United States, December 8, 2009. While including the arguments for HSR, this report raises many unanswered questions and concerns, and is therefore largely critical of a national HSR system. Read the full report here.

Wendall Cox June 25, 2010 presentation. See this slide show here.

Broad Support? An interesting poll by the Gilroy Dispatch from June 2010 indicates anything but broad support: 79% favor abandoning the project while 21% say press on.

Underground Preferred. A poll taken on this this site in April 2010 showed those in favor of an underground solution at 97% (76% for full bore tunnel), those for a raised viaduct at 1% (0% for a berm), and those undecided at 2%.

The CATO Institute.

HSR History

1996-2004. High Speed Rail...so far, an exercise in Power and Money. A series in Eldorado Magazine by Richard Trainor: "Paradise Lost? — Internet Series -part seven". As you read this you might want to hold on to your wallets. This is "rich"! For the complete series, beginning in March 2009, click here.

1996-Present. Don't RailRoad Us group of Burlingame gives a historical rundown on their website.

Pacheco vs. Altamont Pass Route

Why was the once favored Altamont Pass Route suddenly changed to the Pacheco Pass route?

Justification is provided by the HSRA authority on their website here.

But many still question this decision. Among those are the California Rail Foundation (CRF), the Planning and Conservation League (PCL) and TRANSDEF that have challenged this decision in a lawsuit. This article written for the Sacramento Bee in 2004 highlights much of the background and arguments associated with this hot topic as they were known then. More recently, CRF, PCL and TRANSDEF hired French firm Setec Ferroviaire to study the routes to see which one made the most sense. In a news release, the report titled "Evaluation of an Alignment for the California High-Speed Rail Project Bay Area to Central Valley Segment" concludes that the Altamont Pass should still be the preferred route - the basis for the lawsuit.

Worthwhile reading on the topic can be found in Richard Trainors "Paradise Lost" found in the HSR History section of this site.

Much of this decision hinges on the ridership numbers, which were peer reviewed by UC Berkeley in June 2010 at the request of the legislature. UC Berkeley's findings draw into question the validity of the HSRA's choice to switch from the Altamont to the Pacheco Pass.

Kathy Hamilton wrote a multi-part article for the Examiner following the findings of the UC Berkeley review above. The third part in that series, an interview with Elizabeth Alexis of CARRD who first pointed out the issues, and Professor Samer Madanat from UC Berkeley, deals with the Altamont versus Pacheco Pass issue. See the link to Kathy's other HSR articles in the side bar under "Media".

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.


Timeline for the HSR Project. The timeline can be viewed in the Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS) Toolkit on the HSRA site. See this link for the timeline. Further understanding of the purpose of the CSS toolkit can be found elsewhere on this site along with other public input opportunities. See the side bar for Public Input - to High Speed Rail Authority. Note the timeline as it gives you an idea of where we are in the process. The timeline is subject to change, but at this time is being driven by the stimulus funds requirement that construction begin on the Peninsula section by 2012.

As of April 2010 engineering for the Peninsula section is at about 3-5% engineering. The project is expected to be at about 15% engineering by fall. At 15% engineering, we will have construction details, in other words how the different alternatives might be constructed, including how they will keep Caltrain operational during construction. Some basic understanding of the sequencing of the construction is described in the AA appendixes.

Sound of HSR

HSR Sound Levels. Video of the French TGV.

Train speeds on the Caltrain corridor will be 125mph for HSR and 110mph for Caltrain. The graph at right above can be found in this 1996 study. As aerodynamics and technology of design (such as slab track versus ballast track) are improved, the sound levels will only come down, but should remain a significant concern in the design process. Sound walls on elevated or at grade structures will add visible mass. The HSRA tells us these sound walls will only need to be 3-5' high. Other studies suggest they should be higher, similar to the sound walls along Rt 101. A lot has to do with the distance between the sound source and the wall, so for a greater ROW width, higher walls may be required.

Japan has a national noise standard for the Shinkansen, limiting the noise it generates to 70 decibels in residential areas and 75 decibels in commercial districts. For comparison, a vacuum cleaner at 10 feet produces 70 dB, and a car passing 10 feet away measures 80 dB. To meet Japan's stringent standards, they use lightweight trains with sleek and sometimes odd-looking noses, design windows, doors and the spaces where cars connect to be as smooth and aerodynamic as possible, cover the wheels, and work to quiet the overhead electrical supply system, a major noise source. The railways also install sound-walls in some locations along the tracks, ranging from roughly 2 to 12 feet high, and they travel at reduced speeds in the densest areas.

Pantograph study.

2005 Federal Railroad Administration High-Speed Ground Transportation
Noise and Vibration Impact Assessment
. Of interest on page 4-9 is that a HSR placed in a deep trench produces roughly 19dB less than an elevated structure without a sound wall.

What Could it Look Like

Story Poles. The City of Burlingame, in an effort to show people what the scale might blook like, erected story poles near the Caltrain station. The 30' wide orange netting represents the cross-sectional thickness (not the full width of 79' (straightaways) -126' (Caltrain-only stations)) of the deck the trains will ride on. This representation does not include the expected 3-12' sound walls, either. The total height of 59' to the top represents the height to the top of the poles which will carry the catenary wires for electrification. Interestingly, Caltrain and the Federal Rail Administration (FRA) had a problem with the safety of the poles, requiring around the clock security guards be posted, which in turn prematurely sucked up Burlingame's budget for this outreach project, thus ending the display early. One might ask how they are fine with a major HSR construction project along the tracks, when they are not with a well engineered display? See Channel 7's report here.

Update August 5, 2010. The HSRA narrows the Alternatives down for the Peninsula. This article by Mike Rosenberg for the San Mateo County Times was one of the first out and includes an excellent visual map. For greater detail see this link for the HSRA's Supplemental Alternatives Analysis August 2010 and appendices.

I say what COULD it look like because no one really knows since the HSRA has not given us much to hang our hat on. So, we have to use what technical memos and limited drawings they have provided along with a little bit of imagination to piece something together. Probably the most representative of the alternatives can be found in this HSRA video simulation showing Alma Street in Palo Alto. You have to understand that certain things are not shown such as the houses east of the right of way (ROW) that needed to be demolished in order to construct this model, but the scale is fairly accurate. Note also the retaining wall for the cross streets when the cross road is dipped under the rail in a split design. Likely the retaining wall cuts off a driveway or two. Perhaps more important than what it might look like is to understand the scale. It is truly industrial scale.

Station, Elevated 4-Track , Burlingame.

The HSRA Alternatives Analysis (AA), Appendix C released on April 8, 2010 shows various conceptual cross sections. This illustration shows a typical Caltrain-access only (HSR on center two tracks, Caltrain on outer tracks) raised station at 139'4" wide. A narrower center island design shrinks the width to 112'6". Note: From the face of the Burlingame Station to the curb at Carolan is only 120'.

A cut-and-cover trench style station is shown at 137' 2", but roughly half of that could be hidden under the street or existing station, or even stacked with HSR running underneath Caltrain, limiting the opening to between 77'8" (outboard platforms) to 80'2" (center platform).

Scale. Recall, for a sense of scale, the Millbrae overpass is 100' wide at the BART station. I highly recommend you plant yourself under it and look up.

Stand under the 100' wide overpass at Millbrae Ave (click on the picture at left) and you will begin to understand the scale around a station. Outside of the stations, the width is expected to be in the range of 79' (103' for construction, all per AA April 8, 2010), unless the trains are stacked whereby it will be closer to 55' and much taller. Because legally they must, the HSRA maintains that all alternatives are being considered, yet there is good reason to believe that the alternative has already been determined - namely due to the lack of funding. I hope I am wrong, but I have yet to see any evidence to the contrary. So far, the only images Burlingame has seen for mockups from the HSRA are of elevated structures - both grossly misleading in their scale and shown in a wonderful light (who knew the sun could shine from underneath an overpass?). Stay tuned. I am working with a local business on a properly scaled mockup. For now, I recommend the image at right created by Burlingame's Don't Rail Road Us group. While not very creatively styled, the height at the station and mass are fairly accurate.

In Burlingame, as with many towns, we are wondering how HSR might change the character of our town? The Burlingame station is a centerpiece of our town. It was no accident that Burlingame Avenue was laid out to highlight the front of the station. An elevated structure would forever change this view.

Germany's Elevated 4-Track system into Berlin. Similar to that proposed for the Peninsula, it is made up of a commuter rail (Berlin Stadtbahn1) and a high speed rail (ICE).

The Vertical Alternatives. A look at the various vertical alternatives, elevated (berm and viaduct), at grade, and underground (open trench, cut-and-cover trench and tunnel)

Transition Areas. The April 8 release of the Alternatives Analysis revealed further details as to how the vertical alternatives (i.e. elevated, at grade, trenched, tunnel) might rise and fall along the Peninsula. Take a look at the profiles in Appendix B of the Alternatives Analysis.

Caltrain, Union Pacific, and HSR

Caltrain is broke, declaring electrification is the answer for turning a profit. Simply put, electrification will allow trains to run faster, thus increasing capacity, plus electric trains are cheaper to maintain and operate. Just where the money to make the needed upgrades will come from remains a mystery, but it is clear that Caltrain sees HSR as a funding mechanism, assuming HSR has funding. The only other option is the passing of legislation for a direct source of funding by way of a tax of some sort, or other legislation that assures Caltrain receives some of the federal stimulus money if HSR is not ready by 2012. See this discussion on Robert Cruickshank's pro-rail blog for a better understanding of Caltrain's situation and how HSR figures in. For now, Caltrain depends on funding from three counties; SF (San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency), SM (San Mateo County Transit District, aka SamTrans) and Santa Clara (Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority or VTA), which have all suffered from the recession. Together, the three agencies comprise the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (PCJPB) which is in charge of running Caltrain.

Clem Tillier discusses in his blog (Caltrain HSR Compatibility Blog) what seems to be the obvious solution if HSR is to be built along the Caltrain corridor, and that is building integrated systems rather than separate systems sharing the same corridor; something the HSRA and Caltrain don't seem to be exploring. Such a system would include shared platform heights and train constrol systems. With two separate systems and only two tracks per system, Caltrain's existing service will be cut back as it will no longer enjoy a third track required for the Baby Bullet to pass slower trains.

May 18, 2010. Read about Caltrain taking a stronger position.

Union Pacific (UP) is having a slightly different discussion and that is an unwillingness to share their right of way (ROW) with HSR. In part, this is one reason why the Program level EIR was ordered de-certified by a judge, because the route the HSRA had chosen between San Jose and Gilroy required building on the UP ROW, and UP was having none of it. Here is a May 11, 2010 article written by Mike Rosenberg for the San Mateo County Times titled "Union Pacific vows to fight high-speed rail" discussing their postering. A letter from Union Pacific to the HSRA dated April 23, 2010. A bit of silliness that perhaps sums up the way UP feels can be found in this video.

Freight versus HSR. Read this June 22, 2010 article from the Economist. America’s system of rail freight is the world’s best. High-speed passenger trains could ruin it.

The Right of Way (ROW). The Caltrain ROW is owned by three counties: San Mateo, San Francisco and Santa Clara, however, San Mateo County paid for it carrying IOU's from the other two counties. I'm not certain of exact numbers, but some I have seen range in cost from $200M to $500M to San Mateo County.

An interesting idea from Charles Voltz of Burlingame in response to the HSRA's suggestion that if towns like Burlingame want tunnels they should pay for them. Charles: "San Mateo County can offer to forgive the debt of the other two counties in exchange for the Joint Powers Board insisting that High Speed Rail apply the current value of that debt to the cost difference between elevated tracks and a covered trench. This, of course, would have to be negotiated between the Joint Powers Board and its prospective tenant, High Speed Rail. There should be room for compromise sooner rather than later since the state estimates that every year of delay boosts the total cost of the project by $1.5 billion."


July 26, 2011. HSRA breaking the law (yet again) by not responding to Freedom of Information Act requests. CAARD has repeatedly - ten times, in fact, between March 22, 2011 and July 26, 2011 - requested documents backing the ridership study without a document being produced by the HSRA. Authority’s Deputy Director, Jeff Barker said, “There are no documents; we are busy; any documents are draft and you just want to make us look bad on your website. Now why would he say that if he knew what they had was good data? CARRD knows there are documents because the HSRA CEO van Ark ordered a peer review committee on the ridership with a deadline already past. ”See CARRD's documentation here and a related article here.

New Blog Devoted to Ridership Issue. On November 23, 2010, this blog (possibly from an Alhambra blogger) was started to address the ridership issues seemingly ignored by the HSRA. The first entry compares an earlier ridership study which was conducted in 1999 and published in January 2000 by Charles River Associates (CRA). It was touted as “the most advanced state-of-the-art, comprehensive intercity HSR ridership and revenue forecasts and analysis ever carried out in California, and possibly anywhere” with the subsequent Cambridge Systematics (CS) study. The CRA study was adjusted for both time and population based on a 2030 operation date to match the CS study. "Ridership is nearly double (193%) that of the first study in spite of the fact that fares must have been disproportionally increased to account for the nearly tripling (258%) of revenue." So why the big difference? That's what inquiring minds want to know and legislators should require be known as part of their due dilegence. One thing that was changed as a result of the second study was the route choice from the Altamont Pass to the Pacheco Pass. See the Altamont versus Pacheco entry for more details on this discussion.

Elizabeth Alexis of CARRD Speaks at November 4 2010 Senate Transportation & Housing Budget Committee. Asking for a little common sense. To Senator Lowenthal, if it were her, she'd be looking for an investigation. See the video here.

Why Do Projected Ridership Numbers Matter? It is these numbers that designers use to determine the capacity and frequency of trains required to build a system, and ultimately to build a system that operates at maximum efficiency. It is these numbers that help determine what is the best route (think Altamont versus Pacheco) to maximize ridership. We don't want to underbuild or there will not be enough room for expansion as the population increases. However, if ridership numbers are over enthusiastic, the train will run with a lot of vacancies for many, many years. This would not only be a money losing scenario, but also an environmental catastrophe as according to another UC Berkeley study, it could take up to 70 years to recoup the green house gas emissions produced when building such a structure if it only runs at 50% occupancy.

UC Berkeley Peer Review July 1, 2010. Commissioned by the California Senate Transportation and Housing Commission and paid for by the HSRA, among other things, the report Confirms what watchdog Elizabeth Alexis of the grass roots group CARRD – Citizens Advocating Responsible Rail Design had already pointed out to the HSRA and the California Senate Transportation and Housing Commission - the HSRA’s ridership study is not based on a representative sample of the general population. Read the press release or the full report.

Kathy Hamilton, writing for the Examiner, gives any easy to understand run down of ten issues pointed out in this study in this article.

The Reason Foundation's September 2008 Report: "The California High Speed Rail Proposal: A Due Diligence Report" estimated the true cost will be somewhere between $65B and $81B. It also projected fewer riders by 2030 than officially estimated: 23-31 million riders a year instead of the 65-96 million initially forecasted by the Rail Authority in their business plan. It will be interesting to see how their predictions fare over time. The HSRA has since downgraded its ridership estimates to about 40M with the increase in fare price from $55 to $104.75. (I note that as of July 2010, the HSRA website still proclaims 88-117M passengers annually by 2030.)

How much of a cultural issue is it for Americans to get out of their cars and into rail [again]? In other words, if we are modeling our HSR system after successful segments (note: worldwide, no full system is successful, only segments) elsewhere in the world (i.e. choosing routes with population densities similar to Paris to Lyon or Osaka to Tokyo), are we also modeling our ridership to match? Put another way; just because the population density exists, there is the additional hurdle of overcoming differing habits, and therefore for HSR to be successful in the US, one might argue that we need an even greater population density in order to succeed. I think the chart below shows that we will have a big hurdle ahead in convincing Americans it is time to get out of their cars. According to this NatGeo survey, citizens of poorer contries are more likely to ride trains. However, Americans surveyed reported that the biggest obstacle to their use of public transportation was lack of availability. Here are the results for one of the surveys: How likely are you to use public transit?

The Business Plan

The Business Plan.

  • General Library of business plans, appendices, summaries, etc.on HSRA site.

  • 2009 Business Plan December 2009 (142 pages)

  • Legislative Analyst Office's (LAO) Report on the 2009 Business Plan Jan 2010 (9 pages)

  • Addendum to the 2009 Business Plan April 2010 in response to LAO Report(45 pages)

  • April 15, 2010 Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Subcomittee Hearing on HSR with Senators Joe Simitian and Alan Lowenthal. See the video.

  • April 14, 2010. Letter from Congress asking the White House for a designated funding source for HSR. Since adequate funding is really at the root of the issue, how the administration responds will likely determine whether or not HSR lives or dies locally and nationwide.

  • Ronald Utt, Ph.D., an economics advisor to President Reagan, wrote this piece on the economics of high speed rail, addressing whether or not they operate with or without subsidy.

  • California State Auditor Report 2009-106 Summary April 2010. Congresswoman Jackie Speier has deep concerns about HSR stemming from the Auditors' Report and talks about a house of cards in an interview on KCBS radio AM740 on May 16, 2010 (discusses HSR about 5/8 of the way through).

  • GAO (United States Government Accountability Office) Report to Congressional Committees "HIGH SPEED RAIL Learning From Service Start-ups, Prospects for Increased Industry Investment, and Federal Oversight Plans" June 2010

  • Assemblywoman Fiona Ma interview, April 2010, Peninsula TV's "1 on 1". A little out of touch. Interviewer: "So then does this project already own the right of way through Caltrain, or will this project need to obtain right of ways through these communities?" FM: "As I understand, these right of ways are already obtained." Incorrect. The RoW is controlled by Caltrain, not HSR. Caltrain does not have to let HSR use it. She listed the three points of the lawsuit: Noise and Vibration and Pacheco versus Altamont. No, the third was the Union Pacific RoW between Gilroy and San Jose.

  • Congresswoman Anna Eshoo speaks up, "we need high-speed rail on the Peninsula to be a betterment, not a detriment." "That the High Speed Rail Authority needs to prove itself is beyond any doubt. Authority representatives - many of them well meaning - have proven repeatedly to be ineffective and even counterproductive in the way they have approached the project and the public. Frankly, they could not have been better at damaging their own credibility and the credibility of the project if they had planned it."

  • State Treasurer Bill Lockyer: Investors doubt rail project's viability; bonds tough sell. See the July 14, 2010 Sacramento Bee article. "I hear from the world of Wall Street investment bankers about what they think makes sense. And almost universally, they're convinced that no one can finance the routes from L.A. to the Bay Area that it just will never work economically, certainly in the foreseeable future."

  • October 11, 2010. Finance and business experts released a highly critical financial review of the proposed California High-Speed Rail Project. You can read the whole review (compliments of CC-HSR) or read this summary for the Examiner by Kathy Hamilton. "...we are forced to conclude the Authority's promise seems an impossible goal."

  • October 27, 2010. Inspector General reports some improvement with internal documentation, however major issues remain unresolved that would prevent the spending of Bond money which would hold up spending of ARRA funds. They found that the HSR Authority paid 38% of public funds, or $3.44 million, to contractors without asking for timesheets, work summaries or other documentation to prove how the bill was tabulated. Among other unresloved issues are the peer review and the revenue guarantee (subsidy) issues. The full report can be viewed here.

  • November 18, 2010. The California High Speed Rail Peer Review Group has grave concerns about the project. Read the complete report here. "...there is an air of unreality about a plan that includes $17 to $19B in "free" federal funding from programs that do not exist."

  • April 13, 2011. No money will be allocated for high-speed rail projects for the remainder of 2011. Federal Rail Administration officials claim that they lost what amounts to $1.4 billion in funds for high-speed rail. See this CNN article here.

  • August 25, 2011. California High-Speed Rail Authority Board Vice Chair Lynn Schenk admitted that the HSRA's previous business plans were really nothing more than sales tools. She said, “that first business plan was more of a sales and marketing piece than it was in the nature of a proxy.” Watch the video here.

  • November 1, 2011. Here it is folks, the latest in the fantasmagorical ride made up of pixie dust and dreams called HSR in California...the latest business plan is coming your way at $98B. No, I did not misplace the decimal. And even better, the HSRA claims the system will still make money even at the lowest ridership numbers. Huh?! Seriously. Oh yes. And none of those in charge seem concerned. I don't know whether to laugh or cry. All I can say is they just don't care. This is brazen arrogance. The bond measure was sold to the voters on the basis that the entire system from SF to Anaheim would only cost $33B at a total cost of $9B + interest to the CA tax payers. Since passing, increasing costs have outpaced additional funding by almost 20:1 and construction has not even begun. Has our legislature completely lost all touch with reality? (Don't answer that question.) Too see the latest business plan, it is posted on the HSRA site here.

IMO, until the HSRA can prove otherwise, it is safe to say, despite the legal (bond measure) requirements to the contrary, if HSR construction is allowed by the legislators to be started, it will require public subsidy by the CA taxpayers in order to complete.

You may have heard it referenced that the true cost will be closer to $80B. Where does the $80B estimate originate from? The Reason Foundation's September 2008 "The California High Speed Rail Proposal: A Due Diligence Report" estimated the true cost will be somewhere between $65B and $81B. It also projected fewer riders by 2030 than officially estimated: 23-31 million riders a year instead of the 65-96 million initially forecasted by the Rail Authority. It will be interesting to see how their predictions fare over time. The HSRA has since downgraded its ridership estimates to about 40M with the increase in fare price from $55 to $104.75.

Hoover Institution's April & May 2010 "The Trouble with High Speed Rail".

The Heritage Foundation speaks out with this slide show on Vimeo.

Consider this: If the national HSR system costs $1T, that equates to $4761 for every registered voter. If the California HSR system costs $80-100B, that equates to $4624-5780 for every registered voter. Now, double these figures to include the debt service associated with the capital costs. These figures (roughly speaking) include only costs to build, not to operate or maintain. Assuming it could be paid over ten years, would a national or state HSR system be worth almost $10,000 for each voter ($1000/year) in your household?

The Tally - Funds for HSR Specifically.

State Money.

November 4, 2008. $9B of $9.95B Prop 1A Bond measure to be used for HSR. Can only be spent if matching funds are found.

Federal Money.

January 28, 2010. $2.25B = $1.85B for HSR + $400M for TransBay Terminal to be matched 100% by state bond money. (from $8B national ARRA pot, $4.7B was applied for). An additional $100M to be used for conventional rail.

October 25, 2010. $715M matched 30% by state funds for use in Central Valley(from $2.4B national FRA pot funding awarded under the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) Program). An additional $186M to be used upgrades to Peninsula. To see the FRA application requirements, click here.

December 9, 2010. $616M in ARRA funds rescinded from other states to be matched 100% by state bond money.

September 8, 2011. Total funding is now at $6.3B ($3.5B federal and $2.8B useable state bond money). Cost estimates have risen from $33B to $67B. The Obama administration had asked for $8 billion for fiscal 2012 for high-speed rail projects, including the one in California, as well as other passenger rail programs around the country. The House Appropriations subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development on Thursday cut Obama's request by nearly $7 billion, leaving money only to operate Amtrak and some smaller programs.

Private Money.