Viewpoint - January 6, 2010

Letter: Europeans found upside of high-speed rail

It may well be that California's high-speed rail plans are ill-advised, or that this is not the right time or economy to be embarking on such an ambitious construction, but several things bother me.

First, major infrastructure projects might be a good thing in a down economy. Just think about the Bay Area's signature bridges, both completed during the Great Depression. Next, take a look at some existing high-speed rail networks.

As reported in the Economist magazine, the French national railroad made a net profit in 2006 of 695 million euros after paying fees to the track owner, and the TGV (France's high-speed trains) had the highest profit margins. In 2007 the French national railroad had a record profit of 1 billion euros.

Spain, which has a smaller economy than California, already has 310 miles of high-speed rail between Madrid and Barcelona, and has ambitious plans for another 5,500 miles of track. To quote from the Economist, "The aim is to create Europe's most extensive high-speed network, with 90 percent of Spaniards living within 50 kilometers of a station."

What really bothers me about all the hand-wringing regarding high-speed rail is the implication that we are somehow not as smart or as capable as those Europeans. The French (and the Japanese, too) did a lot of engineering work advancing the technology of trains and track to allow travel at much higher speeds, in greater comfort. Anybody who has enjoyed the French TGVs knows what I mean.

It should be much easier for us. It's all been invented before, just not here. Maybe we should just hire a French or Spanish engineering firm to do it for us. One more quote from the Economist concerning high-speed rail: "Carbon emissions per passenger are one-sixth as big as for air travelers."

Robert Cronin

Marmona Drive, Menlo Park


Posted by Hank Lawrence, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 5, 2010 at 3:08 pm

There are several differences between the European system and what is proposed for California. First and foremost the European rail systems are national rail systems underwritten by their respective Federal Governments. The HSR costs must be borne by Californians. Second, the California population tends to be clustered in a few cities; the European population has a more homogeneous spread. Third, petrol costs about far more in Europe than in California. Fourth, California has a more efficient and more cost effective flight price structure than Europe thanks primarily to Southwest airlines. High occupancy rates make for lower air fares. Fifth, We love our cars!

Posted by R.GORDON, a resident of another community
on Jan 5, 2010 at 7:49 pm

R.GORDON is a registered user.

Sorry to have to tell you this Lawrence, but you are the most ill informed person who has obviously not lived anywhere but the U.S. and learned that you are pitifully naive.
What's more, you think that Americans still live under the Empirical system of the past 60 years. Not.
We are now a less than third rate power and..declining and the PEOPLE will be needing strong leadership not preoccupied by personal fortunes and you have to become aware that you cannot function without a society which must be egalatarian and get some real pride and not how the Dow Jones dictates your lifestyle.
Learn to think and make money by participating in rebuilding and investing in the people and not be worried about the water for golf greens.
You have been embarrassing to read since I saw your name and would be ashamed if that is your real name. You are a stereotypical poltroon where money is concerned. You exemplify noveau riche and selfishness.
Read that article again and realize another thing.
Menlo Park was always thought of the equivalent of THE VALLEY in the Los Angeles, Bel Air, Westwood, Holmby Hills areas as well as by San Franciscans...a minor joke with a Jr. college to send the underachievers who could not make grades for Stanford and socially "not acceptable" upper middle class.
In your case, you think that way still.
You are not committed to anyone or anything because of your lack of self esteem.

Posted by R Gordon, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 6, 2010 at 7:24 am

Sorry to disappoint you but I have lived in both South America and Europe. I was also a personal witness to the Communists attempting to overthrow the Venezuelan Government in 1961. There were many street assasinations and guerilla gun fights in the streets of Caracas.

Students would sit in their high rise dormitories and murder policemen driving down the autopista with high powered rifles. The person who lived in the apartment above me was murdered by the communists. My carpooler to school, Jim Chennault had his father (General Claire Chennault's nephew) kidnapped by the communists. Fortunately U.S. government personnel were able to rescue him.

I worked at COMFAIRMED in Agnano, Italy and NATO AFSOUTH in Bagnoli and Lago di Patria, Italy.

I know you are salivating over the thought of converting the United States to Socialism; but the upcoming mid-term elections will prove you wrong. Perhaps not in California but in the rest of the nation you will see a repudiation of Obama's socialist policies.

Yes, the United States is in a temporary decline that should be partially rectified in the next 3 years. Sorry to disappoint you.

Posted by Hank Lawrence, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 6, 2010 at 7:27 am


You had a software malfunction. The above post did not register my name. It registered R. Gordon's name instead. Can you please rectify that.



Posted by against HSR, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 6, 2010 at 8:52 am

The issue is whether HSR is the best use of limited funds for our state or our country. This is not about political philosophy but about fiscal responsibility. Sure HSR is great to ride in Europe, but most cities there have solid local transit. We don't, and that (and education) are far more important and responsible uses of limited funds.

Posted by An Observor, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 9, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Mr. Lawrence presented some information on the diffferences between High Speed Rail in the United States and in Europe. From what I could tell in his first blog there was no politics involved. On the other hand, Mr. Gordon engaged in a vitriolic personal attack on Mr. Lawrence which unfortunately made him look bad.

Regardless of whether Mr. Gordon disagrees with Mr. Lawrence, he should have presented information to counter Mr. Lawrence's information rather than engaging in personal attacks.

If this is the same Mr. Gordon who is running for assembly in the 21st AD he should seriously reconsider doing so. He does not have seem to have the temperment for higher office.

Posted by He's no Rich Gordon, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 9, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Observor, I can assure you that the person who rants as R GORDON on this forum is NOT supervisor Rich Gordon, who is an unusually reasoned and civil person. If you had ever dealt with supervisor Gordon they'd be no question in your mind.

Posted by R.GORDON, a resident of another community
on Jan 15, 2010 at 1:18 pm

Did it take the entire group of you to pull an answer out of your collective hats?
I wouldn't be that person Rich Gordon if I were he is in many ways.
You all think of me as a "Commie of the 60's" or a subversive or socialist. I assure you, I have known that my Bentleys have always been in better taste than Rolls Royces since I was a child.
Now I know that it takes a lot more than having "another community" makes you think I don't own property(ies)in more than one place this paper serves....but, why is it necessary to list my places in Europe as well? It is my opininion that old money, buys the same as the nouveau type and that my opinions are not guaranteed by me not being preoccupied as an AMERICAN who loves HIS cars.
Not one of the posts addresses my point which his not an attack on whoever Mr.Lawrence is today(thank you for removing my name from that
rambling history of your life)I have lived in many of the places mentioned and there are still a lot of communists around whose philosophies I both agree and disagree on.The difference is they are in capitalistic homes over cognac and conversation.
My calmness is due to the fact I did not lose millions (in fact I did make money during the banking crisis)and therefore, was only pointing out to Lawrence/Gordon that he is unaware about so many things he cherishes so dearly and to admit America's economic mess has made us a third rate power. He is not even aware that a plane trip today, if not on a private jet, costs each passenger $50-250 a bag even if the flight is $45 after having exposed your privates to an x-ray type of machine.
I stand behind what I said, and think most of you who had to come to his defense, as blind to reality as he is.
As for that person I find a scoundrel, Rich Gordon, he is a person who is out to climb to the top but is addled by the fact his best supporters lost hundreds of millions and he is not useful to the average citizen..........which none of you are, and I most certainly am not.I care about people, and not just rich ones.
I would mention Haiti and the help its people need now, but it would be off track..sorry.

Posted by Casey Jones, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 15, 2010 at 3:47 pm

At the risk of staying on-topic, I have to say that the problem with rail in California is that there are no decent connections to other transit. In Menlo Park, if you live near the Caltrain station and your destination is near another Caltrain station, you're set. God forbid if you have to head west from a Caltrain station on the Peninsula, because the bus system is hopelessly inadequate.

Posted by R.GORDON, a resident of another community
on Jan 16, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Sorry to disagree with you too, Casey, but as Mr. Lauwrence points out, we Americans love our cars, and I have seldom seen people on any high speed railway anywhere not having transportation waiting for them after a really speedy trip.
Tell me where Caltrain is in regards to passengers at SFO? People manage to get home all over the peninsula and points much further without concern.
Caltrain has NOTHING to do with any of your objections to HSR.
It is purely self serving on your parts thinking a bullet train is destined to plow through your expensive homes.
Might I suggest you invest in shares of HSR and buy yourself an even larger place away from the station with the profits you are bound to make........without question.
Not to mention a whole lot of you are probably going to do business, if you are so inclined, with those who are awarded local contracts.
It is called progress. This is not a whim. The majority of you will be gone by the time it is completed.And though you do not care, those who are unemployed will have jobs, and contribute to the welfare of our state and not just your gilded area.

Posted by R Gordon fan, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 16, 2010 at 3:53 pm

R Gordon, I hope you continue to post and brighten my day. Your comments never fail to entrain. I am a little concerned, however, at your pronouncement that we will all be gone by the time HSR is ready to roll. Since most of us will be around for the next 50 years or so, do you truly believe that HSR won't be functional until 2060? And if so, won't it have been long obsoleted by modern technology?

I grew up in a city with a network of trolley cars tracks that had been installed maybe a half century before I was born. The trolley was out of use by my birth, but the tracks remained until recently, when the city finally had enough money to tear them up and re-landscape. If you take a hard look at the rapid advances in transportation technology, I expect that our cities will be doing the same with our tracks, including Caltrain, probably within our lifetimes.

Posted by R.Gordon, a resident of another community
on Jan 18, 2010 at 4:56 pm

As a fan who was here when the trolleys were gone----a great story in in itself involving corruption, greed, and politics----and whose tracks were covered for "beautification" or to protect the tires of the aggressive auto industry which helped shape the American economy and create Mr. Lawrence's and millions of Americans love affair with the car.
It's too bad, the auto industry will undoubtedly NEVER return as our leading industry, and in its course, helped destroy our atmosphere, abet global warming,and probably help get rid of the major work force and other jobs connected with the "BIG FIVE".While it had a glorious, albeit, SHORT run in comparison to,say, the building industry; it is now a necessity which is going to have to be taken over by foreign powers as Americans failed to keep up with the times. In the process, we lost our airlines, our agriculture, and even banking industries because we did not look to the future and were just too complacent and abandoned our childrens' educations.
There is absolutely NOTHING other than creating HSR from SFO LA or SAN DIEGO to get the U.S. unemployed working jobs from construction from A to Z and then expanding nationwide. It will be cheaper than repairing highways, faster, and get the economy moving as newer cities are built en route that aren't there now.
This is simplified, but ultimately what it is going to take even if we go in debt further by borrowing from China or taxing the citizens to the bone and continue as we are.
The class system that is being created already is going to have people behaving exactly like every country whose corrupt governments caused its peoples to react in a way that is tantamount to revolution and even within this supposed democracy.
This is the worst of times and people have never been so uneducated.

Posted by R.GORDON, a resident of another community
on Jan 28, 2010 at 10:22 am

R.GORDON is a registered user.

For those citizens here who watched the President's state of the Union message, I do hope you caught what I have been calling INEVITABLE.........HIGH SPEED RAILWAY.........he mentioned it in relationship to jobs......not destroying the beauty of our cities or land.
As I have said, "California has NO other option" to get the unemployed working again.......right up to 2012 and on.

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