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By Paul Bendix

About this blog: A 32-year resident of Menlo Park, I regularly make my way around downtown in a wheelchair. This gives me an unusual perspective on a town in which I have spent almost half of my life. I was educated at UC Berkeley, and permanentl...  (More)

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California High-Speed Rail: What It Says About Us

Uploaded: Dec 25, 2013
It says a lot about us and our general belief in the future.

Our state's infrastructure is largely mid-20th century. In the postwar decades, Californians voted to build the world's biggest highway system. They authorized bonds for an epic statewide water project. In the same breath, voters dramatically expanded the state's universities.

Every one of these projects was hugely successful...and fundamentally flawed.

California's highway czars poured billions into a one-mode transportation system that proved unscalable – no match for zooming populations and land costs. Similarly, today the State Water Project, despite a 444-mile canal and 19 dams, is no match for climate change, population growth and agribusiness. Once the envy of the world, California's public universities are withering.

So what's so different about today's grand project, high-speed rail? Fundamentally, our attitudes.

For a moment, instead of looking at the project, consider how it is debated. When was the last time you saw the issue discussed in terms of California's population growth, demographic trends and future competitiveness? Can you even roughly describe the state's needs five years from now? 10? 20?

Let's assume you oppose the high-speed rail project. Fine. What's your alternative? Do you have a solid plan...timely and achievable...for addressing our mushrooming transportation needs? How does your plan tackle energy and environmental issues over the next two decades? How will California look to global business, say, 15 years?

In the 1950s and 60s, the collective sacrifices of the war years were still fresh – and it was easier to think of "our future." Today, considering California's future seems to inspire more doubt than excitement. And, yes, our institutions are broken. (See Francis Fukuyama's recent article.)

It took decades of PR, lies and distortions to build today's BART system. Bill Stokes, the PT Barnum of urban mass transit, wandered the region giving 300 speeches. Stokes promised the public anything. No wonder BART went bankrupt halfway through construction (saved by a Sacramento bailout). The finished system had no sidings for broken trains, and computer problems regularly shut it down. BART riders like me wondered what we had bought.

That's all forgotten now. Bill Stokes, once run out of the Bay Area on a third rail, is now remembered as a hero. But then BART got built. High-speed rail may not.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Jordet, a resident of another community,
on Dec 26, 2013 at 7:51 pm

Hey Paul, Here\'s the alternative you\'re looking for:

Welcome to the 21th century! Evacuated Tube Transport Technologies! (ET3)

No tax payer money (privately funded)
Fraction of the cost to build
3 times as fast
Negligible impact on environment
Uses 2% of the power required by the commercial airline industry
Solar powered

TEDx talk here:
Web Link

Help get ET3 on the CA ballot here:
Web Link

Posted by Peyo, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables,
on Dec 27, 2013 at 12:04 am

The tube you are talking about carries 10% of what the train system carries, only services SF and LA, and the cost you are talking about does not include land acquisition and has not been validated by any third party.

Using the evacuated tube technology is as stupid as American or United flying all international services with a myriad of private jets.

A solution needs to work and give good return on investment. Using proven technologies and improving them can be part of the equation. The evacuated tubes may work or not one day, but it\'s a different tool for different need. Just like a Concorde and a jumbo if you like.

Posted by Bill James, a resident of Woodside: other,
on Dec 27, 2013 at 5:24 am

Sorry Peyo and Paul, but the bigger the batch the poorer the quality. This is why cars have a 97% market share of trips in the US and 80% in Europe.

The defects of mass transit can be seen the defects of mass production. The bigger the batch, the less the quality. To increase value, Just-in-Time, Six Sigma, Lean Thinking, etc... displaced Mass Production.

Only a government can force construction of passenger railroads that cost $100 million a mile to build and lose 80 cents of every operating dollar. Passenger trains move 3 tons of train per passenger. Moving all that parasitic mass results in trains only 20% more efficient than cars. The operating losses require someone driving an oil-powered car to earn the taxes to subsidize the 80% operation loss.

Restoring communications to free markets in 1982 resulted in radical innovation. The same will happen when transportation and power are restored to free markets. When free markets are restored, my guess is you will see ET3, JPods, Hyperloop and other innovations built without requiring the police powers of governments to fund them by coercing taxes from people.

Posted by Jordet, a resident of another community,
on Dec 27, 2013 at 4:49 pm

Hey Peyo, here's a site with the technical specifications on ET3. This should help alleviate the possibility of inadvertantly posting incorrect statistics in the future!

Web Link

Posted by Matt, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Dec 27, 2013 at 9:15 pm

Someone, Please elaborate how a train will make California more competitive in the future. Competitive for what? Paying for this turkey will strangle other state funded programs that real people need, like good schools for example, to pay for the train that few want outside the state capitol, and it's safe to say that no one anywhere wants to pay for.

CA HSR, unless radically transformed from the politically driven tax hungry turd that it is now, into a magically quick, reliable, justifiable and economical alternative to air and auto/bus transport, will be a financial albatross on the tax payers of this state for decades to come. It is the unnecessary train to nowhere, Jerry's lasting statement.

Posted by Jake, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks,
on Dec 27, 2013 at 10:12 pm

The CA HSR project is a fraud. It says that CA is poised to be taken for a financial ride by self serving politicians and big labor groups desperate to secure the massive contracts to build it. It's shaping up to become the California version of Boston's Big Dig project.

Posted by Ken, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Dec 28, 2013 at 6:52 pm

It sounds like BART and CA HSR have similar beginnings: "decades of PR, lies and distortions". BART is sill a financial disaster decades later, grossly mismanaged by its board of directors. If BART is the model to which HSR is based, HSR will be an even larger, more costly disaster. Pull the plug on it now.

Focus limited mass transit dollars on trying to mitigate existing awful local traffic problems in SF and LA, rather than frittering billions away on the relatively minor LA-SF traffic issues.

"How will California look to global business travelers"?, um, pretty much the same as it is now I imagine. The notion that global travelers will shun CA if it does not have a high speed rail train is absolutely absurd. This rallying cry reads like a page torn from the CA HSR public relations play book.

Posted by peninsula resident, a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School,
on Dec 29, 2013 at 2:02 pm

> Let's assume you oppose THE high-speed rail project.

(emphasis mine)

By "the" I believe you are referring to the current plan that partially depends on Prop 1a funding in order to implement "HSR" in California. Yes, count me as an opponent to the CHSRA's proposed implementation of HSR.

Despite how CHSRA and its minions try to paint the opposition, it's possible to oppose "the" high-speed rail project as proposed by CHSRA & Brown, but be a proponent of improving transit in this state, including public rail service.

> What's your alternative? Do you have a
> solid plan...timely and achievable...
> for addressing our mushrooming
> transportation needs? How does your
> plan tackle energy and environmental
> issues over the next two decades? How
> will California look to global business
>, say, 15 years?

I'll respond to this, but first...this article and some of your previous ones make it clear that you are a proponent of the CHSRA's proposed implementation of HSR.

So...why are you not applying the above questions and standards to CHSRA's proposed solution? Applying the above questions and standards to alternate solutions, but not applying them to CHSRA's proposed (and illegal) solution is grossly unreasonable. I'm tempted to use the word "hypocritical", but I think it's only fair to give you an opportunity to respond before applying that word.

Let's go down your list of standards, and apply them to the CHSRA's proposal:

"timely and achievable": There is no way the CHSRA's proposal meets this requirement; 1: it's already late and 2: cannot possibly achieve the requirements specified in Prop 1a, like the 2:40-minute travel time and the $32+ billion budget for the IOS. To believe their proposal does this defies math and physics.

"energy": California is a net importer of electricity. The CHSRA's proposal adds another large user of electricity onto our electrical infrastructure, an infrastructure in dire need of additional power and improved redundancy to handle the current and growing needs of California citizens and businesses.

"environmental": Of the 130 miles in CHSRA's IOS, they have about 10 miles of environmental clearance.

You want a better alternative? Here's one:

1) Improve our state laws to force our state to keep a balanced budget. By having a balanced budget it makes it much more financially viable for this state to take on big infrastructure projects.

2) Encourage the creation of more power plants within the state, and improve the infrastructure for transmitting power throughout the state. This will allow the HSR trains to actually run on electricity, rather than on just hopes and dreams.

3) Improve our drinking water infrastructure. While not related to HSR, water is more important than a train.

4) Improve K-12 academic performance in the state, and keep cost increases for college students in the UC, CSU and junior college systems under control.

5) Encourage the leveraging of technology (that already exists) to improve air traffic control and highway travel.

6) wait for our population densities in the Bay Area and LA to increase to the point where HSR is justifiable. Currently we are nowhere near the population densities of areas that use HSR effectively. Not even close.

7) create a Rail plan -- both regional AND state-wide -- that's actually viable, including:

a) a more accurate budget;

b) have funding in-place before proceeding;

c) use cost-efficient solutions for improving Caltrain travel times, instead of the costly electrification they propose. For example, travel time from SJ to SF can be reduced by about 20 minutes (1 minute less per stop) just by creating level boarding. As a man who uses a wheelchair, even you would have to concede that level boarding is a win-win-win (you board faster, everyone else boards faster, and it's cheaper than electrification).

Posted by Jerry's kids, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows,
on Dec 29, 2013 at 7:33 pm

we don't need no dollars for edukation! duh train is a comin\' and I hear they will need a few locals to clean tha dang thang!

An uneducated source of cheap local labor would surely be helpful to keep any future version of CA HSR overhead costs down, and executive bonuses and political contributions high! Spending tax dollars on Jerry\'s Legacy train rather than educating the real future of California, our kids, is the most sinister aspect of the CA HSR project. It\'s a disgrace.

Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge,
on Jan 1, 2014 at 9:36 am

Nice post Paul! Well written

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