Category Archives: Future of California High-Speed Rail

High-Speed Rail Failures Continue, With Your Money

California High-Speed Rail: The End of the Line (Literally)

Twelve years have passed since 53% of California voters authorized the state to borrow $9.95 billion from bond investors to start building a high-speed rail system.

And six years have passed since politicians and leaders of powerful construction and transportation interests gathered in Fresno to sign a rail and celebrate the start of actual construction.

So when can we buy tickets for high-speed transportation to San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Sacramento? No one knows. The program continues with minimal accountability or legitimate oversight. No contract has been awarded to lay any rail.

In 2020, the California High-Speed Rail Authority couldn’t even submit a final revised business plan to the state legislature, as required by law. Like so many other alleged taxpayer protections, that requirement was meaningless.

Yet a constant flurry of construction activity continues anyway between Madera and Shafter. Money is being spent – your money.

Far away from the coastal cities and the capital, San Joaquin Valley residents recognize that passenger train operations of any kind aren’t happening any time soon. It appears the California High-Speed Rail Authority is simply marking its territory with unsightly swatches of cleared land and destruction of family homes along the first segment of the rail alignment.

Viaducts over roads and rivers appear intermittently for 190 miles on flat farmland, but that’s far short of the promise to voters of a “Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train.”

When voters approved Proposition 1A in 2008, they were told trains would run between major cities (including Sacramento and San Diego) at 220 miles per hour. In addition, trains would travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles in 2 hours, 40 minutes or less.

At the current rate of progress, a dedicated Amtrak rail line may operate between Merced and Wasco by 2030. If all goes well, trains will be pulled by diesel locomotives that can reach speeds of 125 miles per hour.

This outcome could have been achieved if the State of California had simply retrofitted the existing Amtrak line that already serves the San Joaquin Valley. It would have avoided environmental and community disruption and destruction, while costing billions of dollars less.

Considering the dismal outlook for California High-Speed Rail, it’s no surprise the State of California has failed to obtain private investment for it – another empty promise made to voters in 2008. Only the politicians are willing to spend money – someone else’s money – on this obviously unprofitable project destined never to cross or penetrate a mountain range.

On a few occasions, some federal and state officials have attempted to impose some accountability on the state’s high-speed rail program. Most notably, the Trump Administration sent a letter to the State of California in 2019 cancelling $929 million in federal grant money for California High-Speed Rail and demanding return of a $2.5 billion federal grant awarded ten years ago through President Obama’s economic stimulus package. That money came with reasonable guidelines and conditions that the state has proven incapable of achieving.

The state hasn’t returned the $2.5 billion, of course. And the Biden Administration will probably neglect this federal demand or withdraw it altogether. Even our own Governor Gavin Newsom, after seemingly recognizing the infeasibility of the project early in his administration, has failed to meaningfully respond during his term to continued failures of the high-speed rail program.

How can Californians expect anything better? A cynic would conclude that the real purpose of the California High-Speed Rail project is political. It gives elected officials a continual opportunity to reward construction-related companies and labor unions for their consistent campaign support. That’s why planning and construction goes on despite common sense and the resentment of many California residents.

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Please Comment, Fellow Californians: 2020 California High-Speed Rail Authority Draft Business Plan

Every two years, the California High-Speed Rail Authority is required by law (Proposition 1A, enacted by voters in 2008) to produce a Business Plan. And every two years the Authority comes out with a report.

The Business Plan serves primarily as a public relations promotional document for the high-speed rail project. However, grim reality is usually embedded deep within the report for the public to find.

The newly-released draft for 2020 is entitled California High-Speed Rail 2020 Business Plan: Delivering the Vision

Please read about the delivery of the “vision” and submit your comments by April 12 in one of five ways:

1. Submit a comment electronically through the California High-Speed Rail website at this link:
https://www.hsr.ca.gov/about/business_plans/business_plan_2020_comment_form.aspx

2. Email to DraftBP2020@hsr.ca.gov

3. U.S. mail to this address:

California High-Speed Rail Authority

Attn: Draft 2020 Business Plan

770 L Street, Suite 620 MS-1

Sacramento, CA 95814-3385

4. Voicemail Message: (916) 384-9516

5. In-Person Public Comment at One (or Both) Meetings of the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board of Directors:

As you might guess, the delivery of this “vision” continues to become phenomenally more expensive than originally claimed. And it will become reality long after originally claimed – if it ever becomes reality.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority predicts in its 2020 Draft Business Plan that 40 million people will ride the train by 2040, generating $4.5 billion and covering the cost of operations.

We’ll make our own prediction. If the Trump Administration or a subsequent Presidential administration is unable to force the State of California to pay back its 2010 federal grants, the Authority might have track on the ground between Madera and Wasco in 2030.

This would allow the Amtrak San Joaquins passenger trains with 125-mph low-emissions diesel engines to run on dedicated track (thus avoiding conflicts with freight trains). There could also be regional commuter rail service operating between Fresno and smaller cities to the north and south, such as Madera and Selma.

High-speed rail at more than 200 mph between San Francisco and Los Angeles (or San Diego or Sacramento)? Absolutely no way.

SAFE (Save Angeles Forest for Everyone) Asks U.S. Attorney General for Federal Investigation of California High-Speed Rail

This June 14, 2019 letter from S.A.F.E. (Save Angeles Forest for Everyone) to U.S. Attorney General William Barr wraps up its arguments with this conclusion: “Simply put, a federal grand jury needs to be impaneled to unravel this ball of yarn.”

Save Angeles Forest for Everyone (SAFE) – Letter on California High-Speed Rail to U.S. Attorney General – June 14, 2019

Sources of Information on Termination of Federal Funding Agreement on California High-Speed Rail

The Federal Railroad Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation has posted on its website a compilation of documents related to its decision to terminate its funding agreement with the California High-Speed Rail Authority. You can find the list posted with any documents released on May 16, 2019 on the Federal Railroad Administration eLibrary. CCHSRA has also posted the list below.

The Federal Railroad Administration press release below summarizes the current situation:

After careful consideration, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has terminated Cooperative Agreement No. FR-HSR-0118-12-01-01 (the FY10 Agreement) with the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA), and will deobligate the $928,620,000 in funding under that agreement.

The decision follows FRA’s Notice of Intent to Terminate and consideration of the information provided by CHSRA on March 4, 2019. FRA finds that CHSRA has repeatedly failed to comply with the terms of the FY10 Agreement and has failed to make reasonable progress on the Project.

Additionally, California has abandoned its original vision of a high-speed passenger rail service connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles, which was essential to its applications for FRA grant funding.

FRA continues to consider all options regarding the return of $2.5 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds awarded to CHSRA.

Links:

Press Release: Statement of Federal Railroad Administration on Termination of Fiscal Year 2010 Grant Agreement with California High-Speed Rail Authority

Termination Letter from Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to California High-Speed Rail Authority – May 16, 2019

Exhibit A: Fiscal Year 2010 Agreement, as amended

Exhibit B: Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Notice of Intent to Terminate Cooperative Agreement – February 19, 2019

Exhibit C: California High-Speed Rail Authority Letter to Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Administrator Ronald L. Batory – March 4, 2019

Exhibit D: California High-Speed Rail Authority Letter to Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Director of Program Delivery, Jamie Rennert – March 4, 2019

Exhibit E: Final California High-Speed Rail Authority 2019 Project Update Report

Exhibit F: California High-Speed Rail Authority Fiscal Year 2010 Application

Exhibit G: Funding Contribution Plan Correspondence

Exhibit H: Detailed Quarterly Budget Correspondence

Exhibit I: Project Management Plan Correspondence

Exhibit J: Annual Work Plan Correspondence

What’s the Fate of Your Property If California High-Speed Rail Is Terminated?

Political observers in California were stunned when the Trump Administration sent a letter dated February 19, 2019 to the CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority terminating the federal funding agreement and demanding a refund of federal funds already given to the state for the project.

See a copy of the termination letter at the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) website: U.S. Department of Transportation Announces Cancellation of Grant Funds to California High-Speed Rail Project. A press release states the following:

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced today that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) intends to cancel $929 million in Federal grant funds yet to be paid for the California High-Speed Rail project envisioned to connect the L.A. Basin to the San Francisco Bay Area.  In addition, the Department announced it is actively exploring every legal option to seek the return from California of $2.5 billion in Federal funds FRA previously granted for this now-defunct project.  FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory notified the California HSR Authority (CHSRA) of this action in a letter today.

It’s time for San Joaquin Valley property owners to start thinking about the future of their property. Here is a relevant law that was introduced by former Senator Andy Vidak:

Senate Bill 940, signed into law in 2016, requires the California High-Speed Rail Authority to send notification by certified mail to the last known owner of property (at his or her last known address) if it plans to sell it. The letter must inform the last known owner that it will be offering the property for sale. The Authority must wait at least 30 days after mailing the notification before it sells the property. The language is found in California Public Utilities Code Section 185040.

This article shall not be construed as legal advice.

What Did Governor Gavin Newsom Actually Say About California High-Speed Rail?

There are many interpretations of what new California Governor Gavin Newsom said about California High-Speed Rail during his State of the State address on February 12, 2019, including his own interpretation on Twitter.

Capitol Public Radio prepared a video and transcript of the speech. Here’s the excerpt about California High-Speed Rail:

Next, let’s level about high speed rail.  I have nothing but respect for Governor Brown’s and Governor Schwarzenegger’s ambitious vision. I share it. And there’s no doubt that our state’s economy and quality of life depend on improving transportation.



But let’s be real. The project, as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency.



Right now, there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A. I wish there were.



However, we do have the capacity to complete a high-speed rail link between Merced and Bakersfield.



I know that some critics will say this is a “train to nowhere.”  But that’s wrong and offensive. The people of the Central Valley endure the worst air pollution in America as well as some of the longest commutes. And they have suffered too many years of neglect from policymakers here in Sacramento. They deserve better.



High Speed Rail is much more than a train project.  It’s about economic transformation and unlocking the enormous potential of the Valley.

We can align our economic and workforce development strategies, anchored by High Speed Rail, and pair them with tools like opportunity zones, to form the backbone of a reinvigorated Central Valley economy.



Merced, Fresno, Bakersfield, and communities in between are more dynamic than many realize.



The Valley may be known around the world for agriculture, but there is another story ready to be told. A story of a region hungry for investment, a workforce eager for more training and good jobs, Californians who deserve a fair share of our state’s prosperity.



Look, we will continue our regional projects north and south. We’ll finish Phase 1 environmental work. We’ll connect the revitalized Central Valley to other parts of the state, and continue to push for more federal funding and private dollars. But let’s just get something done.



For those who want to walk away from this whole endeavor, I offer you this: Abandoning high speed rail entirely means we will have wasted billions of dollars with nothing but broken promises and lawsuits to show for it.



And by the way, I am not interested in sending $3.5 billion in federal funding that was allocated to this project back to Donald Trump. Nor am I interested in repeating the same old mistakes.



Today I am ordering new transparency measures. We’re going to hold contractors and consultants accountable to explain how taxpayer dollars are spent – including change orders, cost overruns, even travel expenses. It’s going online, for everybody to see.



You’re also going to see some governance changes, starting with my pick for the next chair of the High Speed Rail Authority, Lenny Mendonca, my Economic Development Director. Because, at the end of the day, transportation and economic development must go hand in hand.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, 2019 State of the State Address

Efficient High-Speed Rail Travel Between Gilroy and Palmdale: Is It Worth $100 Billion?

Financial analyst William Grindley presented his latest study to the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) board at its January 15, 2019 meeting. On behalf of the people of California and the United States, he argues yet again that this project – the costliest infrastructure project in human history – is a waste of money and needs to be terminated, immediately.

The new study is If You Build It, They Will Not Come – The Sequel – The Findings and Consequences of Competitive Analyses of HSR Versus Auto and Air Travel – 2029-2040. It debunks the claims of the California High-Speed Rail Authority about future ridership – and future revenue.

Mr. Grindley (with coauthor William Warren) makes a reasonable assumption that the Authority chooses to ignore: Californians (even California state legislators) will continue to drive or fly between California cities, rather than taking high-speed rail, if driving or flying takes less time and costs less, which it does on the vast majority of high-speed rail routes.

Using CHSRA data and mathematical formulas, Grindley and Warren analyzed three-fourths of all travel routes possible on the future rail system for the first operational segment (140 routes) and possible for Phase 1 (an additional 180 routes). Their calculations show that only one of those high-speed rail routes would have total travel time and total travel cost that are less than flying or driving: the route between Gilroy and Palmdale. Based on these results, Mr. Grindley concludes that the Authority’s estimates for ridership are five times higher than what would be expected if people make rational transportation decisions based on the time and cost of travel.

They also consider the claims of Silicon Valley high-speed rail promoters that people will use the bullet train to commute between homes in the Central Valley and workplaces in Silicon Valley. Mr. Grindley calculates travel times and concludes the proposed high-speed rail link is absurd and connecting the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) train with high-speed rail at Merced is even more absurd.

What we’ll get for $100 billion are higher fares, longer travel times, and government subsidies a few riders for a poorly thought out travel mode.

Source Documents

The New Report by Grindley and Warren: If You Build It, They Will Not Come – The Sequel – The Findings and Consequences of Competitive Analyses of HSR Versus Auto and Air Travel – 2029-2040

Slideshow for California High-Speed Rail Authority – January 15, 2019

Public Comment at January 15, 2019 California High-Speed Rail Authority Board Meeting

Press Release/Summary

Detailed Analysis of Silicon Valley – Central Valley California High-Speed Rail Routes Routes

Detailed Analysis of San Francisco – Los Angeles (Phase 1) California High-Speed Rail Routes

All Documents and Referenced Materials Used in Grindley and Warren Report

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Previous Reports by Grindley and Warren on Aspects of the California High Speed Rail’s Finances

Previous Financial Reports about California High-Speed Rail by Grindley and Warren

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California High-Speed Rail Authority Continues Strategies to Circumvent and Evade Substantive Environmental Review

It’s ironic that a California state agency that claims to be saving the world from climate change and environmental harm continues to pursue strategies to circumvent and evade substantive environmental review of its proposed alignment through the San Joaquin Valley. But the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CaHSRA) has consistently done this as it tries to avoid the costs, delays, and inconveniences other developers endure during the environmental review process.

We feel what is good for the goose should be good for the gander.

CaHSRA has managed to get primary environmental review of high-speed rail alignments to fall under the federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and not the more stringent California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Now it wants to take authority from the federal government for environmental review decisions.

On May 2, 2018, the Federal Railroad Administration (an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation) invited public comment on an application from the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) and California High-Speed Rail Authority (CaHSRA) to participate in the “Surface Transportation Project Delivery Program.” This program would allow the California High-Speed Rail Authority to be responsible for environmental review as the lead agency, rather than the Federal Railroad Administration.

Several regional transportation agencies submitted comments in support of the application. For example, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Agency (Metro) noted it would allow “acceleration of the environmental review process” for “a framework for projects to become ‘shovel-ready’ sooner through the more streamlined completion of environmental clearances.”

Big business and industry groups such as the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, and the US High Speed Rail Association also chimed in with support. Union umbrella groups such as the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO and the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California, AFL-CIO also support the shift of authority.

On August 16, 2018, the board of the California High-Speed Rail Authority authorized the CEO of the agency to have certain powers regarding environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act. As noted in a staff report, the agency plans soon to release  the  Central  Valley  Wye  Draft  Supplemental Environmental  Impact (related to the high-speed rail assignment near Merced) and the Fresno-Bakersfield  Locally Generated  Alternative  Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (related to the high-speed rail alignment into the City of Bakersfield).

The goal is to clear the path through the fields of the San Joaquin Valley and the urban cores of Fresno, Hanford, and Bakersfield as soon as possible, without the inconveniences that other developers endure during the environmental review process for proposed projects.

Sources

Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) – Applications: California; Participation in Surface Transportation Project Delivery Program for Certain Railroad Projects

California High-Speed Rail Authority Board Meeting – August 16, 2018 – Agenda Item #3 – Consider Revising Delegation of Authority for NEPA Assignment

New Business Plan for California High-Speed Rail Slices Through San Joaquin Valley at Much Higher Cost to Taxpayers

On March 9, the California High-Speed Rail Authority released its Draft 2018 Business Plan and asked for public comments about it.

According to the new business plan, the cost of Phase 1 construction between San Francisco and Los Angeles/Anaheim is now estimated at $77.3 billion. The route is expected to be completed in 2033.

Read the plan: California High-Speed Rail Authority Draft 2018 Business Plan and consider commenting about it using this web site: Draft 2018 Business Plan Comments.

California High-Speed Rail Cost Increase to $77.3 Billion

California High-Speed Rail Cost Increase to $77.3 Billion

How has the plan changed in ten years?

One dramatic change is cost and scope. Proposition 1A authorized the state to borrow $9.95 billion to get the project going. Information about Proposition 1A in the November 2008 Official Voter Information Guide stated that “the total cost to develop and construct the entire high-speed train system would be about $45 billion.”

This $45 billion “entire high-speed trail system” included service to Sacramento and San Diego as well as the route between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It also assumed dedicated track for the entire system, as opposed to the current “blended” plan in which high-speed trains share track with commuter light rail at the “bookends” near San Francisco and Los Angeles.

See the text of Proposition 1A and the ballot material related to it: Prop 1A: Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act.

In 2008, supporters of Proposition 1A declared in their official ballot argument to voters that “signers of the ballot argument against Proposition 1A are habitual opponents of transportation improvements. Their claims are wrong and their data simply made up.”

Ten years later, it is proven that opponents of Proposition 1A were indeed wrong. They underestimated how bad it was going to be!

Meanwhile, the groups making money off of California High-Speed Rail continue to push for the project to continue. The State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, a coalition of unions with a monopoly on the construction workforce for the project, issued a statement on March 9 supporting the 2018 Business Plan: SBCTC Statement on California’s New High Speed Rail Plan.

With politically powerful unions continuing to support this project, the spending will continue until the courts finally stop it. Citizens for California High Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA) and other organizations will continue to argue to the judicial branch that the state’s legislative and executive branches have failed to uphold the promises made to voters in Proposition 1A.

In the meantime, the property takings and cultural erosion of agricultural communities far away from San Francisco and Los Angeles will continue at the hands of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. Join Citizens for California High Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA) in the campaign to stop this misguided plan targeted at the San Joaquin Valley. Make a contribution to our fight here.

CCHSRA Remembers Cherylyn Smith

There are many individuals whom the Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA) have met along the way in the fight for accountability of the California High-Speed Rail project. Over the years, we have become a tight-knit family.

Cherylyn Smith speaks at the June 9, 2015 California High-Speed Rail Authority board meeting.

We first met our friend Cherylyn Smith outside a California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) board meeting in Fresno, California in May 2012. She did not have property in the pathway, but was a very concerned citizen. She was actually leaving the meeting with another concerned individual, but went back in after making our acquaintance.

Cherylyn wanted to know more and wanted to help out the cause. We became fast friends and spoke about issues that impacted those who felt they had no voice and/or were fearful to use theirs. She was never afraid to use her voice to help others on any issue.

Over the past half decade, Cherylyn traveled up and down the Central Valley and California to learn more and educate others about the detrimental environmental impacts of the high-speed rail project. She spoke passionately at legislative hearings and board meetings in Sacramento as well as at the marathon rail board Los Angeles meeting in June 2015. She attended meetings in Bakersfield, Fresno and the South Valley including those for the air board, city and county. She was also active in many other causes and traveled the state for those as well. Cherylyn was also proof positive that issues impacting others were not partisan in nature.

Cherylyn Smith…wife, mom, grandmother, sister, daughter, daughter-in-law, granddaughter of farmers, friend, activist, teacher, journalist, radio host and a very deeply concerned citizen. Her passion for environmental issues and giving a voice to those unable to represent themselves was admirable. If everyone had just an ounce of the passion she had in fighting for what is right, the world would be problem-free.

We honor our dear, wonderful, smart, passionate and caring friend Cherylyn who left us too soon to go to Heaven on Wednesday, January 17, 2018.

Our CCHSRA family will never forget how much she cared and our thoughts and prayers are with her family at this time.

Rest in Peace, Cherylyn.

Read CHERYLYN ROSARIA SMITH’s Obituary in the Fresno Bee

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