De Leon hammers away at key idiocy of CA bullet-train plan

De Leon hammers away at key idiocy of CA bullet-train plan

crazy.trainOver the years, in conversations with friends unfamiliar with California politics and with people I’ve met while traveling or at events or doing talk radio, I’m often asked about the state’s bullet-train project.

When folks hear that the cost is much higher than initially predicted, they’re not surprised. When they hear all the lies used to get voters to pass $9.95 billion in state bond seed money in 2008, they’re not particularly shocked. But what never fails to absolutely baffle them is when I mention that the first segment is being built far away from the state’s population centers in the Bay Area and Southern California.

There may be seemingly logical reasons for this. The Obama administration, and to a lesser extent Gov. Schwarzenegger and then Gov. Brown, were in a huge hurry to get the project going, and it’s easier to fight millionaire NIMBY farmers in the Central Valley than billionaire NIMBY tycoons and CEOs in Silicon Valley or Los Angeles County. Land is cheaper in the Central Valley, meaning eminent domain seizures won’t be as messy.

‘The governor has to be intelligent’

But the idea of starting in Bakersfield just seems stupid no matter what the rationale. And guess who gets this? The incoming president of the California Senate.

Gov. Jerry Brown must be saved from himself, says the next state Senate leader. He needs to be talked out of starting the bullet train in the Central Valley boonies.

“I don’t think it makes sense to lay down track in the middle of nowhere,” asserts Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles). “It’s illogical. No one lives out there in the tumbleweeds.”

De León, who will become the Senate leader in October, says he supports the concept of high-speed rail, but with the caveat that track-laying begin in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas. …

“If we do high-speed rail,” De León says, “the governor has to be intelligent and invest the dollars at the ‘bookends’ — San Francisco and Los Angeles.”

How do you make that happen? “We’re going to have to persuade the governor,” De León answers. “We’re going to have to save the governor from himself on high-speed rail.”

That’s from George Skelton’s column in the L.A. Times last week.

So did the governor respond? Or one of his surrogates? Nope. Just a Teamsters flack.

First Steinberg, now his successor

JerryBrownSchwWhat’s striking about this is that the Senate leader whom De Leon is succeeding — Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento — also offered broad hints that he thought the bullet train wasn’t something he wanted.

Steinberg focused on the question of whether it made sense to pursue a troubled $68 billion project when he and a lot of other Senate Democrats thought the state had more pressing needs.

De Leon’s objections are far more cutting. The starting point of his argument is that the state is pursuing a stupid plan. That’s far harsher than saying he has other priorities.


Here’s hoping the next Senate president is remotely as candid on other issues — starting with the Grand Canyon-size gap between the needs of teachers unions and the needs of the struggling school kids in his L.A. County Senate district.


Write a comment
  1. Larry Gilbert
    Larry Gilbert 28 June, 2014, 08:45

    Gov. Brown’s unwavering drive for his legacy train is following in the footsteps of president Obama’s health care. Pure examples of “self serving” special interest ideas.

    Reply this comment
  2. Robert S. Allen
    Robert S. Allen 28 June, 2014, 09:49

    Prop 1A in 2008 was entitled “The Safe, Reliable High Speed Passenger Train Bond Act…” High Speed Rail to the San Francisco Bay Area, as planned along Caltrain, would be NEITHER SAFE NOR RELIABLE.—

    HSR needs secure – i.e., grade separated and fenced – track. Caltrain has scores of grade crossings and commuter stations. HSR should initially end at San Jose, with seamless transfers there to Caltrain, Capitol Corridor, VTA Light Rail, and SV BART.—

    Squander no more HSR money on a Caltrain “Bookend”! The alternative I propose is far better, safer, more reliable, and less costly.—

    Later up-grade the UP/Amtrak East Bay Mulford line from San Jose to Oakland
    and on to Sacramento. From a new transfer station at the BART overhead in Oakland, San Francisco’s downtown Embarcadero station is just 6 minutes away, with a train every 4 minutes or oftener.

    Reply this comment
  3. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 28 June, 2014, 16:30

    The bullet train is essential to cope with population growth. Do you want to the way of the buggy whip? Think….dah!

    How do physically serve ten million people in California in a short few years without massive decay or disruption to all you hold precious….

    We need lots of water and a very diverse transportation network or say hello to a lower standard of living and mega inflation.

    Reply this comment
  4. Robert S. Allen
    Robert S. Allen 28 June, 2014, 16:53

    The bond issue sold to the voters was for “Safe, Reliable” HSR. HSR on Caltrain tracks is NEITHER SAFE NOR RELIABLE. Hence my safer, more reliable, better, and much less costly alternative.

    Reply this comment
  5. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 28 June, 2014, 20:52

    Is it possible to cut the cute abbreviations and communicate better than at a 7-11 or a bargain store.

    Some of us are not into hip or cult talk.

    Reply this comment
  6. Robert S. Allen
    Robert S. Allen 28 June, 2014, 23:00

    Sorry. HSR-High Speed Rail; VTA is Santa Clara County’s Valley Transit Authority; SV BART is Silicon Valley BART, Bay Area Rapid Transit’s extension into Santa Clara County; UP is for Union Pacific Railroad.
    Prop 1A in 2008 was the statewide bond issue measure for “The Safe, Reliable High Speed Passenger Train Bond Act…”

    Reply this comment
  7. NorCal Libertarian
    NorCal Libertarian 29 June, 2014, 08:50

    Why should I want to have my tax money used for something I’ll never use– unlesss I live to 150 years old? I’m not leaving this debt to my grandkids. Why also, should Northern and Eastern CA residents pay for something that doesn’t reach out to them? If this train started in Redding and had access along the line to the major HSR terminals, MAYBE it might garnoer more support, but for now, if you have a choice, why would you want to pay for something you probably won’t use? I’m glad Congress defunded monies alloted for HSR.

    Reply this comment
  8. David M-B
    David M-B 29 June, 2014, 13:28

    Fixed rail is 19th century technology and the most vocal and energetic supporters of this multi-billion dollar boondoggle are those whose pockets will be lined by all that lovely, magical gov’t money. By the time any part of this benighted project comes online, “smart grid” and other autonomous car tech will have rendered it utterly obsolete.

    Reply this comment
  9. Robert S. Allen
    Robert S. Allen 29 June, 2014, 22:43

    Californians voted in 2008 for Prop 1-A, “The Safe, Reliable…” High Speed Rail bonds. I neither support nor oppose HSR, but run on Caltrain tracks between San Jose and San Francisco, it would be NEITHER SAFE NOR RELIABLE. Initial HSR should end at San Jose, with seamless transfers there to Caltrain, Capitol Corridor, VTA, and SV BART. Safer, more reliable, much better, and far less costly. Don’t squander more HSR money on Caltrain!—

    Plan later HSR from San Jose to Sacramento via the UP/Amtrak East Bay Mulford route, with a transfer station in Oakland at the BART overhead 6 minutes from downtown San Francisco’s Embarcadero station with a train every 4 minutes or oftener.

    Reply this comment
  10. Robert S. Allen
    Robert S. Allen 29 June, 2014, 23:17

    David, nearly 53 years ago the voters in three San Francisco Bay Area counties voted bonds for then-novel rail rapid transit, BART. Its grade separated tracks now reach into the region’s five major counties housing some six million residents.—

    Chiding fixed rail as “19th century technology” makes about as much sense as calling the wheel an out-dated relic of cave-man days.

    Reply this comment
  11. Larry Gilbert
    Larry Gilbert 30 June, 2014, 07:04

    Good morning Robert. While we admit having a massive shortfall in funds to fix our roads and bridges in a state where roughly 90% of us drive you promote taxpayer funded “social engineering.” Get us out of our cars. Having utilized HSR in Europe and Asia I am not closing my mind to the concept. Let me also point out that years ago I worked in NYC and used their very effective subway system which moves millions of people daily. This HSR was barely voter approved based on criteria that has not materialized. The promoters sold us on their ability to achieve both funding and speeds that are simply not going to happen. The House is controlled by the GOP. I met with Rep. Issa and discussed the Federal portion that was sold ot us by the proponents. It’s not going to happen. Beyond the initial $3 billion stimulus and some transfer from states that declined that money I was told that there will not be any additional federal funding for the choo choo. The HSR was not to to be subsidized which probably is the reason that there are no VC capitalists banging down the doors to jump in with their checkbooks nor do our cities have any cash for their expected contributions. I won’t debate ridership shortcomings, fares, nor environmental impacts which is another part of the HSR debate.

    Reply this comment
  12. David M-B
    David M-B 30 June, 2014, 07:21

    Robert – The BART light rail proposal back in ’64 made fiscal sense and had clear objectives and benefits. Same with Portland’s MAX, which was started back in ’78. That was then, as they say, and this is now.

    Applications of “wheel technology” are numerous due to its flexibility, hence my championing of autonomous cars. Fixed rail, on the other hand, reminds me of minicomputers back in the early 1980’s. Ever hear of Data General or Control Data? Probably not. They were major players in the IT industry back then, but were overtaken (and eventually overwhelmed, along with DEC, Honeywell, and a host of other companies) in just over 10 years by the far more flexible and affordable PC technologies introduced by IBM and Apple.

    Reply this comment
  13. Robert S. Allen
    Robert S. Allen 30 June, 2014, 09:23

    BART is hardly “light rail”. It is rapid transit on secure rights of way – fenced and fully grade separated – designed for 80 mph operation. BART got its start with a 3-County bond issue in 1962, now runs in four counties, and is under construction into job-rich San Jose, the largest city in the Bay Area. The time is ripe for BART to annex San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties.

    Reply this comment
  14. David Wiltsee
    David Wiltsee 30 June, 2014, 11:25

    The HSR Authority should be required to publish, ASAP, a definitive system plan and completion schedule, to include year-by-year capital improvements and assumptions about funding levels and funding sources. How can a program of such magnitude continue to be implemented in a vacuum of hard, cold, factual information?

    The HSR Authority is playing an expensive, and legally questionable shell game that is destined to come crashing down at some point in the future.

    Reply this comment
  15. David M-B
    David M-B 30 June, 2014, 12:10

    On the topic of commuter rail, the Sprinter rail line provided San Diego tax payers with a useful cost comparison with the BREEZE bus service during a unplanned shutdown last year:

    Sprinter shutdown may be saving money

    Money quote (literally): “Decades from now, if high-density development and ridership blossom along the 22-mile Oceanside-to-Escondido rail corridor, the Sprinter could emerge as the smart, cost-effective choice, experts said…”

    It’s also worth noting that 3/4 of the buses in the BREEZE fleet use compressed natural gas (CNG), which costs about half and reduces emissions by at least 40% compared to diesel.

    Reply this comment

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