Speed promises for bullet train? CA says ‘never mind’

Speed promises for bullet train? CA says ‘never mind’


In 2008, California voters narrowly approved $9.95 billion in funds for a statewide high-speed rail network. When they voted for Proposition 1A, they didn’t think there was much doubt about what they were getting — a “safe, reliable, high-speed passenger train” was the mantra of Gov. Schwarzenegger and other project supporters.

Then there were the formal claims to voters in official election materials.

In the official summary, there was a reference to a train that would average 220 mph from San Francisco to Los Angeles. There was another reference in the official analysis, and another in the official rebuttal to the official argument against the project.

For good measure, the official argument for 1A stated that it would provide for “Travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco in about 2½ hours for about $50 a person.” And the official rebuttal of the argument against 1A said project critics were making things up, and the the measure would allow for “travel intercity downtown to downtown throughout California on High-Speed Trains faster than automobile or air—AT A CHEAPER COST!”

Doesn’t seem particularly ambiguous, does it?

Could go that fast vs. would go that fast

But that is just what the California High-Speed Rail Authority seems likely to argue at the upcoming court hearings over a lawsuit saying the project can’t conceivably meet the requirement that the train get from San Francisco to Los Angeles — some 520 miles — in two hours and 40 minutes, as specified in the text of the law.

I wrote about the coming bait-and-switch on the speed question this weekend for the U-T San Diego:

Since initial segments in the Bay Area/Silicon Valley and in Los Angeles County will not have trains going at high speed, this requirement seems impossible. It would require a train that averages about 270 mph for a twisty 400-mile stretch from Fresno to the San Fernando Valley.

So how will state officials respond? Apparently with semantic games — the assertion that the fine print of Proposition 1A only requires that the train system’s “design” could achieve a trip time of two hours and 40 minutes or less, not that it necessarily would do so on regular basis. …

[In] an email published by The Atlantic’s website last week, board Chairman Dan Richard wrote that the state is “maintaining fidelity to the bond act requirements” of a train “designed to get from Los Angeles to downtown San Francisco in less than two hours, 40 minutes.”

What’s particularly insulting here is that both in the email to The Atlantic and to comments to The Los Angeles Times last month, Richard asserted the rail authority would never “parse” Prop 1A to get out of honoring its plain intent.

I guess that depends on what Richard’s definition of “parse” is. The usual Clintonian definition of parsing is hunting for a way to get out of trouble or get out of an obligation by using narrow definitions of broad, pain language in a way that serve your interests.

That is exactly what the state government is doing here. As I wrote in the U-T …

… what the state government is now doing to keep the bullet train alive amounts to the biggest bait-and-switch ever pulled on the voters of California. Even by Sacramento’s low standards, it is a shabby dirty trick.






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  1. Barbara Decker
    Barbara Decker 20 July, 2014, 11:16

    Thanks, Chris, for keeping us informed about the bait and switch pulled on the Ca. voters. You just can’t trust many in government. The legislature votes on bills, terms out and the rest of us are stuck with their income reducing bills.

    Reply this comment
  2. Ken
    Ken 20 July, 2014, 11:27

    I respect the thought behind the article, but the train system, even though it could NEVER be what our slimy quasi-bureaucrats maintained it might be (per design), is still needed. And subsidies are going to be required. That’s the way it is. However, this is almost less about a train than the way things are done in the USA anymore. We have become a corrupted state from sea to shining sea, and there is no Joan of Arc in sight. Truth is gone from the land. Honesty? R U kidding? In past days the Attorney General of the United States of America, already showing glaring lawless and even criminal characteristics, says the IRS scandal, a horrid reality that erodes all we hope to stand for and always have, never happened! The president has shown him self to be a serial liar. Maybe it’s congenital? In such a putrid environment where there is no real leadership you are so deeply concerned about a train that might not be able to get between A and B in X amount of time? As stated, I respect the thought process you show, but consider the abject, horrid circumstances in the country overall, and train specifications about which we have been lied to (I beleive you) pale. We could lose the country in the next five years if we don’t get a grip in November. That’s where my head is at. And the train is needed, no matter how much it is disliked in some quarters or what its SF to LA average speed might be.

    Reply this comment
    • maximilian
      maximilian 21 July, 2014, 13:39

      Ken, thanks for placing our government operations in proper perspective. But, for a moment, it is so critical to keep our state officials on the “truth train” whenever possible. Unfortunately, in a state that sits in a pool of unfunded pension liability (est $520B), with 25% of the population defined as living in abject poverty, and wide-open doors for illegal immigrants with no way to process the overflow plus a sitting governor who has his eyes on a bigger prize back D.C. (Hillary is watching), you simply must hang in there. Continue to point out California’s messiness…I know I will.

      Reply this comment
  3. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 20 July, 2014, 11:55

    Wake up doomers..you want cheap services. You want low wages as a factor of production….you’re into control and domination of the masses…

    So….cheap transportation is mandatory. The minorities will keep coming without autos…..trains are better than donkeys!

    Reply this comment
  4. Richard Rider
    Richard Rider 20 July, 2014, 13:31

    Many other lies in 1A campaign. One was that it would include service south of LA. It will not — even proponents now admit that.

    In the Prop 1A campaign they claimed that the PROFITS (profits????!!!!) from the LA-SF HSR would pay for OC, San Diego, etc.

    But at least we San Diegans get to PAY for HSR (until it implodes, which it will).

    Reply this comment
  5. Robert S. Allen
    Robert S. Allen 20 July, 2014, 14:35

    HSR insists on using Caltrain tracks from San Jose to the mis-named Transbay Transit Center being built in downtown San Francisco, a long block away from the nearest BART/Muni station at Embarcadero.—

    From a transfer station in Oakland where BART goes over the UP/Amtrak line, Embarcadero would be a six-minute ride, with a train every four minutes or oftener. It’s much more transit-oriented than the TBC so favored by the moneyed political elite.—

    HSR needs a grade-separated, fenced, secure track. Upgrading the UP/Amtrak
    route from San Jose via Santa Clara and Mulford to Oakland would cost much less than what is planned at Caltrain.—

    Initial HSR to the Bay Area should end at San Jose, with nearly seamless transfers there to Caltrain, Capitol Corridor, Amtrak, VTA rail, and BART. The next phase should be to Oakland (as above) and on to Sacramento. Much better, safer, more reliable, and less costly than what is planned.

    Reply this comment
  6. Sean
    Sean 21 July, 2014, 11:05

    As an east coaster where rail service use is quite heavy on the northeast corridor from Washington DC to Boston, it’s instructive to look at prices. On a slow train, the cost of travel from Washington to Boston, a distance of ~440 miles is $76 for a trip that takes more than 7 3/4 hours. The price on the Acela “high speed train” is over $170 dollars one way for a trip that takes 6 1/2 hours. These are the cheapest fares on each of these trains, on a route that is well known and well traveled and one in which Amtrak still loses money. Full fare tickets on these trains are nearly twice this amount by the way. So if you think the two hours and 40 minutes is a whopper, its nothing compared to the $50 one way fare whopper.

    Reply this comment
    • Richard Rider
      Richard Rider 21 July, 2014, 12:34

      Good comment, Sean. But it’s a challenge to decide which HSR lie was the biggest whopper. Suffice it to say that just about EVERY quantitative assertion supporting CA HSR was a whopper.

      The core backers stand to make BILLIONS from the HSR boondoggle, so they are quite willing to say ANYTHING to make it happen — no downside for them! HSR worshipers will repeat any such canard as truth — either from ignorance or because “the end justifies the means.”

      For YEARS I offered a $100K wager on several of these lies — NO ONE ever came forward to take my sucker bets. They knew better.

      Reply this comment
    • Sean
      Sean 21 July, 2014, 19:03

      By the way, a round trip direct flight can be booked on United for $154, 90 minute travel time.

      Reply this comment
  7. Dave Wiltsee
    Dave Wiltsee 21 July, 2014, 13:14

    This scam must go back to the ballot box. Voters deserve a mulligan, a chance to reconsider the previous vote based on the shifting sands of bogus commitments in the past six years. Please, someone, give us a new proposition to euthanize this monster.
    It goes without saying that the Authority will repeatedly encounter effective legal opposition throughout the Bay Area, and likely in the Central Valley and greater LA. It’ll never get built, but the unfinished white elephant of a project will continue to line the pockets of special interests as r-o-w is acquired, infrastructure laid, and rolling stock purchased. As long as the spending tap is opened wide, those profiting won’t really care whether the system is ever completed or not — just so they get their generous piece of the pie.

    Reply this comment
  8. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 22 July, 2014, 22:44

    There are good ole boy Republicans at this feed trough too.

    The train good….the ugliness and corruption associated…not good.

    Reply this comment

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