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About this blog: I am a native of Alameda County, grew up in Pleasanton and currently live in the house I grew up in that is more than 100 years old. I spent 39 years in the daily newspaper business and wrote a column for more than 25 years in add...  (More)

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Time for high-speed train plans to die

Uploaded: May 30, 2019
President Donald Trump and his administration may have bailed out taxpayers in California despite the bellows from Sacramento politicians.

When the federal Federal Railroad Administration formally announced it was rescinding nearly $1 billion in funding for the state’s absurd high-speed rail system, it cast further doubt on the future of the project. In a 25-page letter, the administration correctly asserted the state had neither the plans nor the capability to build the system that was originally approved by voters in 2008 with $9 billion worth of bonds for what was advertised as a $36 billion system.

The funding for so-called “shovel-ready projects” was included in the Obama Administration’s 2009 stimulus bill that was, in fact, largely a bailout for public employee unions. With Democrats in control in Washington D.C. and Gov. Jerry Brown continuing to push for the project, Obama administration officials conveniently kept changing the rules to keep the money flowing for the project.

The few Republican members of Congress from the San Joaquin Valley have not been fans of the project and have let the president know that.

The feds also indicated that they may go after the $2.5 billion that California already has received and spent. As California state Auditor Elaine Howle (a non-partisan office) already had pointed that possibility out when she released a scathing report on the high-speed rail agency and its foibles.

The feds decision almost certainly will wind up in court as another one of the never-ending actions state Attorney General Xavier Becerra has filed against Trump administration policies and executive orders. Gov. Gavin Newsom declared that the money belongs to California.

Not so fast, Mr. Governor. California officials signed a contract with the feds that contained deadlines and deliverables that have not been met. Railroad bridges are under construction in the Fresno area and not much more.

The original promise in the bonds—travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles in under four hours at reasonable fares with no public subsidy—has been abandoned. When Newsom took control, he modified the project so it would run from Bakersfield to Merced and then potentially make a connection with ACE to connect to the Bay Area. That should be subject to a taxpayers’ law suit because it clearly violates the original bond measure.

Newsom took that step because private investment has not been forthcoming. Gov. Brown pressured the Legislature into putting 25 percent of the revenue from the cap-and-trade emission sales into the railroad. It’s a questionable—to put it mildly—use of that money.
Newsom also was looking at a system pegged at $77 billion (cut down from the $98 billion estimates for the original system reached) with huge cost overruns already showing on the first phase that was the most straight-forward to engineer and build.

It’s time for the governor to take the next step and formally kill the project. The state’s taxpayers will thank him for it.


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Comments

 +   12 people like this
Posted by DKHSK, a resident of Bridle Creek,
on May 30, 2019 at 2:44 pm

DKHSK is a registered user.

From Bakersfield to Merced...

Let that sink in for a moment..."Bakersfield to Merced".

I've been waiting to hear from the supporters (and very stupid voters) of HSR to come on to these threads and explain how they can still support this boondoggle.

Brown pulled the trigger, and now Governor I-play-around-with-my-friends-wives tries to continue the ride by building a train that only services Bakersfield and Merced.

I hope the feds get back every stinking penny they put into this democrat disaster. If anyone can make it happen, Trump can.


 +   9 people like this
Posted by Kiko, a resident of Val Vista,
on May 30, 2019 at 4:30 pm

Kind of ironic with this guy Newsome...talking out of both sides of his mouth. He condemns Trump for withholding federal money, or wanting it back, and at the same time he threatens cities and counties that he will withhold state funds if they don't agree with his “affordable housing" views. Oh, but wait. He's a Liberal...they can do that. THINK BEFORE YOU VOTE.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Magnus Back, a resident of Danville,
on May 31, 2019 at 7:23 am

Magnus Back is a registered user.

Having worked and lived in other places with high speed trains it's quite clear California would benefit from having such a line. The project should be reassessed, regulation cleared and the full project restarted.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Reverse Resistance?, a resident of Pleasanton Valley,
on May 31, 2019 at 9:44 am

I guess our state is now getting a little bit of its own medicine, a little reverse resistance from Pres. Trump.???

I also agree with the comment from DKHSK - why on earth would the project start where it started rather than where it would benefit the state the most? Really, really stupid!


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Golden Eagle Res, a resident of Golden Eagle,
on May 31, 2019 at 10:08 am

Golden Eagle Res is a registered user.

Another short sighted view with those who oppose any kind of infrastructure project! This should not be about politics of left or right. It should be about putting resources and infrastructure in place for future generations. Go back and read the history of BART only few decades ago and those who opposed it at the time will look really stupid now that millions of people 'Have to' use it to get back/forth to work!
If we are serious about organized growth, much more has to be spent statewide (and nationwide) on transportation, housing and sustainable energy sources. With every year passing, these projects will only get more expensive and more difficult to start. The Federal/state governments at highest level need to take a coordinated approach based on current and projected population growth. If you don't believe me, take a trip to Singapore, Korea or China where they had NOTHING 30 years and now they are passing us by in every aspect of public transportation programs.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by J Houston, a resident of Valley View Elementary School,
on May 31, 2019 at 12:15 pm

Fail to see what is absurd about planning for a high speed rail network and infrastructure investment other than roads - the political sniping and left v right point scoring that articles like this encourage are a big part of the problem. Loaded with bias and negativity and not even an attempt to be objective or offer suggestions on solving the issues to give the people what they voted for.
Couldn't agree more with Golden Eagle Res - these long term ( and hugely expensively) projects invariably carry naysayers skeptics and NIMBYs. Take for example the Golden Gate Bridge project; critics and there were a lot- depicted the bridge as financially unsound, legally dubious, an aesthetic blight and an engineering hazard in the decade before the start of construction in 1933. The battle was most fierce in the fall of 1930, when voters in six counties were asked to allow $35 million in bond sales for construction.

We know the outcome: one of the few structures in California that genuinely deserves to be called an icon.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Reverse Resistance?, a resident of Pleasanton Valley,
on May 31, 2019 at 1:45 pm

Golden Eagle Res -

Not sure if you are referring to me.

Let me clarify my stance:
1) I voted for high speed rail as I have used train travel successfully in Europe and Asia.
2) I'm against projects that are poorly (stupidly??) planned like the high speed rail has become. The decision on where to start the project was based on politics, not an honest / good assessment of where it would have the most positive impact.
3) Does it make sense to you that it starts in the middle of the central valley, where absolutely no one will use it? This would like starting the BART system you reference on a segment between Livermore and Pleasanton. Instead BART started in the highly populated urban areas where it would have the most impact.

This country is in TRILLIONS of dollars of debt. Seems we should be smarter about where we use our money.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by James Michael, a resident of Val Vista,
on May 31, 2019 at 2:31 pm

James Michael is a registered user.

After all this time, wasted money, and complete government mismanagement I am amazed that there are still people who defend this project. They couldn't build a choo choo train and now they want to take over my healthcare.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on May 31, 2019 at 5:35 pm

For this hometown newspaper how about some local coverage? So much going on in this town and you would think the Pleasanton Weekly could actually cover something besides a state issue.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Michael Austin, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on May 31, 2019 at 7:37 pm

Resident:
How did you not notice the following in todays edition of this home twon newspaper?

1. Cover strory - Congratulations class of 2019.
2. Column - Around Pleasanton.
3. News - no less than ten news articles.
4. Community pulse - Three columns.
5. Arts & Entertainment - no wless than five articles.
6. Sports - Pleasanton preps capture perfect season.
&. etc., etc.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Jun 1, 2019 at 1:20 am

Michael Austin: Point is Tim Hunt can find something better to cover.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Michael Austin, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on Jun 1, 2019 at 10:20 am

I appreciate Tim's thoughts on the High-Speed rail issue.
I agree with Tim, It should die.
The High-Speed rail impacts Pleasanton tax payers as it does all tax payers in California, and across the US for that matter.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Doug, a resident of Birdland,
on Jun 1, 2019 at 10:36 am

I've ridden on high-speed rail trains (Shinkansen) in Japan, and can see how they make a lot of sense there since Japan has many cities, including some very large ones like Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, and Kyoto, along its train routes. The benefits of a high-speed rail network there is pretty much of a no-brainer. For this California high-speed rail line, though, the benefits are much harder to see. There aren't really any major metropolitan regions between the SF Bay Area and LA. Just something like 600 miles of track with not much between. Sure, the mere presence of a high-speed rail network will have some positive effect on the economic development of communities along the train route, but its hard to see how those communities would grow so large and prosperous as to financially justify the building of the high-speed train route.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Jun 1, 2019 at 12:21 pm

I love riding trains! I can hardly wait to take a train as far as Fresno.

A few friends will pack sandwiches, fruit, and soft drinks and we'll talk non-stop all the way....HOORAY!

TRAINS FOREVER...VIVA!


 +   7 people like this
Posted by DKHSK, a resident of Bridle Creek,
on Jun 1, 2019 at 6:03 pm

DKHSK is a registered user.

The only places where high speed rail (or rail of any kind) works is in densely populated areas. Think about where those areas are: Japan, Europe...all areas where they are packed in.

The Western 1/3 of the US is comparatively not crowded by any stretch. It doesn't make a lick of sense to have high speed rail when I can get a airline ticket to San Diego for $49 one-way on Southwest Airlines. In addition, I'd be all in favor of infrastructure programs if it wasn't for the fact that they ALL run billions and billions of dollars over budget EVERY SINGLE TIME!

Fix our damned roads. Increase the lanes and make our everyday life more enjoyable by easing traffic NOW. These stupid pipe dreams of trains has to die out. It won't do what the government has promised, not b a long shot.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by sjd, a resident of Livermore,
on Jun 1, 2019 at 10:17 pm

1) The project should be reassesed given cost overruns compared with costs in other developed countries per mile. We don't have infinite money.
2) Using plane travel as a reference is silly because plane travel is unsustainable in the long run, and we're planning for longterm travel with something like this.
3) The section where it started was because our country is a lot more slow in eminent domain than other countries are. Actually, the Amtrak line from Bakersfield to the Bay is very highly used, so this section to Merced is not a waste in and of itself, just bad relative to cost for the section.
4) Part of the high speed money was used to electrify CalTrain (because eventually they would use the same tracks) which is mostly on schedule, so the idea that the money was only used in the Valley is false.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by sjd, a resident of Livermore,
on Jun 1, 2019 at 10:19 pm

Adding lanes to freeways does not ever ease traffic. It just drives more people to live further away from work and stop taking public transit which is available. The traffic speed stays constant after a 2 year adjustment period. This happens with every freeway expansion project and is self defeating.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Michael Austin, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on Jun 1, 2019 at 10:27 pm

So how is plane travel unsustainable?

I used commercial aircraft for thirty years from SFO to Asia, multiple destinations, with never an interruption. I also have used commercial aircraft within the united states for as many years without interruption. In recent years round trip to points in Asia is less then $600 bucks. That speaks to the competitiveness of the industry to accommodate the flying public, for business or pleasure.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Michael Austin, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on Jun 1, 2019 at 10:33 pm

Adding lanes to our freeways does eliminate congestion.
I witness it every weekday morning when I get on the freeways to visit my clients. The congestion immediately ease's after the toll lane entrance.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Michael Austin, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on Jun 1, 2019 at 10:40 pm

It is the housing costs that cause people to live further AWAY!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by sjd, a resident of Livermore,
on Jun 2, 2019 at 12:26 am

1) I'm not getting into a climate change argument here, because the crazies will go crazy.

2) Yeah, putting a price on congestion actually works.

3) Housing costs are indeed the main reason that people move further away from work. But why should we subsidize them to do so if it only results in more pollution, more maintenance costs, and more accidents?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by sjd, a resident of Livermore,
on Jun 2, 2019 at 12:29 am

Preemptively saying I'm not calling anyone here crazy.

I'm simply remarking on the reactions that usually come along with this debate.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by phamyen, a resident of Carriage Gardens,
on Jun 2, 2019 at 8:27 pm

phamyen is a registered user.

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 +   2 people like this
Posted by DKHSK, a resident of Bridle Creek,
on Jun 3, 2019 at 9:40 am

DKHSK is a registered user.

"1.) The project should be reassesed given cost overruns compared with costs in other developed countries per mile. We don't have infinite money."

So our dollar is equal to say the yen or the Renminbi or the Euro dollar?

Costs for infrastructure are different around the world. It's more expensive here because, frankly, we have stupid, corrupt politicians who can only pontificate and spend money on prized constituents coupled with moronic voters who cannot (probably will not) understand economics.

"2) Using plane travel as a reference is silly because plane travel is unsustainable in the long run, and we're planning for longterm travel with something like this."

Imaginary farmer speaking to Orville and Wilbur Wright circa 1903 "a flying machine will never catch on." This is how inane I find this point 2 to be. Yeah...totally unsustainable. I bet you didn't think we'd land on the moon either, huh?

"Actually, the Amtrak line from Bakersfield to the Bay is very highly used, so this section to Merced is not a waste in and of itself, just bad relative to cost for the section."

You realize that AMTRAK is subsidized right? Even if it had zero passengers, it would still be running. That is how government "works"!

"Part of the high speed money was used to electrify CalTrain (because eventually they would use the same tracks) which is mostly on schedule, so the idea that the money was only used in the Valley is false."

So?? Was the voting public aware that the money would be re-allocated elsewhere?












 +   2 people like this
Posted by DKHSK, a resident of Bridle Creek,
on Jun 3, 2019 at 9:45 am

DKHSK is a registered user.

"Adding lanes to freeways does not ever ease traffic."

Hwy 15 additional lanes in San Diego county. I know for a fact that they reduced traffic.

"it just drives more people to live further away from work and stop taking public transit which is available."

God forbid people be able to afford housing in other areas and drive in faster to work. No, let's just make them pay more money out of their checks to RENT something closer to work, while at the same time taking away their ability to navigate the road on their own terms.

Yep, that's a winning proposition you have there.




 +  Like this comment
Posted by sjd, a resident of Livermore,
on Jun 3, 2019 at 8:40 pm

"So our dollar is equal to say the yen or the Renminbi or the Euro dollar?"

What? It has nothing to do with the USD versus any other currency.

"It's more expensive here because, frankly, we have stupid, corrupt politicians who can only pontificate and spend money on prized constituents coupled with moronic voters who cannot (probably will not) understand economics."

If only you took a minute to understand the legal complexities behind infrastructure projects. Waste? Absolutely. Only thing? Lol no.

"I bet you didn't think we'd land on the moon either, huh?"
Really?

"You realize that AMTRAK is subsidized right? Even if it had zero passengers, it would still be running. That is how government "works"!"

You realize that literally all transportation is subsidized, and the net subsidy for automobile travel dwarfs everything else in the US? Gas tax receipts vs roadway costs since the 1930s just isn't even a comparison.

"So?? Was the voting public aware that the money would be re-allocated elsewhere?"

It was used for a project that was literally part of the high speed rail project. You probably would have complained if they tried to build exclusive lines for the HSR as wasteful too, huh?

"Hwy 15 additional lanes in San Diego county. I know for a fact that they reduced traffic."
You mean the toll lane expansion, lol, where I already conceded that such a thing works?

"God forbid people be able to afford housing in other areas and drive in faster to work."
God forbid we actually changed the zoning so big cities had to build housing too, god forbid we changed the liability laws for condos so people could actually own homes in cities, god forbid we actually take the environmental cost of something into account.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by kelvinperr, a resident of Amador Estates,
on Jun 3, 2019 at 10:59 pm

kelvinperr is a registered user.

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 +   3 people like this
Posted by Jake Waters, a resident of Birdland,
on Jun 4, 2019 at 8:45 am

Jake Waters is a registered user.

Some people see trains, rainbows, and unicorns. Others see the rising abuse of our social services from the wave of illegals flowing into our state for all the free stuff; the homelessness that is out-of-control creating major health problems, deterioration of our cities, more crime; our failing school system; bad roads; and more. But no, let's build a train to nowhere so friends can ride to Fresno while eating sandwiches, consuming drinks, and allowing their chickens run around the cars.

Serious problems require serious, focused, and dedicated leaders to solve them. You won't find that in Gavin Newsome (Nero), because he is too busy playing his fiddle and dreaming of running for President.



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