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wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

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A staff report released by California High Speed Authority has supported building a high-speed rail line over the Grapevine area of Palmdale rather than through the Antelope Valley alongside the I-5 Highway.

It recommended that trains connect the Central Valley to Southern California with a route through the high desert rather than one along Interstate 5 over the Grapevine. The Authority's I-5 Conceptual Study concludes that the Antelope Valley corridor is a better option as it has lower potential environmental impact and greater connectivity than the I-5 corridor.

California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Roelof van Ark said: "Over the past few years, project-level work on the alignment between Bakersfield and Sylmar via Palmdale has resulted in increased infrastructure costs because of the need for more tunnels and aerial structures than we initially estimated."

Because of this, a conceptual study of the I-5 corridor was conducted to reassess assumptions and estimates. The study aimed to determine if a fresh look will reveal new conditions that would call for including an I-5 alignment in the Project Level EIR/EIS.

Based on the Study, the Antelope Valley alignments were found to offer greater connectivity and accessibility to the Los Angeles County than the one along Interstate 5 over the Grapevine. It concluded that the Antelope Valley remains the simplest, safest and overall best way to connecting Bakersfield with the Los Angeles basin by 2030 through high-speed trains running at a speed of up to 220mph.

The agency's board will consider the suggestion at its 12 January meeting in Los Angeles.

The new report noted that the alignments also provide greater opportunities for alignment variations through the mountains to avoid impacts to environmental resources. The high-speed train's impact on urbanised land and farmland conversion would also be less than those of the I-5 corridor.

The conclusions were based after several analyses that included extensive modelling to develop, identify and analyse alignments along the I-5 / Grapevine corridor. The environmental review included an analysis of impacts upon cultural and biological resources, and opportunities for using alignment variations to avoid impacting sensitive resources. The study also reviewed factors that changed since the 2005 Programme EIR/EIS.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority is developing a San Francisco Bay area to Los Angeles and Anaheim high-speed rail system that will connect all of the state's major urban centres, including Sacramento and San Diego.

Caption: California High-Speed Rail Authority is planning a high-speed rail project with trains running at a speed of 220mph. (Image courtesy of California High-Speed Rail Authority.)

 
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

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If construction of California's high-speed rail project begins this year in the central San Joaquin Valley, employment advocates want to make sure it provides jobs for unemployed workers in the economically ravaged region.

Since September, the Fresno Workforce Investment Board has pressed the California High-Speed Rail Authority to require that contractors on the train project hire at least 30 percent of their workers from areas of high unemployment. The local board also wants contractors to maintain a local hiring office in the valley.

The rail authority board will consider the Fresno proposal at its meeting Thursday in Los Angeles. Blake Konczal, executive director of the Workforce board, plans to address the board to reinforce the request.

Konczal said the proposal was made on behalf of the Fresno Works Consortium, a collection of city and county agencies that hopes to maximize the job-creating potential of high-speed rail in Fresno County.

At stake could be thousands of jobs building the first section of high-speed rail line between Madera and Bakersfield -- a region selected by the Obama administration to benefit from more than $3 billion in federal stimulus money and other transportation funds because of its high unemployment rate.

"Without hiring requirements in place, we fear that too few jobs will be filled by unemployed residents from some of the most economically distressed areas of the country," Konczal said.

Unemployment rates in valley counties ranged between 14 percent and 17 percent in November, the most recent month for which information is available. That compares to the statewide jobless rate of 11.3 percent, and the national rate of 8.6 percent.

But state rail officials are reluctant to commit to any hiring restrictions for its would-be contractors for fear of violating grant agreements with the federal government.

"The authority's funding would be jeopardized if it adopted local preferences for any of its federally funded contracts," said Thomas Fellenz, the authority's chief counsel, in a memo to the agency's board.

Authority spokeswoman Rachel Wall said the agency is working with the Federal Railroad Administration to clarify whether the Fresno proposal would run afoul of federal law.

Konczal said that while the valley has an urgent need for jobs, the recommendation specifies no single county or region but instead calls for hiring from any high-unemployment areas.

"We're not proposing a criteria to give something exclusively to the valley or Fresno," Konczal said. "We're asking that for all sections of the U.S. with areas of high unemployment, those residents be given a preference."

Tom Richards, a Fresno developer who is a vice chairman of the rail authority board, said he plans to abstain from any discussion or vote on the Fresno Works proposal because he is also chairman of the Workforce Investment Board.

For several years, backers of the high-speed rail project suggested that construction could create tens of thousands of jobs in the valley.

In reports issued last summer, however, the rail authority estimated that at the peak of construction, contractors building the high-speed rail system in Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern counties may employ as many as 1,300 people in a year. Spinoff jobs generated by related construction activity could reach 2,600 in the peak years of work.

 
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

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Uncertainty continues to reign for California’s tumultuous high-speed rail project. Yesterday, California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) Chief Executive Officer Roelof van Ark announced he would resign from the agency, effective in two months. In addition, Thomas Umberg announced he would step down as chairman but remain on the board. Dan Richard, an advisor to Gov. Jerry Brown and a CHSRA board member, will succeed him as chairman.

The board and administration have requested that van Ark continue to provide advice on the project through the end of the year, citing the importance in the continuity of management and leadership.

“I would like to thank Mr. van Ark for his service to California and the high-speed rail project. The announcement of his resignation will resonate throughout the state,” said Umberg in a prepared statement. “His energy, passion and dedication to this critically important project are a testament to his character and his professionalism. We are extremely lucky to have his continued counsel and advice as we move to implement high-speed rail in California.”

California Assemblymember Cathleen Galgiani, who helped author Proposition 1A, which provides bonds to help finance high-speed rail construction, called van Ark’s resignation and Umberg’s decision to step down a “key turning point” that gives Brown an opportunity to put state resources into the project to ensure its success. Last week, Brown proposed folding CHSRA into a new state transportation agency that also includes the departments of transportation and motor vehicles, among others.

“Today represents a turning point for the governor to put his stamp on the project,” Galgiani said. “I am confident that Governor Brown will put his full resources behind the success of high-speed rail.”

 
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

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Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 9, 2012

CONTACT: Rachel Wall (916) 384-9026

Janis Mara (916) 403-0551

High-Speed Rail Releases I-5/Grapevine Study

Board to Vote Whether to Continue to Study I-5 or Take Staff Recommendation  

Reinforcing 2005 Decision to Drop the I-5 Route in Favor of Antelope Valley Alignment  

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California’s High-Speed Rail Authority should not consider a proposed route for the high-speed train along I-5 in southern California and instead should study a proposed route through Palmdale, according to the recommendations of a study released by the Authority staff today. The agency’s Board will consider the suggestion at its Jan. 12 meeting in Los Angeles.

The Authority’s I-5 Conceptual Study, approved by the Board in May 2011, reinforces the 2005 Programmatic Environmental Impact Review and Environmental Impact Statement. It concludes that the Antelope Valley corridor still has fewer potential environmental impacts and greater connectivity than the I-5 corridor. The goal of the Study was to determine if a fresh look would reveal new conditions that would call for including an I-5 alignment in the Project Level EIR/EIS.

Based on the Study, the Antelope Valley alignments were found to offer greater connectivity and accessibility to the fastest growing area of Los Angeles County. The alignments also provide greater opportunities for alignment variations through the mountains to avoid impacts to environmental resources. The high-speed train’s impact on urbanized land and farmland conversion due to growth would also be less than those on the I-5 corridor.

“Over the past several years, project-level work on the alignment between Bakersfield and Sylmar via Palmdale resulted in increased infrastructure costs because of the need for more tunnels and aerial structures than we initially estimated,” said Roelof van Ark, CEO, California High-Speed Rail Authority.

“Because of this, a conceptual Study of the I-5 corridor was conducted to reassess assumptions and estimates," van Ark said, referring to the Statewide 2005 Program Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement which advanced the Antelope Valley corridor. “The goal of this conceptual study was to review factors that changed since 2005 to ensure the most operationally successful alignment is being planned."

The engineering team conducted several months of analysis that included extensive modeling to develop, identify and analyze alignments along the I-5/Grapevine corridor. The environmental review included an analysis of impacts on cultural and biological resources, wetlands and water bodies, growth- inducing impacts, national forests, farmland, and opportunities for using alignment variations to avoid impacting sensitive resources. The Study also analyzed constructability and cost issues and an evaluation of operational aspects, including ridership, operating costs and maintenance costs that were not compared qualitatively in the 2005 Program EIR/EIS.

The Study included intensive outreach to local agencies, cities, and communities to determine the local community impacts of these possible alignments. The Antelope Valley alignments continue to have strong stakeholder support based on the comprehensive outreach done during the Study process.

To read the Study, please visit the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s website at http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/2012_January.aspx.

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California’s High-Speed Train Project

 
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

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Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 10, 2012

CONTACT: Rachel Wall, 916-384-9026

Janis Mara, 916-403-0551

STATEMENT IN RESPONSE TO PROPOSED LEGISLATION  

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- In response to legislation proposed this week, Lance Simmens, Deputy Director for Communications, released the following statement:

“We are working with the legislature, including Assemblywoman Harkey and her staff, to outline the near and long-term benefits of this important statewide transportation project. The draft business plan is currently in a comment period and we’ll be releasing a final business plan once those comments have been taken into consideration. We believe the Assemblywoman’s proposed legislation is not a timely or constructive effort to ensure California’s long-term transportation needs are met.

“Over the next several decades the high-speed train project will alleviate intrastate traffic and bring our state into a 21st century economy. This proposed legislation dismisses both the short term benefits of providing jobs at a time when thousands of people are out of work as well as the long-term transit and growth benefits.

“Our population growth compels major transportation infrastructure expansion. High-speed rail will address this issue more effectively and economically than other alternatives such as highway and airport expansion.”

 
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

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Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  

January 12, 2012

CONTACT: Rachel Wall (916) 539-1393  

Janis Mara (916) 403-0551

HIGH-SPEED RAIL AUTHORITY MAKES STATEWIDE PLANNING DECISIONS

Board re-affirms Antelope Valley as route from Central Valley to LA Basin

LOS ANGELES, Calif. –After re-evaluating route options for the Central Valley to Los Angeles Basin segment of California’s high speed rail system, the California’s High-Speed Rail Authority’s Board decided today to continue to move forward with a proposed route through Palmdale.  

“After reviewing the study results and listening to comments from the communities, it’s very clear that keeping the route in the Antelope Valley is the right decision,” said Board Chair Thomas J. Umberg. “The excitement we have seen out of Palmdale and their commitment to promote a strong system is exactly the kind of partnership we appreciate as we work to develop this critical statewide project.”  

The Authority recently re-examined the Central Valley to Los Angeles Basin segment, including a route along I-5 in Southern California that extends over the Grapevine. The Grapevine alignment was originally studied in the 2003-2005 Statewide Programmatic Environmental Review and did not advance because preliminary information suggested it could cost more than the Antelope Valley route.  

“Due to many changes which had occurred over time, we had to look at as many alternatives as possible to ensure the best statewide system possible,” said Roelof van Ark, CEO of the Authority. “We conducted a conceptual study to update the engineering data from 2005 to see if the Grapevine route would save us time, distance and money. This was a prudent time to reevaluate both routes, which have changed since the initial studies.

“This re-evaluation makes it clear that running the train through the Antelope Valley will connect people in one of the county’s fastest-growing areas, have fewer environmental impacts, and afford more flexibility in route selection,” van Ark said.

Work on the two alignments in the Antelope Valley continued while the conceptual study was underway.

Elected officials including the mayors of Lancaster, Palmdale and Santa Clarita, as well as Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, expressed support of the Antelope Valley route as the meeting approached.

“It (the Antelope Valley alignment) involves less tunneling, will be more environmentally sensitive and will spur growth,” Antonovich said, speaking in favor of the route during the comment period at the meeting.

More than 300 people attended today’s meeting held at the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board room, and nearly 100 spoke on this decision.

“The results of this most recent study, along with feedback from residents of the area, have made it clear that this will be the most operationally successful alignment and serve to the great benefit of the region,” said Umberg.

Authority discusses renewable energy commitment goals

In a non-action item, the Board discussed its Strategic Energy Plan and sustainability framework. The Plan includes strategies for powering the high-speed train on 100 percent renewable energy in a cost-effective manner and the sustainability framework coordinates their implementation. It was developed by the Sustainability Partnership, collaboration between the Authority, the Federal Railroad Administration, Housing and Urban Development, Region 9, and other governmental bodies.

Small Business Program Listening Session

About 120 small business owners, mostly from Los Angeles County, visited a separate conference room at the event to ask Authority representatives questions about its Small and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program and to receive contracting opportunity information.  

The program was developed to ensure small businesses in California are able to access contracts related to the construction of high-speed rail. The Authority has called for a 30 percent goal for small business involvement in the project.  

California’s High-Speed Train Project

 
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

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Press ReleaseFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 12, 2012

CONTACT: Rachel Wall, 916-539-1393 or rwall@hsr.ca.gov

CEO ANNOUNCES RESIGNATION, CHAIRMAN STEPS DOWN AND ISSUES STATEMENT

LOS ANGELES, Calif. --- At the regularly scheduled meeting of the Board of Directors, held in Los Angeles today, Roelof van Ark, CEO announced his resignation effective two months from now. During his statement van Ark noted that the Board and administration requested he continue to provide advice to project through the end of the year citing the importance in the continuity of management and leadership. Chairman Thomas J. Umberg announced that he'd be stepping down as Chairman and will remain on the Board.

The Chairman then issued the following statement:

"With admiration, I would like to thank Mr. van Ark for his service to California and the high-speed rail project. The announcement of his resignation will resonate throughout the State. His energy, passion and dedication to this critically important project are a testament to his character and his professionalism. We are extremely lucky to have his continued counsel and advice as we move to implement high-speed rail in California. I remain grateful for his professionalism and friendship."

 
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Victoria Grajek (916) 319-2017

January 12, 2012

Assemblymember Galgiani Statement on Resignation of High Speed Rail Director Roelof Van

Ark, and Stepping Down of Board Chair Tom Umberg

SACRAMENTO, CA- Assemblymember Cathleen Galgiani, an Author of the High Speed Rail Bond Proposition 1A,

responds to the resignation of High Speed Rail Director Roelof Van Ark, and Stepping Down of Board Chair Tom

Umberg, calling it a “key turning point giving Governor Jerry Brown the opportunity to put his resources behind the

success of the program.”

“I am grateful to Mr. Van Ark and Chair Umberg for their tireless efforts and tenacity during the most critical early

stages of taking High Speed Rail from a vision, to reality, bringing us “high-speed jobs” with the start of construction

in September 2012.

“We have always known there would be challenging circumstances building the nation’s first high-speed Rail system,

particularly when it requires being sensitive and responsive to diverse communities, with varying needs along the

entire 800 mile stretch of the project all at once. Mr. Van Ark and Mr. Umberg have worked with stakeholders to

address everything from whether “wind speed” from the train will affect bee pollination in agricultural areas, the

importance of respecting sacred sites and Native American burial grounds near the Grapevine, the value we place on

involving small emerging business enterprises during the engineering and construction contracting process, building

the first public private partnership of this scope in California, and navigating the political turbulence associated with

building the nation’s first High –Speed Rail system. I have deep respect and owe my deepest gratitude to both Mr.

Van Ark and Mr. Umberg.”

Governor Brown has been a vocal supporter of the project, and last year and appointed two advisers, Dan Richard and

Mike Rossi, to the rail board. Board Member Richard will serve as the new Chair of the Authority Board.

“Today represents a turning point for the Governor to put his stamp on the project. I am pleased that his long-trusted

Advisor, Dan Richard, has been chosen to succeed Chair Umberg, and I am confident that Governor Brown will put

his full resources behind the success of High Speed Rail. I remain committed to working with Governor Brown, and

Chair Richard to move this project forward and put California’s economy on a fast-track to recovery with “high speed

jobs.”

 
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

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CaHSR will follow Antelope Valley route, CEO resigns, board chair steps down

Friday, January 13, 2012  

After re-evaluating route options for the Central Valley to Los Angeles Basin segment of California's high-speed rail system, the California High-Speed Rail Authority's Board decided to continue to move forward with a proposed route through Palmdale.

The authority recently re-examined the Central Valley to Los Angeles Basin segment, including a route along I-5 in Southern California that extends over the Grapevine. The Grapevine alignment was originally studied in the 2003-2005 Statewide Programmatic Environmental Review and did not advance because preliminary information suggested it could cost more than the Antelope Valley route.

Work on the two alignments in the Antelope Valley continued while the conceptual study was underway.

In other news, Roelof van Ark, CEO, will resign, effective two months from now. In a statement, van Ark noted that the board and administration requested he continue to provide advice to project through the end of the year citing the importance in the continuity of management and leadership. Chairman Thomas J. Umberg announced that he'd be stepping down as chairman and will remain on the Board.

"With admiration, I would like to thank Mr. van Ark for his service to California and the high-speed rail project," said Umberg. "The announcement of his resignation will resonate throughout the state. His energy, passion and dedication to this critically important project are a testament to his character and his professionalism. We are extremely lucky to have his continued counsel and advice as we move to implement high-speed rail in California. I remain grateful for his professionalism and friendship."

 
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

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Amid growing criticism of the project, the California High-Speed Rail Authority's Chairman of the Board Thomas J. Umberg announced the resignation of CEO Roelof van Ark, effective in two months.

"With admiration, I would like to thank Mr. van Ark for his service to California and the high-speed rail project. The announcement of his resignation will resonate throughout the State," said Umberg. "His energy, passion and dedication to this critically important project are a testament to his character and his professionalism. We are extremely lucky to have his continued counsel and advice as we move to implement high-speed rail in California. I remain grateful for his professionalism and friendship."

As part of the shakeup at the authority, Umberg will also vacate his position and recommend that Dan Richard, who was recently appointed to the board by Gov. Jerry Brown, assume his leadership role. Van Ark said he will leave in two months, while Umberg will step down in February, according to The Los Angeles Times.

The departure of van Ark comes a week after an independent review panel issued a critique of the project and refused to recommend that the state issue billions in  bonds to help fund the first leg of the 520-mile project in the Central Valley

 
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed

Amid growing criticism of the project, the California High-Speed Rail Authority's Chairman of the Board Thomas J. Umberg announced the resignation of CEO Roelof van Ark, effective in two months.

"With admiration, I would like to thank Mr. van Ark for his service to California and the high-speed rail project. The announcement of his resignation will resonate throughout the State," said Umberg. "His energy, passion and dedication to this critically important project are a testament to his character and his professionalism. We are extremely lucky to have his continued counsel and advice as we move to implement high-speed rail in California. I remain grateful for his professionalism and friendship."

As part of the shakeup at the authority, Umberg will also vacate his position and recommend that Dan Richard, who was recently appointed to the board by Gov. Jerry Brown, assume his leadership role. Van Ark said he will leave in two months, while Umberg will step down in February, according to The Los Angeles Times.

The departure of van Ark comes a week after an independent review panel issued a critique of the project and refused to recommend that the state issue billions in  bonds to help fund the first leg of the 520-mile project in the Central Valley

 
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

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Chief executive of high-speed rail project steps down

Roelof van Ark's departure raises new questions about the controversial project's stability. At the same time, Thomas Umberg announces he is leaving as chairman of the project's board.

The political and management challenges facing California's bullet train project grew more complicated Thursday, when the chief executive of the $98.5-billion effort suddenly announced his resignation, just months before construction was supposed to begin.

Roelof van Ark, 60, an engineering manager with considerable international high-speed rail experience, announced his departure, raising new questions about the program's stability at a crucial juncture. At the same time, Thomas Umberg, a former state legislator, said he was stepping down as chairman of the California High Speed Rail Authority board, which is directing the project.

Van Ark said he wanted to spend more time with his family, and declined to comment further. But some lawmakers and state transportation officials said he had lost the confidence of the Legislature. A spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown said there was "common agreement" that the time was good for a change.

"Roelof was a very good engineer, but you can't have somebody in that job who doesn't have his finger on the political pulse of the state," said James Earp, a member of the California Transportation Commission and a labor union representative who played a major role in a successful 2008 ballot measure that partially funded the project.

Van Ark said he will leave in two months; Umberg will step down in February. Umberg said he would recommend that Dan Richard, who was recently appointed to the rail board by Brown, assume the leadership role. Richard said he intended to make the chairmanship a full-time commitment.

The rail board said it would begin a search for Van Ark's replacement. Also announced Thursday was the departure of bullet train board member Matthew Toledo, who submitted his resignation to Brown on Jan. 4.

The changes came a week after an independent review panel issued a scathing critique of the project and refused to recommend that the state issue billions of dollars in bonds to help fund construction of an initial, 130-mile Central Valley section of track.

The expert panel, charged with safeguarding the public's interest in the project, raised doubts about almost every aspect of the project and concluded that the current plan "is not financially feasible." The original cost of the project has tripled, and two recent public opinion polls indicate that voters now would reject the project, which they had previously approved.

When Van Ark was hired in May 2010, agency officials declared the job ahead was mainly one of engineering and construction. He was heralded as the perfect candidate to deliver on the state's long-frustrated goal of building the nation's first bullet train network.

But Van Ark was frustrated by difficulties with the project, according to former high speed rail officials and state legislators. Rachel Wall, the rail agency's press secretary, said Van Ark was not asked to leave and in fact may remain as a consultant.

It became apparent last year that the political and funding battles over keeping the project alive were far from over. A new, hostile Republican majority in the House of Representatives cast doubt on future federal funding.

Rather than focusing on engineering, Van Ark began spending more time on the acrimonious politics engulfing the project. Van Ark was called before the Legislature 15 times last year.

"I think he took over a totally dysfunctional organization," said state Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), one of those who summoned Van Ark. "The distrust by the Legislature was already there. He was always in a defensive posture, defending against this attack or that attack. I think it just wore him out. His skills did not match the situation that evolved."

Others said Brown was unhappy with the project's trajectory. He recently proposed creation of a new state transportation agency to oversee both highway and state rail projects, including the bullet train.

"It's not a coincidence that Van Ark and Umberg happened on the same day," said state Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), another lawmaker with oversight responsibility for the project. "This is clearly an effort by the administration to start fresh and push the reset button."

Asked if Brown had a role in Van Ark's departure or had given it his blessing, press secretary Gil Duran said, "There was common agreement that this was a good transition point."

Van Ark had given rail authority staffers little indication in recent weeks that he was about to leave. But Richard said Van Ark wanted to depart as long as six months ago and the rail board persuaded him to stay on through at least the introduction of a new project business plan. A draft of that plan, which included the new $98.5-billion cost estimate, was released on Nov. 1.

Umberg said his home in Orange County and his full-time law practice and family made it difficult for him to devote the time necessary to the project. Umberg downplayed the effect of Van Ark's departure, saying the project will probably have a number of chief executives and board chairs before it is completed.

 
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

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LOS ANGELES -- The California High Speed Rail Authority board announced today that a Los Angeles-to-San Francisco high-speed train would run north to Bakersfield through the Antelope Valley cities of Palmdale and Lancaster, and not along an alternate proposed route near the Grapevine.

The unanimous decision by the eight-member board is a victory for Antelope Valley cities, whose leaders have argued that a route along the Golden State (5) Freeway would devastate the Antelope Valley economy and businesses, which have made significant investments based on the Rail Authority's 2005 selected route through the valley.

Today's board meeting in Los Angeles also saw a major shake-up of staff at the authority, which has struggled to defend the rail project amid growing criticism about the $98.5 billion price tag and construction strategy.

Rail Authority CEO Roelof van Ark announced he would resign in 60 days, and board Chair Thomas Umberg announced he would step down from his leadership position on the board after an election next month to choose a new chair. Umberg cited a lack of time for the chair duties.

"We've come quite a distance and we still have quite a distance to go," Umberg said. "The chairmanship is really a full time job, it requires daily attention, if not hourly attention."

Umberg nominated board member Dan Richard to be the new president.

Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, welcomed the board change, which she attributed to Gov. Jerry

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Brown.

"I want to welcome this new infusion of talent willing to take on this unprecedented project," Lowenthal said.

Palmdale City Councilman Steve Hofbauer called the board's selection of the Antelope Valley alignment "absolutely huge."

Hofbauer said the decision will give commercial and industrial businesses the reassurance they need to ramp up investments near a new multi- modal transit hub in Palmdale. DesertXpress Enterprises, LLC is considering whether to extend its planned high-speed rail from Las Vegas to Victorville into Palmdale.

The decision also gives the city leverage in negotiations with Los Angeles World Airports to lease land for a regional airport in the area, Hofbauer said.

"It's like opening up the 14 freeway. It's the next big connection," he said.

A study of the Grapevine route concluded that the Antelope Valley corridor would have fewer environmental impact and higher ridership, according to the CHSRA staff.

County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, whose district includes part of the Antelope Valley, applauded the decision, saying it will create a "vital transportation crossroads for the southern portion of the state."

Antonovich, who is also serves on the board of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, is pushing for upgrades to the Metrolink and Amtrak rail lines that would allow trains to travel at 110 mph. Antonovich and others argue the upgrade would enable a connection to the 130-mile first phase of the high speed rail system in the Central Valley and reach Los Angeles faster than building a whole new set of tracks.

"This hybrid system can be built using less money, in less time, and with greater benefits for the 60 percent of Californians who reside in the state's southern counties," Antonovich said.

The recommendation comes as the overall viability of the rail project is in question. After a November report found the price tag had more than doubled to $98.5 billion, an independent state review panel opined last week that the project "is not financially feasible." The panel recommended against the state issuing bonds to pay for the project. The project currently has about $13 billion in commitments from a 2008 state ballot initiative and federal funding.

"The project is on schedule," Rail Authority Press Secretary Rachel Wall said. "We are on schedule to start construction in September 2012 in Fresno."

A handful of union construction workers held a news conference before the Rail Authority's board meeting call for expediting the project.

Mark Kyle, director of government affairs for Operating Engineers Local 3 said concerns about the price tag for the project are overblown.

"We're not talking about spending $98 billion today or the next year, two or three years. We're talking about spending it over 20, 25, 30 years," Kyle said. "We're going to have 50 million people here here (in California) in 20 years. We can either have an F-grade transportation system and all be stuck in gridlock, or we can move forward with a green alternative."

 
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

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A proposal to require high-speed rail contractors to hire nearly one-third of their workers from high-unemployment areas was rebuffed Thursday by California rail officials.

But the California High-Speed Rail Authority will ask three of its board members to meet with the Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board and the Fresno Works Consortium to look for other ways to ensure that construction of the rail project creates much-needed jobs in the central San Joaquin Valley.

The Obama administration has committed more than $3 billion to start building the statewide rail program in the Valley. That includes federal stimulus money intended to help the region recover from the lingering effects of the recession.

But Thomas Fellenz, the rail authority's chief counsel, told board members meeting in Los Angeles that federal contracting law prohibits geographic limitations in hiring requirements. Adopting a proposal to require 30% of the construction work force be hired from areas of chronic high unemployment would run afoul of the authority's federal grant agreements.

Construction of the first stretch of tracks for the high-speed rail system between Madera and Bakersfield is proposed to start later this year, if the state Legislature approves the sale of bonds to match the federal contributions. The rail authority hopes to ask contractors to submit bids for the work this spring.

But several board members said they understand the desire for jobs in the Valley. Three members -- Russ Burns, Michael Rossi and Robert Balgenorth -- were appointed to meet with the Valley work-force advocates on proposals that can address Federal Railroad Administration concerns.

"The best thing is that this is a clear indication that the rail authority wants a program that will benefit unemployed workers," said Blake Konczal, executive director of the Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board. "The most important thing is that the authority created this subcommittee to review the issue, and we're eager to work with them to come up with language that will pass federal muster."

Fresno developer Tom Richards, the rail authority's vice chairman, left the meeting room to abstain from the discussion because he is also the chairman of the Fresno work-force board.

In reports issued last summer, the authority estimated that at the peak of construction in the Valley, the high-speed rail project could employ about 1,300 people a year in Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern counties -- a far cry from earlier estimates of as many as 20,000 jobs in the Valley.

Grapevine route off the table

In other action, the authority board voted to abandon further study of a route over the Grapevine between Bakersfield and Los Angeles. In doing so, the authority confirmed a preference for a high-speed line that goes through Palmdale and the Antelope Valley.

 
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

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Board approves Palmdale high-speed rail route

By Karen Jonas

Signal Staff Writer

January 12, 2012 6:24 p.m.

As high-speed rail board members approved a Palmdale route for a project that would connect Southern California to the Bay Area on Thursday, Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich proposed an alternative: improving existing Southern California passenger rail lines to increase potential speed.

California High Speed Rail Authority board members unanimously approved a route connecting Southern California to Bakersfield through the Antelope Valley, favoring that plan over a route that would follow Interstate 5 through Santa Clarita and the Grapevine.

The cost of constructing the train through the Palmdale corridor is now estimated at $15 billion to $15.5 billion.The $98 billion high-speed rail plan approved by voters has drawn recent criticism for its escalating price tag. Some have called for a second vote on the issue.

Antonovich issued a statement Thursday praising the Antelope Valley route and proposing upgrades to the existing Metrolink/Amtrak rail system to address the high costs associated with high-speed rail.

Antonovich said upgrades to the existing Metrolink and Amtrak rail systems could be completed from Lancaster to San Diego - turning it into a 110 mph system that could be connected to the San Joaquin Valley.

"This hybrid system can be built using less money, in less time, and with greater benefits for the 60 percent of Californians who reside in the state's southern counties," said Antonovich in the statement. "This proposal will upgrade systems, make use of already-owned right-of-ways and protect communities facing the loss of homes, schools, businesses and farms."

According to the statement, Antonovich's proposal has been approved by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Southern California Association of Governments and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

 
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed

MADRID – It's 8 a.m. at the Puerto de Atocha train station in central Madrid. Business travelers armed with cellphones and laptops, and pleasure travelers toting cameras and carry-on bags, make their way through security to board the high-speed trains that connect Spain's capital to cities across the nation.

The sprawling station, which dates to the 1890s, serves not only the AVE, or Alta Velocidad Española (Spanish high-speed) trains, but also the city's metro subway and commuter trains. It sits amid a bustling district of offices, museums, hotels and other businesses.

This is the vision shared by backers of California's proposed, but controversial, high-speed rail system – and there are lessons that California can learn from Spain's 20-year history with high-speed trains.

Top among them is how hard it is to be self-sufficient, even when conditions seem ideal, as they have in Spain.

Despite popular and political support from the very start, the AVE rail system faces a tougher future due to Europe's financial crisis.

Service between some smaller cities has been cut because too few people ride the trains. Some wonder if it is anything more than a luxury commuter service.

"They haven't prioritized which lines are most important, so a lot of money has been spent on lines that aren't as important," said Jacinto Calvillo, a passenger waiting to board an AVE train in Valencia.

Since the late 1980s, Spain has spent about $60 billion to build and equip its high-speed network.

The long-distance AVE trains and their regional cousins Avant and Alvia, which share the high-speed tracks, connect major urban centers but pass through smaller cities and stretches of farmland, just as is planned in California.

They've gotten people out of their cars and off airplanes, sliced travel times, and attracted millions of riders a year – exactly what rail boosters hope will happen here. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood voiced admiration for the Spanish network when he visited Spain last summer, calling it a "state-of-the-art system."

President Barack Obama touted it as a model for American high-speed rail plans when he announced billions of dollars in federal investments in April 2009.

Spain's system, however, was launched in different conditions than California is experiencing today. Political unity, a thriving economy and the spotlight of international events – a world exposition in Seville and the Olympic Games in Barcelona – provided impetus for Spain to embark on its high-speed journey.

About the only major point of contention was where the first line from Madrid should go (Seville won over Barcelona), not whether it should happen at all.

It has rapidly expanded to become Europe's most extensive high-speed network – third only to China and Japan's systems worldwide – while facing remarkably little of the NIMBYism, farmer opposition or politics fermenting throughout California.

The project has been supported by both conservative- and Socialist-led governments.

But with Spain and the rest of Europe mired in a lingering economic crisis, public attitudes may slowly be changing.

Despite assurances from the Spanish government that the long-distance AVE trains operate without a public subsidy, academics and analysts don't believe that even the busiest high-speed route – between Madrid and Barcelona – musters enough riders to cover its operating costs, much less the billions of euros spent on infrastructure over the past 20 years.

Speed and comfort

On an overcast November morning, rain clouds hang low in the sky over the olive orchards of Castile-La Mancha, the territory of central Spain. As the 10 a.m. AVE train from Madrid to Seville races gracefully on its steel tracks, trees and structures flash past the window – the only tangible indication to passengers that they are moving at more than 180 mph.

In a car, the roughly 300-mile drive to Seville, in the southwestern region of Andalusia, would take five to six hours. This eight-car, French-built Alstom Class 100 train can hold up to 332 passengers and cross the distance in less than 2 1/2 hours.

Inside the passenger cars, the ride is smooth and quiet. The seats have plenty of legroom, and a power outlet for electronics. Attendants give earbuds to passengers so they can listen to music or watch movies. About the only convenience lacking on the Seville train is Wi-Fi Internet access.

Tourist-class tickets on the Madrid-Seville train run between $56 and $112, depending on the departure time. A bus ticket from Madrid to Seville costs about $27, but the trip takes between 6 1/2 and eight hours. Airline flights are faster to cover the distance and can be about the same price or less.

"But you have to get to the airport one or two hours early, find a place to park, go through security and then wait at the airport at the other end," said Esther San Felipe, a pharmaceutical representative who calls it a luxury to ride the train from Madrid to Seville about once a month. "For just a little bit more money, you can have something much better."

The Madrid-to-Seville line became Spain's first high-speed train route when it opened in early 1992, coinciding with Seville hosting Expo 1992.

Renfe, the Spanish government-owned company that operates all passenger trains in the country under the umbrella of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, reports that by the end of 1993, the first full year of high-speed service, AVE trains accounted for more than half of all passenger travel between Madrid and Seville. Automobile traffic, in the meantime, fell from 60 percent of the volume to about 34 percent.

Total high-speed ridership on the long-distance and regional trains peaked at nearly 17 million in 2009. Ridership has since tapered off as Spain, like the rest of Europe and much of the world, copes with economic troubles.

Plans for expansion

Spain now has 1,735 miles of high-speed tracks, lines that serve as spokes, with Madrid as the hub. By 2015, the nation plans to nearly double the miles of track. But with no sign of Europe's financial crisis letting up, some say the government needs to slow its spending.

In the early years of developing high-speed trains, Spain was "in kind of a booming situation," said Andreu Ulied, director of a noted engineering and consulting firm in Barcelona. "Now the situation is completely different."

In recent years, the European Union funneled about $17 billion in grants and billions more in low-interest loans to Spain to improve its high-speed rail. But Ulied said that will end in a couple of years, leaving Spain to bear the entire cost of its ambitious expansion plans.

Ulied and Germà Bel, a professor of political economics at the University of Barcelona, agree that none of the Spanish high-speed rail routes carries enough riders to make the system financially sustainable.

"There is no question whether (Spain's system) can cover its costs. It cannot," Bel said. "It actually has not recovered one single euro from the infrastructure investment. The government claims they are recovering the operating costs, but the numbers are not clear."

The busiest high-speed lines in the world are capable of making money, Bel said, including those between Paris and Lyon, where about 25 million people ride the French TGV trains each year, and the Japanese Shinkansen trains between Tokyo and Osaka, which draw about 130 million riders a year.

"But this is not the case with any single line in Spain," Bel said.

Ulied said Spain's efforts have been based not on serious economic analysis, but on political desires to connect the rest of the nation to Madrid. "We had the money, we had the ability to do so, so we did it," he said. "We didn't need all these lines, actually."

Spain is among the high-speed nations that hope to participate in construction of California's proposed 520-mile line between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

California officials, armed with about $3 billion in federal stimulus and transportation funds from the Obama administration and $3 billion in money from Proposition 1A – a 2008 bond measure – want to start construction this year on a 120-mile stretch from Bakersfield to north of Fresno.

Future sections would extend toward San Francisco or Los Angeles if more money becomes available. But no high-speed trains would operate on the line until it extends to the Bay Area or the Los Angeles basin.

Even the enthusiastic Spanish officials are curious about the logic of starting in the sparsely populated middle of California. The environmental benefits won't be realized, they said, if the cities along the first line don't have enough people to generate ridership.

"You need to have either Los Angeles or San Francisco," said Pedro Pérez del Campo, environmental policy director for ADIF, Spain's Administrator for Railway Infrastructures. "They should build it where it will have an impact so that people will support it."

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2012/01/15/4188592/spains-high-speed-rail-syste-offers.html#storylink=cpy

 
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed

ELK GROVE — Gov. Jerry Brown said Friday that his appointees to the board overseeing California's embattled $98 billion high-speed rail project will fix its problems and offer a revamped business plan after the rail authority's director and its board chairman resigned a day earlier.

The Democratic governor told reporters in Elk Grove, a Sacramento suburb, that he will not join the “defeatist crowd” that believes the project is impossible.

“We're going to build, but we're not going to be stupid. And we'll listen to the critics, and we'll fix things and we'll do the right thing,” Brown said. “We're not going to go overboard. We're going to be very careful and build incrementally as we go.”

The voter-approved plan to build a high-speed rail line linking the Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay areas has faced mounting criticism since it was revealed that its total costs have more than doubled and the state has no stable funding source.

Lawmakers from both parties have raised serious questions about the plan to start construction in September on the first segment in the Central Valley, in part because the line would not connect major population centers.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority submitted a new business plan to the Legislature last month that boosted the estimated price tag for the entire system linking Anaheim to San Francisco from $43 billion to $98 billion and moved the completion date from 2020 to 2034.

The authority needs legislative approval to start building the initial stretch of track in the Central Valley.

California's legislative analyst and an independent peer review panel have also questioned the project's viability. At the same time, public opinion polls have shown voter support waning.

Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point, has introduced legislation that would effectively kill the project. During a news conference this week, Harkey said it could double California's debt and become a drain on the budget.

“California does not need a shiny new heavily subsidized toy with no confirmed ridership when we have real shovel-ready infrastructure jobs in every community awaiting funding,” she said in a news release.

The authority's chief executive, Roelof van Ark, and its board chairman, Tom Umberg, announced their departures Thursday. Dan Richard, one of two people Brown appointed to the rail board last summer, is expected to take over. Richard spent 12 years on the board of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system.

When asked if the shuffle signals his intent to revamp the entire project so it is more palatable to the public, Brown said only that he is “putting my own stamp on state government, slowly but surely.”

 
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

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As the price tag for California's bullet train has soared to nearly $100 billion, a central argument for forging ahead with the controversial project is an even loftier figure: the $171 billion that promoters recently estimated will be needed for new roads and airports if no high-speed rail is built.

Without a fast-rail network, they warn, the state would have to add 2,300 miles of highway and roughly the equivalent of another Los Angeles International Airport to handle a projected surge in future travel.

Now, that alternative is coming under attack by a state-appointed panel of experts, who will soon release an assessment of the rail project's business plan and cast doubt on the accuracy and validity of the $171-billion figure, The Times has learned.

Already, transportation researchers, government officials and watchdog groups are saying the $171-billion claim is based on such exaggerated estimates, misleading statements and erroneous assumptions that it is "divorced from any reality."

"There is some dishonesty in the methodology," said Samer Madanat, director of UC Berkeley's Institute of Transportation Studies, the top research center of its type in the nation. "I don't trust an estimate like this."

Until November, California High-Speed Rail Authority officials were asserting that the alternative cost of highway and airport construction would be $100 billion. Earlier predictions were billions lower. When the estimate for the bullet train project recently hit $98.5 billion, the authority ratcheted the highway and airport cost up to $171 billion.

The price of alternatives is a central part of the authority's rationale for building the high-speed rail network, along with jobs and possible environmental benefits. The bullet train is aimed at meeting future transportation needs of the state, which cannot be economically met with highways and airports, the authority says.

"If anything, we underestimated the costs of alternatives to high-speed rail," said Dan Richard, an authority board member who is in line to become the group's chairman. "Expanding freeways and then maintaining them is not a free alternative."

Outside transportation experts say, however, that rail consultant Parsons Brinkerhoff's methodology is so flawed the entire claim should be disregarded.

"The rail authority's analysis does not account for the roadway and airport work investment that will be required both with and without high speed rail," the Orange County Transportation Authority told the rail agency in a letter late last year. In November, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office questioned the study as well, saying the $171-billion estimate is not what the state would otherwise spend to address intercity transportation demand.

The city of Burlingame, which is near San Francisco International Airport, weighed in too. "The astounding figure is completely divorced from any reality over the next 50 years," city officials wrote urging the authority to stop using the number.

Madanat said the rail authority has rebuffed offers to have UC Berkeley, UC Irvine and UC Davis, which have among the top five university transportation departments in the nation, help analyze the bullet-train system.

Instead, the rail authority has relied heavily on New York-based Parsons Brinkerhoff, a contractor that helped fund the political campaign for the $9.9-billion bond measure passed by voters in 2008. Although the rail authority has more than two dozen employees, Parsons controls 108 people working on the project.

"You have a tremendous conflict of interest," said Elizabeth Goldstein Alexis, co-founder of the watchdog group Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design. "You can't see where the authority ends and the private consultants begin because they are so intertwined. It is extraordinary the institutional conflicts of interest that exist all over this project."

But Richard defended Parsons' role, saying, "They performed the analysis, which was an honest and realistic estimate of the project's costs — not a policy justification of the project." He added that the alternative analysis represents a standard way that transportation projects are evaluated.

Nonetheless, Parsons does not answer the question of how much high-speed rail would reduce future investments in roads, public transit and airports, which other experts say is a more relevant guide to its value.

Caltrans predicts that traffic on Interstate 5 and California 99 in the Central Valley will double over the next 25 years. But agency officials say they have not scaled back plans to make highway improvements in the state's agricultural heartland because of the high-speed rail project. Not until the rail system is built and actually reduces traffic on both roads would Caltrans adjust its investment strategy, officials said.

In October, Parsons submitted the analysis that came up with the $171 billion, a number that initially appeared in the authority's draft business plan released Nov. 1. In the study, Parsons first estimated how much passenger capacity the system would have at completion in 2033 and then calculated the cost for providing the same airport and highway capacity.

Parsons said the high-speed rail system could carry 116 million passengers a year, based on running trains with 1,000 seats both north and south every five minutes, 19 hours a day and 365 days a year. The study assumes the trains would be 70% full on average.

But nobody, including the rail authority, expects the bullet train would actually carry that many people in the foreseeable future. It estimates the system will actually carry between 30 million and 44 million passengers per year by 2040. If those ridership numbers were used to calculate alternative highway and airport requirements, as suggested by Madanat and others, it could actually be cheaper than the bullet train.

Parsons Brinkerhoff defended the use of capacity rather than projected ridership, saying that high-speed rail systems are investments with a 50- to 100-year life and therefore they have useful lives that go well beyond any ridership forecast.

The ridership assumption is just one example of the controversy with the estimate. The analysis disregards current unused capacity and scheduled investments that will absorb some future growth.

Airports, such as Ontario, LAX, Sacramento, San Francisco and San Jose, have room for tens of millions of new passengers, and three former Air Force bases in the L.A. area could become prime candidates for future commercial airline operations. Much of the state's rural interstate system is not congested either.

"All you get are selling points from the authority," said Burlingame Mayor Jerry Deal, who supports the idea of high-speed rail but questions the current project. "I want information that is as close to reality as possible, but we don't seem to get that."

 
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed

This editorial is from the Sacramento Bee:

Gov. Jerry Brown has moved to assert greater control over the California High-Speed Rail Authority, which is risky for him, but essential if this ambitious transportation project is to avoid a further political tailspin.

At Brown's urging, Tom Umberg on Thursday yielded the chairmanship of the rail authority to Dan Richard, one of the governor's top advisers. Richard will lead the effort to find a successor to Roelof van Ark, the chief executive officer of the rail authority, who also stepped down. Van Ark is an international authority on high-speed rail, and during his time at the helm, he did much to restore credibility to the California project's cost projections and ridership estimates. If the authority were unencumbered by turf battles and political challenges, his administrative skills and global contacts would help get this first phase built and aid in attracting private capital.

Yet in recent months it has become clear that the rail authority can't just “stick to its guns” in the face of flagging support from the state Legislature and the public.

Californians rightly want assurance that, if the state is going to make a $10 billion down payment on high-speed rail, they won't be stuck with a half-completed train system that serves few passengers and does little or nothing to improve existing rail service.

Over the years, the Sacramento Bee's views on this infrastructure project have evolved. We opposed the 2008 bond measure that authorized high-speed rail, stating that “until California fixes its chronic budget deficits, it can't afford to increase its debt for projects that, while desirable, are not of vital necessity.” Yet voters decided that they wanted to use bond funds to kick-start the rail project, and we accepted that. The question then turned to where to build the initial line.

The rail authority, with good reason, decided it should build first in the San Joaquin Valley. It wanted to take advantage of available federal stimulus money for the valley and also to demonstrate the feasibility of high-speed trains along a relatively flat and uncluttered corridor, an option it didn't have in the Bay Area or Southern California.

That's still a smart decision, but the rail authority needs to put more emphasis on planning the other segments and improving existing rail passenger service. Both efforts will help build more popular support. But to do so, the rail authority needs help from the Obama administration.

If the White House wants high-speed rail to be successful and popular in California, it must be more flexible in how federal funds can be used.

There's probably not much the rail authority can do to calm “unconstructive” critics. These include pundits and lawmakers who are stuck in the past, bashing anything that is associated with “Europe” and wishing for a return to expansive freeway construction in California.

But by working with the Legislature and encouraging the Obama administration to be a more flexible partner, Brown can get this project out of the ditch and back on the tracks.

He has to. He owns it now.

Over the years, the Sacramento Bee's views on this infrastructure project have evolved. We opposed the 2008 bond measure that authorized high-speed rail, stating that “until California fixes its chronic budget deficits, it can't afford to increase its debt for projects that, while desirable, are not of vital necessity.” Yet voters decided that they wanted to use bond funds to kick-start the rail project, and we accepted that. The question then turned to where to build the initial line.

The rail authority, with good reason, decided it should build first in the San Joaquin Valley. It wanted to take advantage of available federal stimulus money for the valley and also to demonstrate the feasibility of high-speed trains along a relatively flat and uncluttered corridor, an option it didn't have in the Bay Area or Southern California.

That's still a smart decision, but the rail authority needs to put more emphasis on planning the other segments and improving existing rail passenger service. Both efforts will help build more popular support. But to do so, the rail authority needs help from the Obama administration.

If the White House wants high-speed rail to be successful and popular in California, it must be more flexible in how federal funds can be used.

There's probably not much the rail authority can do to calm “unconstructive” critics. These include pundits and lawmakers who are stuck in the past, bashing anything that is associated with “Europe” and wishing for a return to expansive freeway construction in California.

But by working with the Legislature and encouraging the Obama administration to be a more flexible partner, Brown can get this project out of the ditch and back on the tracks.

He has to. He owns it now.

 
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed

California Governor Jerry Brown expressed hope during his 2012 State of the State speech in Sacramento Wednesday.

"Putting it as simply as I can, California is on the mend," he said, noting the state's massive debt reduction from $26 billion to $9 billion since he took office last January.

The governor took the opportunity to defend his tax proposal, which calls for a temporary increase on the state's wealthiest residents as well as the sales tax, and touted the need for permanent tax reform. His administration estimates that his plan would generate $6.9 billion a year in revenue.

Brown also voiced his continued support for clean energy initiatives and California's controversial high-speed rail project. "My commitment is to continue these innovative programs and build on them in the coming year in every way that I can," he said. "Without any hesitation, I urge your approval."

Never one to shy away from a subtle jab, the governor chided Republican leaders for issuing a response to his speech a day before he delivered it. "My speech wasn't finished 24 hours ago. I didn't know that you were psychics," he said, drawing laughter from the crowd. ""After the speech, I want to check with you on some stock tips."

Take a look at the full speech of Jerry Brown's 2012 State of the State below, and then check out the official GOP reaction. (We will update with video of Brown's remarks when footage is made available):

As required by the state constitution, I am reporting to you this morning on the condition of our state. Putting it as simply as I can, California is on the mend. Last year, we were looking at a structural deficit of over $20 billion. It was a real mess. But you rose to the occasion and together we shrunk state government, reduced our borrowing costs and transferred key functions to local government, closer to the people. The result is a problem one fourth as large as the one we confronted last year. My goal then was to balance budget cuts with a temporary extension of existing taxes--if the voters approved. You made the reductions and some very difficult decisions but the four Republican votes needed to put the tax measure on the ballot were not there. So we are left with unfinished business: closing the remaining gap. Again, I propose cuts and temporary taxes. Neither is popular but both must be done. In a world still reeling from the near collapse of the financial system, it makes no sense to spend more than we have. The financial downgrading of the United States, as well as of several governments in Europe, should be warning enough. It is said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions and digging ourselves into a deep financial hole--to do good--is a bad idea. In this time of uncertainty, prudence and paying down debt is the best policy. For my part, I am determined to press ahead both with substantial budget cuts and my tax initiative. The cuts are not ones I like but the situation demands them. As for the initiative, it is fair. It is temporary. It is half of what people were paying in 2010. And it will protect our schools and guarantee--in the constitution--funding for the public safety programs we transferred to local government. With enough time, we can and should devise more permanent tax reform but for now we should finish the job of bringing spending into balance with revenues. Putting our fiscal house in order is good stewardship and helps us regain the trust of the people. It also builds confidence in California as a place to invest and realize one's dreams. Contrary to those critics who fantasize that California is a failed state, I see unspent potential and incredible opportunity. Every decade since the 60's, dystopian journalists write stories on the impending decline of our economy, our culture and our politics. Yes, it is fair to say that California is turbulent, less predictable and, well, different. Yet, look at the facts. After the mortgage bubble burst in 2007, California lost a million jobs, much of it driven by the overleveraged construction industry and its financial partners in the under-regulated mortgage industry. The result is a recovery far slower than after the previous six national recessions. But now we are coming back. In 2011, California personal income grew by almost $100 billion and 230,000 jobs were created--a rate much higher than the nation as a whole. Contrary to those declinists, who sing of Texas and bemoan our woes, California is still the land of dreams--as well as the Dream Act. It's the place where Apple, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle, QUALCOMM, Twitter, Facebook and countless other creative companies all began. It's home to more Nobel Laureates and venture capital investment than any other state. In 2010, California received 48% of U.S. venture capital investments. In the first three months of last year it rose even higher--to 52%. That is more than four times greater that the next recipient, Massachusetts. As for new patents, California inventors were awarded almost four times as many as inventors from the next state, New York. California has problems but rumors of its demise are greatly exaggerated. The year 2012 presents plenty of opportunity and, if we work together, we can: Stimulate jobs Build renewable energy Reduce pollution and greenhouse gasses Launch the nation's only high-speed rail system Reach agreement on a plan to fix the Delta Improve our schools Reform our pensions, and, Make sure that prison realignment is working--to protect public safety and reduce recidivism. Last year, I appointed a top advisor with an impressive background in the private sector and charged him with finding out what doesn't work for business in this state and how to fix it. What he heard consistently was that business needed an effective champion to navigate the state's plethora of complex laws and regulations which can discourage investment and job creation. You enacted a law to restructure our office of business development and place it in the governor's office. Under the name GO-BIZ, we now have a point of contact at the highest level for businesses large and small. More than that, the GO-BIZ office is staffed with people who understand what it's like to be in business and stand ready to intervene and give real help to get businesses open and projects off the ground. Already California is leading the nation in creating jobs in renewable energy and the design and construction of more efficient buildings and new technologies. Our state keeps demanding more efficient structures, cars, machines and electric devices. We do that because we understand that fossil fuels, particularly foreign oil, create ever rising costs to our economy and to our health. It is true that the renewable energy sector is small relative to the overall economy but it pays good wages and will only grow bigger as oil prices increase and the effects of climate change become more obvious and expensive. I have set a goal of 20,000 megawatts of renewable energy by 2020. You have laid the foundation by adopting the requirement that one third of our electricity come from renewable sources by that date. This morning I can tell you we are on track to meet that goal and substantially exceed it. In the last two years alone, California has permitted over 16,000 megawatts of solar, wind and geothermal energy projects. In the beginning of the computer industry, jobs were numbered in the thousands. Now they are in the millions. The same thing will happen with green jobs. And California is positioned perfectly to reap the economic benefits that will inevitably flow. California also leads the nation in cleaning up the air, encouraging electric vehicles and reducing pollution and greenhouse gases. Our vehicle emissions standards--which have always set the pace--now have been adopted by the federal government for the rest of the country. Under AB 32, California has stepped out and crafted a bold plan to deal with climate change and foreign oil dependency. The plan will require less carbon in our fuels, more efficient technologies across a broad swath of businesses and a carefully designed cap and trade system that uses market incentives instead of prescriptive mandates. As a result, California is attracting billions of dollars in clean tech venture capital investments. In 2011, almost 40% of such investments were made in California, making our state not only the leader in the nation but in the world. My commitment is to continue these innovative programs and build on them in the coming year in every way that I can. Just as bold is our plan to build a high-speed rail system, connecting the Northern and Southern parts of our state. This is not a new idea. As governor the last time, I signed legislation to study the concept. Now thirty years later, we are within weeks of a revised business plan that will enable us to begin initial construction before the year is out. President Obama strongly supports the project and has provided the majority of funds for this first phase. It is now your decision to evaluate the plan and decide what action to take. Without any hesitation, I urge your approval. If you believe that California will continue to grow, as I do, and that millions more people will be living in our state, this is a wise investment. Building new runways and expanding our airports and highways is the only alternative. That is not cheaper and will face even more political opposition. Those who believe that California is in decline will naturally shrink back from such a strenuous undertaking. I understand that feeling but I don't share it, because I know this state and the spirit of the people who choose to live here. California is still the Gold Mountain that Chinese immigrants in 1848 came across the Pacific to find. The wealth is different, derived as it is, not from mining the Sierras but from the creative imagination of those who invent and build and generate the ideas that drive our economy forward. Critics of the high-speed rail project abound as they often do when something of this magnitude is proposed. During the 1930's, The Central Valley Water Project was called a "fantastic dream" that "will not work." The Master Plan for the Interstate Highway System in 1939 was derided as "new Deal jitterbug economics." In 1966, then Mayor Johnson of Berkeley called BART a "billion dollar potential fiasco." Similarly, the Panama Canal was for years thought to be impractical and Benjamin Disraeli himself said of the Suez Canal: "totally impossible to be carried out." The critics were wrong then and they're wrong now. Another huge issue we must tackle is water. Last week, Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar - met here in Sacramento with those in my administration who are working to complete the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. Together we agreed that by this summer we should have the basic elements of the project we need to build. This is something my father worked on and then I worked on--decades ago. We know more now and are committed to the dual goals of restoring the Delta ecosystem and ensuring a reliable water supply. This is an enormous project. It will ensure water for 25 million Californians and for millions of acres of farmland as well a hundred thousand acres of new habitat for spawning fish and other wildlife. To get it done will require time, political will and countless permits from state and federal agencies. I invite your collaboration and constructive engagement. Next, I want to say something about our schools. They consume more tax dollars than any other government activity and rightly so as they have a profound effect on our future. Since everyone goes to school, everyone thinks they know something about education and in a sense they do. But that doesn't stop experts and academics and foundation consultants from offering their ideas -- usually labeled reform and regularly changing at ten year intervals--on how to get kids learning more and better. It is salutary and even edifying that so much interest is shown in the next generation. Nevertheless, in a state with six million students, 300,000 teachers, deep economic divisions and a hundred different languages, some humility is called for. In that spirit, I offer these thoughts. First, responsibility must be clearly delineated between the various levels of power that have a stake in our educational system. What most needs to be avoided is concentrating more and more decision-making at the federal or state level. For better or worse, we depend on elected school boards and the principals and the teachers they hire. To me that means, we should set broad goals and have a good accountability system, leaving the real work to those closest to the students. Yes, we should demand continuous improvement in meeting our state standards but we should not impose excessive or detailed mandates. My budget proposes to replace categorical programs with a new weighted student formula that provides a basic level of funding with additional money for disadvantaged students and those struggling to learn English. This will give more authority to local school districts to fashion the kind of programs they see their students need. It will also create transparency, reduce bureaucracy and simplify complex funding streams. Given the cutbacks to education in recent years, it is imperative that California devote more tax dollars to this most basic of public services. If we are successful in passing the temporary taxes I have proposed and the economy continues to expand, schools will be in a much stronger position. No system, however, works without accountability. In California we have detailed state standards and lots of tests. Unfortunately, the resulting data is not provided until after the school year is over. Even today, the ranking of schools based on tests taken in April and May of 2011 is not available. I believe it is time to reduce the number of tests and get the results to teachers, principals and superintendents in weeks, not months. With timely data, principals and superintendents can better mentor and guide teachers as well as make sound evaluations of their performance. I also believe we need a qualitative system of assessments, such as a site visitation program where each classroom is visited, observed and evaluated. I will work with the State Board of Education to develop this proposal. The house of education is divided by powerful forces and strong emotions. My role as governor is not to choose sides but to listen, to engage and to lead. I will do that. I embrace both reform and tradition--not complacency. My hunch is that principals and teachers know the most, but I'll take good ideas from wherever they come. As for pensions, I have put forth my 12 point proposal. Examine it. Improve it. But please take up the issue and do something real. I am committed to pension reform because I believe there is a real problem. Three times as many people are retiring as are entering the workforce. That arithmetic doesn't add up. In addition, benefits, contributions and the age of retirement all have to balance. I don't believe they do today. So we have to take action. And we should do it this year. As for prison realignment, we are just at the beginning. The cooperation of sheriffs, police chiefs, probation officers, district attorneys and local officials has been remarkable. But we have much to do--to protect public safety and reduce recidivism--and together, we'll get it done. It is one thing to pass a law and quite another to implement it and make it work. As I see it, that's my job as governor and chief executive: make the operations of government work--efficiently, honestly and in the peoples' interest. With your help, that's what we'll do in 2012 and prove the declinists wrong once again. Thank you.

 
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed

SACRAMENTO -- The two sides of Gov. Jerry Brown's political persona have come into clear view this month. Two weeks ago, it was the austere and pragmatic Brown, as he released his slash-away state budget.

But on Wednesday, during his State of the State address in the Assembly chamber, he gave a glimpse of his idealistic, visionary side, providing a full-throated defense of California's high-speed rail plan despite the pummeling it's taken in recent months.

Brown took on critics in his most forceful language to date, noting that naysayers have been wrong about some of the great infrastructure projects of the past.

"The Central Valley Water Project was called a 'fantastic dream' that 'will not work,' " he said. "The master plan for the interstate highway system in 1939 was derided as 'New Deal jitterbug economics.' In 1966, then-Mayor (Wallace) Johnson of Berkeley called BART a 'billion-dollar potential fiasco.'

"Similarly, the Panama Canal was for years thought to be impractical, and Benjamin Disraeli himself said of the Suez Canal: 'Totally impossible to be carried out.' The critics were wrong then, and they're wrong now.''

Brown, in his second State of the State address since returning as governor after a 28-year hiatus, also urged the Legislature to tackle other momentous changes such as pension reform and a new water-infrastructure project. And he made his case for new taxes while insisting that additional budget cuts are

necessary.

A blend of the tough, the unpopular and the lofty are what's needed to build "confidence in California as a place to invest and realize one's dreams," he said.

Brown has now put himself on the line by taking full possession of high-speed rail, said Larry Gerston, a San Jose State political science professor, given the growing chorus of critics and public disaffection over a project whose cost estimates tripled this year from the $33 billion price tag voters approved in

2008.

"It intrigued me that he put all his marbles behind high-speed rail and that he's willing to spend political capital on it," Gerston said. "These big infrastructure projects do provide a whole bunch of jobs, but it would also put California back on the map. It's almost a status thing as much as it is a transportation thing, a way that Californians can say: Yes, California is back on top."

State Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose, called Brown's comments "very bold" in the way he appealed to legislators to "move forward with something that people may not see now how they benefit in the future."

But the Democratic governor has faced calls to scrap high-speed rail from other members of his own party, so he'll have to quickly come up with a revised business plan that restores their confidence, Capitol observers said. Brown is seeking legislative approval for $2.7 billion, to be matched with federal dollars, to begin construction of the first 130 miles of tracks in the Central Valley.

The governor's newly appointed chairman of the high-speed rail authority, Dan Richard, is expected to submit the revised plan "within weeks," meaning that construction could start by the end of the year, Brown said.

"Those who believe that California is in decline will naturally shrink back from such a strenuous undertaking," said Brown, who signed legislation to study high-speed rail as governor 30 years ago. "I understand that feeling, but I don't share it because I know this state and the spirit of the people who choose to live here."

Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Redding, dismissed the governor's high-speed rail ambitions as "unrealistic" and "unjustified."

In his previous two stints as governor, Brown presided over what he called the "era of limits," though he was also known for ideas before his time, such as the satellite communications system he proposed that earned him the "Gov. Moonbeam" moniker.

But the sweep of ideas -- from a new Central Valley water project to a $100 billion-plus high-speed rail project -- is a departure for a man who prides himself on his fiscal conservatism, said Ethan Rarick, director of the Robert T. Matsui Center on Politics and Public Service at UC Berkeley.

"This was more visionary than I've seen Jerry be before," said Rarick, the author of "California Rising: The Life and Times of Pat Brown," the current governor's father, who was California's governor through most of the '60s and was known for his big public-works projects.

"I don't think I've seen him embrace big proposals quite to this degree," Rarick said. "It has faint echoes of his father."

The governor invoked his dad in asking for action on a plan to fix the state's water infrastructure. The Legislature must decide if it wants to place an $11 billion bond measure -- or a less expensive version -- on the November ballot.

"This is something my father worked on and then I worked on -- decades ago," he said. "We know more now and are committed to the dual goals of restoring the Delta ecosystem and ensuring a reliable water supply."

Brown also urged legislators to take up his 12-point pension reform, saying it's imperative to take action to forestall a potential disaster. And Brown cast his pursuit of a tax hike -- alongside $5 billion in added budget cuts -- as a way to not only prop up schools and public safety but also to provide hope.

"Contrary to those critics who fantasize that California is a failed state," he said, "I see unspent potential and incredible opportunity."

Reacting to Brown's speech, Republicans largely focused their fire on Brown's budding tax-initiative campaign, which got the green light from Attorney General Kamala Harris on Wednesday to begin collecting signatures to put a measure on the November ballot. Brown is proposing to raise the sales tax by a half-cent and income taxes on individuals who make $250,000 or more. If voters reject the measure, schools would be in line for nearly $5 billion more in cuts.

"The governor's vision is to tax people more," said Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar.

Legislative Democrats, however, heaped praise on Brown for his unabashed support for a tax increase.

"We're in a tough economy, but it's the wrong time to disinvest in the future," said Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro.

 
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed

Gov. Brown calls on California residents to OK HSR plan

Thursday, January 19, 2012  

In his 2012 State of the State speech, California Governor Edmund Brown Jr. spoke of plans for a high-speed rail system, which would connect the Northern and Southern parts of the state.

In his speech he stated:

"As governor the last time, I signed legislation to study the concept. Now 30 years later, we are within weeks of a revised business plan that will enable us to begin initial construction before the year is out.

"President Obama strongly supports the project and has provided the majority of funds for this first phase. It is now your decision to evaluate the plan and decide what action to take. Without any hesitation, I urge your approval.

"If you believe that California will continue to grow, as I do, and that millions more people will be living in our state, this is a wise investment. Building new runways and expanding our airports and highways is the only alternative. That is not cheaper and will face even more political opposition.

"Critics of the high-speed rail project abound as they often do when something of this magnitude is proposed. During the 1930s, The Central Valley Water Project was called a "fantastic dream" that "will not work." The Master Plan for the Interstate Highway System in 1939 was derided as "new Deal jitterbug economics." In 1966, then Mayor Johnson of Berkeley called BART a "billion dollar potential fiasco." Similarly, the Panama Canal was for years thought to be impractical and Benjamin Disraeli himself said of the Suez Canal: "totally impossible to be carried out." The critics were wrong then and they're wrong now."

 
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) offered a lengthy defense of a controversial high-speed railway Wednesday during his state during his State of the State address.

Brown, who is in his second tour of being governor of California, said in his remarks to state lawmakers that critics of the proposal, who are mostly Republicans, were people "who believe that California is in decline.

"This is not a new idea," Brown said according to prepared remarks. "As governor the last time, I signed legislation to study the concept. Now thirty years later, we are within weeks of a revised business plan that will enable us to begin initial construction before the year is out.

"President Obama strongly supports the project and has provided the majority of funds for this first phase," he continued. "It is now your decision to evaluate the plan and decide what action to take. Without any hesitation, I urge your approval."

Republicans in both California and Congress have said the proposed railway is too expensive to built, and would not generate enough ridership to cover its expenses. The Obama administration has offered California more than $3 billion for a proposed high speed railway that would link San Francisco, Los Angeles and other major California cities, which is more than it has given any other state.

But cost estimates for the project have been recently increased from $33 billion to $98.5 billion.

Brown argued in his speech Wednesday that it was still worth it to built the train.

"If you believe that California will continue to grow, as I do, and that millions more people will be living in our state, this is a wise investment," Brown said. "Building new runways and expanding our airports and highways is the only alternative. That is not cheaper and will face even more political opposition.

"Those who believe that California is in decline will naturally shrink back from such a strenuous undertaking," he continued. "I understand that feeling but I don’t share it, because I know this state and the spirit of the people who choose to live here."

Brown said critics of projects such as the high-speed rail always exist "when something of this magnitude is proposed.

"During the 1930s, the Central Valley Water Project was called a 'fantastic dream' that 'will not work,'" he said. "The Master Plan for the Interstate Highway System in 1939 was derided as 'New Deal jitterbug economics.' In 1966, then Mayor Johnson of Berkeley called BART a 'billion-dollar potential fiasco.' Similarly, the Panama Canal was for years thought to be impractical and Benjamin Disraeli himself said of the Suez Canal: 'totally impossible to be carried out.' The critics were wrong then and they’re wrong now."

Republicans in Congress have vocally disagreed. The House-led GOP eliminated all funding for high-speed rail in this year's budget and the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's subcommittee on railroads was sharply critical during a hearing about the project last month.

"This thing is going to be a boondoggle," Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said during a debate that sometimes contentious. "California is not gonna be able to afford it."

 
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed

Transportation planners once dreamed that super-fast trains would whisk Southern Californians at more than 300 mph across the Mojave Desert to Las Vegas.

But the idea of a magnetic levitation train didn’t stick around for long in regional transportation plans developed by the Southern California Association of Governments. Local planners instead are concentrating on connections within Southern California, so that when — and if — bullet trains ever come, conventional trains have a steady and direct route to get to them.

So 11 years after maglev made its debut in the regional transportation plan for Southern California, the agency overseeing the road and transit plan has deleted most of the Anaheim-to-Vegas route once proposed, saying maglev is not moving forward and is falling behind a competing project. As a result, the 2012 transportation plan under consideration by the Southern California Association of Governments does not include the $12.1 billion California-Nevada Super-Speed Train.

Without being in the plan, even as a concept, the project cannot receive federal funds to even study maglev as a possibility between the two states. A small portion of the route — a demonstration project between Anaheim and Ontario, will remain in the plan so officials can study its merit. But even that proposal, estimated to cost nearly $2.8 billion, faces significant hurdles.

The regional transportation plan is updated every four years and guides highway, rail, transit, bicycling and pedestrian planning for the next 30 years. All major transportation projects in Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura and Imperial counties are included. The nearly $525 billion plan focuses heavily on increasing maintenance of the existing road and rail network while adding toll lanes to many regional freeways and expanding bus and train service across the area.

Part of that approach includes spending money to make the region high-speed rail ready, said Highland Councilman Larry McCallon, former president of SCAG. Those local trains would connect to future high-speed stations, such as those planned as part of California’s Sacramento-to-San Diego system.

Maglev, an expensive system using electricity and magnets to move passenger cars, doesn’t figure into those plans anytime soon.

“We’re focused on right now,” McCallon said after a meeting last week in San Bernardino on the transportation plan. “Connectivity to high-speed rail, when and if it happens, is something we can do now.”

A public meeting on the transportation plan is scheduled for Monday in Riverside.

CONNECTIONS KEY

Metrolink, the commuter rail system, and its conventional diesel-powered trains carry about 7,000 Inland passengers each day to jobs in coastal counties.

“I wish they’d spend one-tenth of that (high-speed) money on more diesel trains,” said Jim Cuddie, 54, of San Bernardino.

Local officials in fact are asking for more than 20 percent of the $9 billion in high-speed rail money California voters approved in 2008 as part of Prop. 1A. McCallon said SCAG officials have concluded in the transportation plan that $1 billion should be spent in Southern California — and $1 billion in Northern California — getting passenger rail lines better connected to high-speed hubs.

The money would be used to improve service mostly along Metrolink’s Antelope Valley corridor north of downtown Los Angeles, and along the Los Angeles-San Diego-San Luis Obispo rail corridor that carries Amtrak trains. Some money could come to the Inland area via track and railcar improvements, and possibly even more trains scheduled to ferry passengers.

Better track and safety improvements could help those Amtrak and passenger trains travel at higher speeds; as fast as 110 mph potentially along the LOSSAN corridor.

“Is that high-speed?,” McCallon said. “To some people, that’s the first step.”

MAGLEV’S MOMENT

Developing maglev was never a quick fix to the area’s transportation needs, officials said. The $12.1 billion cost and 269-mile route between Anaheim and Las Vegas meant years of environmental planning, fundraising and construction. Only three maglev systems in the world, the longest a nearly 20-mile line in China, are ferrying paying passengers.

So maglev was destined to be a demonstration project, said Rich Macias, transportation planning director at SCAG. The idea received $45million in federal funding for studies. Since 2004, Las Vegas area transportation planners, led by the California-Nevada Super-Speed Train Commission, have drafted environmental and ridership analyses.

But nearly eight years of work has not produced a completed environmental impact statement necessary to secure federal approvals.

The project was envisioned as a mix of initial public funding for study, after which private backers built and operated the line.

In the past few years, the system has lost public support, namely from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who switched to backing a private plan by Vegas businesses to build a high-speed train between Southern Nevada and Victorville.

Desert Xpress, which would be privately funded but possibly jump-started by a large federal loan of up to $4.9 billion, was endorsed by Reid and is in the process of receiving federal approvals.

If Desert Xpress is built, its existence virtually kills maglev between Southern California and Las Vegas, some local officials and high-speed rail supporters said. It follows a growing pattern nationwide to favor high-speed rail systems similar to those in Europe that use high-speed trains that still travel on steel wheels along closed rail lines.

Federal officials ranging from Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to railroad administrators have said maglev isn’t a proven technology, said Tom Skancke, a Nevada-based high-speed rail advocate.

“They have all made it pretty clear there will not be that type of construction in the United States,” Skancke said. “It is simply too expensive to build and is not being embraced anywhere in the world. Everyone is doing steel wheels.”

Desert Xpress is included in the regional transportation plan. But it also faces questions about whether it will ever be built, and whether people would travel to Victorville to hop aboard, said Ontario Councilman Alan Wapner.

Wapner, a member of SCAG and the super-speed train commission, said maglev cannot happen if Desert Xpress does.

“But I’m not convinced it’ll ever get built,” Wapner said of Desert Xpress.

Despite most of the maglev route being removed from the plan, Wapner said the most important connection for the Inland area, from Ontario to Anaheim, remains.

“I just want to get Anaheim-Ontario,” he said. “If that’s maglev or high-speed rail or conventional rail. That is a very important connection for this area, however it happens.”

Meeting Info

What: Draft Regional Transportation Plan workshop and public hearing.

When: Monday, 10 a.m. workshop; 1 p.m. public hearing

Where: Riverside County Administrative Center, 4080 Lemon St., Riverside

 
wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed

In his “State of the State” address last Wednesday, Governor Jerry Brown made it clear that he wants to break ground on California’s high-speed rail network this year. The fast-rising cost of the line’s Central Valley section has revved up opponents of the $98 billion project.

But the governor says the critics are - in his words - “declinists.” He says tough times shouldn’t stop lawmakers from investing in California’s future.

Now the question is: will they?

Governor Brown ended speculation about how much “skin” he would put in the game to defend high-speed rail when he called out the critics in his “State of the State” address by comparing them to past rail critics.

“The master plan for the interstate highway system in 1939 was derided as ‘New Deal jitterbug economics,’ ” Brown said. ”In 1966, then Mayor Johnson of Berkeley called BART (the Bay Area Rapid Transit) a “billion dollar potential fiasco.' Similarly, the Panama Canal was for years thought to be impractical — and Benjamin Disraeli himself said of the Suez Canal: “totally impossible.”

Brown paused before he delivered a kicker that drew applause: “Well, the critics were wrong then and they’re wrong now.”

'Make it a working system'

After the speech, Assemblywoman Diane Harkey (R-OC) shrugged off the governor’s criticism. She said she stands by the bill she introduced this year to halt bonds for high speed rail.

“Before we ‘think big,’ we need to have to some way of paying for it or making it actually a working system.” Harkey said.

Three years ago, California voters approved $9 billion in bonds to provide the seed money for a bullet train from Anaheim to San Francisco. The price of the project has since doubled to $98 billion.

High speed rail is feasible, Harkey said, with the help of reasonable people. She says she’d start by ditching the plan to build the first segment in the Central Valley. The former corporate banker says that route won’t have enough riders and won’t attract the private investors California needs to build the entire bullet train system.

“You need to bring in the private companies and say, ‘OK, if you’re going to do this, and you’re going to come in some time and we’re going to give this initial bit of seed capital, what do we need to do first?’" she said. "And the first thing you need to do is head to heavily populated areas.”

But the federal government has already put up $3.5 billion for the Central Valley track, and California has to match it with $2.7 billion or lose the money altogether.

Last month, a panel of rail transit experts advised state lawmakers not to issue the $2.7 billion in state bonds.

A hard sell

Dan Schnur, who served as former Governor Pete Wilson’s media spokesman, says Governor Brown can’t afford to back high speed rail much longer if he wants voters to back his tax hike initiative to balance the state budget.

“Before they vote for a tax increase they’re going to have to understand that the government prioritizes its spending," he said. "That’s schools; that’s public safety. High speed rail is probably a much harder sell.”

Last month, the Field Poll found that voters would now reject high speed rail bonds by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.

“The State of California is about as likely to build high speed rail in the immediate future as they are to build a Mars space shuttle.” said Schnur, who now heads USC’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics.

The rail line is a hard sell in a year when the Governor wants to reduce aid for developmentally disabled and elderly people, plus cut $1 billion from the CalWorks “welfare to work” program. In his “State of the State” address, Brown didn’t talk about welfare.

Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell (D-Culver City) said that he told her, “It isn’t on his radar.”

Mitchell says she’s supports the Governor's budget plan, up to a point.

“I completely back the ballot initiative to increase revenue into the State of California. I don’t, however, believe that we can balance the remaining deficit on the backs of the most vulnerable in the state of California: low-income working families, children and the disabled and the elderly.”

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) sees no contradiction in supporting budget cuts while selling more bonds for high speed rail.

“We have a simultaneous obligation to balance the budget and help build the economy," Steinberg said. "The high speed rail project certainly is an important part of that second obligation.”

It takes only a simple majority of lawmakers in both houses to pass the bond issue for the high-speed rail project’s first phase. If lawmakers vote for the bonds, Governor Brown says California’s High Speed Rail Authority can launch the project in the fall.

Meanwhile, State Auditor Elaine M. Howle joined the Legislative Analyst's Office and other outside agencies in calling high speed rail "increasingly risky."

The subtitle of their report "High Speed Rail Authority Follow Up" says that "although the Authority has addressed some of our prior concerns, its funding situation has become increasingly risky and the Authority's weak oversight persists."

"The Authority has not provided viable funding alternatives in the event that its planned funding does not materialize," the report issued continued.

According to the auditor, the High Speed Rail Authority has more than doubled previous cost estimates to over $100 billion - but has only secured about $12.5 billion to date. They also pointed out that "the Authority’s 2012 draft business plan still lacks key details about the program’s costs and revenues."

Her concerns echo those of outside auditor and non-partisan group the Legislative Analyst's Office.

This story has been updated

 

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