Are We Getting Railroaded with the CA Bullet Train? [Thoughts]

by on December 21, 2009

in bruce's thoughts

This opinion is coming off the cuff.  There may be some inaccuracies, but at the moment, I’m going to go hog-wild vent about an interesting set of developments in regards to the High Speed train known as the California Bullet Train.

First, High Speed Rail can be done successfully.  By mid-1950, T?kaid?’s Main Line in Japan was running successfully at full capacity.

In France, the High Speed Rail line between Paris and Lyon had early predictions of being at capacity before the 1970’s was up, so they built a new line for the train.  The ridership exploded as this train brought these two towns that are 246 miles (395 Km) within hours of each other now.

So High Speed Rail has good examples of success, when applied properly.  But I don’t know how the local battles went while developing the above noted rails.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority is currently studying a San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento to Los Angeles and San Diego line.

On 11-4-08, voters approved a High Speed Rail Initiative as they happily passed Proposition 1A that authorized just under $10 billion  in general obligation bonds to get it done.

Sadly, people picked up on the outline premise of the plan and never read the details to the proposition and what would ensue.  Had they done that, they may have hesitated on passing the initial bill and we probably wouldn’t be seeing the various lawsuits in affect now.

Lawsuits?  Yep.

From this writer’s perspective, it seemed that as soon as it was passed, it wasn’t weeks before plans for the project were presented and suddenly Bay Area Peninsula residents were looking at sudden eminent domain issues.

At one hearing, it didn’t seem that the rail authority didn’t care about the issues and it went back and forth for a few meetings as residents asked for options beside above ground tracks.

With what I feel were apparent lack of concern for the issues at hand from the Rail Authority, lawsuits were lobbed over the wall to hold them off.  People were fearing for their sanity and properties as a high speed rail project would REQUIRE the widening of existing rail corridors which would cut into back yards or take out whole homes.  An estimated hundreds of homes… and some estimates counted thousands of homes.  (It was all in the pamphlet for the proposition.  No one noticed it though.)

They also didn’t see that the rail to be constructed would be built on massive elevated WALLS, effectively splitting communities down the middle!

After reading several articles dealing with this issue in one of my favorite papers, the locally owned and independent Daily Post, I had the feeling that if residents didn’t sue, they would have been run over.  Literally.

Now, after what I believe a third party did was what is called a Due Diligence Report.  That report noted that costs are estimated to be from $65 to $81 billion (versus the initial $10 billion estimate) and ridership was going to be a lot lower than estimated and this whole project is being questioned.

I find it a shame that has to be the case.  As proven in other countries, high speed rail transit can be successful and a benefit.  But the methodology of how the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) went about it has put a serious damper on the issue.

Some say the connection between San Francisco and Los Angeles is unnecessary.  Another perspective is that this $42 billion project is something we can’t afford, since the business plan laid out for this project is vague as to where these funds will be coming from.

It is suggested that if there’s $42 billion laying around for a train, maybe we should pay down the state deficit… twice and then ponder what we need to do.

This SoB’s Thoughts & Opinions on a High Speed Rail

I think if the CHSRA had actually come into this as our friend and asked what could be done, things might be going differently.  At one point, I believe they said it didn’t matter what the local residents thought.  (I could be inaccurate on that, but I remember something like that – which shocked me.)

I think that had they presented better initial plans that would define where the money and electricity would come from, or asked how, things might have gone differently.  (Hello, CA?  Brown Outs?  We don’t have spare electricity to share unless the ridership on the train will offer to pedal electrical generators for their rides.  Well, it could be an exercise car where riders can get fit while commuting.)

More and more people want it underground now…  and that’s going to add more costs to it while the Rail Authority constantly makes more suggestions on how to fund the process, and none of them sit well with locals.

I’ve not seen one decent article that makes this rail authority group someone I’d want to do business with or even have lunch with!  I already worked in the sharky business environment of real estate…  I don’t need anyone else like that interfering by stealing my land or splitting my town with a giant wall to get whatever it is they see with this project.

I just feel like something is up in the background that no one knows about yet because I’ve never seen a business entity jump this fast on something.

And though I could be wrong, that’s my opinion.

Here are a bunch of references for information, now you can be more informed if you need it!, Nexus UMN Edu,,

Here’s some good for’s and against’s:, An official website:,

State Assemblyperson Fiona Ma’s Proposition 1A advocacy and California high-speed rail website:,

Proposition 1A advocacy website:

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Bruce Simmons (BruSimm) December 21, 2009 at 6:55 pm

LOL… thanks for the correction on imminent domain… when I get carried away sometimes spelling and such takes a back seat…

and you make great points for clarification RAFAEL. Thanks for coming by!

rafael December 21, 2009 at 6:45 pm

(a) if people vote without having a clue what they’re voting for, that’s their own fault. Lots of information was available, from the prop 1A pamphlet, from CHSRA’s web site, from blogs like and and websites like Buyers’ remorse is a poor excuse in a democracy.

(b) there is no such thing as imminent domain. The legal process of taking land (with compensation) against the will of the owners is called eminent domain. On a project this large, it’s almost inevitable that there will be some, but so far CHSRA has in fact not given anyone notice that they will be a target because no decision on exactly how the network will be built has been made yet.

(c) Retained fill embankments are just one option for implementing the required full grade separation and not even the cheapest. At-grade with deep underpasses or tall overpass is in fact cheaper. CHSRA simply had to come up with a rough cost estimate for prop 1A, long before the project-level environmental reviews required by CEQA law. Could they have done a better job of communicating that status – sure. Some local residents jumped to the conclusion that all the key decisions had already been made, others voted in he belief that none of them had. The truth was somewhere in-between, but closer to “none”.

(d) CHSRA isn’t a business entity. It’s a planning agency set up by the state of California, i.e. a public body. Under guidance from the state legislature, it has kept its staff very small and outsourced virtually all of the actual planning work to private contractors. Parsons Brinkerhoff was hired to implement program management, the project-level planning processes were awarded to other companies on a segment-by-segment basis.

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