Monthly Archives

August 2011


Building Credibility at the High Speed Rail Authority Board Meeting

August 25 Meeting Report by Bill Kerby, RailPAC Treasurer

Public comments, invited by the High Speed Rail Authority (HSRA) Board at the opening of the meeting August 25, 2011, lasted about a half hour with two minute presentations: hiring opportunities for small businesses; environmental justice; support for HSRA recommended route alignments; and one instance where an individual engaged in self promotion for employment. Planners and business owners weighed in on alignment A2 through Fresno arguing that tracks will divide the communities on this route.

Two new members of the Board, Thomas Richards and Michael Rossi, were sworn in by Chairman Umberg during the public commentary. The Chairman welcomed them, noted that they have the confidence of Governor Brown, and expressed gratitude for the service of the outgoing members, David Crane and Kurt Pringle.

The action item involving HSRA funds was approved with the caution that no single contractor should receive the system-wide job. Resolution HSR11-21 resolves “(t)hat in accordance with the conditions of …the resolution…, approved by the Board on July 14, 2011, the Board approves the methods of ensuring contractors’ performance and accountability substantially as presented, and which will be included in the RFP for Right-of-Way services, and authorizes the CEO to issue one or more RFP’s and concludes contracts for Right-of-Way services in an amount not to exceed $40 million.”

Roelof van Ark, CEO of the Authority, and Jeff Morales former Chief of Caltrans and current leader of the working group for a HSR business plan, offered explanations of the need for high speed rail in California. Morales stated that benefit cost analysis excludes the cost of not investing in high speed rail, which the staff asserts will have costs exceeding $100 billion if the state needs to build between 2,000 to 3,000 new lane miles of highway. Then Kurt Ramey, of the accounting firm KPMG which has been hired to reshape the authority’s business plan for the system, presented schematic information on the business model and a funding and finance plan. Funding requirements for the high speed rail project will range from $3 to $4 billion in each of the next 15 years. The funding plan will be detailed and discussed at a public hearing December 1, 2011; a final business plan will be unveiled January 1, 2012, and included in the governor’s budget on January 12, 2012.

Chief Executive Officer van Ark presented a long list of recent agency actions which highlighted the accelerated pace of work. Key work includes release of the second draft of the two part environmental impact statement for the Merced to Fresno and Fresno to Bakersfield segments of the project; each part is available on line for review and comment until October 13th. Several high level positions, including those of chief financial officer, project manager, and chief legal counsel, are expected to be filled by the next board meeting of the authority. An agricultural working group, which was recently established, began meeting with the HSRA several months after a heated interchange during a prior HSRA meeting, between the HSRA’s former chair, Kurt Pringle, and two representatives of Kings County’s farming community who protested that their concerns were summarily rejected by Mr. Pringle. Since then, the HSRA set up a project office in Kings County which is staffed by two persons who work with the community on outreach and technical issues. Van Ark announced that an advisory committee to the principal engineering contractor, Parsons Brinckerhoff, led by the Authority’s General Van Winkle, meets periodically to implement plans, such as the substitution of berms for viaducts in various locations as well as adjust them. With the early termination of the previous controversial systemwide $9 million outreach contract awarded during the administration of former Governor Schwarzenegger, the HSRA will review bids for a new $1 million contract. Reports from the critical ridership peer review panel are late; they have rerun demand models with updated and presumably better data. Mr. van Ark expressed optimism, with the internationally known experts on the peer review panel, that the problems in generating the final ridership report will be resolved.

Linking Bakersfield to the LA Basin by high speed rail continues to be a problem in choosing between the direct Grapevine route and the Palmdale alternative. The HSRA established a study group to assess the feasibility of a shorter route through Tejon Ranch near Interstate Highway 5; that group will submit a report at the HSRA Board meeting on September 22, 2011. Support for the Palmdale route continues to be very strong, with elected officials endorsing it in the earlier public commentary of this meeting. A hearing on August 29th was scheduled to determine whether litigation will proceed on the right of the Authority to study the Palmdale route.

On the San Francisco Peninsula, interim design changes morphed the dedicated four track high speed rail proposal into a blended hybrid system. In the eight miles between Redwood City and Hayward Park, a four track system is planned to be shared with Caltrain. Caltrain and the HSRA will meet next month to make progress on this hybrid proposal. RailPAC northern vice president and Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board member, Arthur Lloyd monitored the proceedings from his second row seat.

HSRA Vice-Chair, Lynn Schenk (San Diego), asked if some piece of the project scheduled in Phase I fails, such as the Peninsula segment, would it be legal to shift Phase I funds to Phase II projects. A lawyer from the Office of the Attorney General of California opined that the movement is not inconsistent with the bond act which enables the entire project. A written opinion is expected by the next board meeting on the legality of moving funds from one project phase to another. Ms. Shenk has called for consideration of planning by elected officials from Sacramento to Merced to advance their time tables on building Phase II components. Meanwhile, a final arbitration hearing on the complaints brought by the City of Atherton on the San Francisco Peninsula is under consideration by an arbitrator and a finding is expected 90 days after August 12th.

With the filling of high level positions at the HSRA, narrowing down of route choices, and the collection of public input and legal opinions, decisions made by the next meeting of the authority should reduce uncertainty of “the way forward.” In the meantime, curious readers will review the second draft EIR for the Merced to Bakersfield segments of the high speed rail route at


Followup: A trucker looks at the Nevada Amtrak-truck crash

Recently the RailPAC website published four “theories” of how the July accident between a truck and Amtrak’s California Zephyr in the Nevada desert east of Reno might have happened (posted July 15, 2011). We asked Jason Brown, a commercial trucker, for his opinion on the events surrounding that crash.

Commentary by Jason Brown for

Well, where to start? For me at least, I grew up being the son of a railroader and I was always very proud of that. Somehow or someway I learned early on, don’t mess with a train. When I was in High School I lost three friends (all siblings of each other) to a car/train collision. So I think these things factored in to my view and respect of the train. My dad thinks, “The driver either made a very bad judgment call or was kind of deceived by the optical illusion effect of looking at the headlight straight making it difficult to estimate the trains distance or speed. In any event everybody on the highway needs to know the train has the right of way, in most cases the train cannot stop on a dime and the train always wins in a crossing accident.”

I have been driving a commercial truck now for three and a half years and I am amazed at how much stupid stuff I have seen drivers do. Working mainly in steel hauling operations, I am around/over many crossings many times a day. Some locations will have 20-30 crossings just in one facility. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen drivers pull in front of a train that’s moving down the line. These guys are dumb enough to park across multiple tracks in some cases. Or they will park right next to tracks thinking a rail car is only as wide as the rails. I just don’t understand the stupidity it takes to be ignorant enough to think you can beat the train, or that you have the right of way on live tracks.

I have read a few articles related to this incident, and in my opinion this guy in Nevada was doing one of two things: Showing off to his buddies behind him; mash the gas and haul butt; he may also have been keying up his CB jawboning to the guys behind him. Before he knew it he had a large Zephyr heading right at him.

The other scenario may be like this. These guys are all rolling along, nice open highway, no real hard turns or major intersections so they are moving along. They have done this trip a hundred times and got complacent. You tend to get highway hypnosis (White-line Fever) rather easily, especially if you are on a route you have traveled numerous times. I have had it happen to me many times; there are times I don’t even remember the last 30 miles I just covered. He may have just zoned out at the wrong time and then suddenly realized, Heck, there’s a moving train in front of me.

I was trained in railhead operations while in the military in order to prepare equipment for rail movement nationwide, I have attended classes on truck/train safety while being a driver. It honestly seems like it should be common sense…DON’T MESS WITH A TRAIN!


eNewslsetter for August 22, 2011

I led a student Rail Study Trip to China last March and we covered most of the new CRH lines; we rode part of the new Shanghai-Beijing line (not then fully opened), and the entire Wuhan-Guangzhou line at 350 kph.  Most impressive.  We also rode the new coastal line from Fuzhou to Shanghai. The recent accident occurred on the latter line, which IS NOT one of the super high-speed lines, with top speeds of only 200-kph, and the equipment involved was the older, fast train equipment that is used on many D-class trains on conventional rail lines in China.  That equipment has never impressed me from a ride quality standpoint.  It was not the velvet smooth G-class equipment, of various designs,  found on the true CRH lines.   Still, a signal failure is just that, and the political fallout in China has been enormous, even if much of the press coverage has been just plain wrong.    August 22, 2011

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LAUS River Annex: An Idea You May Hate or Like

Opinion by Noel T. Braymer

Building run-through tracks at Union Station to eliminate the need to back trains in or out of the station is a long held dream. This will be critical for High Speed Rail service for travels from Orange County to points north of Los  Angeles. Construction is now underway to put back 3 former station tracks into service which are needed before construction of run-through tracks can begin. Continue Reading


Getting State Wide High Speed Rail Service Sooner.

Opinion by Noel T. Braymer

The California High Speed Rail Authority is now planning to run the shortest economically viable segment for an initial start up service rather than wait to have the entire phase I line running from Anaheim to San Francisco. This is a good idea to get revenue and let people see the service in operation which will increase support for expanding High Speed Rail service in the state. The Authority is now looking at 3 possible routes for this initial service: San Jose to Bakersfield, Merced to the San Fernando Valley and Merced to Palmdale. My recommendation is the later, Merced to Palmdale. There is a market of 22 million people south of Bakersfield compared with 6 million in the Bay Area. Also Palmdale is less distant and will be cheaper than going to San Fernando. But such a service can still serve most of California.  Many High Speed Rail services such as the TGV in France and ICE in Germany run trains on both dedicated high speed tracks as well as the old conventional tracks. Even Europe still has grade crossing and high speed trains run on tracks with them. French TGV trains have even been in accidents at grade crossings.

Los Angeles County is already working on plans to upgrade and run faster trains from Los Angeles to Palmdale. This will include providing run-through service at Los Angeles. Coordinating service with Metrolink and Amtrak could see a transfer station at Palmdale with High Speed Rail.There will be capacity to run lots of trains from Palmdale to the San Joaquin Valley. There will be a need for a good transfer station at Palmdale. But not all the San Joaquin Valley trains need to terminate at Palmdale. We are seeing on going track improvements between Palmdale and San Diego. While not as fast as the final projected service, trains could be extended at least as far as southern Orange County and depending on the improvements made by the time trains run to Palmdale maybe all the way to San Diego. These extended trains can be run by adding a diesel locomotive or run with diesel or turbine engines the whole distance.This opens a much larger market at small cost which means more income for this service.

This also means service could be extended to Sacramento and the Bay Area too. HSR trains run as part of the San Joaquin Trains can have some direct service to Emeryville and Sacramento. The limiting factor is the cooperation of the Union Pacific Railroad. If an agreement can be reached with the BNSF it would be possible to run additional trains on segments north of Merced at speeds up to 110 miles per hour as far as Stockton. Bus connections at Stockton can serve more of the upper North San Joaquin Valley including Sacramento. A solution that could be looked at would be to run on the BNSF as far as Port Chicago or even Richmond. If a station were built next to a dock it would be possible to run high speed ferry boats to San Francisco and other parts of the Bay Area providing connections to High Speed Trains.High speed ferries are faster than the current rail passenger service between Martinez and Emeryville.


eNewsletter for August 15, 2011

Mr. Fenton, CEO of Metrolink is working to expand the market for Rail Passenger service and is talking about better connections and faster service on Metrolink trains with speeds over 100 miles per hour. One of the markets he talks about for faster speed is the Antelope Valley where Palmdale is. Much is being looked at that the interview doesn’t cover including better coordination between Amtrak, Metrolink and Coaster. There is discussion of  some Coaster Trains extending north as far as Fullerton and reducing the number of Amtrak stops on the Surfliners but having connections to all stations for Amtrak with Metrolink and Coaster. NB

August 15, 2011

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eNewsletter for August 8, 2011

We could see in the next 3 years 3 more round trips between Fullerton and Laguna Niguel/ Mission Viejo, 3 more round trips between Oceanside and San Diego, and an additional round trip between Los Angeles and San Diego. There will be additional double tracking in San Diego County, more triple tracking between Fullerton and Los Angeles and a local Santa Barbara commuter train likely by 2014. August 8, 2011

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eNewsletter for August 1, 2011

We got your email on what our readers thinks should be done with the California High Speed Rail Project. The questions were: Cancel the project, give back the Federal money and what would be your alternative ? Keep the project the way it is ? Where would you build first outside of the San Joaquin Valley , to San Jose or Palmdale ? Do you think there are ways to save money on the High Speed Project, if so how ? August 1, 2011