Steve Roberts, Vice President, Policy and Research.
The Rail Passenger Association of California since 1978 has supported a modern passenger railroad system for the State of California and the West. We campaigned actively for the passage of 1A, the High Speed Rail bond measure. While frustrated and dissatisfied with progress to date we still support the project overall. However, at this point we are concerned that there is no deliverable alternative that will meet the mobility needs of a growing population and economy.
The California High Speed Rail Authority has a new Chief Executive Officer and has just published the 2018 Business Plan. This document is available on the CHSRA website: http://hsr.ca.gov/docs/about/business_plans/Draft_2018_Business_Plan.pdf
Our comments are as follows:
- The new Business Plan is a more realistic assessment of the current situation. The negative trends, most specifically the lack of any follow-on Federal funding, were apparent in 2016 but the Authority adjusted by shifting to a Northern California focus. The question is, can the Authority delivery its latest plan.
- Compared to the 2016 Business Plan the physical gap in the 2018 Business Plan (Chowchilla to Gilroy) is highlighted. In 2016 the gaps were Wasco to Bakersfield and San Jose to San Francisco. The problem was a San Jose to Wasco route would not generate a positive cash flow (after expenses) meaning the Early Train Operator would have had to finance the shortfall in ticket revenues. The 2016 Business Plan had a vague discussion of closing the gaps. As information, a Bakersfield to San Francisco route is forecast to be cash flow positive (after expenses) from year 1 of operation. So it is vital that the Gilroy gap be closed.
- The CHSRA urgently needs to develop a credible funding plan for financing full service between San Francisco, Merced and Bakersfield. There is a Legislative HSR update scheduled for Spring of 2019. RailPAC challenges the Authority to develop a detailed plan for closing the Chowchilla – Gilroy gap by that hearing. With additional information such as the EIS documents for the other route segments, with some approved, with construction further advanced and with substantial pre-engineering analysis on the Chowchilla – Gilroy route RailPAC feels making this “stretch” goal is not unreasonable.
- This goal is also important because closing the new Chowchilla –Gilroy gap offers significant leverage by unleashing a large cash flow and is very attractive politically.
- 6.RailPAC also supports the prioritization of investments that generate near-term benefits;
– Extending the HSR line to Bakersfield means the San Joaquins will not face any BNSF slot issues on the south end of the route if they are shifted to HSR. There is construction taking place between Madera and Stockton on the BNSF to increase track capacity which will allow an increase in San Joaquin frequencies on that segment of the route. Marry that capacity with an HSR routing means a large potential increase in frequencies along the entire route. That said, RailPAC supports full San Francisco – Bakersfield HSR service, not this fallback position.
– Transforming Los Angeles Union Station into a run-through facility;
– The extension of Caltrain electrification to Gilroy will generate significant ridership growth. The plan seems to be suggesting a blended system but does not mention that specifically or what would happen to the four intermediate stops Tamien to Gilroy. RailPAC is very interested in the reviewing the details of this important service expansion.
- The HSR 2018 Business Plan clearly indicates that the LAUS run-through tracks (LINKUS) is the Southern California priority. HSR funding for the project is already committed in the Southern California Memorandum of Understanding (MOU. However, RailPAC feels LA METRO and other political entities in Southern California seem to work to promote projects they champion, rather than LINKUS. LINKUS seems to be viewed as an outside project with no one championing it. While RailPAC will closely monitor MOU priorities on the LA Urban Mobility Corridor to make sure the funds don’t get spent on other projects, RailPAC requests the Authority and its Board’s assistance to keep the focus on LINKUS.
In summary, RailPAC feels the project’s key long-term benefits, the reasoning behind the High Speed Rail, remain the same:
- California is the sixth largest economy in the world. Economic growth and job growth have been steady and with all of California’s inherent strengths this growth is forecast to continue;
- California is the second largest intercity travel market in the U.S. and easily in the top ten travel markets in the world;
- The only other transportation projects underway in California are the completion of a third lane on CA 99 and some HOT lanes on the connecting urban Interstates. There is no alternative to high-speed rail being planned. As we have seen, the planning and implementation of any major transportation project is a 30 to 40-year process;
- Any alternative transportation project would undoubtedly face the same cost pressures from inflation, delays due to litigation, changes in scope due to mitigation, etc. In short HSR is still the least expensive option because any other option would have seen its cost rise in concert with those of the HSR project;
- The “No Build” option is a false choice since it would bring gridlock, worsen the quality of life and stifle economic growth;
One final challenge, if the Texas Central Railway can be privately financed, then one would think an 80-mile gap, with an approved EIS, an in place ROW, partial state funding and the fact that closing the gap leverages large market and revenue growth, could be financed.
Questions regarding RailPAC policy should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.