California High-Speed Rail backers optimistic despite challenges


The California High Speed rail project has been facing resistance that threatens to derail the project. Not only has public support for the $68 billion project wavered in recent years, now the project faces a legal battle that could delay the project before the first rail is laid.

This week [Tues/4], Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny ruled that a lawsuit brought on by King County can go to trial. The lawsuit raises questions about the legality of using 2008’s voter-approved Prop 1A funding, $9.95 billion worth of bonds, to upgrade and electrify Caltrain’s tracks and incorporate them into the high speed system.

Another concern was that the proposed high-speed system would not be able to pull through with its promise of a 2 hour 40 minute nonstop ride from downtown San Francisco to Los Angeles' Union Station if the high speed system had to share tracks with Caltrain.

The lawsuit also threatens to leave San Francisco’s new $4.5 billion Transbay Terminal without its planned underground high speed rail station, which could be disastrous for that project as well.

None of this seems to faze Rod Diridon, executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute based out of  San Jose State University and former founding board member of the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board. He told the Guardian: “I think that [the project] will happen now. I think that our wonderful governor and our legislative leaders are going  make it happen now…. If it was delayed it would only be a matter of time before it came back.”  

Another obstacle the high-speed rail system faces is a July 1 deadline for the state to find $3 billion to match federal grant money.

Gov. Jerry Brown, a strong advocate for the project, proposes using revenue from California’s Cap-and-Trade Program to fund the project, calling the project essential to addressing the state’s long-term transportation needs.

“Yes, it's long-term," Brown said in a Jan. 13 press conference in Fresno. "But we aren't all, you know, Twitter-holics that have to have instant gratification after 140 characters. We can take a few years and build for the future, and that's my sense here...It's been on my list for a long time, and I think we've got to get it done.”

Brown’s plan to fund the rail project using cap-and-trade also sits well with Diridon. “[You can find] the money in the state of California.” Diridon told the Guardian enthusiastically. “Cap-and-Trade is generating over $800 million a year from selling carbon offsets. That’s not committed money. You can commit half that to build the high speed rail system over 30 years and you’ve got the money.”  

Diridon went on to call funding concerns a “red herring” that is being used by opponents of the project. He expects private money, some even from China, France, and other countries with successful high-speed rail systems to come into the state to fund the project once investors see that California is willing to commit to such a project.

It is poised to bring to thousands of construction jobs to the Central Valley, where the first phase is scheduled to be built and where the unemployment rate among construction workers is 30 percent.

Environmentalists champion the project as a weapon to combat climate change by providing an alternative to putting more cars on the roads and planes in the sky, thus bringing the US closer to being under compliance of the Kyoto Accords, much like Japan and most of Europe.

Diridon said that a high speed rail system can alleviate traffic on California’s roadways, which has become a major concern in California, a state that is projected to double in population between now and 2065.

“Automobiles and roads are about to come to a screeching halt because of terminal gridlock. We can’t build more roads. There’s [not enough] dirt to pave to build significant additional roadway capacity coming into and out of our major metropolitan areas ” Diridon said. “We've got to create sustainable forms of transportation.”  

Many advocates also point to the fact that the United States is the only major developed country that lacks a high speed rail system.  Even countries that the US considers to be developing countries, like Turkey and Morocco, have large high speed rail systems.

“High speed rail is currently being built and in operation in 30 countries around the world. [In] every industrialized country and many developing countries.” Diridon says, “in many emerging countries and in some countries that we would consider backward have high speed rail.”

The US is also being outpaced by China, which has almost 5,000 miles of high speed rail, while Japan has 1,500 miles of rail.

Despite the wavering public support, a lawsuit, and funding concerns, advocates for the project remain optimistic and believe that the benefits of the project will outweigh the $68 billion dollar price tag.

“How can we imagine that California could not do it?” Diridon asked. With high speed rail projects maturing in Florida, Texas, the Northeast corridor, and the Midwest, California is in danger of being left behind by not only the rest of the country, but the rest of the world as well. 


I think HSR would be a great benefit to the State and the nation.

I hope it gets built. I just do not think that it will get built.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 07, 2014 @ 12:56 pm

It is inevitable that it will get built. We will both be dead before it is completed though.

Posted by GlenParkDaddy on Mar. 09, 2014 @ 11:16 pm

Mr Diridon really needs to go back and so some real Math. He writes:

"Brown’s plan to fund the rail project using cap-and-trade also sits well with Diridon. “[You can find] the money in the state of California.” Diridon told the Guardian enthusiastically. “Cap-and-Trade is generating over $800 million a year from selling carbon offsets. That’s not committed money. You can commit half that to build the high speed rail system over 30 years and you’ve got the money.”

So he says 30 years of $400 million /year from Cap and Trade and the State can self finance. 30 x $400 million = $12 billion. Add in the $9 billion from Prop 1A and you have a grand total of $21 billion. Even add in the $3 billion from the Feds and you get a total of $24 billion.

Since the low estimate is $68 billion, he is still $44 billion short.

My my, Mr. Diridon, you certainly DON'T have the money

Posted by Guest on Mar. 07, 2014 @ 2:53 pm

At this point, if the towns in the Central Valley don't want the train, I'd say we should skip them. Just run it down I5 on the west side of the valley. It would probably be cheaper to build too--cheaper land and no stations. Most people would be taking it between SF and LA anyway.

Posted by SFRealist on Mar. 07, 2014 @ 4:43 pm

Building it alongside 99 to feed all those hick towns between Bakersfield and Stockton seems irrelevant.

But my guess is that we will end up with HSR between Stockton and Bakersfield, and that's it. Railroad to nowhere.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 07, 2014 @ 4:56 pm

suggested this - it would have saved the state $50 billion to use existing and utility right-of-ways vs. buying new land. They were told political operators wanted HSR to use the longer route and to purchase public land - for whatever reason. So they withdrew from bidding on the project and years later and tens of billions more - here we are with nothing built and overruns and delays as far as the eye can see.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 07, 2014 @ 6:15 pm

When will people call an end to this corruption? These operators are cashing in on the last bits of public contracting in a way that diminishes any public appetite for this kind of infrastructure investment that we really need.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 07, 2014 @ 6:42 pm

Bridge - puts another nail in the coffin of the idea, beloved by progressives, that government does it better than the private sector.

It's insane that anyone would believe that state government, which was responsible for the lunacy of the new Bay Bridge, should be entrusted with the vastly more expensive HSR project. Absolutely lunacy.

And why has NO ONE paid a price for what's happened with the bridge? The delays, the endless cost overruns and now the innumerable "fixes" for issues which never should have been a problem in the first place and yet not a SINGLE PERSON has lost their jobs over this.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 07, 2014 @ 6:56 pm

You would have to be completely out of your mind to think that there is no corruption in the private sector. The corruption in the private sector is orders of magnitude greater than the amount in the public sector.

Who crashed the economy in 2008? Do you really think that The People are so stupid as to not remember what happened 5 years ago. Trillions were lost. Millions put out of work. Disaster capitalism is far worse than anything the public sector has ever imagined.

Posted by GlenParkDaddy on Mar. 09, 2014 @ 11:20 pm

No Marcos you are mixing up this project with the Iraq War ($3-6 trillion unaudited). Big difference between a really fast train which Californians and tourists can ride and a war with nothing to show for it except tragic loss of life and cheap gas to China and Russia. Another big diference, the train is a fraction of the cost.

Posted by DA truf on Mar. 08, 2014 @ 8:32 am
Posted by Guest on Mar. 08, 2014 @ 8:39 am

As various levels of government fuck up one thing after another it turns the citizens against good government, because there is none left.

Government employees take every chance to stick it to the tax payer, government contractors take every chance to stick it to the tax payer... When a common person reads an estimate on some project they can safely assume the price tag will be well over the stated cost so they have no trust in the government.

Making excuses and sweeping it under the rug as progressives do just encourages this behavior.

Progressives try and deflect critics, instead of rooting out terrible behavior.

This is one of the reasons the Bay Guardian is a joke, instead advocating for failure the Bay Guardian should be an actual watchdog on government uselessness.

the Bay Guardian's claims of being a watchdog are pathetic, that they are a watchdog on political doctrine, not on the government itself.

Posted by guest on Mar. 09, 2014 @ 5:58 pm

We've known that since Reagan.

But marcos is as guilty of a kneejerk allegiance to government and the big unions as any other so-called progressive.

The difference is that marcos has no power and the others do.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 09, 2014 @ 6:11 pm

the credibility gap is real. In general progressives just encourage and dismiss this gap on the part of government.

It's not just the unions, the gravy train includes business that knows that no matter how poorly they do things, they can go back to the tax payers/government and ask for more.

The central valley speedy/meth train is just another example.

Posted by guest on Mar. 09, 2014 @ 6:55 pm

You constant harping about government has hurt you more than it has hurt liberalism. The GOP rating in Congress is in the low double digits.

You somehow think that negative campaigning works, but everyone hates O'Reilly, Limbaugh and Savage. Your chance of ever again being a political force in the most populated, most wealthy and most important state in the union is zero.

The GOP is at serious risk of becoming some kind of Southern only regional party.

Posted by GlenParkDaddy on Mar. 10, 2014 @ 11:54 pm

I am a fiscal conservative, Republican-leaning voter who believes my party is totally in the wrong in all the negativism toward passenger rail. Where did it come from? We are in danger of becoming an irrelevant stick-in-the-mud party. Why can't we take on the hundreds of billions of dollars in government hand-outs? Why not investigate seriously the billions of dollars that simply leak and disappear every year as the government goes from the budgeting phase to the evaluation of endeavors. A wholesale attack on passenger rail is absolutely unwarranted. And to think this is becoming a party platform! I've never heard of anything this unwarranted in the Republican party all my life. From a fiscal conservative, I say let's build HSR. I wouldn't mind if the interstate highways didn't get a dime of my tax money for the next few years.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 11, 2014 @ 4:48 pm

As well, the proposed train needs to be faster than planned to be competitive with air travel. Two hours and forty minutes on a train wouldn't really save me much (if any) transit time vs. BART from downtown to SFO and a cab from LAX. HSR is a great idea, but it needs to be truly high-speed—nonstop from San Jose onward to LA, at a minimum—if it's to dissuade folks from flying.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 07, 2014 @ 9:23 am

Gavin's right. Not only was it always an outdated boondoggle, but the BART strike put the final nail in the coffin. Same goes for that other boondoggle, the peripheral pipes.

The aqueduct and power lines run down I-5. It is a concrete causeway and freeway. For a small fee or concession, I'm sure Google and Tesla can arrange an automated drive lane down the median of I-5.

Better 5 carefree hours of personal car, with a car in L.A, than 3 hours to downtown L.A. without a car (presuming no system breakdown or strike). The car? You don't have to own the car. That's so 50's.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 07, 2014 @ 5:11 pm

The problem with private cars, whether "50’s" or your vision of rentals/Uber or whatever, is that they make very inefficient use of road infrastructure.

Case in point: the Bay Bridge more efficiently moved more people when it was configured for 6? lanes of traffic on top and the entire lower deck reserved for trains and truck traffic than it does in its "new" configuration of six lanes in either directions on both decks.

If one leaves their little American town and travels the world, they will find that large numbers of people can travel or commute long distances by train and then rent/Uber whathaveyou local transportation much more efficiently. If the destination city is built with transit in mind, you can even get around without a car.

Cars destroy massive amounts of land for roads. Look at any place: car roads are one of the largest socialist expenses of every town, city, county or state.

Even on a small scale in Disneyland, in order to get people around they built a train, not a scaled down freeway with individual cars. And the personal car ride they did build in honor of the private automobile ended up as a failure.

Posted by DED on Mar. 09, 2014 @ 11:37 am

for the far greater convenience of cars, their ability to carry several people or large loads, the fact that trains and buses usually require car journeys at either end, and the time savings of direct travel.

When all that is factored in, cars can be more efficient everywhere except in dense cities. I can get from SF to LA, door-to-door, in six hours with four passengers for about $100. Can you beat that?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 09, 2014 @ 12:01 pm

I thought I posted but see no feedback. I find this chilling on the right to comment on important issues.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 07, 2014 @ 5:16 pm

California is already building the next generation of high speed rail trains in Sacramento. As a result, good paying, highly skilled jobs are being created much to the angst of the obstructionist party desperately trying to keep control and failing. The peoples will is stronger than the corporations pocketbook no matter how many corporatist politicians are feeding at the trough.Congratulations to Siemens and those else are working hard to rebuild this country.

Posted by DA truf on Mar. 08, 2014 @ 11:17 am
Posted by Guest on Mar. 08, 2014 @ 11:29 am

Was this article written by a 7th grader? The word "project" is used 5 times in the first two sentences.

I guess you just have to lower the bar when you're dealing with progressives.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 10, 2014 @ 8:11 pm

The writer uses only one source in the story, and he supports the project. As I've been pointing out for years, the Bay Guardian clearly hasn't done any homework on this project. Until you do, you should stop writing about it, since it just makes you folks look dumb.

Posted by Rob Anderson on Mar. 11, 2014 @ 12:26 pm

Somebody! Please!

Posted by Guest on Mar. 12, 2014 @ 5:53 pm

He slapped down the SFBC for years, so he cannot be all bad.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 12, 2014 @ 6:07 pm

Good guys = someone who agrees with the trolls.

Rob's an elderly gadfly who won't be around that much longer anyway.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 12, 2014 @ 6:13 pm

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