Tag Archives: high speed rail

Brown Signs HSR Funding Legislation

Would start building in Central Valley

by Brian Leubitz

High speed rail in California has more than its share of opponents.  But today, it gets started in earnest:

With his most public cheerleading yet for California’s bullet train, Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday signed the $8 billion bill to kick off high-speed rail construction as he lobbied to win back voters who are increasingly skeptical of the rail line.

Brown’s day-long, dual-city signature event began during a morning press conference at Union Station in Los Angeles and is set to be followed by another gala with supporters at the future Transbay Terminal in San Francisco. The locations were fitting in many ways since the stations will serve as the two endpoints of the $69 billion line, though Brown had to fly between events.

The centerpiece of SB 1029, however, is $6 billion to start building the first tracks in the Central Valley early next year. The remaining $2 billion will beef up transit while laying the groundwork for high-speed rail in the Bay Area and Southern California, including electrification of the existing Caltrain line between San Francisco and San Jose.(SJ Merc)

So, today is in many ways a momentous one. It means more jobs in the short term, and better infrastructure for more jobs in the long term. It means a future of a more connected California.

“California’s communities will be transformed and linked across the state.  And our nation will enjoy increased global competitiveness, reduced dependence on foreign oil, and more affordable and convenient transportation options for all Americans,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Using current day thinking, analysts predict poor ridership and many want to just stay with the status quo.  Unfortunately, the status quo, unless we like aging infrastructure and enormous traffic delays, isn’t really an option. Not building HSR demands big road and airport expansion projects. Plus, there is the fact that we’ve probably hit peak oil and gas won’t be getting substantially cheaper from here on out. Mass transit must become more efficient. That means everything from bus and commuter rail to HSR.

But HSR would offer California a unique proposition. Northern and Southern California, two very distinct centers of innovation would be even more easily linked. No other location in the world would offer similar resources. Now, HSR is just one step in increasing our competitiveness. We have to recommit to both K12 and higher education. But the cards are all still out there for an even more vibrant California, we just have to play the right ones.

California Still Needs High Speed Rail

Despite cost issues, HSR is still the future

by Brian Leubitz

Robert has written abundantly about the recent HSR controversy.  And while there are still some serious issues to be dealt with before construction, HSR is still a good idea. Sure the HSR Authority could have done a better job at the initial planning and outreach.  Former chairman Quentin Kopp, also known as “San Francisco’s Favorite Crank,” and his shall we say less than convivial tactics didn’t really suit the situation all that well. Fortunately for HSR, Kopp is now removed from the situation and doing what he does best, acting cranky from the sidelines.

That all being said there is still much to like in the in the new HSR plan, and really it lies at the heart of the New California Dream.  From a letter from Jim Earp, Chair of 2008’s Prop 1A and also the executive director of California Alliance for Jobs:

As we all have witnessed, the debate over the details of the business plan has been spirited. There have been questions about cost, funding, whether starting construction in the Central Valley makes sense and whether the High Speed Rail Authority is being responsive to local concerns.

But there is a more fundamental issue that must be addressed first: Does California really need high-speed rail?

As the one who oversaw the high-speed rail bond measure campaign in 2008, I firmly believe that high-speed rail isn’t a luxury, but a necessity for California. It isn’t a pipe dream that should be shelved until such time in the distant future when California hopefully finds itself with loads of discretionary cash. Plain and simple, high-speed rail is the most cost effective, environmentally responsible way to help transport the additional 20 million people that will be living in California three decades from now.

You can find the full letter here or over the flip. But to me, the main issue is how we are going to move Californians north and south for the next century.  We can either continue to rely on the highway system, and just hope that oil doesn’t run out, and that we don’t need to be concerned about greenhouse emissions or actually look at reality.  There will be a lot more people in California over the next few decades.

We’ll hit 50 million at some point in the next few decades and moving those people around is not cost-free even if we don’t build HSR. Highways are far from free, and our airport system cannot really sustain substantially higher traffic.  We’ll have to invest in our infrastructure in one of two-ways, either try to prop up the old way of doing things, highways and such, or think big.  As Governor Brown said:

While the nation is in a “period of massive retrenchment,” Brown told The Fresno Bee’s editorial board, “I would like to be part of the group that gets America to think big again.”

*** **** ***

“The numbers look big,” Brown said, but he added that the investment is small when compared to the state’s economic productivity over the life of the system. That, he suggested, is why the state needs to “look to the future instead of the past.”

Gov. Brown recently appointed Michael Rossi, his so-called “Jobs Czar” to the Authority, and is paying attention to the program.  It is time to think Eisenhower-ian in California once again. We can afford to build big projects, the alternative is that we just coast off what we built in the last century.  That is really as far away from the American ideal that I grew up with as is really possible.

President Obama is Right: We Need to Create American Jobs Now

With his State of the Union address, President Obama delivered an important message that Congress and the American people need to hear: our nation’s leaders must pass legislation that creates American jobs now.

America, our shining city on a hill, has been blessed with great fortune in our proud past, but as the President noted, every generation faces new challenges and new opportunities. We must be bold and forward looking, never forgetting that America’s prosperity has always relied on hard work, solid education, and well-maintained infrastructure. We’re a nation that has always thrived when we’ve built things – the light bulb, the automobile, the Internet, and the GPS. We need to build things again. We need to Make It In America

During the Great Recession, America stared into the abyss, but with the leadership of President Obama and Democrats in Congress, we steered our economy toward a better path. We invested in infrastructure, education, manufacturing, and smart tax incentives, putting millions of Americans to work. With the Recovery Act and other pro-growth, pro-jobs laws, we did a lot, but we need to do more. President Obama is right to call on this Congress to pass legislation that creates jobs now.

America – the idea and the nation – is at a crossroads. For decades we have stood by watching our manufacturing sector atrophy. We’ve seen hardworking breadwinners thrown to the curb, because big corporations can make more profits offshoring jobs to countries with atrocious labor and environmental standards. We’ve seen middle class families kicked out of their homes, because wages have not kept up with costs. We’ve seen too many great people on the sidelines of our economy, their talents wasted and dream deferred, because there simply are not enough jobs. We must do better. We must Make It In America again or else we’re not going to make it in America.

An American child born today will grow up in a world where her nation’s long held claim to economic supremacy will be challenged by peers in China, India, and elsewhere. She will live in a world where computer literacy and access to high speed Internet largely predict achievement. She will live in a world of infinite potential for people and nations committed to a better future. She will live in a world where mass transit and clean energy are everyday necessities of life, creating good jobs for someone somewhere. Let’s make sure we Make It In America and create American jobs now, so that she will live in a world where America is still the leader of the free world.

American manufacturing, which produced the largest middle class in history, is crucial to building sustained prosperity for the years to come. Across this country, we see evidence of a new fledgling Clean Energy Industrial Revolution. Detroit is producing hybrid cars, Pittsburgh is constructing robotic instruments, Schenectady, New York is developing advanced batteries, and Livermore, California is building solar panels. Across this country, clean energy is creating jobs.

In his State of the Union address, the President called for one million electric cars and a stronger clean energy standard. By setting this goal, the President was challenging Americans to dream big.

The President is right. This is our Sputnik moment. Imagine if we had responded to the challenge of Sputnik by soaring to the moon in a space shuttle that was Made in the Soviet Union. We could have gone that route – admitted failure and surrendered our economic and security assets to another country. Instead, we focused on inventing and constructing crucial technology, which sparked a wave of new businesses and jobs. Similarly, to address our twin 21st century challenges of energy security and advanced infrastructure, we cannot depend on the kindness of other countries. To enhance our geopolitical security and to create the jobs of the future, we have to strengthen these key manufacturing sectors.

As we see when basic scientific research spurs the flourishing of new industries and generates millions of new jobs, public policy has a valuable role to play in setting the stage for a return of America’s manufacturing prowess. A good first step would be to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent on American-made transportation and renewable energy projects. I am introducing legislation to this effect. Strengthening domestic content requirements for high-speed rail, solar panels, biofuels, and other growth industries will create jobs, right here in America, right now. It just makes sense.

America has energetic entrepreneurs, a skilled workforce, and visionary inventors. Let’s give them the opportunity to do what they do best- to work. The building blocks of a prosperous future are available today. Let’s start building.

Congressman John Garamendi (D-Walnut Creek, CA) represents California’s 10th Congressional District, which includes parts of Contra Costa, Solano, Alameda, and Sacramento counties. As California’s Lieutenant Governor from 2006-2009, he chaired the California Commission for Economic Development.

California Gets Big High Speed Rail Stimulus Award

Crossposted from the California High Speed Rail Blog

Today is going to be an excellent day for California High Speed Rail and our state’s economic future. California has been awarded $2.35 billion in federal passenger rail stimulus funds. $2.25 billion of that goes directly to high speed rail, the other $100 million goes to other passenger rail projects.

Here are the details as I have them – see more in the official White House release:

• $2.25 billion for high speed rail funding in the SF-SJ, Merced-Fresno-Bakersfield, and LA-Anaheim corridors, as well as for Phase I planning. There is some debate about whether these are specifically programmed to each corridor, or whether Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and/or the CHSRA will determine the final allocations.

• $99.4 million for upgrades and track work designed to produce faster speeds on other passenger rail routes, including the Pacific Surfliners, San Joaquins, and Capitol Corridor.

There is no specific detail about whether the Transbay Terminal got funded or not, which has been part of an ongoing battle between the California High Speed Rail Authority and San Francisco. That might be part of the “to be determined” portion of how the money is to be allocated, if the reports are true that the FRA is leaving that decision up to the state.

Still, this is a major victory for the California high speed rail project. $2.25 billion, with $100 million for other passenger rail, is an unprecedented level of federal investment in California rail.

It’s also a repudiation of the “go slow” argument on the Peninsula. Mayors Rich Cline of Menlo Park and Pat Burt of Palo Alto have openly derided the value of the stimulus and suggested the state not pursue the stimulus funds, even as unemployed workers explained the desperate need for new jobs. President Obama has rejected this insane approach, and said that instead of going slow, we need to go much faster – at high speed.

Just as the November 2008 approval of Prop 1A by California voters signaled that high speed rail really was going to happen, the infusion of a significant amount of federal money is further proof that despite all the deniers and critics, HSR remains not just popular, but a major element of this country’s economic recovery plans.

It’s also a reminder that, as many of the experienced land use planners and infrastructure builders explained at last week’s State Senate hearing in Palo Alto, we’re currently at the most difficult part: hashing out the details of where exactly the trains go, and how exactly the tracks will be built. Once dirt is turned and steel put in the ground, all this difficulty will begin to fade.

We still have some way to go on this. And if indeed the Governor gets to decide how the $2.25 billion for HSR is allocated, some of the corridor battles are still yet to be fought. But it gives us another chance to advocate for getting this money out the door as fast as possible to ensure that we start putting people back to work, weaning California off of oil, addressing global warming, and building a 21st century transportation system.

Over the flip is a press release my grassroots HSR organization, Californians For High Speed Rail put out last night.

Californians For High Speed Rail issued this statement on the stimulus announcement:

Californians For High Speed Rail, a statewide grassroots coalition of high speed rail supporters, welcomed the announcement Tuesday evening from the White House that California will receive $2.25 billion in federal stimulus money for high speed rail.

“This is encouraging news for California’s economic recovery and our future prosperity,” said Brian Stanke, Executive Director of Californians For High Speed Rail. “The federal government has made its down payment on high speed rail here in California. We expect that this will be just the first of many such announcements over the coming decade as we build high speed rail.”

The federal government announced that California will receive $2.25 billion in stimulus funds for work on four segments of the high speed rail project: San Francisco to San Jose, Merced to Fresno, Fresno to Bakersfield, and Los Angeles to Anaheim. In addition, $99.4 million will be spent to upgrade existing passenger rail service along the Capitol Corridor between San Jose and Sacramento and the Pacific Surfliners in between Santa Barbara and San Diego.

“When California voters approved Proposition 1A in November 2008, it made high speed rail a reality,” said Robert Cruickshank, Chairman of Californians For High Speed Rail. “The federal government has rewarded that support with this significant commitment of funds. We need to ensure that these funds get out the door as quickly as possible to get the high speed rail project under construction and meet federal stimulus deadlines. These funds will help create desperately needed jobs across California, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and address the climate crisis while building a sustainable transportation network that saves Californians money. I can’t imagine a better way to get California moving again.”

Building on the momentum of stimulus funding, Californians For High Speed Rail plans to continue lobbying for more federal funding to complete the high speed rail project. “California is eligible for some of the $2.5 billion Congress appropriated last month for high speed rail, and we plan to lobby to convince the Administration to release these funds quickly,” said Mr. Stanke “Congress also needs to ensure that the jobs bill under consideration includes several billion more for high speed rail in the near term. Additionally, we urge California’s Congressional delegation to ensure the next transportation bill is passed this year and that it includes a sustainable, long-term funding source for high speed rail projects.”

Building Lasting Economic Recovery Through High Speed Rail

Crossposted from the California High Speed Rail Blog

Today I’m going to be in Sacramento for the California Labor Federation’s Economic Recovery Summit. The agenda includes discussions about creating jobs that can provide lasting economic recovery, ensuring a broadly shared prosperity that won’t be dependent on a massive wave of debt as were the last three economic booms. It also includes a discussion of “rebuilding California’s crumbling infrastructure.”

The Labor Fed has been a strong supporter of high speed rail and for good reason: it will create an estimated 130,000 construction jobs and 450,000 permanent jobs. In a state facing the worst unemployment since the Great Depression, these are compelling numbers. HSR opponents need to explain where exactly they plan to create similar numbers of jobs.

Those are familiar stats to blog readers. But it’s worth exploring in some depth just how high speed rail can contribute to lasting prosperity in California beyond the obvious benefit of over a hundred thousand construction jobs.

First, the big picture. California is suffering from an economic crisis right now partly because of overdependence on oil-based forms of transportation. When gas prices broke $3 per gallon in 2006, the housing market peaked as buyers were no longer able to service debts. That bubble would have eventually burst, but it burst at a specific time and for a specific reason, that being the ripple effect of high oil prices throughout the economy. When oil prices spiked again in 2008, it helped push the nation into a severe recession.

As we know, oil prices are projected to keep rising in coming years. The only reason they’ve stayed below $100/bbl is the recession, and even then the prices at California pumps have hovered around $3 all year.

There can be no lasting economic recovery without bringing down transportation and energy costs. High speed rail is a key part of that. By providing both regional and intercity transportation, it helps stave off the impact of the oil-driven airline crisis, enabling business travel to continue in the state at stable prices. By helping produce electrification on the Caltrain corridor, and potentially on some of the SoCal railroad corridors, HSR will help daily commuters enjoy stable costs as well.

Those savings have been described as a green dividend. Sustainable and green transportation policies have saved residents of Portland, Oregon $2.6 billion. The ripple effect throughout the local economy has made Portland one of America’s leading cities, and provides a model that California would do well to emulate.

We’ve talked often at this blog about how high speed rail can play the same role as Depression era projects like Shasta Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge in driving economic recovery. The construction generates badly needed short-term employment, and the system operations generates long-term savings and economic activity, just as the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges do after 70+ years.

There’s another interesting aspect of HSR and economic recovery, which we touched on in yesterday’s post, and that is the construction of the trainsets themselves.

For 6 years earlier this decade, 2001 to 2007, I lived in Seattle, Washington. One of the dominant players in Washington’s economy since World War II has been Boeing. The state’s economy has often risen and fallen with the cycle of aircraft production, but that production was a central part of growing the state’s middle class.

There’s no reason why California cannot play a similar role for the rest of the nation, and maybe even a global market, with high speed train construction. Already Siemens and Alstom have set up plants in California. Since we are further ahead than any other state in HSR plans, it’s likely that by the time other states start their own HSR construction efforts, California will already be producing trainsets. Those other projects could conceivably look to California to produce the trainsets they will use on their own systems, and provide an ongoing market for high speed rail production based in California.

Of course, it’s not a given that it would turn out that way. Talgo is planning to open a factory in Wisconsin. The Detroit area is full of cheap land and skilled assembly line workers needing jobs. And you can bet other state HSR projects will try and woo the trainmakers to their states.

But if California starts making trainsets first, we’ll still have an advantage. It would likely be cheaper to buy trains made in pre-existing California factories, with an existing workforce, than to buy trains made in a new factor with a new workforce – the latter has higher start-up costs to recoup than the former. And other states would still be able to meet Buy American rules by ordering California-made trainsets.

Other states are beginning to blaze this trail. In 2007, Oregon Iron Works established a subsidiary called United Streetcar to produce streetcars for Portland at its Clackamas factory. Their success has already led to orders from Tucson, and other cities planning streetcar lines are considering ordering from United Streetcar. Colorado Railcar would likely have been in a similar position in the DMU market were it not for its financial collapse last year.

California used to be a major producer of industrial products – steel at the Kaiser mill in Fontana, automobiles in Van Nuys and Fremont (among other places), even tires in Salinas. Those industries produced broadly shared economic prosperity, at least until the great wave of deindustrialization and offshoring hit after 1975.

Today we can restore some of that prosperity by building more environmentally sustainable, clean, green industrial products like HSR trainsets. California can and should take the lead in producing them – and the only way we will do it is by seeing through to completion the high speed rail project voters approved in November 2008.

Dept of Good News: LB Port Installs World’s First Shoreside Power System & High Speed Rail

During this whole budget crisis, a lot of friends have told me that Calitics is a big downer.  So, in an effort to highlight some of the good stuff going around California, I’ve decided to introduce something I hope to do regularly with this Dept. of Good News.  If you have some good news that will fit this space, shoot me an email.

First, the Long Beach Port has installed the worlds’ first shore-side power system for oil tankers that will drastically decrease pollution in the area.  It will allow tankers in one of the busiest ports on the West Coast to connect to the power grid rather than sit in the port idling, burning dirty fuel.

At a ceremony formally unveiling the port’s dockside power system, port Executive Director Dick Steinke described it as “another giant step” toward cleaning up the air. The project cost $23.7 million and took three years to complete, port officials said. The port contributed about $17.5 million to the project and BP paid the rest.

Roger Brown, regional vice president of BP, said the emissions reductions amounted to 50% even when factoring in pollution created by power plants in generating the electricity. (LAT 6/4/09)

Speaking of reducing emissions, you know what else would do that? Why, high speed rail, of course.  After passing our high speed rail bond package (2008’s Prop 1A), we are now sitting pretty for the federal government’s $8 B of stimulus money tagged for high speed rail.

“The reason why California is looked at so closely — it’s been a priority of your governor, it’s been a priority of your Legislature, they’ve talked about it, a lot of planning has been done,” Biden said in a conference call with reporters.

The vice president said the administration wants “to get shovel-ready projects out the door as quickly as we can. . . . So California is in the game.” (LAT 6/4/09)

HSR has been in the works for a loooong time, and had we just put this on the ballot 6 years ago or whenever it was originally scheduled we would now be in full construction mode.  Despite that, after all the land is purchased and a bit more planning is done, we should be digging for what could be our next great infrastructure project sooner rather than later.

So, are you cheered up yet?

Newsom & Garamendi might be the high speed rail governor and BRT congressman

 (Cross posted at Living in the O.)

At the California Democratic Convention a couple weeks ago, Gavin Newsom met with a couple dozen bloggers to talk about his campaign for governor. I was excited going into this meeting, especially since I knew exactly what question I was going to ask. It was the same question that AC Transit Director Joel Young asked at a Newsom town hall in March: what are you going to do about the fact that the state has entirely stripped funding from local transit agencies? You might remember that Newsom basically dodged the question and launched into a speech about how great high speed rail is. So this time, I was determined to get a better answer.

And surprisingly, I was somewhat impressed with his answer. He explained that coming from a city and county, he understands the needs of public transit agencies. While stimulus funds are available for capital projects, none are available to run buses, which is problematic. (Of course, this isn’t entirely true – some funds are being used for operating expenses – but it was nice to hear that he understands the need for operations funding.)

Newsom then said that California is a prosperous state and that it’s all about priorities. Except somehow he managed to skirt by without saying what his priorities are! His comments suggested that he would prioritize public transit, but he never actually committed to this. This was a theme throughout the blogger meeting – Newsom displayed a firm understanding of the issues at hand but managed to not make many specific policy promises.

My favorite line from Newsom about transit issues came not in response to my question but in an answer to Calitics’ David Dayen’s question about prison issues. Newsom said (among other things), “Building prisons is like building highways; within a few years, they’re 90% filled up.” Yes, a major candidate for governor understands that building highways is fruitless because they only generate demand and never fulfill it. Of course, he didn’t promise that he would place a moratorium on new highway construction or do anything else to stop highway expansion.

I left feeling pretty good about Newsom’s answer. Though he didn’t make specific policy promises (except on high speed rail), he at least didn’t entirely dodge my question.

But I became a bit less impressed yesterday, after reading Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi’s post on Calitics about High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Up until a few weeks ago, Garamendi was running for governor, and if he had stayed in the race, he would have blown Newsom out of the water on transit issues:

While some have raised concerns that HOT lanes give wealthy commuters special access – and this is a criticism I take very seriously – I would argue that broad access and equity in services are best achieved with a package of transportation solutions that includes the expansion of longer distance rapid transit bus service throughout key corridors in East Bay and South Bay counties. The most effective and profitable rapid transit routes reaching more inland regions of the Bay Area will have to be implemented along the proposed HOT lane network to provide a reliable enough commute to convince riders to leave their cars at home. There is nothing rapid about gridlock.

Rapid transit buses, which along city streets allow bus commuters to avoid most traffic lights, have been shown to be popular and effective in the Bay Area and should be considered a low-cost solution in areas where a more speedy public transit commute is desired but rail is impractical. A study of a busy seven-city 14-mile Bay Area route by the Federal Transit Administration determined that the rapid transit line reduced end-to-end travel time by an average of 12 minutes, leading to a 21 percent reduction in time previously spent on local service non-rapid bus lines. Ridership across all areas of the corridor increased by 8.5 percent as a result of the rapid transit line, and most significantly, around 19 percent of rapid transit riders previously used a car for their commute along the corridor, a reduction of around 1,100 auto trips per day.

Garamendi touched on two issues that are near and dear to my heart: taxing drivers to pay for public transit and BRT expansion. If he was still in the race for governor, I’m pretty sure I would have signed up for his campaign immediately after reading this. Though Newsom gets larger public transit issues, it’s clear from this blog post that Garamendi understands the nuances of public transit issues.

But transit advocates don’t have to decide between Garamendi and Newsom. Garamendi has jumped into the race for Ellen Tauscher’s congressional seat in CA-10 and is the fruntrunner in the race. Which means that East Bay residents might soon have a high speed rail governor and BRT congressman.

For an excellent and comprehensive write up of the Newsom bloggers meeting, check out Robert Cruickshank’s post at Calitics.

Obama’s HSR Plan: How Will California Benefit?

Note: for much more detail on the plan, visit my California High Speed Rail Blog

Today President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood announced the DOT’s high speed rail strategic plan. You can find the full details of the plan at the USDOT website.

It’s an important announcement and contains some long-awaited policy changes that will help make HSR a reality across the nation. It’s not yet clear how this will impact the California HSR project, but the way the funding allocation categories are set up appears to be quite favorable to us here in California.

First, I want to quote from both President Obama and VP Biden – these guys get it when it comes to HSR. It is a sea change from the last 25 years of refusal to speak openly and honestly about our nation’s transportation needs.

“My high-speed rail proposal will lead to innovations that change the way we travel in America.  We must start developing clean, energy-efficient transportation that will define our regions for centuries to come,” said President Obama.  “A major new high-speed rail line will generate many thousands of construction jobs over several years, as well as permanent jobs for rail employees and increased economic activity in the destinations these trains serve.  High-speed rail is long-overdue, and this plan lets American travelers know that they are not doomed to a future of long lines at the airports or jammed cars on the highways.”

He nailed it. This quote has it all – energy independence, job creation and long-term economic growth, and relieving congested airports and freeways.

That case is made strongly and powerfully in the HSR strategic plan document (PDF, 3MB). It is one of the best arguments for HSR that I’ve ever seen. This administration is serious about HSR. The plan includes a good overview of the history of rail funding in America, explaining that we have spent over $1 trillion on roads and airports in the last 50 years but have starved rail – even though, as the report makes clear, high speed rail is one of the best methods to move people over distances from 100 to 600 miles.

The report also recognizes the need to update the FRA’s regulations to make HSR more of a possibility in this country – current regulations require trains to be unusually heavy, which makes it difficult to import existing “off the shelf” train technology or to achieve high speeds in an energy efficient way.

The heart of the plan is a three-pronged approach to funding HSR using the following “tracks” – shovel-ready projects (including engineering and EIR prep); “corridor programs” to support HSR corridors where planning and engineering work has already been done but that aren’t yet shovel-ready; and “projects” to help new HSR planning efforts get off the ground. The CA HSR plan potentially qualifies for funding under all three categories, since our project has some shovel-ready elements to it, as well as corridor design work to complete.

California has to compete with some other states, of course, including the Pacific Northwest, Illinois, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, and perhaps even Florida and Texas. The California High Speed Rail Authority had been hopeful that we could get as much as $4 billion out of the $8 billion HSR stimulus money. That’s going to be a challenge, but the plan hasn’t been set up to make that impossible.

So overall I think this is a huge boost for HSR, even though it does leave some things unclear as to how exactly our own project will fare. And it all depends on Congress’s commitment to funding HSR in future years, especially in the next transportation bill, where the highway lobby will fight to prevent their money from going to HSR.

Over the flip, I take issue with Matthew Yglesias on this announcement.

This announcement has gotten a lot of reaction around the blogosphere, but I want to single out for criticism Matthew Yglesias’s take on the announcement:

My take on this is that the most promising projects on the merits, from a federal point of view, are probably those that upgrade the existing Northeast Corridor (where we know demand exists) and those that connect to the Northeast Corridor since the existing passenger rail corridor extends the utility of the new link. The Chicago Hub Network and the California Corridor concepts strikes me as very important for the long-term future of their regions, but for it to be useful will take a lot of time and money. I assume that the relevant state-level politicians for the Gulf Coast and South Central Corridors aren’t going to be interested in ponying up the sort of state funds that would make these projects competitively viable, and that may be for the best since I think those corridors may be a bit ill-conceived. It seems strange to build so much track in Texas and not manage to link Houston with Dallas.

This is a pretty flawed way to look at things. What Yglesias proposes is in fact the model Clinton eventually adopted. In 1993 he proposed a broad national HSR plan, but by the late ’90s he decided to just focus on upgrading the NEC and rail was left to wither around the country.

Yglesias is wrong to say that we should prioritize the NEC and connections to the NEC. Significant improvements in speed and carrying capacity can be made in the Midwest with a few billion dollars, and the California project need federal cash infusion now to ensure completion by 2018. All of those will revolutionize rail transportation in America to a much bigger scale than upgrades to the NEC. Too much focus on the NEC is one of the primary reasons for the lack of passenger rail upgrades and improvements around the country. It’s time we took HSR national.

And with President Obama’s plan, that is exactly what will happen. Now, to make sure this all gets funded…

Going Electric

I’m tired of even thinking about the lunatic political leaders in this state, so I’m going to take a short break and focus on the innovators, those who have the ability to drag us out of recession and toward a new economic future.

For starters, Tesla Motors, which last year was thought to be in a fair bit of trouble, has come out of that and has begun to receive orders for their new $50,000 sedan model.

San Carlos, California-based Tesla Motors said it has received 711 reservations for its new Model S, an all-electric family sedan that carries up to seven people and can travel up to 300 miles per charge.

Tesla said reservations – which include a refundable $5,000 fee – started coming in after the car was formally unveiled on March 26. Mass production of the Model S is expected to begin in late 2011.

The company said the Model S will go from zero to 60 miles per hour in 5.6 seconds, with an electronically limited top speed of 130 mph. Three battery pack choices will offer a range of 160, 230 or 300 miles per charge. The company has not released pricing options on the higher-mileage battery packs.

The anticipated base price of the Model S is $49,900, after a federal tax credit of $7,500.

One high-profile buyer is Governor Schwarzenegger himself, who will turn in the Tesla roadster he had previously purchased in exchange for the sedan.  The goal of Tesla is to bring a model into the $35,000 and under market, essentially on par with a Lexus, within the next couple years, and with the federal tax credits and complete lack of gas costs, that would be an attractive option for a pretty broad section of the upper and upper-middle class.  Tesla reminds me of the Wild West early days of the auto industry, when lots of small manufacturers competed for business and the competition drove innovation.

Outside of the auto realm, the California high speed rail Authority hopes for up to $4 billion in federal dollars to jump-start production.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act approved by Congress in February contains $8 billion to be doled out to states for development of high-speed rail service and passenger rail service among cities.

California wants half.

“As of now, we have close to $4 billion worth of things we can show can be done within the time limit” of the act, said Mehdi Morshed, executive director of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the agency charged with building a speedy rail line connecting Northern and Southern California through the Central Valley.

Morshed and other California boosters are trying to make the case with federal transportation officials that when it comes to high-speed rail in the United States, the Golden State is king.

“All factors considered, we are at the top,” Morshed said. “We are the only ones with a real high-speed rail project. Everyone else is just improving their current (conventional) rail service.”

While the $10 billion in bonds authorized by last November’s Prop. 1A (the good one) have yet to be sold on the open market, federal stimulus dollars would really help get HSR off the ground.  And such an investment would get some of the preliminary work out of the way and spur private investment, which would be looking toward a shorter lead time for their payoff.  Our friends at the CA HSR blog, including some guy named Robert, have more.  You can quibble with the strength of the SacBee article, but you cannot deny that the President has made high speed rail a priority and California’s entity is clearly the furthest along, suggesting that we will be in line for a good portion of those stimulus dollars.

Despite political dysfunction, innovators will allow California to move to a new economy based on clean energy and efficiency.  Hopefully the political leaders will follow, having failed to lead.