The High-Speed Rail Advocate December 2010 Issue




Year End Message from Executive Director Brian Stanke
I am happy to report that the California High-Speed Rail (HSR) project is gaining tremendous momentum as 2010 comes to a close.

  • In late October, the California High Speed Rail Authority (Authority) was awarded a $715 million grant by the Federal Government for construction of the first segment of Phase 1 of the California HSR project between San Francisco and Los Angeles/Anaheim.
  • In early December, the Authority board approved construction for the first segment of the overall Phase 1 of the California HSR project. The approved segment runs from just north of Fresno, south through Hanford, to Corcoran.
  • The states of Wisconsin and Ohio then gave California a gift. When these states rejected Federal stimulus money for HSR rail projects, an additional $614 million was granted for the California HSR project, allowing for a further extension of HSR tracks toward Bakersfield.
  • In late October, I had the distinct pleasure to be present at the Fresno Economic Development Corporation annual meeting where Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Administrator Joseph C. Szabo presented a check representing $715 million to Authority CEO Roelof van Ark and U.S House Representative Jim Costa. The $715 million (part of a larger $902 million grant) will be added to the $2.25 billion that the Federal government has already committed to the planning and construction California’s HSR network. Both Mr. Szabo and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood reiterated their confidence in California’s plans and their determination to, “work night and day,” to help get the California system built. Despite two years of constant bashing of the HSR project by naysayers, the Federal government continues to believe we have one of the best HSR plans and program in the nation.

On the other hand, existing challenges remain and new challenges have appeared:

  • The November elections bring uncertainty to the Federal funding for HSR in 2011 and beyond. We risk seeing a significant reduction in spending that would severely impact investments in much needed infrastructure such as HSR.
  • The Authority and Caltrain continue to resist fully integrating their planning and operations, and the Authority’s consultants’ initial design for stations and parking have caused concern and several cities to request not to have a station.
  • Project opponents are still organizing and threatening more legal action.
  • Reform of the Authority is likely in 2011. While this is an opportunity to improve the operations, communications, and efficiency of the Authority, if not done right the HSR project could suffer.
  • The work done by Californians For High Speed Rail (CA4HSR) in 2010 is having real impact.
    Our continued dialogue with Caltrain and the Authority staff has contributed to the recent decision to design the San Francisco Peninsula corridor so that Caltrain and HSR can utilize all tracks (i.e. a shared-track configuration).
  • In light of a poll that we helped to publicize that shows overwhelming support for HSR on the Peninsula in the Bay Area, and “CA4HSR’s Peninsula Reset” campaign, we are witnessing a more constructive approach taking shape along the Peninsula, though there is still plenty of work to be done.
  • Our work to campaign for Federal funding has contributed to efforts to bring a significant portion of Federal stimulus funds and 2010 appropriations funds to California.

We at Californians For High Speed Rail look forward to continuing to build on the momentum developed in 2010, both in terms of our influence and the progress made on the California HSR project itself. Continue reading this newsletter to see what we have been up to in these last few months. Thank you for your support of our work and of the HSR project!

Brian Stanke
Executive Director, Californians for High Speed Rail

CA4HSR Welcomes First Construction Segment in the Central Valley
The California HSR project has reached a significant milestone this month as the California High Speed Rail Authority selected a segment from Fresno to Bakersfield to be the first part of the HSR route to be constructed. This route will bring desperately needed jobs to the Central Valley, as well as getting our HSR project under way. As we have seen with other passenger rail projects, once a first set of tracks are laid, the public will clamor for it to be extended to other areas, helping us find funding to construct the other segments of the project and link this initial trackage to the Bay Area and to Southern California.

CA4HSR Speaks In Favor of Keeping Merced in Phase 1 of the California HSR Project
CA4HSR board member Brian Stanke testified at the December 2, 2010 Authority board meeting about the importance of keeping Merced in Phase 1 of the California HSR project. CA4HSR supports service to Merced in Phase 1 for three main reasons. First, a Merced station will provide more convenient access to HSR patrons living in northern San Joaquin Valley. Second, given that Merced has been identified for being in Phase 1 for quite sometime now, CA4HSR feels that changing plans to omit a Merced station at this point is unwise. We feel that such last minute changes do not serve the interests of the project in terms of maintaining the support of various constituencies. Third, constructing HSR to Merced in Phase 1 provides an opportunity to develop an efficient transfer station between HSR and Amtrak service. Such a transfer station would allow people riding Amtrak from areas north of Merced (including Sacramento) and west of Merced to access HSR in the northern San Joaquin Valley rather than much farther south in Hanford or Bakersfield (note that there is no transfer station envisioned for Fresno due the fact the BNSF line is east of where the HSR station is planned). The transfer point between Amtrak and High Speed Rail service could be in one of two places:

·    A dedicated transfer station near Castle Airport where the HSR tracks are planned to reconnect with the BNSF corridor.  Note such a transfer station could be designed to be temporary until Phase 2 service north of Merced (to Sacramento) is completed.

·    At the downtown Merced High-speed rail station by allowing Amtrak to temporarily use the high-speed tracks between the BNSF line near Castle Airport and downtown to connect the two services.

CA4HSR plans to develop these ideas further and describe in detail in a future newsletter.

CA4HSR Urges the Authority to Improve Communications
Some in the Merced area were upset by the decision to not include Merced with the initial construction segment. It became clear that not enough communication has been performed by the Authority to discuss with stakeholders the rationale for the decision. Further, it was not clear if Merced was being cut out of Phase 1 or not. Several communities in the Merced area were blindsided by the selection of an initial construction segment that was not previously publicly discussed. This lack of communication has been a recurring issue with many other cities around the state and it is a cause for concern. Brian Stanke spoke to this issue at the December 2, 2010 Authority board meeting, urging them to communicate farther in advance with local communities, and CA4HSR board members have worked with HSR supporters in Merced to ensure their voices are heard and their needs met. We are encouraged by recent efforts by CHSRA CEO Roelof van Ark to improve outreach, and have heard positive reports from meetings he has conducted with local officials in cities such as Gilroy. We stand ready to help the Authority improve their outreach in 2011 and ensure that this important project proceeds as intended.

Update on the CA4HSR Proposed Hybrid Alternative Alignment for the Merced to Fresno Section of the California HSR Project
In our last e-news (July 2010), we provided a link to a new alternative alignment that was proposed by CA4HSR that suggested that the HSR alignment run along the UPRR corridor north of Madera and along the BNSF corridor from Madera to just north of Fresno.

Since the release of this proposal, the Authority staff has created a similar alternative, which they presented to the Authority board on August 5, 2010. This alternative is shown within a staff presentation on a map titled “A2 (UPRR)/A1 (BNSF) – Ave 24 Wye West of Chowchilla Design Option” (see page 19 of the PDF file). CA4HSR is encouraged that the conversation has expanded beyond the original two alternatives (A1 and A2). Based on the recent decision to begin construction just north of Fresno to somewhere north of Bakersfield, it appears that the BNSF line is essentially confirmed to be selected east of Madera.

CA4HSR Co-Founder and Vice-Chair Daniel Krause Releases Study on Transit-Oriented Development at Planned HSR Stations in Fresno and Bakersfield
To satisfy requirements for a Master of Urban Planning degree at San Jose State University, CA4HSR’s Daniel Krause recently completed a study on transit-oriented development around HSR stations and how to apply lessons learned to Fresno and Bakersfield. Given that both these cities are now likely to be included in the first segment of the California HSR project, the release of this study is very timely. The study is now posted on the CA4HSR website.

Peninsula Reset Launched
On September 13, 2010, CA4HSR launched its Peninsula Reset campaign with a grassroots campaign and open letter. We invited Peninsula residents to join us in signing a letter to their city councils to represent the majority who support high-speed rail. Additionally, our open letter called on Peninsula cities, CAHSR Authority, political representatives and residents for a “Peninsula Reset.”  We asked for the acknowledgement of the high level of support for HSR on the Peninsula and to take steps to improve the tone of the dialogue. CA4HSR board members have met with local, state, and federal elected officials to discuss the Peninsula Reset effort and are optimistic that 2011 will see a more constructive, collaborative HSR planning process. CA4HSR announced our efforts via a press release and plans to continue to work to improve the situation on the Peninsula in 2011.

Federal Funding Campaign Update
The California HSR project has received several significant funding commitments from the Federal government. As previously mentioned, in addition to the $2.25 billion committed from the Federal stimulus, an additional $715 million was committed from the 2010 HSR appropriations funds. Furthermore, California was recently awarded an unexpected $614 million for HSR from funds that were originally intended for HSR projects in Wisconsin and Ohio. Total Federal funding for California HSR is now approximately $3.5 billion. $400 million of this funding is dedicated to the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco, while the remainder will be used to construct HSR tracks from just north of Fresno to the Bakersfield area. CA4HSR applauds Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein for their leadership in bring these critical funds to California.

While Federal funding is flowing to us right now, CA4HSR is very concerned about funding prospects in 2011 given the makeup of the new Congress. $1 billion was slated for HSR in the FY 2011 appropriations bill, a significant drop for the $2.5 billion in the FY 2010 appropriation. Additionally, the FY 2011 appropriations bill failed in the lame duck session. Therefore, the amount of funding for HSR will have to be negotiated with incoming House members who are promising significant budget cuts. There may also be efforts to defund the Federal funding already committed. Several U.S. Congressmen have recently proposed a bill that would revoke all unspent HSR money. Much of California’s funding is committed but still unspent.

CA4HSR will spend considerable energy in 2011 defending the funding already committed as well as to ensure that HSR is properly funded in the 2011 appropriations bill. We are part of a nationwide coalition of HSR advocates working to protect and expand the available federal HSR funding, and we are planning a new advocacy effort early in January 2011 to advocate for increased funding. And we will speak to all members of the California Congressional delegation, especially those whose districts include the proposed HSR route, to show them the benefits of HSR and widespread public support for the project.

New Central Valley Initiative for 2011
Given that the first segment of HSR will be constructed between Fresno and Bakersfield, CA4HSR plans to get more involved in the implementation of this portion of the HSR project. Many issues related to design and land use are now coming to the forefront and CA4HSR wants to ensure planning is done in an intelligent way. For example, what is the implication of only having a two-track station in Fresno (when originally there were to be four)? Also, is land use being planned in Fresno and Bakersfield in a way that will provide the maximum ridership for HSR and economic development for Central Valley? Successful resolution of these issues and a slew of others will be critical in getting the project going on the right track, so to speak. We will soon begin public outreach and organizing HSR supporters in the Valley in order to address these issues and ensure that the initial HSR segment construction proceeds as planned.

About the High Speed Rail Advocate
The High Speed Rail Advocate is the official e-newsletter of Californians For High Speed Rail (CA4HSR).

Editorial Committee: Daniel Krause, Brian Stanke, Robert Cruickshank, Sharon Sim-Krause, Bianca Walser, Ryan Stern

Letterhead Designer: Rebecca Algazy

As a non-profit group united by our passion to bring high-speed rail to California, we rely on the help of like-minded volunteers to carry out our mission. We welcome article ideas, submissions and donations from our members and supporters. Contact Sharon Sim-Krause at sharon@ca4hsr.org or 415.658.5322 to learn about ways you can make a difference.

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Californians For High Speed Rail (CA4HSR) is a grassroots, statewide coalition of high-speed rail supporters advocating for the high speed rail project approved by California voters in November 2008. Founded in 2005, we exist to educate, inform, and organize Californians about ways they can help make high speed rail a reality in the Golden State. Join us at www.ca4hsr.org!