The High-Speed Rail Advocate – January 2011 Issue



New Year Message from Executive Director

With the New Year comes continued progress for the California High-Speed Rail (HSR) project and our advocacy for keeping it on track and making it the best system it can be for all Californians. In this issue we discuss several important issues and happenings including:

  • Updates and analysis on HSR project developments in the Bay Area, Central Valley, and the Los Angeles area.
  • Legislative and funding reports covering the State Capitol here in California, and Washington D.C.
  • A feature article which discusses a recent seminar held by Japan International Transport Institute.
  • And much more…

The New Year is a time for looking forward and seeing what adjustments we need to make going forward. Over the past several months a number of changes have occurred in the lives and situations of our officers and board members of Californians For High Speed Rail that led us to decide it was time to change some of our roles in the organization. Starting next month:

  • I will transition from Executive Director to Chairman of the Board.
  • Fellow Co-Founder and Board Vice-Chairman Daniel Krause has been named by the Board as the new Executive Director. Daniel will also continue to serve as Vice-Chairman of the Board.
  • Robert Cruickshankhas stepped down as Chairman due to his recent move to Seattle for a new job, but will stay on the board and continue his personal “California High Speed Rail Blog,” which continues to provide a rich forum for the California HSR community.
  • And finally, we welcome Los Angeles-based Ryan Stern to our board. Ryan also serves as a Council of Representatives Member for the National Association of Railroad Passengers.

Within these new roles we will continue to push forward our HSR advocacy, working to ensure the best system for the future of our state. Californians For High Speed Rail continues to be about how we can better the future of all Californians through successful implementation of the HSR network and to encourage ancillary positive changes that HSR will make possible for us and future generations of Californians. As Chairman, I ask you to continue to spread the word about the benefits of HSR, and pitch in whatever way and measure you can to help us build a better future for our state and provide a positive example to the rest of the country and world of what is possible.

Brian Stanke
Executive Director, Californians For High Speed Rail

California HSR Project Updates

An Around-the-State Update on HSR Developments
By Daniel Krause

Central Valley
With planning for initial segment of track accelerated from just north of Fresno to the Bakersfield vicinity, the importance of station design and station area planning have greatly increased. The California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) will soon be finalizing the exact station locations in Fresno, Hanford, and Bakersfield as part of their project-level Environmental Impact Report/Environment Impact Statement that covers the Fresno to Bakersfield section. The potential for economic development in these Central Valley cities will be greatly affected by how well stations are integrated into their downtowns (especially for Fresno and Bakersfield; Hanford will be located just outside of town). The City of Fresno is currently planning station area guidelines for design and development as part of the Fulton Corridor Specific Plan.  In Bakersfield, conceptual planning is just getting underway. Given that Fresno will receive a station as part of the initial construction and Bakersfield will not, it is likely that Fresno is the most critical station to focus on at this time. However, the location of the Bakersfield station will be determined shortly, which could also significantly affect how station area planning is done.

CA4HSR has great interest in station location and design and other plans for development around stations in the Central Valley. CA4HSR is planning to examine the choices that planners and engineers will be making in the coming weeks and months, and will be developing a set of recommendations shortly.

Bay Area
Big news out of the Peninsula in the Bay Area! The Burlingame Patch is reporting that Authority staff is planning to recommend that the EIR/EIS for the San Francisco to San Jose EIR/EIS be delayed for up to one year. Due to the complex nature of planning the HSR line along the Peninsula, it may be prudent to allow more time to complete the EIR/EIS, especially given that the priority for initial construction is now between Fresno and Bakersfield. However, CA4HSR is concerned about the impact of a full year of delay on the project’s momentum.

The same article also reports that consideration is being given to a two-track HSR/Caltrain corridor rather than the originally envisioned four- track corridor. Under this scenario, Caltrain would share tracks with HSR trains. CA4HSR would need to take a hard look at any such proposal. While such a plan has the potential to reduce both conflict and cost, the correspondent reductions in capacity would need to be seriously considered. It is likely that several hybrid scenarios could be formulated, such as constructing additional four-track sections in less-controversial areas of the Peninsula (currently there are three such sections). CA4HSR will examine any proposals along these lines as they emerge and keep you posted.

Los Angeles Area
The Authority recently announced that it will be investing $30 million in Federal stimulus funds in the Los Angeles area for property acquisition and other railway development related to HSR. Out of this $30 million, the Authority is planning to help fund the purchase of Los Angeles Union Station from the current owner. Currently, the LAUS is owned by a private company. Having this facility convert to public-ownership is a positive development, especially since HSR needs to be integrated into the facility. It could have been much more difficult to do what is in the best interest of the HSR with a private property owner having a say in the design. We commend this strategic move by the Authority and their partner in the purchase, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

State Capitol and Federal HSR Reports
Spotlight on HSR Developments in Sacramento, Washington D.C. and Beyond
By Nick Cronenwett (State Capitol), CA4HSR Member, and Daniel Krause (Federal)

State Capitol
The California Assembly Transportation Committee met on Monday, January 24th to hear updates from the major government departments, including the California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority). Two representatives from the Authority that sat before the committee were Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors Tom Umberg and Chief Executive Officer Roelof van Ark. One major focus of questions from committee members was the alignment for initial construction between Madera and Corcoran. The myth that this section is a “train to nowhere” unfortunately arose when Vice-Chair of the committee, Kevin Jeffries (Assemblyperson from 66th District) critiqued the alignment by referring to a recent New York Times article, which erroneously reported on the nature of the planned initial line between Madera and Corcoran (see Robert Cruickshank’s recent blog post that debunks this poorly researched article). Unfortunately, misinformed negative media coverage does have an impact on the perception of the project at the political level, as this example illustrates. Fortunately, Mr. van Ark was able to set the record straight, stating, “It was important for us to choose a section that would have independent utility while the remainder of the system is being built.” He explained how the first section of track would be leased to Amtrak for their use while the remainder of the system is built out. As a result, Amtrak will be able to travel at 90 miles an hour on HSR track between Madera and Corcoran, speeding existing San Joaquin service. Assemblyperson Galgiani of the 17th Assembly District, which includes the major cities of Stockton, Tracy, Los Banos, and Merced, also pointed out that construction would create 83,000 jobs in the Central Valley.

Other issues brought up by committee members were their general unhappiness about the Authority’s communication, accuracy of ridership studies, and the ongoing issue of the business model. In term of communication, CA4HSR agrees that it should be greatly improved. However, rather than just blaming the Authority, we urge Committee members to be more constructive about solving this problem and other problems by giving the Authority the ability to hire more staff. In fact, Mr. Umberg mentioned the fact that the Authority only has a staff consisting of 17 people. It is ridiculous that only 17 people are responsible for over seeing a project of this magnitude. Despite the fact that the Authority is severely under-staffed, committee members seemed mostly concerned about their perception of poor performance by the Authority in the past year.

The Authority has not been given the flexiblity that other California agencies are given. Other agencies, such as Caltrans, are given an annual budget and the flexibility to hire people when needed. The Authority on the other hand needs to get legislation passed to allow them to hire staff they need. CA4HSR believe that it should be a priority for state legislators to quickly authorize sufficient staff for the Authority. Six million Californians voted to invest in our future in 2008. We want our money used to make our collective dream of HSR a reality and demand that funds for providing sufficient staff are not held up by committees who are also critiquing the performance of Authority.

Federal
The new Governor of Florida, Rick Scott, still has not decided whether he will accept $2.4 Billion in Federal HSR funds for the HSR line between Tampa and Orlando.  While it is possible that California could receive some of these funds if Gov. Scott chooses to reject them, we at CA4HSR support moving forward with the Florida project, even if that means less money for the project we are advocating for here California. We believe it is critical to build support around the country for HSR if Federal funds are to continue to flow in the future. The best way to develop this support and create new HSR constituencies is to begin development of several HSR projects around the country. Furthermore, U.S Representative John Mica is from Florida and he is Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Therefore, Rep. Mica will have tremendous influence on the next Federal transportation bill, which is currently being developed. Rep. Mica recently indicated his support for Florida’s HSR project. That said, if Gov. Scott ultimately rejects these funds, CA4HSR will make it a high priority to advocate for much of those funds being redirected to our favorite project here in California.

The Midwest High Speed Rail Association is also advocating for the Florida project. In fact, they have created a new campaign – Stand Up for Trains – to build support for the Florida project.

Feature Article
Japan International Transport Institute Shares HSR Success Stories
By Ryan Stern, CA4HSR Board Member

On January 15th, 2011, the Japan International Transport Institute held a high speed rail (HSR) seminar at the Omni Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles. Gathered there were several of Japan’s top passenger rail operators and manufacturers, eager to share information about their accomplishments of having more than 46 years of successful experience with Shinkansen (the world’s first “bullet train”).

Los Angeles was chosen for the seminar, in part, because of the role the city will play (along with Anaheim) in anchoring the southern end of the California HSR system. Additionally, the Japanese see Los Angeles as making all the right efforts toward regional public transportation improvement. To underscore this observation, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was on hand to welcome the delegation and to give a briefing on his “30/10 Initiative” to build 30 years of regional transit projects in 10 years – an ideal timeline, as it would dovetail nicely with the state’s HSR project.

Villaraigosa was joined by former U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, U.S. Representatives Jim Costa and Laura Richardson, and California Assembly members Warren Furutani, Cathleen Galgiani, and Fiona Ma. All spoke to the ways in which we must advance the California HSR project. Moving forward in the current political climate means framing the benefits of HSR in terms of jobs and economic development. As has been demonstrated by HSR lines the world over, job creation doesn’t end with construction. High-speed rail ushers in permanent economic growth, lifting the “recovery ceiling” as we begin to climb out of the Great Recession.

The Japanese speakers included senior executives from JR East, JR Central, and from JR Kyushu, which operates the newest HSR line in the network and is scheduled to open its second 130km (80 mile) segment in March of this year. The Japanese have never stopped expanding their Shinkansen system.  Each HSR line has brought dramatic improvements to mobility – not just by shrinking end-to-end distances by slashing travel time, but also by increasing the demand and usefulness of extensions and other improvements to local and regional transportation systems that feed the stations of the Shinkansen system.

Station-area development has been a key success of the Shinkansen. The northern terminus of the Kyushu line, Amu Plaza Kahoshima Station Terminal, has developed into a “Station Village”, with 160 specialty stores, 30 restaurants, a 10-screen movie theater, and a special event square. Patronage at these retailers brings in $220 million a year in tenant sales. When the Kyushu Line commences service to Hakata later this year, Toshihiko Aoyagi, Director of General Railway Operations for JR Kyushi, told us that officials are predicting that retailers at the “Hakata Station City” could top $790 million in annual tenant sales!

Efficiency is also a hallmark of the Shinkansen. Satoshi Seino, CEO of JR East, which handles 17 million passengers a day on its rail lines, gave a quick time index of how a passenger arriving via local transit might transfer to a Shinkansen train.  By taking special care to design efficient station layouts and giving passengers a variety of options for buying tickets (home, office, cell phone “Suica” card, or in-person), coupled with precise directional and destination signage, a passenger can typically get from a conventional train to the correct Shinkansen departure gate in 5 minutes.

The Japanese are immensely proud of the Shinkansen’s safety record. Since service began in 1964, there has never been an accident resulting in a passenger fatality. Much like California, Japan is earthquake country, and several technologies are employed to keep trains upright and on the tracks in the event of seismic activity. Shikansen trains also traverse densely populated urban areas and CEO Seino was quick to point out that even as speeds have increased, the trains operate below 75db noise levels, thanks in part to the shape of the train, pantograph (the hardware that gathers electricity from the overhead wire), and coverings over the trains wheel sets.

Japan has a lot in common with California, from its built-up urban areas to its seismic conditions.  The representatives at the seminar certainly came prepared, effectively comparing their experience and achievements to the challenges we hear from those who say HSR can’t be built here. Japan is not only a great role model, but a willing partner, and it should be fascinating to see how things develop as the Authority begins to review its options.

For further reading, Dennis Lytton, CA4HSR member and Council Member with the National Association of Railroad Passengers, recently posted a thorough and insightful article over on the California High Speed Rail Blog.

HSR Blurbs
Documentary Film on High-Speed Rail in California Features CA4HSR
CA4HSR’s Vice-Chair Daniel Krause was recently interviewed for a documentary film about HSR being produced by students from Cal State Fullerton. Mario Davis Jr., Cal Fullerton student majoring in Broadcast Journalism and Chair of the Student Organizations Accessing Resources Communications InterClub Council, is heading up the film project. He contacted CA4HSR to get our perspective on the benefits of HSR in California. Also interviewed for the films were Rod Diridon of the Mineta Transportation Institute (and former Authority board member) and HSR opponent Martin Engel from Menlo Park. The film will focus on how Californians (i.e. students, faculty, community members, etc.) will be affected by the development of high-speed rail in terms of safety, environment conditions, and job creation. When the film is complete, we will be sure to provide you a link to view it.

About the High-Speed Rail Advocate
The High-Speed Rail Advocate is the official e-newsletter of Californians For High Speed Rail (CA4HSR).
Contributors to this E-Newsletter: Daniel Krause, Brian Stanke, Nick Cronenwett, Ryan Stern
Editor: Daniel Krause
Letterhead Designer: Rebecca Algazy

About Californians For High Speed Rail
Californians For High Speed Rail (CA4HSR) is a grassroots, statewide coalition of HSR supporters advocating for the HSR 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.

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 on ways you can make a difference.

Become a Member of CA4HSR today!
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