April 2, 2010 - From the March2010 issue

VerdeXchange: High Speed Rail Panel Updates Status of Project Planning

The following remarks are excerpted from the High Speed Rail panel at VX2010, held earlier this year in Los Angeles. Although the Obama Administration has since announced an award of $2.8 billion in ARRA funding for the California High Speed Rail project (over half of the $4.5 billion the state applied for), the panel's remarks are still pertinent in understanding the project's current status in the planning and engineering process. Included in the following remarks are CA High Speed Rail Authority Boardmember Richard Katz, Anaheim Mayor and CA High Speed Rail Board President Curt Pringle, CA State Assembly Majority Whip Fiona Ma, and Central Japan Railway General Manager Katsuhiko Ichikawa.


Richard Katz

Richard Katz: ...high speed rail is, without a doubt, a subject that many, many people are interested in, concerned about, and preoccupied with. Everyone who is intimately involved with high speed rail is watching news wires hourly these days because there are also rumors about whether the president is going to announce the ARRA funding today, tomorrow, the next day, or next week. We're okay with whenever he announces it as long as he sends the whole $4.8 billion we asked for back to California. If he does that he can announce it almost anytime or anywhere. California, in all modesty, applied for $4.8 billion of what was then $8 billion-the president has upped that ARRA funding to $10.5 billion, so we continue to be cautiously optimistic....

...It's an interesting time for high speed rail in California, and we're very much looking forward to hearing from our panelists today in terms of both how we got here, where exactly we are, and where we're going in the future. One of the things we've asked the panelists to talk about is not just the dream of high speed rail but a reality check on where they believe high speed rail is, in California, in particular, as well as with the federal government. The promise is huge, the opportunity is huge; all of us believe that. The question certainly is in an economy facing the current challenges, where does high speed rail fit in? We can all make very good arguments from an environmental standpoint, a job creation standpoint, and a mobility standpoint-there are good reasons to move expeditiously. That's certainly the argument that California high speed rail is making, and I'm sure others in the country are as well.

We are pleased that California is recognized by the White House and others as being the furthest along of any system in the country in terms of environmental work, planning work, and community outreach work. And we're especially pleased in Southern California that it looks like the first leg to be built in Los Angeles will-and this depends on whether Curt is telling it or I'm telling it-either go from Union Station to Anaheim or from Anaheim to Union Station. But it's the same basic route and we're very, very excited about the opportunity to start there....I'm now going to turn to Mayor Pringle, former assemblyman, former speaker of the assembly, and chair of the California High Speed Rail Authority-a good friend. He and I were in Washington a couple weeks ago promoting high speed rail. Curt has also been before legislative committees the past two weeks talking about it. As we put our business plan together and a plan a major restructuring that's taking place with high speed rail, I thought I'd ask Curt to go through a little bit of this change, why it's important, what it means, and where you see us going, other than L.A. and Anaheim.

Mayor Curt Pringle: ...I'd like to tell you where high speed rail stands in this moment in time in California. In 1996, when Richard and I were both the leaders of our respective caucuses in the State Assembly, we created the California High Speed Rail Authority. In 1996 we established of the California High Speed Rail Authority, which oversees all high speed train services and construction in the state of California. It's taken a long time, from '96 to today, to get to this point of moving forward with a serious proposal and being in this position.

For the high speed rail system in California, we're talking about a high speed system from San Francisco through San Jose, Merced, Fresno, Bakersfield, Palmdale, Los Angeles, and Anaheim, with some mid-point stations in some of those segments. But, in fact, that is phase one. When we talk about the cost of the system and so forth, we're talking about phase one cost of the system. There are two proposed phase two connections, one leaving from Los Angeles' Union Station to the Ontario Airport and the Inland Empire and then down to San Diego, and one going north through Merced to Sacramento. With that we have been moving along with all of the preliminary environmental review work, route selection, and the programmatic EIR, which is the first round of establishing those routes, those riderships, and so forth. The programmatic EIR was completed in 2008. Originally voted on in 2005, with a section on how to get over to the Bay Area finally decided in 2008. At that moment in time there was a complete program established for the high speed rail in California. It took that much time-to move from 1996 or 1997, when the Authority was established, to 2008.

We are at a very unique point in time right now because 2008 was when a lot of things changed. First, the full route and the program was established and high speed rail as an organization got behind it in a unified sense. Second, the voters passed Prop 1A. The voters saw it was $9 billion dollars for high speed rail, knew that it would only cost a third of that full cost for the phase one system, but also the voters knew that even when we're in economically challenging times that doesn't mean we shouldn't plan for the future. 2008's election and the 2009 dedication of this Congress and the president behind high speed rail is fantastic, and it certainly wasn't seen in prior administrations.

There is $8 billion set forth in the ARRA funding and then $2-billion-plus additional in the budget and the transportation planning bill, talking anywhere from $20-50 billion. Chairman Oberstar is projecting $50 billion to be set aside in transportation funding for high speed rail, which helps all of these plans that have been in place for well over a decade now move toward reality.

California submitted four proposals for ARRA funding. Those four proposals were for money to build between Anaheim and Los Angeles, a segment between Bakersfield and Fresno, a segment between Fresno and Merced, and for much of the work between San Jose and San Francisco. Each of those were separate proposals that count for a total of $4.8 billion dollars that we requested in federal funding. With the state bond, we are the only state in the nation that said, whatever we get from the federal government on this allocation, we will match one-for-one. Therefore, it magnified the value of awarding funds to California. The federal government saw that whatever they would provide in any of those segments here in the state, those federal dollars would be doubled. And, in fact, we will be able to fully implement and start building out this system. One of the requirements of federal money is that we had to prove that many of those projects that were funded had independent utility; the benefit would not solely be for high speed rail because if there is not a single dollar spent on high speed rail after those dollars the federal government wants to make sure they're not wasting their money. So it's a term independent utility.

Proposed between Los Angeles and Anaheim, within the LosAn Metrolink corridor, are two additional rail lines to provide express service between Anaheim and Los Angeles that then can continue on when further development of high speed rail is built. To put that in perspective, currently Metrolink service between Orange County and Los Angeles on the existing Metrolink lines, which is nearing capacity and needs to be increased, represents the equivalent of one-and-a-half freeway lanes on the 5 Freeway. That is the current ridership capacity on that section. If you think about the value of adding additional capacity for rail service in areas where there is going to be continued, increasing demand, just swap that out in your head for adding two more lanes on the 5 Freeway-all of the right away take, all of the construction, and every bridge that is being redone-it is a much better value to spend money to address that ridership than expanding that freeway, which is presently such a great impact, and look to the future through other means of transportation other than just the expansion of freeways.

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The project is proceeding now with separate segments of the entire system; everything is broken into those segments. There is that Los Angeles to Anaheim segment, the Los Angeles Union Station to Palmdale, Palmdale to Bakersfield, and so forth. Each of those has a separate engineering team that is developing final project level EIR compliance. They are doing the work in every single one of those areas, including the phase two pieces, from Merced to Sacramento and L.A. Union Station to San Diego. We are spending money on all of those sections to move forward with environmental clearance.

We must have the ARRA segments fully environmentally cleared by September of 2011, let construction contracts by 2012, and complete construction by 2017-those are requirements for those federal dollars. That doesn't mean those are the only places we are currently engaged; we are engaged in every area of the state.

High speed rail right now is focused on continuing with environmental clearance on the focal segments, the segments that are part of those federal applications, and continuing with work in every other segment of the state so that we are prepared as funding becomes available. Along the way we are to revise and update our business plan. Our business plan was submitted in December to the Legislature. The High Speed Rail Authority presently has 9.5 employees that work for the state for the high speed rail overseeing 200-300 private consultants. Each of these engineering firms has a big job, looking to be prepared for an announcement on the ARRA funding so that we know where those targeted segments for the next round of work will be. That's an immediate status report of where we are.

Fiona Ma: I got up to Sacramento and convened a bi-partisan legislative high speed rail caucus, brought together all my members together who were concerned about this, and educated them and talked about something that we can all agree on, jobs and job creation around the state. Republicans and Democrats both agree that this would be a good thing for California, but it wasn't easy. Governor Schwarzenegger wanted certain things, like public-private partnership, so we had to rewrite a lot of the original bond language....In the end we came up with a $9.95 billion bond that would require matching funds from the federal government and from the private sector, before the state would release a third of the funding as well. It is quite innovative. Obviously the state does not have enough money to put the $40 billion dollars or so into this type of infrastructure project, so we have to be creative. The voters saw fit to pass it. It was a perfect storm: the high cost of gasoline, the congestion on the roads, and the security issues at the airport-people were just sick and tired of not having an option like trains....The fact that California has voted and passed an initiative makes us more competitive than other states, so I thank the voters here in California for passing the initiative. It's going to take a lot of work to keep this project on track.

Katsuhiko Ichikawa: I want to touch on two things, the first is energy consumption. The N700i train length is almost the same [as others] but the N700i is far lighter than two other systems in Europe, and that brings a huge benefit in terms of energy consumption rate. The energy consumption rate of the N700i is less than half of the French TGV and the German ICE....

....Areas vulnerable to frequent earthquakes are concentrated to certain areas including Japan and its vicinity, so it is natural that we have expertise toward earthquakes...According to the U.S. Geological Survey Institute there is a 75 percent chance of a large earthquake exceeding the magnitude of 7.0 within the next 50 years in California. Our earthquake counter measures determine the impact on the [train] by measuring the amplitude increase of the initial P wave produced by an earthquake and automatically cuts off power if the result exceeds standard values. It then immediately reduces the speed of the train before the main wave reaches the line to minimize the damage of a large-scale earthquake. Recently we developed a new earthquake counter measure, a de-railing guardrail. When the track moves laterally because of an earthquake, the impact of the wheel bumping against the rail will raise the wheel on the opposite side. This situation will eventually cause a "locking de-railment." A guardrail is very effective in this case since the wheel on one side always remains on the rail....We are the first and only passenger rail company that has authorized mechanism of derailment in case of an earthquake in the world.

We are more than happy to work with the California High Speed Rail Authority if we have a chance in the near future.

[For more on VX2010 and high speed rail, visit www.verdexchange.org.]

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