An artist's rendering of California High-Speed Rail.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority says that it will shift gears by building the first section of the new bullet train from the Central Valley to San Jose rather than from Fresno to Burbank, as initially planned. The Authority says the change will speed construction and save money but rail supporters in Southern California, eager for the train to ease traffic, are upset that their region is neglected in the new plan. Ever since voters in 2008 approved nearly $10 billion in bonds for a high speed train linking the northern and southern parts of the state, the project has faced political opposition, mounting cost estimates, and is facing a construction delay of two years. We’ll get an update on the project and hear from critics.

Guests:
Jessica Calefati, politics and state government reporter, San Jose Mercury News
Aubrey Bettencourt, executive director, California Water Alliance
Carl Guardino, president and CEO, Silicon Valley Leadership Group; a member of the California Transportation Commission
Jim Patterson, member representing California's 23rd district serving parts of Fresno and Tulare Counties, California State Assembly

  • jakeleone

    Please someone explain the cost benefit of building high-speed rail (for the sake of a small number of rich commuters (who will fly anyway) or vacationers), vs expanding the well used BART system, or LA metro?

    Frankly, the timing of the high speed rail was right at the height of a recession, and as such I really think Californians wound up grasping for the wrong thing, simply because there was nothing else there.

    • Sebastian

      It’s not just to provide another means of travel between the Bay Area and LA. It’s to connect the whole state. Tech businesses will be able to set up in the Central Valley, and workers can commute long distance.

      • SteveBloom

        What!? Jeffrey Baker above is promising no sprawl in the CV.

      • Sanfordia113

        Sorry, I’d rather eat locally grown produce and retain high-paying jobs than abandon productive farmland so that Silicon Valley can build sprawling ghettos of worker bees on what should be permanently protected agricultural land.

      • jakeleone

        The history of government railroad is strewn with bankruptcy.

        And high speed rail is just a sick case of big-spending state politicians Jones-ing around with the public trust.

        I don’t think a high speed rail is going to magically encourage CV development. Frankly that could happen today, with existing roadways (think Tracy California).

        And on that, wouldn’t it be better expand metro to the already developing areas of the CV, in doing so get more riders and increased profitability.

        I agree that electrified rail can be (not always depending on energy source) cleaner. But I am hopeful in 10 years (the current H.S. rail projected timeline, don’t hold your breath), electric vehicles (read buses) will be very efficient, safer (if not fully automated). Super capacitors already exist that can charge a bus up in 2 minutes, and 70-80 miles per charge. Not bad, and could encourage helpful stops on long bus trips. The money saved (or just plain no wasted) by that route could be used for more profitable expansion of local metro lines.

        I think the state should build on success, and with that success shuttle profits to paying the true cost of any expansion, expansion which is carefully weighed against a true need, not an imagined one.

  • And

    Will high speed rail in San Jose be freezable for Silicon Valley commuters to use? They’re clogging up our freeways, and making east bay cities unaffordable and crowded.

  • Kurt thialfad

    Why not build the first leg of high speed rail from Emeryville to Truckee. Currently there is one train per day. We all know route 80 gets horrendously clogged with skiers, snowboarders, hikers, gamblers, golfers, cowbody poets (a shout-out to the annual Cowboy Poetry Festival in Elk, NV), etc.
    Yes, you may need to upgrade track, and blast a few tunnels (but these tunnels can also include pipelines from bring in fresh water to our perpetually parched state. Finally, you have the ridership already, and they are generally financially stable. My point here is that high speed rail to Truckee will pay for itself! It is a financially sound business.

    Who’s going to ride a Bakersfield to San Jose train? Farm workers and soccer teams/fans, that’s who.

    • HS Rail goes north/south in the state – you want to go east first? Not in the plan/budget by any means. Would love to see a reasonably fast link to Truckee as well, but not going to hold my breath.

      • Kurt thialfad

        A first step would be merely reliable train service! Even that doesn’t exist today. Plus you can marry the train project to an aqueduct project to pipe fresh water into the state through/underneath the Sierra Nevada, using some of the same shared tunnels. That would bootstrap funding. And the fresh water would originate in the obvious places: Canada, Lake Superior, Great Slav Lake, etc.

    • Robert C

      Already people are saying the HSR is for the riches. You want to add that? Lol

      • Valid point…

      • C Cade

        People say a lot of things. Some things said make sense, while other things said don’t. What say you? I say an affordable ticket price is important to the success of ridership as well as scheduling that meets time frames that makes traveling convenient and accessible. I am not rich yet but, I don’t want to have to be in order to get to my destinations within California by using transit systems that meet my needs as well as allow for my preferences of not driving or flying. While I am fully capable of driving myself now at age 56, I would like the option of high speed rail by 2025 as I will then be 66 years old. I am in this for others as well, but am also taking into consideration my traveling needs. I can fully appreciate San Jose to Bakersfield as the first section to be built as I currently travel this route on Amtrak 6-7 hours each way for about $50 each way. I am saying this as a matter of sharing my perspective. I hope this make sense.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    There is not a no-build alternative to high speed rail. You either get rail, or you get freeways, or you get airports. Of these, rail is by far the cheapest solution and the one most congruent with California’s goals of reducing carbon emissions.

    • SteveBloom

      There’s another choice, but it’s not one that builders and developers care for: No more building on ag land, period. If more housing is needed, do it within the existing urban footprint. Last time I checked, San Jose and environs had a vast amount of low-density single-family sprawl. Time to redesign and rebuild.

      • Jeffrey Baker

        I couldn’t agree more, but if you build dense cities on the existing footprints of Central Valley exurbs, you’re going to have a lot of people and need some way to move them around. Are you saying that a sufficiently dense city just wouldn’t need long-haul transportation?

        • SteveBloom

          Of course it will. But see my reply slightly above. I just came up with it off the top of my head, so would appreciate any flaws being pointed out.

          An example: Let’s say you want to go from a residence in Glendale to a residence in Oakland. You call for a local shuttle (maybe just a half dozen seats with room for some luggage), which appears pretty quick since it doesn’t need to have a full load (or maybe also let people pay a bit more for faster service), that takes you to a *small* station downtown (small in significant part because it doesn’t need accompanying parking), following which you board an Oakland-bound shuttle (a full-on bus that probably would need to be on a schedule) that takes surface streets/freeways to wherever the dedicated roadway starts, accelerates to full speed and in less than three hours is at the other end in Oakland, then onto surface streets to the station, quickly transfer to the local shuttle and thus to your final destination.

          Most of these trips actually could be shorter than HSR due to it being possible to have many more stations and not needing to make interim stops on the main leg.

          Note no need for tunnels also, although of course building the dedicated roadways over the passes wouldn’t cost nothing.

      • C Cade

        87 steps ahead…Already being done. For the past several years Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Valley Transport ion Authority Grants for Urban Village Planning have been doing so. Example: Items 11.4, 11.5 and 11.6 of the 2/23/2016 City of San Jose City Council Public Hearings addressed these very density issues. These were all approved.
        http://www.sanjoseca.gov/DocumentCenter/Home/View/474
        http://csj-generalplan.appspot.com/index.html

        • SteveBloom

          There’s certainly some of this happening, but the jurisdictions doing it have no control over ag land and open space development elsewhere, which sadly continues (and, in the CV, will expand with HSR). We need both sides of that coin.

          • C Cade

            Yes, that is the responsibility of the local jurisdictions to make smart decisions that support the future of their respective communities’ needs and interests. What does not make any sense to me is to assume and anticipate that the high speed rail project will somehow go away and adding another lane on I-5 is a realistic solution to our infrastructure needs. I am baffled that the mindset of many who want remain in yesterday-land. I knew at 16 years old the highway 99 life I once knew would be where I was from and not where I would remain. For this I am grateful for the exposure to a life on the other side of the Pacheco Pass. Thanks Daddy. I also have lived in Los Angeles and like to visit but not live there. Good Urban and Regional Planning is essential. The many efforts to move forward have made it possible for us to now be on the right track. Pardon the pun.

    • C Cade

      Thank you Jeffery Baker. Well said.

  • Sanfordia113

    Please be honest. This isn’t the train that I voted for in 2008. Correct? It is not a Shanghai high-speed maglev. It is a standard rail rebranded, with the objective of suburbanizing the most productive farmland in the USA.

    If we spent $100 billion (the minimum expected final cost) on improving LA and Bay Area local transit instead, wouldn’t we have a much better economic and environmental impact?

  • L_GY

    Hi! Easy rail travel between cities is something the East Coast has always had on us. The only issue I see is the lack of convenient public transit once you arrive in a California city. Over the years, we have been so married to our cars that public transit is frankly a joke. How can we create better public transit so people don’t have to rent cars in their destination or rely on Uber & Lyft to get around?

    • SteveBloom

      At this point the future of transit in the ‘burbs and probably to a great extent in urban areas is self-driving electric vehicles. The tech for that is very close. It may not be a long-distance solution, but will be a game changer.

      But even for SF to LA, I’m wondering if dedicated high-speed lanes for self-driving electric shuttles running parallel to I-5 wouldn’t make a lot more sense. It would be much cheaper to build, and even if the shuttles were limited to e.g. 150 mph that would still make for a trip time competitive with air travel. Add the huge advantage of not needing large centralized stations on either end (the shuttles would travel on regular freeways and streets once they got close to their destination), and adding real-time service via smart phone (existing tech) travel would be much more convenient than any other option, HSR included.

      Thing is, the HSR plan was hatched at a time when nobody, not even Elon Musk, had any idea that such an alternative was possible. So dinosaur-like, it may be that HSR’s hind-brain continues to drive forward blindly even though the head is already defunct.

      And let’s not forget the hyperloop, although it’s really an alternative HSR tech. Times change.

    • Robert C

      I would add that, for those who against the HSR, they should travel to China at least once. There is no joke about it. The competitive edge of the economy is depend the the infrastructure. looking back 20 years from now, we wish we did not have this conversation because the jobs are going to China, not here.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Also quite frankly I can’t remember a time on Forum when someone was allowed to just speak uninterrupted for 15 minutes straight. I guess we can tell which side the host is on.

  • erictremont

    Maybe high speed rail is a good idea (at least in theory), but once again we the taxpayers have been sold a bill of goods that is looking like a fantasy, especially considering that the backers of high speed rail have absolutely no idea how they will raise the funds to complete the project. In the meantime (as reported a couple of days ago by Matier and Ross in the S.F. Chronicle), the new Transbay Transit Terminal (which was conceived in part based on the premise that high speed rail was a sure thing) is shaping up to be a scandal in its own right—I hope Forum to do a show on that emerging fiasco.

    • Wells

      I’d like to read more on that Matier/Ross Chronicle story.
      My opinion: Bill Bryant not a suitable Governor candidate this year either.
      Pacific NW port authority Balkanization between State collusion.
      Bill and Bill Wyatt watched I-5 across the Columbia River unravel,
      mostly Wsdot, unlike all Odot work complete 2010. Bridge design
      fatal flaw ‘structurally unsound’ decreed 2012. Wsdot honchos with not much to show, tried to defer Marine Dr Intrch rebuild though needed most, defered for all Washington State ramps, some still in question. That’s when I knew Wsdot honky’s learn NOTHING from ODOT and Oregon Agency leaders.
      “Plan B for Bertha” you gotta look at it. (public record at Wsdot).
      Unravel BNSF mismanagement incompetence.
      Warren Buffett is a terrible manager, that’s for sure.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Shorter Bettencourt: it’s not raining, so we need more reservoirs.

  • Anurag Sood

    Infrastructure initiatives require a 20-30 year plan for the future generations. Voters tend to think short term and what they will benefit from. We need to think larger and for future generations and how to keep California clean, green and livable.

  • Robert Thomas

    It’s difficult to imagine that KQED would be producing this program if San Franciscans hadn’t been unable to convince Quentin Kopp and San Mateo County Pooh-Bahs to refrain from opposing entrée into the 20th century.

  • SteveBloom

    What sort of future is this project mapping out? I was active in the Sierra Club when HSR was endorsed, and we were promised that the primary purpose was to make further airport expansions unnecessary, and in particular that it would not result in additional sprawl in the CV. Now it’s pretty clear that the primary purpose has always been to subsidize Silicon Valley with massive new development in the CV. I feel logrolled!

    • Jeffrey Baker

      How do you figure that? They are still forbidden from using the bond funds for building stations anywhere between Gilroy and Madera. HSR will reverse sprawl in the Central Valley by bringing those cities back to their downtowns, centering development around the stations instead of stringing it out along CA-99.

      • SteveBloom

        “Bond funds.” Note how they need a bunch of private/other gov’t money. IIRC there are no restrictions in the bond as to how that other money gets spent. Has that changed?

        “Reverse sprawl.” Hmm. Best-case I think it’s “not add to sprawl much.” But even that really depends on the local land use authorities, doesn’t it? If they’re sprawling now, and they are, what makes them stop, and how does HSR not facilitate more of the same?

        Yes, I’m sure we’ll get some lovely transit-oriented development in the immediate vicinity of the stations, but when the project was presented to the Sierra Club years ago the claim was that a lack of parking at the stations would restrict the induction of additional sprawl. But what keeps local authorities from adding that parking nearby? And then there’s Uber.

        • SteveBloom

          Just to add: At some point we reach peak Silicon Valley. Let’s admit to that before we sacrifice yet more prime Central Valley farmland.

          Between HSR and the June levee bond Silicon Valley is getting one hell of a public subsidy. A sweet deal if you can get it, I suppose.

  • I’d love to see the HS rail project complete into SF, but I think I’m missing something: Currently if there’s an issue with a CalTrain train during commute hours, everything gets backed up. How would a HS train stay on schedule???

    • Jeffrey Baker

      Part of the HSR plan is to electrify Caltrain and add passing tracks and completely grade-separate the railroad so it doesn’t cross any streets.

      • Ah OK I heard that but it didn’t register. Thanks!

  • marte48

    as soon as any area becomes accessible, housing costs will go up, so that argument is unclear. If we want affordable housing, other measures are necessary.

  • Imagine if we never built BART or 280? The part I was against when I voted was the part where they said they would get private funding for part of the project. That reeks of Reaganomics: Have the public pay for most of it and then let some fat cat buy the project. This needs to be built NOW and it needs to be 100% publically funded and the final ticket price to LA needs to be CHEAP, like $20 cheap. It should never be profitable. How much do people pay to drive on 280? These are long term municipal projects.

    • Sanfordia113

      If we never built 280, Caltrain and BART would have merged and tunneled down the peninsula. This project needs to be killed. It is porkbarrel spending for a few construction and consulting firms that in the end will only benefit rural landowners/developers, and large Silicon Valley employers who seek to undercut local wages and avoid building sustainable development here in the Bay Area/L.A.

      • KJ’s question was rhetorical, but your response is just dreaming. We have zero clue what would have happened if 280 wasn’t built.

        Seeing as how BART hasn’t “tunneled down” the east side of the bay, I’m guessing you’re more than a little off.

      • Despite the fact that I wish the high speed rail was going down the coast instead of into our very important farmland, this project is needed. It is in fact only a start. There needs to be high speed rail everywhere. Roads are a huge waste of resources. Even when all the cars are electric and driving themselves, high speed rails will be needed as a replacement to airplanes. Electric airplanes maybe viable…but that is nowhere in sight. The environment can not sustain the level of air traffic we have now and it will only increase in the future if there is no fast alternative.

        • Sanfordia113

          The only long-distance travel that should be encouraged is freight. Getting produce/commerce/mail to market requires point to point and hub/spoke roads, not commuter “high speed rail”. Residents should work near where they live. Open space and low-density land should remain undeveloped. Focus all housing and workforce development within 10 miles of the 10 most populous cities in CA (with LA/Orange County counted as a single entity).

  • Carol Lamont

    To address the housing crisis legislation is needed to make the
    Governor’s pet project more relevant today and to spotlight his shameful vetoes
    of bills intended to increase the supply of much needed affordable homes in
    California. My dream bill would repurpose his priority project to provide “high
    speed mobile home trains” to offer housing for those displaced by high rents in
    the Bay Area and other parts of California. Instead of just commuters,
    these trains would also serve resident passengers.

    The legislation would refer to monthly transit passes as rent for
    resident passengers (including at below market rates for those with low and
    moderate incomes), and require a designated number of trains to have reclining
    seats/beds, locked storage bins/closets, free internet access, quick shower
    stalls, with kitchens or cafes on board for meals, and P.O. boxes at every
    station. Some mobile home trains could be designated for families with children
    and offer childcare, tutoring, and other services. Others could be designated
    for the elderly. It will then not just be a fast track train for transients,
    but a fast home for the increasing numbers of folks priced out of their homes
    in the Bay Area and beyond.

    • I can’t quite tell if you’re being serious or if this is tongue-in-cheek. If so, your impersonation of a crazy SF progressive is very well done.

  • marte48

    We already have high speed rail that is called “the internet.” But we still in 2016 have to all jump in our cars and get on clogged freeways to destinations where there is no parking, just to email our office mates in the adjoining cubes.

    • lunartree

      Yeah, why would anyone ever leave their houses! /s

  • Jack Dahlgren

    Why no answer about ticket prices? In the Bay Area transit is usually from $0.30 to $0.50 cents a mile (and is often subsidized to maintain that pricing.

    Using that as a base, a ticket from Fresno to San Jose would be over $30 one way. $60/day, $1,200 a month.

    One guest said their goal is to make it cheaper than air travel. An airline flight from San Jose to Fresno is $500. This is the wrong standard to meet.

    No one making minimum wage is going to live in Fresno for affordable housing and then spend almost their entire paycheck on rail tickets.

    This project does NOT benefit the low income worker and does NOTHING to solve the problem of affordable housing. It does not create communities. It wastes energy. What are the benefits and who receives them?

    It borders on the insane to suggest that our problems are solved by enabling ultra long distance commutes instead of optimizing local commutes and housing within our population centers.

    No wonder the guests were so evasive. Next time ask for real numbers instead of rhetoric.

    • You ask a good question. But what voters passed in 2008 makes it moot for this high-speed rail project, since that ballot measure and the accompanying legislation make it illegal to subsidize this system if/when it’s ever built.

      And every high-speed rail system in the world is subsidized by governments/taxpayers.

    • Jeffrey Baker

      Why are you trying to make this about commuters? HSR is not for workers going to work. It is long-distance transportation that competes with air travel. Yes you might be able to use it to go to that important meeting or conference in LA once, or occasionally, but you wouldn’t use it to go to work every single day. As far as commuting goes you should not expect it to be more common on HSR than it is by air, which is very uncommon.

      • Jack Dahlgren

        I’m not trying to make it about anything. There were multiple comments during the discussion about how it would enable workers to get to jobs in the Bay Area. As you point out, that is not reasonable.

    • abbaroo

      When I saw that it cost $500 to fly from San Jose to Fresno, I was incredulous, so I decided to look it up. There were flights listed for $150, but with all the stops, it takes at least 6 hours to get there. Then I decided to look at flights from SFO, and there are two nonstops for $376 each way. I hope the train is cheaper than this.

  • Great discussion. I would only point out that the main reason we need this system is to make us less dependent on the two major polluting modes of transport: auto and plane. How can we expect to fight global warming without high-speed rail? Yes, the terrain makes the path difficult (I’m thinking primarily of tunneling under Tehachapis), but no one ever said reducing our CO2 emissions would be easy or cheap.

    • Mary Marsella

      I don’t understand the Tehachapi part. Grapevine makes more sense.

      • Affen_Theater

        Correct, I-5 “Grapevine” (aka Tejon Pass) makes much more sense.

        Here’s an excellent detailed analysis which shows that:
        The Truth about Tejon

      • This Planetizen post based on a LA Times article may explain:
        Report: Cost Overruns and Deadline Constraints Plague California High-Speed Rail

        The tunnel challenges are indeed formidable. The project “will require about 20 miles of tunnels under the San Gabriel Mountains between Burbank and Palmdale, involving either a single tunnel of 13.8 miles or a series of shorter tunnels.”

        In addition, “(a)s many as 16 additional miles of tunnels would stretch under the Tehachapi Mountains from Palmdale to Bakersfield,” adds Ralph Vartabedian, LA Times reporter.
        http://www.planetizen.com/node/84365/change-direction-california-high-speed-rail

  • jakeleone

    I think the people who voted for the 10 billion dollar bond were misled into thinking that was the final cost.

    The true cost will be 100 billion dollars.

    Before being allowed to vote for such a stupid, Jonesery, Boon-Doggle, voters should be qualified on the history of Amtrak in the United States.

    Because all that money will all be a waste then High Speed Rail authority goes bankrupt, because not enough people will have any need to use it.

  • John G.

    All I want are viable options fro commuting from the South Bay up the Peninsula to Mountain View or beyond. This epic 19 mile journey takes over an hour by car and a whopping two hours by light rail. Maybe when this project is finally done, I can shorten my commute by moving to Merced.

  • C Cade

    “Let’s not forget for a moment the unemployment rate for construction workers in Central Valley is above 30%; that the unemployment rate across industry clusters in our Central Valley of California is 3 times the unemployment rate in Silicon Valley in the Bay Area. This is going to help put people to work, in this case, tens of thousands of people and it’s going to help others get to work. We can’t underscore the economic impact to having a smart, blended rail transit system”.—Carl Guardino, President and CEO of Silicon Valley Leadership Group and member of the California Transportation Commission. I 100% agree!

  • And

    Guardino says, they have to “Keep the ticket price lower than the airplane ticket price.” Not too many people commute to work every day on an airplane. This is never going to work. Stop hiring consultants to railroad us into drinking the koolaid.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor