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By Steven Maviglio and Daniel Krause
The New Plan for California's High Speed Rail Project: Faster, Smarter, Cheaper -- and Legal
In recent weeks, the much-anticipated, soon-to-be-released high-speed rail revised business plan has been garnering warm support among stakeholders around California. MOUs have been approved for both the Los Angeles region and Bay Area that include early investments in projects that lay the foundation for HSR. The cornerstone of these of agreements are plans to improve Caltrain and Metrolink for the millions who ride these commuter rail lines. In other words, the new direction of the Revised Business Plan is already achieving Governor Brown's commitment to making the project cheaper, smarter, and faster.
With stakeholders all over the state jumping on board, opponents are now in a panic, and are doing everything they can to delegitimize the Revised Business Plan -- even before it is officially released. Their chief strategy is to claim that the early investments in the urban areas are illegal per Proposition 1A.
This strategy became apparent when Ralph Vartabedian and Dan Weikel of the Los Angeles Times wrote another article quoting long-time rail critics that made it sound like the project is legally on the ropes. Untrue.
Like all complicated projects, there are always legal issues to work through. However, there is no justification to believe that the new business plan is in serious legal trouble beyond what opponents are fabricating.
So what are opponents claiming now? A recent newsletter from Families Protecting the Valley, an anti-HSR group, revealed a five point plan to attack the legality of the business plan. You can bet these will be talking points repeated by anti-HSR interests around the state.
Here's a quick assessment of their claims:
Claim #1. The law says any initial segment must use high-speed trains but the HSR Authority says they will share commuter rail systems, Amtrak and freight trains. This is called the 'blended' approach.
Fact: The blended approach will include HSR trains. There is nothing that says commuter rail, Amtrak and freight can't also share HSR corridors. The initial investments being committed to by the Authority are simply improvements that lay the foundation for HSR while benefiting commuter trains in the short-term. The "blended" approach will not be complete until both HSR trains run alongside commuter rail trains - hence the "blending" of both systems.
Claim #2. The law says money for each operating segment must be in hand before construction starts. The HSR Authority says there is no private capital yet. There is only federal money and the Governor says he will request $2.7-billion from the California legislature next month.
Fact: Full funding does not have to "be in hand before construction starts." Rather, a funding plan that identifies potential funding is required, and this funding plan must be approved by the legislature.
Claim #3. The law says passengers must be able to board in Los Angeles and arrive in San Francisco without changing trains. The HSR Authority says there will be transfers to make it from one end to the other.
As long as the Authority ULTIMATELY provides a one-seat ride, phasing in usable segments that have independent utility meets the intent of the law. In fact, the references to usable segments within the text of Proposition 1A prove this point. If the whole system line between Los Angles to Anaheim had to open from day one, there would be no mention of usable segments in the law.
Claim #4. The law says as many as 12 trains per hour are supposed to run in each direction. The HSR Authority says there will be fewer trains at slower speeds, two per hour at peak times.
Fact: The corridor must be DESIGNED to allow for an "achievable operating headway" of 5 minutes or less, or 12 trains an hour. While blending HSR rail trains with slower commuter rail trains that stop more in the urban areas, the physical tracks will be able to accommodate the OPERATION of 12 trains an hour of HSR trains if and when that capacity is needed.
Claim #5. The law says the system has to run without taxpayer subsidies: The HSR Authority says there are zero private dollars at this time. (Study:
Fact: There are no plans to ask the taxpayers for subsidies to operate, or run, the HSR system. No segments will be opened for HSR service until operating profits are unnecessary. The capital cost to construct HSR is allowed to utilize taxpayer dollars, as well as private dollars. Proposition 1A is a law that authorizes taxpayer subsidies in the form of bond funds. Further, the early investment in HSR infrastructure within existing commuter rail corridors is not initiating HSR service. Again, commuter rail systems will receive side benefits as part of these initial investments, and will actually reduce the need for public subsidies from new operational efficiencies.
Don't be fooled by the opponents' relentless campaign of FUD - fear, uncertainty, and doubt. The Revised Business Plan will be a viable plan
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