Obama's high speed rail plan loses big in California court

Discussion in 'Too Hot for Swamp Gas' started by PSGator66, Nov 26, 2013.

  1. adamgator96
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    adamgator96 VIP Member

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    The speed has come way down and is no longer considered "high speed rail," thus the breach of the "contract" with the voters. This was sold to voters in '08 (I voted against it) with a cost of $33 Billion. It's now $68 Billion and we've not yet even broken ground. It will be slower and cost more than advertised, and there's no way it will attract the riders Sacramento believes it will. I'd like to see Sacramento get a better handle on our current fiscal crisis before they commit some of us taxpayers to even more debt.

    From a recent USA Today article:

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/10/20/calif-high-speed-rail/3090811/
  2. PacificBlueGator
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    There's no question it is speculative, in both construction and impact on the economy, and in the same article you find the following. I think a lot of the perspective is based on where you live. The coastal communities want the rail and see the potential and the inland communities see other infrastructure as greater needs than rail.

  3. G8trGr8t
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    G8trGr8t Premium Member

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    Has the gubmnt ever built or ran anything on time and on budget?
  4. asuragator
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    asuragator Well-Known Member

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    Since most of the time, it's actually private contractors doing the actual building, shouldn't you hold the private sector to similar standards? Or is one of those false dichotomies...you know where government is all bad and private is all good?
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2013
  5. chemgator
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    chemgator Well-Known Member

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    Your ridership, like all HSR boondoggle projects, is exaggerated by a factor of 10. For a 600-passenger train (typical for HSR, at least in Asia, where they like to seat people close together), it would take over 8 trains per hour at full capacity for 18 hours a day every day to achieve 43 million per year. In Taiwan, HSR runs at about 30% capacity. So you would need 24 trains per hour at 30% capacity for 18 hours a day. In reality, most people want to ride between 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., so you would need 36 trains per hour. It takes a train 5 minutes to unload passengers and luggage and load up again, plus you need about 5 minutes between trains (to prevent crashes), so each track in the station could handle 6 trains per hour. So you would need 6 tracks in the station, and basically 6 tracks between S.F. and L.A.

    The two things you can count on with light rail and HSR proposals: over-estimating ridership and under-estimating costs. The costs usually double or triple, and the ridership rarely exceeds half of projections, and is usually less than a fourth.
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  6. chemgator
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    chemgator Well-Known Member

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    You can't hold the private contractor responsible when the client changes the specifications, or comes up with new environmental concerns midway through a project. And that happens all the time. Congressmen are notoriously poor engineers, yet that doesn't stop them from making promises and guarantees without all the facts. The contractor is not in business to lose money or break even. I would not be surprised if the contractors have been told to not worry about the cost, we (the gov't) will authorize more spending once the project is halfway built. After all, you can't stop a project that is halfway built--that would be a waste of money!

    Yes, there are contractors who actively look to rip off the gov't. It's an easy client, generally speaking. It does minimal auditing of projects, and has an endless supply of money. It is the only client that most contractors will ever have that can print money. Having a gov't job means having job security. The kind of job security where you can screw around all day and not accomplish anything, and not be held accountable for it.
  7. asuragator
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    asuragator Well-Known Member

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    Not when the congress changes its mind, no, but for their own wrongdoing yes. The point is this false belief that private sector folk can do no wrong...and then turning around and blaming government when they do.

    And no, I am not defending government.
  8. chemgator
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    chemgator Well-Known Member

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    The solution is less gov't spending, and more careful monitoring of that gov't spending. We really need more openness on the part of what is being spent and why. Our local utility has a similar approach to gov't spending. Instead of printing more money, they just hike up the rates and the customers have to pay them. They recently put a large scrubber in place of their waste stacks for $475 million. You can get 3-5 very large chemical plants built for that amount of money. There is no way, even with the extreme size and all the auxiliary equipment (water tanks, pumps, etc.), that it should cost a dime more than $100 million, unless it was tantalum-clad or something.

    Private sector construction is the most inefficient system for constructing anything--except for public sector construction. In other words, it may not be perfect, but it is much, much better than having the gov't do construction projects without the private sector.
  9. asuragator
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    asuragator Well-Known Member

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    To more carefully monitor, wouldn't that actually require more government spending? With respect to openness, I am with you. I think there should be a great deal more sunshine at every level of government. Which reminds me of the WashPo investigation about government contractors from a few years ago where they couldn't actually determine how many there were or what was being spent. Now, most of this was in the name of national security and has been going on since after 9/11, but if we want to point to some real issues, it is here (and is quite bipartisan a problem)
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2013
  10. chemgator
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    chemgator Well-Known Member

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    No, it wouldn't. There are already government workers tasked with both running major projects and auditing them. Currently, they are not penalized for being over budget, behind schedule, and general non-performance. They should be held accountable for whether the project stays on budget and meets specs or not. Tie a significant percentage of their salaries (like 30%) to budgetary and performance specifications, and see if that motivates them to do their job correctly. Publish the metrics (both projected and present values) on a web site that everyone can see. The private sector has been using bonus programs for years.

    Right now, there may be an incentive for public works projects to go over budget. All gov't employees want to have the biggest budget possible. If you don't give them the budget they want, they will just overspend their projects until they get what they want. And when promotions come around, their bosses may look favorably on someone who spent a huge chunk of money versus someone who spent a smaller amount.
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  11. PacificBlueGator
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    I think you are making a lot of assumptions about non-viability. The HSR between Suzhou and Hong Qiao, China a 20 minute ride, has close to 800,000 riders a week or over 40 million a year on a single line. That's not even the busiest in China. I wouldn't call that a boondoggle. Spain, France, Germany and the UK either have HSR or are building it.

    A larger point, as the OP was trying to tie federal funding to failed economic stimulus, is that govt is required for some large projects to initiate because they would be too massive for any one private corporation to assume. Like the space industry, which many people considered a boondoggle at the time, has become a massive private enterprise and still has govt involvement. These large projects often the additional goal of stimulating economic growth and often take more than a generation to come to full fruition.
  12. candymanfromgc
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    candymanfromgc Well-Known Member

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    Guess they are not, bet you dollars to doughnuts that not enough people will use it to make it pay for itself.
  13. chemgator
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    chemgator Well-Known Member

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    I absolutely understand and agree that the federal gov't should step in and fund things like HSR. But they should do so first in the area that would see the greatest benefit/cost ratio, which is D.C. to N.Y. Throwing money at HSR just to say that you have it is what Spain did, and now their country is on the verge of bankruptcy. Italy did the same.

    There are only two sections of HSR track in the world that pay for themselves: Paris - Lyon, and Tokyo - Osaka. There is a reason for that. Tokyo and Osaka have a combined urban population of 15.7 million (L.A. & S.F. have 4.7 million), and a metropolitan population of 55 million people (L.A. and S.F. have 24 million). The distance for Tokyo-Osaka is 314 miles, and L.A.-S.F. is 475 miles. So you have two thirds the distance, and about three times the population, with a higher urban population density. Both places have earthquake issues, but California has much stricter environmental concerns. They will stop construction of the rail line for every snail darter, spotted owl, or other semi-endangered creature in California, and costs will double as they figure out how to save the animals. The other issue in California (and the rest of the U.S.) is that people are used to the convenience of driving and flying and will not give up these modes of transportation easily. HSR also works better in northern cities, since people do not want to walk several blocks in the heat to their destination in the summer.

    L.A. has a large enough population that it would be a medium-sized city in China. S.F. has less than a million people in the urban center, and 8 MM in the area. And American cities not named New York have relatively large areas compared to their populations, so U.S. cities have a lower population density than Asian cities.

    The D.C. to N.Y. corridor is a much better option for HSR than L.A. to S.F. High population density with multiple cities? Check.
  14. asuragator
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    asuragator Well-Known Member

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    And maybe they are not penalized for running over budget because budgets are sensitive to many known and unknown factors. But saying they aren't held accountable is not actually true. I've worked in government and am currently a state employee but I'd like to see evidence that folks will just "overspend until they get what they want." Maybe it's true on occasion, maybe not. I tend not to believe that it can be so easily generalized. On the other hand, in regular budgets, not for special projects, it's true that if a department doesn't spend its budget for the year, there is a good chance that budget will be decreased the following year, but this is common throughout most governments. And government does use bonus type programs and merit pay to increase salaries when folks do well.
  15. chemgator
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    chemgator Well-Known Member

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    I coordinate capital projects for a chemical company (among other responsibilities). Most of my projects come in under budget. About 10-15% come in over budget. Believe me, the consequences of having a large percentage of your projects come in over budget are very real in private industry. It is extremely rare for gov't projects to come in under budget, as far as I can tell. And the bigger the project, the more they seem to go over budget. The Big Dig in Boston was supposed to cost $3 billion, and wound up over $24 billion. How does that happen? They sell the idea of the project while ignoring much of the costs. Why? No accountability. Did Ted Kennedy lose his job? No. Did anyone working for the state lose their job? I doubt it. If someone in private enterprise turned a $3 million project into a $24 million project, would they lose their job? Very likely.

    Another thing I would do to introduce accountability is to require states to pay for 50% of the cost of a federally-funded earmark project, and 75% of the cost of overruns. And do it with a fixed-term (maybe 4 years) property tax hike, with the Congressman's name attached to it. So Massachusetts would have to cough up $1.5 billion to start the Big Dig (if there are 15 million property owners, that's a $25/year addition to their taxes), and $15.75 billion to finish it ($250/yr tax hike). All people paying property tax would see a line item of $275 for their Ted Kennedy Big Dig tax, and would be able to decide if what they got was worth what they paid.
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  16. wygator
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    wygator Well-Known Member

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    Where in the heck did you get those ridership figures? Someone else has already done some math for you on this. Here's another look:

    If you use 50 million/year as the average, and divide that by 365 days in a year, then you have an average ridership of 137,000 per day. Exactly how many trains carrying how many passengers each will need to run to achieve these figures?
  17. PacificBlueGator
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    http://www.hsr.ca.gov/docs/about/ridership/ridership_revenue_source_doc5.pdf

    If only it were that straight forward! I would try to summarize but it is easier just to provide the analysis itself
  18. chemgator
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    chemgator Well-Known Member

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    What a joke! Two hours and 40 minutes to go 475 miles? Let's see. Divide 475 by max speed 220 mph, and you get 2.16 hours, or 2:10. That doesn't count the speed limitations in both L.A. and S.F., so add 20 minutes for that. Now your up to 2:30. So, you have to make 9 stops in 10 minutes. Will you use ejection seats to fling your passengers off the train at each stop, and doberman pinschers to chase new passengers onto the trains? Will there be any time for braking or acceleration, or will you use rocket boosters and giant parachute brakes?

    Seriously, this train will only get anywhere near 2:40 if they avoid all stops and speed through town like a sleeping New York train engineer. I'm thinking 3:30 is a little more realistic.

    And the bit about no airport-style security was precious. And ignorant. The first bomb that goes off on the train will create an entirely new security paradigm, and guess what? It will look exactly like airport security. Might even be sensible to put that into your initial cost estimates (Duh!).
  19. chemgator
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    chemgator Well-Known Member

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    I'm sure the ridership estimates are based in part on the mythical 2 hour and 40 minute transit time (without ejection seats and doberman chases), without additional security. They are also based in part on the mythical 50-80% cost of an airplane ticket, which does not include cost overruns, environmental disaster prevention, additional security, etc.

    If you tell potential customers the truth, that it will take 15 minutes to a half hour to get through security, 30 minutes to wait to get on a train, and 3:30 to get to their destination, or 4.5 hours, or they can fly for the same amount of money and get there in less than half the time, there won't be many train riders.
  20. chemgator
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    chemgator Well-Known Member

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    The great thing about a HSR system between N.Y. and D.C. is that you could actually get from one end of the line to the other in a little over 90 minutes. The stops would be limited to international airports in D.C., Baltimore, Philly, Newark, and New York. That's only three stops between the final destinations. The flights take a little less than an hour, but the airlines would have a longer typical wait time to get on a plane than HSR would have, so the actual time would be a lot closer between HSR and flying than a S.F. - L.A. route would have. And it would be more reliable in bad weather. The population in the NE corridor is much bigger, too, and the distance is half at 237 miles. Half the cost x twice the potential passengers x twice the convenience = 8 times as good of a project.

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