The latest California Rail News is now online (takes a few moments to load):crn112017_web
Photo: A DMU trainset on the Val Venosta line.
Summary of TRAC Backgrounder No. 2
Californians need to wake up, because at the same time our state seems unable to build new local rail or high speed tracks for less than $70 million a mile, Europeans are showing how to do it for as little as $4 million a mile.
In Italy’s Val Venosta, a regional branch line that had grown weeds for 15 years is now an engine for tourism and eco-friendly development.
…The line was originally meant to connect on its west end to Switzerland and Austria, but the war and division of Southern Tyrol from Austria put that idea on ice.
…Service was taken over in 1918 by the Italian State Railways (Ferrovie dello Statto) but Rome didn’t seem to have much use for the line.
…Discontent by locals and tourists with the increase in road traffic in the Val Venosta led to many voices calling for a reopening of the rail service, including a threated tax strike.
In 1999 the line was turned over to the South Tyrol regional government, which rebuilt it from 2000 to 2004 under the leadership of the STA Transportstrukturen Ltd., a publicly-owned enterprise.
…The new infrastructure uses Y-shaped metal crossties that are more stable than concrete ties for light trains, require less capital cost and are cheaper to maintain. Also, the fact the old rails never had been removed in the decade and a half of abandonment preserved the right-of-way from alternate uses such as highways, and the line never completely disappeared from public consciousness.
See links below to an article and website about proposed upgrades to existing Chicago-Detroit Amtrak corridor service on existing tracks, to 110 mph standards and other improvements, all for less than $3 billion.
As shown by the Chicago-Detroit corridor example, with the addition of a Bakersfield-Los Angeles route via Tejon Pass–34 miles shorter than via Tehachapi–conventional upgraded San Joaquins could travel from Sacramento or the Bay Area to Los Angeles Union Station in ~4 hours, 45 minutes versus ~3 hours for 220 mph non-stop express high speed rail, or 3 hours, 30 minutes+/- for a high speed “all stops local.”
But CAHSRA wants Calfornia taxpayers to spend another $50 to $100 billion on top of the $10-$12 billion+/- a combined San Joaquin upgrade/Tejon route would cost to save a maximum of 60-90 minutes per trip. While 3.0-3.5 hour travel times are needed to effectively compete with air travel between Sacramento/Bay Area and Southern California, they are not needed to compete with most intercity trips, which are made by automobile.
TRAC’s opinion piece on September 28th (http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed/article2614730.html) in the Sacramento Bee apparently annoyed the denizens of the California High Speed Rail Authority, leading to a response by CEO Jeff Morales (http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed/article2623053.html), plus a followup, much more detailed letter directly to TRAC on October 22 (http://www.calrailnews.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Response-to-TRAC-10.21.14.pdf).
The text of our response to Morales’ Bee op-ed and followup letter is presented below.
Instead of responding substantively to my piece in the Sacramento Bee on Monday, September 29th, California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) CEO Jeff Morales merely repeated his agency’s PR schtick. His article read like something written by CHSRA’s “Office of Communications” e.g., their PR flacks.
Reading between the lines, however, Mr. Morales’ article spoke volumes: by claiming “interest” in the HSR project by private companies and investors, he tacitly admitted that CHSRA actually has no commitments for private capital.
After some more verbal gesticulating including a specious claim that American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds can’t be moved to upgrading existing lines (a political choice by the Obama Administation, not a legal one), Morales failed to explain where CHSRA will get the $26 billion of public funds his plan calls for. This means that private investment is an utter pipe dream.
In short, if the courts are kind to CHSRA, they may manage to blow through $6 billion improving railroad service through downtown Fresno. After that, though, the current manifestation of HSR in California is dead in the water. CHSRA simply doesn’t have the money to build much more of its insanely expensive infrastructure, and has no idea where they will get any more money, public or private.