High-Speed Rail’s Turning Point: California Assembly Asserts Bipartisan Control

By David Schonbrunn, President, TRAC

This past Thursday, June 11th, there was an unanimous bipartisan vote by the State Assembly to adopt House Resolution 97. Bipartisan votes like HR-97 are exceptionally rare on issues like the biggest construction project in the State’s history. This resolution is doubly historic in that it places a major obstacle in front of California’s troubled high-speed rail project, effectively rejecting the California High Speed Rail Authority’s (CHSRA) draft 2020 Business Plan.

CHSRA had been moving towards signing a multibillion-dollar contract this year that would lock in the electrification of the Merced-Bakersfield route selected by Governor Newsom and advanced by HSR staff. House [Assembly] Resolution 97 directs CHSRA to hold off on adopting the electrification contract until the Assembly has voted on an appropriation. The Assembly asserted its role of overseeing the project through its control of the project’s funding.

It is important to note that the resolution does not go to the Senate or to the Governor. Without the Assembly’s cooperation, CHSRA’s flawed project cannot obtain further funding. By threatening the withholding of funding, the Assembly has taken control of the project, which now cannot proceed without the Assembly’s explicit approval and sign-off.

The balance of power on HSR has changed. One house of the Legislature has found its voice, and has asserted its authority over the HSR project. After 8 years of the Legislature being cowed by Jerry Brown, this turn of events is absolutely stunning.

In my opinion, CHSRA’s CEO Brian Kelly overreached politically, in an attempt to stare down Southern California Assembly members who didn’t want to fund electrification because they were dubious about the direction of HSR. I wrote in the most recent issue of California Rail News (http://www.calrailnews.org/current/) that Kelly was daring these Assembly members to stop him. Now CHSRA has been stopped, quite forcefully. CHSRA’s plans are now worthless. Kelly will have to negotiate some kind of revised project now, or his project and agency are history…

I heard enough Assembly members talking about thoughtful alternatives to the Governor’s project that I am more heartened than any time in my past 16 years of opposition to CHSRA intransigence. The speeches for the Floor debate on the resolution were extraordinary and are well-worth readers’ time. They can be seen here.

It will be interesting to see how Governor Newsom will respond to this political sea change. He doesn’t control legislators the way Jerry Brown once did, and I think he will need to negotiate what the future of CHSRA will be. TRAC has reached out to the Governor’s staff to help get this process started.

TRAC now sees its agenda finally moving forward after many years of frustration. As TRAC has stated many times for many years, we want to see Cap & Trade funds spent on intercity routes that are effective competitors to auto travel. We also want to encourage private sector investment in rail projects, including HSR. It is certain that private sector investments will look nothing like CHSRA’s project, They will be driven by travel markets and economics, rather than political horse-trading and cronyism.

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Fear of Public Transit Got Ahead of the Evidence

Many have blamed subways and buses for coronavirus outbreaks, but a growing body of research suggests otherwise.

A very important article.


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Rail-Related News, Monday, June 15, 2020 Coronavirus 4 Edition

A typical weekday…

MTC expects massive traffic jams when people return to work after house arrest

Petaluma sued over Corona (sic) station project after SMART deal reached

Task Force to ponder future of Bay Area transportation

New BART map includes San Jose, though no current timetable for opening (early May)

Caltrain considers full shutdown if unable to secure additional funding

Have you ever seen 180 people on one BART car? BART sounds alarm on finances

New York City councilperson lays out plans for subway recovery

BART to San Jose opening June 13, pandemic or no

Capitol Corridor resumed some train service June 1st

SMART approves plan to go ahead and take over North Bay rail freight service

SMART changes course, will keep weekend service based on public survey

As lockdowns lift, can U.S. cities prevent a traffic catastrophe?

BART’s “Welcome Back” Plan: how things will be different

Florida Brightline wants $350 million to build 5 local stations on Miami-Orlando route

Can New York subways and buses lure back their previous 8 million daily passengers?

Hillsdale Caltrain station closing for six months for construction work

SMART limits staffing, train service cuts in 2020-2021 budget

SMART cutting weekday service by one-third as part of $7 million in cost savings

Caltrain aims to increase service despite budget woes from Covid19 panic

Transit in Japan and France surprisingly safe despite virus

BART opens Milpitas, Berryessa stations on Saturday, June 13th

New BART gates premiere, but unlikely to stop fare evaders

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TRAC has Submitted Extensive Comments Regarding the CHSRA’s Latest Business Plan

“We are long-time supporters of high-speed rail, but find too many flaws in this project to be able to support it. In TRAC’s opinion, this document is not a business plan. It offers no concrete steps for how to get to the point of having a business…”

The comments are now available at the top of page here: http://www.calrailnews.org/trac-position-papers/

For more information regarding the California High Speed Rail Authority’s latest Business Plan, we recommend this informative Los Angeles Times article: https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-06-05/california-assembly-high-speed-rail-wants-contract-deferred

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Ten Social Etiquette Pointers for Visitors to Japan

In addition to wearing face coverings when you are feeling down with coughs or sneezing, the Japanese have a number of other points of etiquette you need to be aware of when you visit that fascinating country after the Covid-19 crisis is past, to ride its trains and for many other interesting attractions.

This website has excellent pointers that will ensure you don’t become the stereotypical “Ugly American” to our Japanese friends: https://ryutokyo.com/top-ten-japanese-etiquette/

We also recommend the website where this story appeared: https://ryutokyo.com

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Rail-Related News, Thursday May 14, 2020 – Coronavirus Edition 3

Germany: trains run on time with few of those pesky passengers

Caltrain Hillsdale station to close temporarily for construction

SMART considers service cuts to reduce costs $6 million/year

$780 million in Coronavirus relief to be doled out to Bay Area transit agencies

You better still pay to park at BART, even with 90%+ ridershipdrop due to Coronavirus

Santa Clara County VTA to bring back light rail service two weeks after employee tested positive for ChiComm Virus

Despite Coronavirus, Caltrain aims for sales tex election in November 2020

BART cuts service to every 30 minutes due to Coronavirus ridership drop

In a “pandemic” all of us are “transit dependent”

Despite current events, BART is preparing their workforce to start service to San Jose in June

BART staff considering various ridership scenarios after coronavirus house arrest ends

VTA drops plan for giant BART subway through downtown San Jose

Bay Area transit line up for Coronavirus crisis bailout money

San Francisco Muni puts back some service cut recently

Los Angeles Crenshaw Line opening delayed by track screwups

Failure of New York MTA to supply masks and other protective equipment may have lead to employee Coronavirus deaths

Sprawl advocates push misleading MIT study claiming subway mainly responsible for spread of CV in New York City

How Coronavirus crisis may change Bay Are transit

Sacramento Regional Transit purchased first 20 low floor light rail vehicles

Second SMART station deal in works despite Coronavirus lockdown

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