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Michelle Boehm: Response to Signal editorial 'The high speed rail hoodwink'

Posted: July 20, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 20, 2014 2:00 a.m.

The Signal’s opinion piece titled “The high speed rail hoodwink” (Opinion, July 13) recycles many of the myths and misinformation about the California High-Speed Rail Program that have been put forward by opponents.  

Among these are program cost, system run time, requirement for subsidies to operate, the nature of the infrastructure itself, and the validity of past work.

I am writing today to correct the record so that readers in the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys will get an accurate picture of the High-Speed Rail Program.

Program cost

The Phase I Blended System, or travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles/Anaheim, is currently estimated to cost $67.6 billion.

In fact, this number was recently updated for the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s 2014 business plan, and the cost actually went down slightly.

System run time

The system under design is fully capable of achieving the trip time required by Proposition 1A, passed by California voters in 2008.
The independent Peer Review Group stated during a recent legislative hearing that the authority’s “pure run time for nonstop trains from San Francisco Trans Bay Terminal to L.A. Union Station has thus been designed to be 2 hours, 32 minutes.”

In other words, the program’s current design beats the trip times and actually betters the standard required by law.


Proposition 1A requires that the project operate without a local, state or federal operating subsidy. This means that once the project is built, it will not use a government subsidy for operation and maintenance.

The ridership projections in the 2014 business plan lay out the case for this, are based on industry standard evaluation of a full range of scenarios, and include a robust risk analysis as well.

Nature of the infrastructure

The authority is planning a new high-speed, electric, grade-separated rail corridor.

Access to the tracks will be restricted or sealed, so pedestrians will never be in the path of a 200-mile-per-hour train.

Business plans

Current litigation affecting the sale of bonds has nothing to do with the accuracy or validity of the authority’s business plan, past or present.
The authority’s methodologies and process have been reviewed externally by the United States Government Accountability Office.

The GAO found the authority’s cost estimates are compliant with guidelines from the Federal Railroad Administration and the United States Department of Transportation.

Let’s focus on what we are doing now. Since 2007, the authority has been working closely with the people along the alignment, including those in the Northern Los Angeles County Area, to determine the best possible alignment and future high-speed rail stations.

We’ve heard specifically from your elected officials and residents about your concerns. That is why the authority’s latest plan is considering the extension of the existing Santa Susana tunnel by almost two miles.

This could reduce community impacts at this location, as well as increase the speed of the train along this particular alignment.  

In addition, the authority is also considering a more direct route from Palmdale to Burbank, as first suggested by Supervisor Mike Antonovich’s office, and subsequently supported by many local jurisdictions, including the cities of Santa Clarita, Palmdale and San Fernando, as well as some members of the Acton-Agua Dulce community.

This would bypass the city of Santa Clarita completely.

Gov. Jerry Brown has been a staunch supporter of the high-speed rail program because he understands the need for this transformative project that will connect California’s major regions and solve the growing problems of greenhouse gas emissions and traffic, while increasing mobility.

And let’s not forget about the jobs and spending the high-speed rail project is already injecting into our economy.
Japan has had high-speed rail since the 1960s, and countries in Europe and Asia soon followed suit.

There’s a reason why so many nations have built this efficient and clean way of transportation. It’s certainly not a “sci-fi fiction, like cold fusion,” as The Signal calls it.

It’s a reality and one of the most important projects for the future of California.

We at the authority understand that high-speed rail evokes strong feelings on both sides.

What Californians deserve is fair and accurate reporting on the program so that they can formulate opinions based on facts.

Michelle Boehm is the Southern California Regional Director for the California High-Speed Rail Authority.


The Signal’s Our View editorial published July 13 to which Boehm is responding was written as a satire.


BrianBaker: Posted: July 20, 2014 9:21 a.m.

Anybody buying this baloney?

I'm not.

lars1: Posted: July 20, 2014 10:01 a.m.

The Signal editorial was a satire.
The high speed rail project is a joke.

The rail project will never provide service in California.

Here is a really big piece of fiction

CaliforniaDefender: Posted: July 20, 2014 12:50 p.m.

Far from setting the record straight, with statements based on fact and substantiation, Ms. Boehm simply regurgitates the highly questionable claims made by the Authority in its business plans, ridership reports, and PR materials. For example, she points to the most recent business plan in a weak attempt to refute the Project's ever escalating cost. True, the 2014 Business Plan claims a slight reduction in project costs, but it fails to provide any details or substantiation for this claim. The absence of supporting evidence concerning these enormous costs to the taxpayers is conspicuous, given the technical appendices that supposedly support other cost estimates. We now know that the Authority recently instructed consultants to hide the growing cost of the Project. In addition, the Authority's ridership estimates have always been grossly exaggerated.

Self serving statements from the Authority's staff, and reports that were written to promote the Project rather than fairly present an objective analysis do not provide the public with the facts upon which to form opinions. Those who have carefully scrutinized the Authority's purposefully misleading reports and statements over the last several years simply do not trust the Authority to tell the truth about this Project. As it stands, the Project will only benefit the well-connected contractors, consultants, and labor organizations, but may not ever provide the promised benefits to the public. And even if enough of the Project to provide HSR service is eventually completed, the ultimate cost may completely overshadow the realized benefits. Most opponents are not against the idea of high-speed rail, they are simply against the Authority's poor implementation of this Project and the way it has deceived many into continuing to support it.

tech: Posted: July 20, 2014 1:00 p.m.

"The system under design is fully capable of achieving the trip time required by Proposition 1A, passed by California voters in 2008."

Note that the design is "fully capable of achieving" isn't quite the same as an affirmation that it will.

"The Phase I Blended System, or travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles/Anaheim, is currently estimated to cost $67.6 billion.

In fact, this number was recently updated for the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s 2014 business plan, and the cost actually went down slightly."

Well, isn't that a relief! Let's review the non-truncated history, shall we?

The project’s current cost estimate of $68 billion is already 51% above the initial estimate of $45 billion, made in 2008, before the public vote. Subsequently, the California High-Speed Rail Authority, which oversees the boondoggle, said the final cost would more likely be $98.5 billion, and the completion date 2033 instead of the initial estimate of 2028. Only after a public outcry was $30 billion shaved off that higher estimate, bringing it down to $68 billion – but only after plans to reduce train speed and use existing (slower) track. In July 2014 The World Bank reported that the per kilometer cost of Califorinia's high-speed rail system was $56 million, as compared with $17–21 million per km in China and $25–39 million per km in Europe.

Even if the project meets the revised target budget, that's only the beginning. Since no public transportation system in the USA is self-supporting, the systemic deficits will be subsidized by taxpayers.

This is now the methodology of the administrative state, i.e. deceive the public and when the facts become known they're never offered the opportunity to revisit the grand schemes of an insular bureaucratic state. The public, understandably, has a very low confidence level in the representatives of the administrative state.

The project solves no transportation problem and is a waste of taxpayer dollars. State government should be focused on the time bomb of public pensions and paying down the enormous debt run up by budgetary incompetence.

chefgirl358: Posted: July 21, 2014 12:16 a.m.

Bull crap to this ridiculous piece!

ricketzz: Posted: July 21, 2014 10:35 a.m.

Trains are the future. China wants to connect to USA via rail. Airplanes are helping destroy the atmosphere. It is less harmful to drive.

TruthandAmericanWay: Posted: July 21, 2014 10:58 a.m.

On May 8,2014, one day after the California High Speed Rail Board approved the Fresno to Bakersfield EIR/EIS in Fresno, they increased the cost by 15% and the media did not really report this dramatic cost increase.

Furthermore, the cost for Palmdale to Los Angeles they say would cost $12,000,000,000+ Billion Taxpayer Dollars - again that money this state does not have. They also called this estimate a "Valued Construction Estimate"??? Does anyone know or has anyone ever used this construction terminology???

Once again, this is a dramatic continuation of the California High Speed Rail Board and Authority's obfuscated PR program to say nothing but ALWAYS costing taxpayer’s more money that is not available anywhere in this state.

CastaicClay: Posted: July 21, 2014 2:21 p.m.

Palmdale is already served by rail to L.A. IF it is ever built it should just follow the 5.

KCCowgirl: Posted: July 21, 2014 2:41 p.m.

Would like to see HSRA make whole the communities it bisects. Thus far they have refused to even discuss any property devaluation, noise pollution, damage to underground water wells, etc. They just want to drive through wherever they please without any consideration to the homes and properties they come through.

This is plain wrong. If HSRA wants to put a rail through they should have to compensate property owners for the full value of their properties as well as surrounding areas for noise and inconvenience.

All of those for HSR please think a moment. If HSRA were willing to fully compensate residents we would all sell and move in a heartbeat. The main reason there is dissent from local residents is the FACT that HSRA will NOT commit to doing the right, just thing.

Now they are considering a route through the Angeles Forest? Seriously? They want to destroy the forests now and take more homes and land?

ricketzz: Posted: July 23, 2014 9:40 a.m.

They could cross the San Gabriels with an elegant elevated track; better than on the ground through Sand Canyon.

CaptGene: Posted: July 23, 2014 9:58 a.m.

"What Californians deserve is fair and accurate reporting on the program so that they can formulate opinions based on facts."

Perhaps you folks over there at "The Authority" should have thought of that when you put this POS on the ballot. Obviously a lot of the low information voters fell for it then and continue to fall for it now.

chico: Posted: July 23, 2014 10:22 a.m.

What about a terrorist attack on a train to Vegas?

AlwaysRight: Posted: July 23, 2014 7:36 p.m.

Ms. Boehm- I can hop a plane to San Francisco and be there in 45 min. The ticket will cost me as much if not less than a high speed rail ticket. I am statistically safer than in your train (or even a car). AND, I don't need to pay billions to do it.

Why, in the name of heaven, would we do this? Don't we need an improved water system more than an ineffective rail system?

EgbertSouse4U: Posted: July 24, 2014 2:37 p.m.

A "Standing 8-count" for Michelle Boehm! Better find a less-educated audience... nobody is buying this lengthy diatribe.

ricketzz: Posted: July 25, 2014 10:28 a.m.

"Hop a plane"? Hardly. Before 9-11 perhaps. You could get there 5 minutes before departure and as long as they didn't give your seat to a standby you'd fly. You can almost drive to Las Vegas in the same time it takes to get there by air.

If air passengers each took their own autos the damage to the atmosphere would be less than flying a jet. The seating and service is depressing. The air is filthy, as are the seats. You are treated like a suspect.

This is how our spawn the Chinese do it:

tech: Posted: July 27, 2014 3:19 p.m.

Do you fly on a regular basis, ricketzz? Anything recent?

I fly regularly for business. I can arrive at Burbank 45 minutes prior to my flight, park at the airport and be at my gate 15 minutes prior to flight departure to the Bay Area. Hundreds of my fellow travelers do the same.

The post-9/11 commuter flight experience is exactly as described by AR.

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