Requests for the Alhambra City Council

I filled out a blue card and spoke at the Alhambra City Council meeting tonight. The following is what I said to the council.

My name is Dan Bednarski. I am a resident of Alhambra and maintain the web site at Alhambra-1-2-3 DOT O-R-G which I use to track the high speed rail project and provide analysis of the project.

My comments all relate to the high speed trains proposed along the I-10 freeway

First, I’d like to thank the City Council and staff for being so involved, hosting public meetings, and ensuring our community is informed and has plenty of opportunities to learn of the plans and voice our concerns. I will attend Thursday’s scoping meeting.

I would like to address two items I think important.

I. Potential private ownership of the high speed trains

Summary: The city needs to think ahead to make sure that any potential private owners of the high speed rail system do not harm the city or its residents if the state decides to sell its high speed rail system in the future. And the city needs to make sure it benefits if there is private ownership.

A – The state budget crisis has led the legislature to take desperate action to balance the budget. For example, the latest budget plan currently has the state selling selling real estate and other valuable property holdings with lease back provisions. In the recent past, it has also tried to sell the workers comp system as well as the state lottery.

B – The state is taking out loans and bonds to build the high speed rail system. Official estimates are 43 billion for just the segments between San Francisco and Anaheim. Unofficial estimates peg the costs closer to 73 billion. Japan and China have offered to lend much of the cost.

C- Ridership estimates are uncertain. There is much squabbling and criticism about the Rail Authority’s ridership estimates and their validity.

  1. The Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Berkeley issued a report this past June. The authors found “some significant problems that render the key demand forecasting models unreliable for policy analysis.”
  2. A Bay Area group also found errors in the ridership forecast
    • Sample methods were highly biased towards those who are most likely to take a High Speed Rail train. 96% of the Californians surveyed to assess their interest in taking High Speed Rail for commuting were current train riders.
    • Drastic changes were made to the model used to produce forecasts, yet these changes were not included in the public documentation, the final project report or information provided to the peer review committee.
    • the real model was never made public nor apparently distributed to the peer review panel

D – By law, the high speed rail system must make a profit. If ridership estimates fail to pan out, the state will need to subsidize operations and pay the loans from the general fund. At such time, the state may make the decision to cut its losses and sell or transfer the system to its bond holders, whether it be Japan or another country, or Wall Street.

E – Private owners will try to squeak out more money than the state. Some ideas we can expect to be pushed include

  1. Billboards. It is not out of question to see huge billboards like the ones you see at the Citadel if the railway is elevated.
    • The city should push to require the state to make local billboard and advertising rules apply.
  2. More and faster trains. Consider it the Southwest Airlines method of operating.
    • The city should push the state to guarantee top speeds, a maximum number of trains per hour, and minimum spacing requirements.
  3. Lower maintenance levels. Airlines have a reputation to cheap out and defer necessary maintenance. A train company will not act any differently.
    • The city should push the state to require any private owners to maintain its trains
  4. There are probably more ways that I have not come up with.

F – The city also needs to make sure it will benefit. It must get the state to allow it to collect property taxes from any private owners of the railway. Despite the railway being in the center of the freeway, it is in the City of Alhambra.

II. Delay Request

Summary: The city should work with the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments and Metro to officially request a 12 month delay in the Alternatives Analysis process. The delay will allow Metro to complete its Gold Line Extension EIR and decide whether to use the 60 route proposed by the Rail Authority. The 60 is the only other realistic route for the trains next to the 10 freeway.

Consider the possible routes proposed by the Rail Authority

  1. Union Pacific: The State lacks the power of eminent domain. Studying that alternative is futile without Congressional action.
  2. Union Pacific adjacent: Alex Clifford the executive in charge of high speed rail for Metro told me that the route adjacent to the Union Pacific right of way is “highly disruptive to commercial and industrial businesses, as well as to residential areas.” Those disruptions are likely to rise to the level of a fatal flaw. Metro has not taken a stance on any of the routes. Few people have the stomach for uprooting people from their homes. What’s more, we’re in a severe recession. Nobody wants to force businesses to relocate or close down. Some of those jobs will likely go to other states or overseas.
  3. 60 Freeway: Metro is considering the same route as the Rail Authority along the 60 freeway for the Gold Line Extension. Metro already began the EIR process and will be completed late 2011. Metro is only considering two routes. One along the 60. The second along Washington Blvd. Even if Metro picks Washington Blvd, the Rail Authority has a big challenge in the superfund sites.

A delay of 12 to even 18 months

  1. does not prejudice the Rail Authority. With a delay, the Rail Authority will finish its EIR/EIS in 2017. It does not plan to begin construction until 2020.
  2. gives time to identify and consider other alternative routes
  3. allows more information to become available as other segments complete the EIR/EIS process. Noise, vibration, size, and costs to name a few things.

Without a delay, the cards are heavily stacked against the I-10 corridor.

My web site has more information on the high speed train project and links to other sources for additional info.

Thank you for your time.

And thank you to the council for allowing me to go over the five minutes I was allotted. 🙂

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