High Speed Rail video © 2019 and © 2022 Grant Johnson (drone videographer), PRISM Engineering, Music © 2019 Adam Lehi Johnson
As an engineer, a California registered TRAFFIC ENGINEER, who has also worked directly for the Chinese government on High Speed Rail Construction Supervision and Inspection in Mainland China as a Chief Site Engineer (CSE), I have to say that this High Speed Rail Project in California is a long shot project because of the politics involved... and could be somewhat of a "Square Peg in a Round Hole" project for the United States Transportation System. A misfit transportation mode that costs too much for so little cumulative benefit. Also it has become politically unviable at the national level. In China, the progress made in just one year on the HSR project I was supervising, in just one single year, there was more progress than CA has made in 7 years! I was working on overseeing inspections of TUNNELS, BRIDGES over canyons, BOX CULVERT crossings for creeks, animals, elevated VIADUCT BRIDGES over farmland (100m segments placed individually on tall piers), and SUBMERGED "TUNNEL" sections to "bury" the tracks and build a long thick tunnel with earth covering on top to hide it.
We primarily use CARS in the US, and soon, electric autonomous cars... which will make the train choice look less convenient. Another clean air quality option will be presented to us, that runs on 4 rubber tires. A CAR. If its about the planet and climate change, listen up, this is an option that does just that.
Rail options for transport are very limited in pathways. I believe in the near future much of these classic ideas will be replaced by something different which has the potential to be much much better for the environment, for reducing delays and even reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT). It seems obvious now that this will be: Mobile vehicles generally with four wheels, computer driven, dynamic "train assembly" for convoy travel, robotic deliveries, mobile offices large and small, etc. Much increased pathway options than current options with rail, and much SAFER too, by taking the human element of "tragic mistake" out of the driving equation. I am all for it, because it will end up being the safest, most efficient, and most convenient and helpful option. Currently we have plateaued on reducing fatalities, because the human element in driving still exists. I want a private autonomous "CAR" in my near future. I don't want to have to wait for a train, especially a train to where I don't want to go.
IN CHINA, 85% OF THE POPULATION DOES NOT HAVE / USE A CAR.
OF COURSE, Rail makes much more sense for China where most people congregate/live in densely populated super-cities, and where there are few other viable transportation options to go from CITY to CITY, excepting a bus, but in that option, travel times are extremely limited, take longer than a car, and the last 5 mile connection to end-of-journey choices are limited and slow. Long waits. Lots of standing. Making the personal vehicle look very attractive on those factors.
IN THE USA, HIGH SPEED RAIL will NOT be helping our TRANSPORTATION INFRASTRUCTURE CHALLENGES and NEEDS. main reason? we cannot afford it.
HSR ignores CA transportation needs by diverting needed funds to more expensive HSR projects that do not actually solve any significant congestion problem. Even the HSR Rail Authority predicted a best case of 1% reduction in auto travel once completed... and that's nothing to be excited about after spending $100B to do that, to connect LA to SF with HSR, if they can get it done. 1% !!
HSR, if it can be accomplished, would be kind of a showcase type infrastructure, a Transportation Trophy for California, but 99% of the drivers will not be affected by it according to the CAHSRA. Rather than allow real solutions to be engineered by Traffic and Transportation Engineers, in recent years it seems that many politicians are FOCUSED on passing laws and policies that actually frustrate the existing transportation systems, BY IGNORING IT, and instead making policy seemingly designed to GET PEOPLE OUT OF CARS, but the fact is, history shows, that this has not been working. it has not been working.
Traffic jams seem to be as bad as ever, worse actually, and especially in urban areas where EIR focus for transportation is on reduction of Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) instead of real world traffic impacts. The CA legislature wiped traffic impacts OUT of the CEQA California EIR process. These policies ignore the commute times of millions and millions of people, and major projects can be built, cause additional traffic, impact freeways, and not be considered an "impact" if it reduces VMT. In the mean time, traffic is moving slower and slower, polluting more and more air as cars take hours to get to work. Time is also being wasted now, with the hope that a few of these same people will start walking or riding bikes and ditch the traffic congestion. Well, its not really that easy ...and actually, it doesn't seem to be working in any measurable way. The needle isn't even moving, and if it does move, LOS F is getting worse.
Focusing primarily on getting people "out of their cars" to use modified pedestrian and bicycle friendly redesigned streets ("Complete Streets") has caught on somewhat, but in many cases these shifts in mode of travel have actually caused pedestrian fatalities to increase as a result: Like China, many many more pedestrians are getting into harms way, causes more injuries, serious injuries and death to pedestrians. The US pedestrian fatalities, and bike fatalities statistics are on the rise.
Pedestrian fatalities are rising because of incomplete policy.
One thing we could learn from China is that
China has 10 times more fatalities with pedestrians and vehicles than the USA. But they have the same amount of drivers and the same amount of cars/vehicles. And a similar amount of roadway miles. Why the 10 fold increase in fatalities then?
It is because of many more pedestrians being in harms way, mingling directly with fast moving vehicles.
We should not assume that getting people "out of their cars" is the simple solution for safety. It actually is not the solution, and other countries are already proving that. What IS a solution is to make sure pedestrians do not get to get in front of human drivers of a car or truck. This is a statistic waiting to happen.
The CA HIGH SPEED RAIL will cost well OVER $100 BILLION if completed, and it is taking too long, says Gov. Newsom. Because this is the USA, our CULTURE requires excessive environmental reviews. Property costs are also very high. Political challenges are formidable because getting people to give up their properties is a roadblock waiting to happen. The technology of HSR is extremely expensive when compared to other modes, takes extremely long to build, requires STRAIGHT pathways that invariably impacts properties that are not available, significant environmental hurdles, etc. These are problems that China does not face much when it builds HSR. China has it's own CULTURE which favors HSR construction, the taking of farm land, and the straight forward redevelopment of urban land since China owns ALL of the land and can do whatever it wants there... but even China's HSR system is somewhat overrated for what you get in return.
The HSR will soon be an OUTDATED FORMAT OF TRAVEL because BY THE TIME IT IS FINISHED, travelers using HSR will likely shift to a using a more favorable autonomous vehicle environment, which will also be green using electric vehicles, safe vehicles, convenient vehicles that do not impact air quality. These kind of cars/vehicles/transport are going to be safer overall and more green than can be imagined with a complete overhaul into electric and solar transportation systems, and where the human element in driving is taken out of the equation.
IS IT POINTLESS TO CONTINUE the HSR because:
These Questions Persist
HIGH SPEED RAIL CORRUPTION
Way back in 2008---
Voters were persuaded by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger talking up the HSR, and when it got on a 2008 ballot , nearly $10 billion in bonds were authorized.
Back then it was said to ultimately cost $33 billion, but it soon morphed into $60 billion. Then $100 billion. This is a problem, the escalations because of poor planning estimates and political complications.
It was said that it would operate with no subsidies.
Recently there was CORRUPTION, where billed millions went unaccounted for, and multiple conflicts of interest by executives in the engineering firm WSP doing expensive change orders (dozens of millions) for contractor firms that had conflicts of interest (they had stock in a company hired). WSP's executive, Roy Hill, is under investigation by the State and has been SUSPENDED from further work pending outcome. (June 2019 LA Times article, which states:
Roy Hill, deputy chief operating officer for the California High-Speed Rail Authority and a senior executive at the lead consulting firm WSP, signed a $51-million change order for the construction team led by the Spanish firm Dragados. It happened in the same year he may have owned more than $100,000 of stock in Jacobs Engineering, which is part of the Dragados team, records show.).
See LA TIMES article here
A photo I took of part of my 70 km section supervision of HSR construction in China
© 2015 Grant Johnson, PRISM Engineering
FAST FACTS on High Speed Rail Labor Costs, USA vs China:
My work on the High Speed Rail construction in northern China connecting Beijing to Shenyang was done at breakneck speed. Construction going on all the time! Literally, 12-16 hour days for workers, and very low pay scale made it possible for numerous HSR lines to be constructed simultaneously throughout many places in China at the same time.
In California, there is not the "luxury" of low paid workers (workers on HSR in china make around $1000/mo, but for overworked 16 hour days, 7 days a week).
Doing the math, this is only $2.50/hr best case, and some are paid as low as $1.00/hr, since many are undocumented migrant Chinese workers from the rural areas, and are taken advantage of by construction companies.
In california, construction workers are being paid at least $18/hr, 10 to 20 times more,
and only work weekdays, 8 hrs/day.
The engineers in ca get paid three times more than construction workers at about $55/hr average. contrast this with the engineers in china who make 1/5th or less of this, at $10/hr. it is no wonder that china can build so much hsr. the labor costs are wildly lower than what it costs in the USA.
*NOWHERE defined: Bakersfield to Madera now. A "solution" to an fabricated problem. With nearly ZERO demand for daily person trips from Bakersfield to Madera, the State of California presses forward on its plan to build HSR to connect these two places, at tremendous costs!! The question is, WHO will be using this in the future? Who knows...? Even though I live 10 miles away from it, I can't imagine even one reason I would have to use it, even one time. It's completely detached from reality. I do transportation planning for a living, create models of future traffic, and I can not conceive of the assumptions that would need to be fabricated to say there will be 10's of thousands of people in Bakersfield that will need to travel daily to Madera. This is just not reality. LA to SF, maybe (to compete with airline travel), but not some Central Valley corridor of limited length, ending in non-destination cities. It would be the EPITOME of "GROWTH INDUCING", and I'm not sure it even would induce the growth? What is the draw between Bakersfield and Madera?? ONWARD and UPWARD!! Keep Building!! HSR for CA!! Rah Rah Rah. We can do what China does too.