Comment: NIMBY wants HSR "rent" to fund tunneling by his condo
- Published Wednesday, June 24, 2009, by the Menlo Park Almanac
High-speed rail's hidden partnership
By Martin Engel
In past discussions about high-speed rail, I've talked about various "elephants in the room," by which I mean highly obvious and consequential factors that have received little or no attention. Here's another one.
We all know that there is an Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (PCJPB) that operates Caltrain, and the California High Speed Rail Authority. In that agreement, there is -- in effect -- a business deal.
The deal states that the rail authority will provide the funding and construction of all grade separations, electrification, signaling hardware and some other stuff. The authority projects costs for the rail corridor to be $4.2 billion. The joint powers board, in turn, will provide the rail corridor itself as its part of the bargain.
Although the joint powers board claims in this MOU that they are the "sole owner" of the corridor, elsewhere they agree that they are "stewards." And that, as you will see, is a far more appropriate term.
SamTrans purchased the rail corridor from Southern Pacific, precursor to Union Pacific. At that time, SamTrans was the only functioning organization in San Mateo County with authority to sign such a purchase. That is, the rail corridor transferred from private to public hands.
The funding for this deal came from the three Peninsula counties. [BATN notes <http://samtrans.com/history.html> indicates that $124m -- 56% of the $219.6m purchase price -- was paid by state taxpayers with Prop 116 rail bond funds.] Our tax dollars at work. Therefore, the Caltrain corridor actually belongs to the citizens and taxpayers of the three counties. As a consequence of the sale of the corridor, the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board was created to administer the rail corridor and what came to be called Caltrain, the rail commuter service.
Administer is not the same as ownership. All of which is to say, the JPB represents all of us in administering this public rail corridor. And the JPB is no more the owner of the rail corridor than the National Park Service owns our National Parks. Both have decision-making powers but cannot claim "ownership."
A bad business deal
Put these two situations together -- we, the public, own the rail corridor and we got a bad deal -- and we discover that Peninsula taxpayers are about to get the short end of a very long stick. Let me explain.
The Caltrain Strategic Plan 2025, with their expectations of high-speed rail development investments on the corridor, might lead one to believe that Caltrain would be receiving rent or lease fees from the high-speed rail authority in payment for sharing the use of the corridor. Don't we charge grazing fees to ranchers who feed their cattle on federal public lands?
But that's not what is happening here. [BATN: No, instead the HSRA will provide Caltrain with billions worth of upgrades.] An inter-city rail operator is going to use our rail corridor after making self-serving [BATN: public/taxpayer-serving?] extensive improvements in order to operate this high-speed rail system at a profit. The high-speed rail authority will pay for those improvements, but then, when that investment has amortized, their use of the rail corridor will be free in perpetuity.
Caltrain representatives have told me that they are the "hosts" of this partnership and high-speed rail will be the "guest." Rather than "guest," I would prefer the word "tenant." We, the people, are the owners of the corridor and the rail authority will be the tenant. However, with this current arrangement, they will pay no rent. That's not right.
It should be pointed out that we have them over a barrel. High-speed rail authority officials Quentin Kopp and Rod Diridon insist, absolutely, that they must use the Caltrain corridor. They refuse to go anywhere else. They also insist that they will generate $2 billion in annual profits. Why must we let them do this for free, forever?
If such an arrangement is acceptable to the Joint Powers Board, as it appears to be, and they represent us, they are doing a very lousy job and should be called to task. They have not negotiated in good faith on our behalf.
What's in it for us?
How about using those fees from the high-speed rail authority to finally resolve Caltrain's perennial structural operating deficits? How about reducing ticket fares and thereby increasing Caltrain ridership? How about borrowing against that income revenue as the "local" contribution to tunnel high-speed rail beneath those cities that want the trains out of sight?
If I have my facts wrong or if I am not understanding something in this argument, I invite anyone to please correct me. If this bad deal slips past us and we do nothing about it, we have only ourselves to blame.
Martin Engel lives on Stone Pine Lane in Menlo Park [BATN: facing the Caltrain line] and writes frequently about the high-speed rail project.
[BATN: See also:
Comment: CA HSR must be stopped or it will bankrupt us all
Comment: Ex-official from Atherton says financial voodoo can fund HSR tunnel
Menlo rail NIMBY Engel: HSR not needed; fund urban transit instead
Comment: Kill HSR to prevent more trains running by my condo
Letter: Anti-rail Menlo Park NIMBY on why rail is "obsolete"
Letters: Readers (Engel) have much to criticize about proposed CA HSR
Comment: I'll say anything to oppose HSR, trains near my condo
Comment: Trackside Menlo Park NIMBY on "scary" push for HSR
Comment: Competitive Caltrain wrong to keep evil BART back
Fantasy: Fast, easy, door-to-door transit everywhere for everyone
Menlo Park TOD near Caltrain subject of referendum campaign
Menlo Park train NIMBY calls for inexpensive Caltrain fencing
Letter: NIMBY train foe hints Caltrain plot behind fencing gaps
Letter: NIMBY wise-ass proposes "best ideas" for Caltrain
Letters: Menlo Park Caltrain grade separations
Engel endorses rabid anti-Dumbarton Rail NIMBY's blitherings
Engel on HSR: "pornographic ... male-enhancement fantasy"
Engel blasts CA High-Speed Rail Authority's "smoke-and-mirrors"
Engel shares "High Speed Rail humor"
Engel debunks Caltrain electrification "fact sheet"
Engel on "Caltrain's misconceptions"
Engel no fan of faster trains -- and/or grade separations
Engel on HSR: "biggest pork-barrel project in the history of humans"