CA High Speed Rail Authority Meets in Los Angeles, Tomorrow

As Damien has noted the California High Speed Rail Autjority is coming to L.A. this week, specifically to the Metro Board Room (3rd floor of the Taj Mahal, as some of us like to call the Metro Headquarters Building). Wednesday afternoon its Executive/Administrative Committee is meeting at 1 p.m., followed by the Finance Committee at 2 p.m. and the Operations Committee at 3:30 p.m.

Then on Thursday starting at 9 a.m. the Board is meeting; its agenda and the various reports being presented are available online.

Besides the alignment updates being presented the meeting is significant for Southern California because it will be the first since Alex Clifford left his role as Metro’s high speed rail liaison. It was in 2009 that Metro CEO Art Leahy appointed Alex Clifford (then General Manager of Metro’s Gateway Cities Service Sector) to be Executive Officer (EO), High Speed Rail for the agency. In that capacity Clifford provided executive direction to project management staff and consultants to facilitate the implementation of High Speed Rail (HSR) projects, including planning and implementing the Los Angeles to Anaheim, Los Angeles to Palmdale and Los Angeles to San Diego HSR corridors. The position also had responsibility for representing Metro for the Los Angeles-San Diego-San Luis Obispo (LOSSAN), Amtrak and Metrolink service corridors (Per agenda item #24 heard at the Metro Board Sept. 24, 2009 meeting).

Clifford was an ideal choice for the position due to his unique qualifications. He spent eight years serving on the Riverside City Council (1991-2000) and in that capacity represented the City of Riverside on the Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC) and was elected chairman for two consecutive years. He also represented the City of Riverside on the Riverside Transit Agency for eight years. Clifford also was appointed by the RCTC to represent Riverside County on the Southern California Regional Rail Authority (SCRRA/Metrolink) and served as chairman for two consecutive years. His other transportation experience included the Intercity Rail Joint Powers Authority, the RCTC/SANBAG California High Speed Rail Subcommittee and the California/Nevada Super Speed Train Commission (Per a Metro press release announcing Clifford’s appointment to being General Manager of the Gateway Service Sector). A balance of technical knowledge and political savvy helped Clifford calm the waters when various local jurisdictions started to rebel at the potential magnitude of the impact of constructing the high speed line.

So where did Clifford go? To be the new head of Chicago’s Metra System (their equivalent of Metrolink, albeit serving nearly 8 times the ridership — 42,000 for Metrolink versus 307,000 for Metra). The Chicago Tribune describes him as quickly taking action to begin shaking up the agency by posting a message on Metra’s website promising reform and soliciting input from riders with a survey.

Clifford’s task is to pick up the pieces in the wake of a scandal in which longtime Executive Director Phil Pagano was caught engaged in financial improprieties and last May committed suicide by walking in front of one of his own agency’s trains.

Obviously Clifford has a lot on his plate at his new job.

And where does that leave Metro in dealing with bullet train issues? I have to think it will be difficult to find someone with the skill set and background Clifford brought to the task. And I’ve heard no hint how far the search has progressed for Clifford’s successor.

  • Interurbans

    Is anyone going to ask why the line will have a dead end stub at a cost of billions to Anaheim in one of the best served corridors in the country to save under 10 minutes? Who will be riding the HSR from Anaheim to points north of Bakersfield? So why is this unwanted and unneeded segment even being considered let alone actual to be built?

    Why is the line going a hundred miles out of the way and increasing the running time by close to 30 minutes and many billions of dollars for 1 stop in Palmdale? A direct Santa Clarita Bakersfield line of under 100 miles would cost much less and be much faster? If developing an unneeded Palmdale Airport is so important a HSR stub to Palmdale would make much better sense than the boondoggle to Anaheim.

    Is the line going to be gold plated by having many more miles elevated structure than is really needed?

    Will these and other important questions be asked before this very needed project can go to the next step or are we going to be saddled with an HSR system that is much less than it could and should be?

  • Erik G.

    Boondoggle? Anaheim has this attraction with carnival rides and a castle you see…

    And the folks there have other parks around the world which have experience with rail connections:

  • Like Erik G. said, there is a very big reason to build a bullet train station in Anaheim.

    Even if you don’t like amusement parks, the population of Orange County certainly supports having a station separate from Union Station.

    And the population of Palmdale shouldn’t be sniffed at, either.

  • Interurbans

    But there is already excelent service between LA and Anaheim. Again how many riders from Anaheim will use HSR to go byond LA? Is adding 10 minutes to a trip worth all of the cost to build this dead end stub to Anaheim?

  • kevd

    What happened to the Anaheim to Irvine section?
    Has that been cancelled or will it be built in a later phase?

  • MarkB

    The line is going to Anaheim because the HSR bond initiative mandated it.

  • I’m certain that the bond initiative mandated it because it was a worthy destination.
    Also, so people from San Francisco, San Jose or Fresno wouldn’t have to change platforms at Union Station.

  • @Interurbans

    If you look at at a topographical map of Southern California, like this one, you’ll notice that there’s an enormous mountain range directly between Santa Clarita and Palmdale. I’m no HSR expert, but trains generally cannot travel steeper grades than 6%, which is just about exactly what the Grapevine is on the north side. This would thus require significant tunneling and/or aerial structures which can be 10x more expensive than at-grade tracks. So really, it’s probably not billions of dollars cheaper at all. You save money by traveling the path of least resistance in this case.

    By going east to Palmdale and then back north-west through the Tehachapi pass, you both avoid that huge mountain range and hit a legitimate population center in Palmdale.

    If California were flat, sure you’d shoot straight up to Bakersfield, but we’ve got some of the biggest mountains in North America to contend with.

  • Interurbans

    The Santa Clarita Bakersfield route would not go through Gorman but a route west and the grade would be less than the Techachapi route which is quite a major pass and the tnneling would not be much grater.

  • Adam

    The author of this ridiculous puff piece has obviously never met Alex Clifford.

    Several months ago, I had the pleasure to interview Mr. Clifford specifically about the CAHSR project. It was clear from his statements that he was not a supporter, and that is putting it mildly. He could barely contain his hostility toward the project and his contempt for the CHSRA.

    I can understand the frustration in dealing with an arrogant State agency that has zero PR skills and essentially been issuing dictates to local agencies and communities.

    That we are now looking at his tenure in rose-colored glasses is somewhat mystifying to me. Mr. Clifford did nothing to advance the project or keep it on track, so to speak. I am happy for his success in graduating to a larger rail agency, but consider it a blessing that he is gone.

  • Cheryl Lynn

    Stop high speed rail. It cost too much. This state is in trouble financially. The tax payers do not want to be held hostage to a train system that very few people will utilize. Improving the roads would be a better use of our tax dollars.

  • Interurbans

    So maybe we should have never built Interstate Highways. They cost too much and we could not affort to pay for them and no one will use them. It will cost far more and we will get much less if we do not build HSR. The cost of expanding highways and airports will only keep us even. They can never full the capacity that HSR can, Where HSR is in service they have full trains leaving every 10 to 15 minutes. The highways or air could never handle that kind of volume. Driving and even flying takes longr if you count the time to and from the airport and secuerity.

  • Cheryl Lynn

    When we built the highway system and airports years ago the country was not in debt trillions of dollars! Face it we are close to bankruptcy, in debt to the Chinese.
    High speed rail will be a boondoggle, for example the small town of Hanford will have a corridor running right through the middle of it. They will have to use eminent domain and destroy housing and businesses just to make it possible to go through. The same for Fresno. The route is not all farm land and mountains. Just how fast do these trains travel? 70, 80,90,100 miles an hour. Trains can’t stop now for animals, pedestrians, stalled vehicles etc. This whole idea is just not sensible. If it was cost effective a monorail system would be better.

  • asdf

    Alex Clifford gave me the same impression he did Adam. He certainly was not Mr. Rah-Rah with regard to high speed rail.

  • Jose

    I would love to go to from LA to SF. But in the near future, next five years, I would like to see it at least from Palmdale to SD.

  • David

    As long as they are building it to Anahiem and possibly Irvine in the future, why can’t they go all the way to San Diego on that route instead of taking such a round about way down there through riverside? Seems like they would save a lot of money and improve the running time that way.

  • Marcotico

    A major corridor investment study was conducted over a number of years and completed a couple of years ago by Amtrak, Metrolink and all the county transportation agencies (google LOSSAN Corridor for more info.) The political powers that be, made sure that the overall program plan did not allow widening of the right of way where the corridor goes along the beach through San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente. As much as i am opposed to Nimbyism, that is a very beautiful area, and deserves to be preserved. The only option identified was a very expensive tunnel (8-10B I think) that would carry the train tracks inland, and tunnel under the I-5, and shoot out to the connection point in Camp Pendleton. The complexity and cost of the tunnel mean that the only viable route for the HSR connection is to go inland from San Diego, and avoid all of the coastal communities entirely, and hook around through Riverside County, and the traditional rail service between LA and San Diego will always have this pinch point at the OC/SD county line.

  • Gahushsj

    We have had Alex Clifford in Chicago at Metra for two years now and he has done nothing to turn Metra around. He’s raised fares by 35% and has hired numerous high priced consultants wasting tax payers money. I am a vendor/supplier who’s company does business with Metra and since his installation as CEO he has worked to reducing the workforce to such minimal levels that it takes 6 months to have a contract you Bid on awarded! When you submit your invoice to accounts payable it takes you 60-90 days to receive payment. When I’ve called accounts payable to inquire about my payment, I’m repeatedly met with excuses that they are processing as quickly as they can….I have to agree with Adam, Clifford doesn’t impress me.
    Thank God they aren’t my only source of income, I would starve!

    Cali, you can Alex back!

  • Jl

    Well, you can have him back now. He quit, and the drooling morons that constitite the Metra board paid him $750,000 to do so- more than he would had earned had he honored his contract.

    And there’s a confidentiality cause that prohibits anyone from publicly discussing why he quit.


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