Packed High Speed Rail Authority Meeting

August 6, 2009
Report by Bill Kerby, RailPAC Treasurer

Spilling out into the hallway from the Sacramento Area Council of Government’s board room, prospective contractors, local government officials and the media largely remained for nearly four hours of a two part meeting August 6th.

Regular business included the ratification of agreements with the governments of Italy and Germany for mutual exchange of technical information on high speed rail operations with California’s HSR Authority. Admittedly, the agreements, like those with Asian and other European governments, appear to provide an information flow into the State without much technical information in return, but the allure of future contracts in supplying goods and services for the train sets and other infrastructure components was evident among members of the audience. Recently elected chair of the Authority, Curt Pringle–Mayor of Anaheim, led the meeting with a different tone and pace than those of his predecessor. Marshalling statements by fellow board members and consultants into a consistent theme, Mr. Pringle also expressed a desire that policies and proceedings of the commission, including the August 6th meeting, be transparent and easily accessible via the HSR website. Other information items included the announcement that Jack Barker had been reassigned from the Governor’s Office to the Authority with the title “Deputy Director of External Affairs” where his job is to “coordinate” information flows from the Authority.

After adjournment of the Board Meeting, an “operations workshop” began five minutes later that featured a progress report by the Chief Engineer and Project Manager. The grade profile of the Los Angeles to San Francisco route, associated power consumption of each section of the route and running speeds were presented as real time estimates that will closely approximate actual running times and power consumption. Project Manager Daniel’s Power Point slide presentation is posted at

Mr. Daniels explained that, due to the complete absence of any governmental standards, rules or regulations concerning train operations above 150 miles per hour in the United States, technical agreements with Asian and European high speed train professionals are paying off in the creation of standards in the US from the best practices abroad. Daniels observed that President Obama is pressing the Federal Railroad Administration to adopt regulations for above 150 MPH operations in proactive ways—ways that he has not seen in his thirty years of experience in working on high speed railway operations in this country.

In a fortnight, a request for proposal for the construction of a heavy maintenance facility will be released. With a footprint about the size of an urban college campus, the 200 acre site is targeted for the Central Valley of California. Later, RFP’s for two light maintenance facilities will be sent and each of these requires 80 acres of land. Asserting his leadership, Mr. Pringle led questioning of the Executive Director of the HSRA, Medhi Morshed, and Mr. Daniels. Board Member Lynn Shenk opined that selection of a “preferred maintenance site is wide open.” Pringle ended the discussion with the conclusion that the Board of Directors of the High Speed Rail Authority will be making the decision.

Workshops, with operations theme in Sacramento, cover two additional topics: finance and administration and oversight. The firm KPMG is working on content of the last two topics. Board member Shenk called for the appointment of a Chief Financial Officer who would report directly to the Board. Chair Pringle indicated that he would place the matter on the agenda of the next board meeting. Given the legislature and Governor’s approvals of a $190 million operating budget and the additional bond-supplied $90 million from Proposition 1A, the complexity and scope of this project, the public needs to focus on the primary purpose of a high speed rail system which is to provide superior mobility for the public. RailPAC looks forward to transparent progress reporting from the Authority.

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