Former judge and elder statesman Quentin Kopp visited a meeting of the South Peninsula Area Republican Coalition (SPARC) May 20 to explain why the current version of California’s High-Speed Rail wouldn’t work.
Kopp, an independent, was the keynote speaker at last week’s meeting, held at the Fremont Hills Country Club in Los Altos Hills. He detailed the long list of lawsuits, finances, track sharing and other problems plaguing the current version of the fast trains.
The first segment of the rail, nearly 30 miles from Chowchilla south, hasn’t yet been laid. The major problem he sees is that the faster trains will have to share the track with slower trains. Additionally, the track would be electrified for the high-speed trains and regular trains will also have to be electrified, Kopp said.
“I’m for high-speed rail, but [Gov. Jerry} Brown’s version is actually low-speed rail,” he said. “High-speed rail runs on dedicated track. But this track, which will be electrified, will also accommodate Amtrak and thus slower trains” making the runs between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
In order to make this venture financially secure, Kopp explained 10 to 20 high-speed trains need to run per hour. But it appears there would be only two to four trains running per hour and slower trains could use the tracks between times.
By contrast, “in Japan, bullet trains run every 10 minutes allowing 12 trains per hour. No slower trains run on the same track,” he said, which enables the trains to pay for themselves. “These (California) high-speed trains may run six per hour, but there will be times only one train will run per hour. It’s more likely with the blended system of electrifying existing track that only four trains will run per hour,” he added.
Kopp called it “a political tragedy” engineered by Gov. Brown and Democratic officeholders Anna Eshoo, Joe Simitian and Rich Gordon.
There are 15 lawsuits pending against eminent domain, which allows the government to buy land from its owners at a price assessed by the government. Among them is a three-year old suit brought by Kings County and two ranchers.
There’s also a problem with the environmental impact report. It first was validated, but was appealed and the validation reversed. Kopp says lawsuits against its validation will likely happen in October or November.
Kopp next questioned the funding for the project. Initial projections were for approximately $33 billion, now the cost has risen to $68 billion. While the state has approximately $9 billion for funding, Kopp suggested the state currently has approximately $8 billion in bonds and $6 billion from the federal government, which has to be matched dollar for dollar. He says Brown expects to get the remaining money from private investors, government loans and Cap-and -Trade funds.
“Brown plans to take $500 million from Cap and Trade funds, or approximately 25 percent of the project’s revenues,” Kopp said.
Two additional factors limit the project’s future. First, state Sen. Jerry Hill has sponsored a bill that passed in 2013 prohibiting any new means of transportation on the Peninsula.
The second factor is Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is likely to be the next governor. He supported the project initially, but recently changed his mind and is against it.
Additionally, Kopp made no secret of the fact that Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) should have made a loop around the Bay – covering the Peninsula down to San Jose around the East and North Bay and into San Francisco.
Kopp has been active in transportation and politics for a number of decades. He served on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors for 15 years. During and afterwards, he was appointed to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission for the nine country Bay Area region. He also served on the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation Commission as well as the BART board.
He lost the San Francisco mayor’s race to Diane Feinstein, but won a state senate seat in 1986 and served until 1994. He served as a judge from 1998 to 2004.
For more information about SPARC, visit sparcgop.org.