Saturday, December 11, 2010

A different view from the Central Valley

Not all Central Valley newspapers or politicians are so wildly enthused about the high-speed train as its promoters in Sacramento suggest. Here's a Merced businessman and politician who doesn't think so much of this project.

The pro-HSR priesthood would have you believe that this is going to be the greatest thing since sliced-bread. It's as if they had never heard the word 'boondoggle' before or didn't know that political pork had been invented and was being demonstrated with this project. The Washington funding has been clearly designated as earmark support for Democrats in our cash-poor state.

I would endorse such enormous expenditures, if they go for something this state desperately needs, such as greatly improved urban and regional mass transit.

It is stunning to me that the High-Speed Rail "Rolls-Royce" industries and promoters can convince so many of us that building "Chevys" won't do for us to get around. Let me be blunt here: high-speed rail is the 'Wall Street,' not the 'Main Street' of trains. Why should our tax dollars go to those who deserve it least?


Merced Sun-Star

Saturday, Dec. 11, 2010

Jack Mobley: A case against high-speed rail

Faster, cheaper and more flexible are the characteristics of an evolutionary step in transportation, according to literature I've read.

The proposed California high-speed rail project satisfies none of these qualities.

Additionally, the planners seem to have overlooked the fundamental fact that we are not Europe or Asia.

Overall, in America we have much better road networks than most other countries and have developed over the years an independent spirit more suited to the car than the train.

The average American's love of personal liberty is reflected in our use of automobiles.

In the future we may drive smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, but I do not believe the average American will give up their car for mass transit.

For long distances, the advantage of air travel over the train is obvious.

Why would someone ride a train when one can buy a ticket and fly the same Los Angeles-to- San Francisco route in half the time for nearly half the proposed high-speed rail fare?

The argument that not building this train system would mean building more highways and more runways doesn't hold water either.

If we're going to have to build one or the other, why not build the one which gives us the better options, namely more highways and runways? Lanes can be added to existing highways and more runways added to existing airports more easily than overcoming the logistical nightmare of 800 miles of high-speed rail cutting through the heart of California.

Environmental concerns would be -- at worst -- the same, and land-use questions would be solved, or greatly reduced, as we would simply be expanding where facilities already exist.

After over a decade of planning and the expenditure of many millions of dollars, experts around the country have said the California High Speed Rail Authority does not have reliable models on which to base projections for ridership.

Historical evidence also points to these numbers being specious.

For example, an Amtrak high-speed train serving the same population as California for the last eight years between Boston, New York and Washington, D.C., has had a high ridership year of 13 million, but far short of the projected 41 million riders for this project.

Construction costs are also an unknown.

Studies by a Spanish university and other organizations of hundreds of transportation projects around the world have shown cost overruns to be the rule rather than the exception with common overruns being a multiple of the original estimates.

Many disinterested experts have put the ultimate price tag of the California project at between $60 billion to $80 billion rather than $43 billion.

The ultimate plan is for this project to be self-sustaining, but even if the projected construction and ridership numbers are actually achieved there will be a need for massive continuing subsidies.

Even the California High Speed Rail Peer Review Group has said after all the authority's efforts there is an "absence of a credible financial plan."

The ever-increasing lack of confidence in this project from a host of experts such as UC Berkeley, the Department of Transportation and the Legislative Analyst Office has apparently had little effect as the California High Speed Rail Authority presses on with a project which is not needed nor which California can afford, even in the best of times.

The project is doomed to be another expensive government project in search of a need. If it were a viable option, the railroad companies would still be offering passenger service.

High-speed rail will be an albatross around the financial neck of California for generations and the promise of 600,000 jobs being created is a pipe dream.

We should stop this effort now before billions of dollars are spent constructing a means of transportation relatively few will ride and which will require many more billions of dollars in ongoing annual subsidies by the state of California.

The California High Speed Rail Authority's desire to make "progress" despite the evidence is reckless and ill advised.

Jack Mobley is a Merced businessman and twice a Republican candidate for state Assembly.