Thursday, February 24, 2011

Where's the Stop Button for HSR?

You know what I don't understand?  Why every article about high-speed rail, especially those opposed, begins with a picture of a high-speed rail locomotive, or a frame from the CHSRA promotional video of the blue/yellow train whizzing discretely across the lovely countryside.  Why would the anti-HSR editors post an advertising picture of the train? Is it for illiterates who can't make out the fine print?  Whatever.

Here's an article from the Orange County Register Online.  They oppose high-speed rail (and are doubtlessly sorry that they put up that computer graphic picture of California's fantasy train).  Because Orange County is heavily Republican, of course they would oppose this train.  As it happens, their ideology, at least in this particular case, turns out to be correct.  Not politically correct, but correct based on empirical data and facts on the ground.

In short, HSR is a bad idea and it shouldn't happen.  The OCRegister makes that case.

About Jerry Brown, our recently (re-) elected Governor.  He was in on the ground floor of this HSR concept.  He supports it.  A number of articles are suggesting that Brown ought to follow the leads of Republican Governors, Walker, Kasich and Scott.  Not going to happen.

Yes, Brown is quoted as saying that he's going to slash spending in California every which way. "We must examine and re-examine every possible way to save taxpayer dollars,"   But, I can assure you that he will not eliminate a project that promises to pull in billions of dollars from Washington into this cash-strapped state.  

The HSR bond issue (Proposition 1A ,2008), which we constantly identify as a major cost burden on the state, is borrowed money.  That won't be a problem for any current administration, debts can always be kicked down the road,  and therefore is now on the bottom of the priority list for budget savings.

All of which is to say, if we want help to terminate HSR, we can't look to Sacramento.  Unless of course, they are planning a secret party for us and will surprise us by passing some legislation, like Diane Harkey's bill, which would terminate the project.  I, for one, am prepared to be pleasantly surprised.

Published: Feb. 23, 2011 
Updated: Feb. 24, 2011 6:47 a.m.
Editorial: California should kill 'train to nowhere'
A wave of rational, common sense is sweeping the nation. Four states have rejected billions of dollars in federal money for high-speed rail construction, realizing long-term costs far outweigh wishful-thinking benefits.

That's good news. The bad news is California political leaders, from Gov. Jerry Brown to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, want to spend the money wisely rejected by governors in Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and most recently Florida, for California's own proposed high-speed train.

This image provided by the California High-Speed Rail Authority shows an artist's conception of a high-speed rail car in California. Officials on Thursday Dec. 2, 2010 approved a $4.3 billion proposal to build California's first segment of high-speed rail line that would run through the state's agricultural heart.

California already has claimed more than $600 million other states rejected in federal high-speed rail hand-outs, on top of $3.6 billion Washington earmarked for the Golden State. There's another $9.9 billion voters approved in 2008 in bonds, yet to be issued.

That leaves California tens of billions short of the $43 billion estimated cost to construct the hundreds of miles of rail lines from San Francisco to San Diego. It's also likely $43 billion is only a fraction of the ultimate price required. Cost-overruns and inflationary increases for high-speed rail projects are among reasons other governors rejected the federal money.

California's money so far is likely to finance the system's first leg, linking two tiny Central Valley cities. In our view, it's not unlikely the whole effort could begin and end with what's been dubbed the "train to nowhere," connecting the tiny towns of Borden and Corcoran.

"California seems to be the only taker right now," said Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point, who wants to scuttle the program. "It could mean we're the first state to go off the cliff financially if we don't call a halt to the high-speed spending."

A similar conclusion was reached in Florida, where Gov. Rick Scott was persuaded by studies showing the project's cost will grow, and it will lose money, if ever completed. He rejected the federal funding rather than commit Florida to long-term deficits, including operating the train in the red, as studies projected.

A San Jose Mercury-News story noted recently, "Florida has laid out a blueprint for killing high-speed rail." We hope so.

Common sense and rationality may get another boost in the new Congress, where cost-cutting Republicans in control of the House are not receptive to President Barack Obama's intention to increase funding by $53 billion for rail projects, $8 billion of it for high-speed rail.

"We must examine and re-examine every possible way to save taxpayer dollars," Gov. Jerry Brown has said. Not issuing $9.9 billion in bonds to be repaid by taxpayers and killing the high-speed boondoggle seem like a good places to start.