Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Asking to do High-Speed Rail "right" is wrong

When will our own governor and his party's representatives in Sacramento realize what they, with the assistance of the Obama administration, are promoting?

That's the question that John Horgan asks in his San Mateo County Times article, below.  John has been on challenging side of the high-speed rail issue for a long time.  He was describing the mis- and mal-feasance of the CHSRA and it's staff minions long before most other newspapers did anything other than parrot the rail authority press releases.

Even though John's question is rhetorical, I do have an answer for him.  In one word, Never.  Remember that Upton Sinclair saying that I repeat every so often:  "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."  

That is why the Democrats, from Jerry Brown down through the Legislature and the various congressional districts, counties and cities, populated by Democrats, depend upon those federal HSR stimulus funds from Washington to justify their existence to the voters. It's ideological faith. 

"You can't teach anybody anything they don't already know." Yes, that's paradoxical, but it means that people, unless they have a framework for understanding your point of view, can't hear it, understand it, make sense of it or accept it; that is, they can't learn it.

High-speed rail is rarely considered on its merits.  It's usually encapsulated within an ideological framework.  The Democrats see it in terms of its politically correct, even if mythic, virtues such as taking detested automobiles off the road, providing jobs for the unemployed and, if nothing else, stimulating the moribund economy of the state, especially in California.  High-speed rail, for the Democrats, equals public transit and uplifting the masses.  The fact that it can't do any of those things is of no interest to them. It's the myth that matters. 

Republicans oppose the train.  It's a government, not a private project.  It will create ever more government bureaucracy.  It will cost vast amounts of tax dollars that won't stimulate the economy. It will increase the national and state debt. I find that hard to disagree with.  But, unlike the Republicans,  I certainly agree that high-speed rail is a enormous waste of precious resources that should be spent on other needs.

Both sides are unable to see the reality behind the project and how wrong it is inherently. How incompetently it is managed and therefore must be terminated. How devious and misleading the promoters have been with the voters and continue to be with all Californians, including the Legislature.

HSR will not deliver what its promoters promise. It won't have the ridership or the surplus revenues they claim. It won't make the air cleaner. It won't lower fuel consumption statewide.  It will be stupefyingly expensive and therefore it will have a terrible cost/benefit return. It does not fit into a coherent, comprehensive, over-arching strategy and policy for transportation because there is none. 

While we are totally against this high-speed rail project, we are not against federal investments in repairing what is broken in this country; that is, all the infrastructure components of the distribution of energy, water, and transportation, highway, airway and railway, of urban and regional mass transit. I agree with those who believe that we can and we should invest in those first.  

We should upgrade passenger rail, but based on demand.  We should have a national and state strategy for transportation, and the movement of goods should be a key component.  And yes, to the degree that private investment and competition within the transit service industries can be introduced, so much the better. 

Perhaps the most important point in this article is the realization that so many of my colleagues on the Bay Area Peninsula have not yet acknowledged; that this project cannot be "done right."  "Doing it right" is the shield behind which the Democrats, such as Lowenthal and Simitian defend their position, even as they see the project being "done wrong" at every turn. 

The inference, over and over, is that if the project were to be "done right" it would become acceptable.  However, whatever that "right" is, is never defined. And, that is unacceptable.  

John Horgan and I agree that it cannot be "done right" under any circumstances and the sooner it is terminated, the better for all of us.

John Horgan: High-speed rail can't be 'done right'
By John Horgan
San Mateo County Times
Posted: 03/07/2011 08:40:02 PM PST
Updated: 03/07/2011 08:40:04 PM PST

As Caltrain officials move toward drastic cuts in the commuter rail system's Peninsula operations, their cries for revenue help ought to be a wake-up call.

Caltrain, which relies on heavy subsidies from three counties for its day-to-day functions, is a relatively successful transit setup. Can you imagine what the taxpayers will be responsible for if high-speed rail ever graces this area and other parts of California?

Every unbiased analysis of HSR's projected operating costs indicates deep and abiding deficits as far as the eye can see. Who will have to pick up those ongoing costs? We will.

Which is why San Mateo County critics of HSR tend to miss the point. They constantly clamor to have HSR "done right" along the same corridor used by Caltrain.

But, using every available objective study published so far, it can't be. It's a false premise.

High-speed rail is a guaranteed financial loser just waiting to saddle the state's taxpayers with one more unbearable burden, not to mention the eventual cost of servicing the debt imposed by the construction itself. After all, bond dollars aren't free.

So, rather than quibble about how to build a high-speed line here (and elsewhere in California), local policymakers should be lining up to oppose any proposal to bring this albatross anywhere in the state. It's the only fiscally responsible way to behave.

Mere parochial worries omit the big picture that's right there for one and all to see. High-speed rail -- as lawmakers in places like Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida well understand -- is fiscal folly, pure and simple.

The question is: When will our own governor and his party's representatives in Sacramento realize what they, with the assistance of the Obama administration, are promoting?

High-speed rail, if it gains a foothold in the Golden State as seems increasingly likely, will become one more worrisome obligation eating away at the budget. It will be Caltrain's fiscal woes on steroids.

Contact John Horgan at jhorg@hotmail.com.