Monday, April 11, 2011

Catching up with all the HSR news

Sorry I've been away.  Let's catch up.

First, some good news.  

Here are some comments from the most virulent pro-HSR blogger on the web.  Those of us who oppose HSR use this blog as a barometer.  If this guy likes it, that's bad news.  However, if there's good news for us, he's very unhappy.  This one speaks for itself on that scale.

Obama Caves on HSR Funds
Apr 9th, 2011 | Posted by Robert Cruickshank

We’ve been tracking the ongoing budget battle in Congress for some time now, and been wondering which of Obama’s priorities would prevail: his support for high speed rail, or his desire to appease the Republicans no matter the cost. Last night, we learned the answer to that question:

According to the Senate Appropriations Committee, most of the $2 billion in cuts in the one-week bill come from a $1.5 billion reduction in the Federal Railroad Administration’s High Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail program. Another $220 million was cut from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Fund.

To be clear: Obama just gave up $1.5 billion in high speed rail funds for a one-week funding bill. One week.

There’s been some discussion about exactly what HSR funding got cut. According to The Hill, the cuts are from the FY 2011 money and not the stimulus:

Section 298 reduces FY 2011 funding for FRA High Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail to $1 billion, a reduction of $1.5 billion from FY10.

Remember that in 2010, the House had approved $2.5 billion in HSR funding for FY 2011. Obama had only proposed $1 billion. So Obama is basically back where he started on HSR – but given the struggle to get HSR funding from the Republicans, this is a big loss. California has gotten about 40-50% of federal HSR funding to date, and so this will likely reduce HSR funding available to California by $500 to $750 million. As far as I know, however, the California High Speed Rail Authority had not yet received or were counting on these funds. But it’s still a bitter blow.

And it’s made worse by the fact that Obama only got a week’s worth of funding for the government out of it. Not only will there be another battle in the near future, but there will be a fight over raising the debt limit this summer, and a fall battle over the FY 2012 budget. 

Congressional Republicans, dancing to the tune played by their oil company funders – particularly the Koch Brothers – are determined to kill high speed rail, and Obama has made it absolutely clear he will cut HSR funding in other to cut a deal.

At least California remains strongly committed to HSR, Diane Harkey’s crazy comments notwithstanding. We’ll need that commitment to help ride out the HSR funding battles that are to come.
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We now know that the Congressionally approved Continuing Resolution, which will end this coming Thursday, has taken $1.5 billion out of the FY 2011 federal budget, leaving around $1 billion to be spread around the eleven HSR corridors.  How much of the surviving one billion will be earmarked for California is as yet unknown.  

Nor is it known what will happen to the hotly contested $2.43 billion that the DOT retracted from Florida, (which had refused it for HSR).  California -- are you surprised? -- wants all of it.  But, our state is no longer the only bully on the block.  Lots of states have their Congressionals writing letters to the White House and the DOT for that money. So, that also bears watching.  

The hopes for rescissions; that is, 'clawing' back funds that have already been "awarded" to California and elsewhere, are not great, but it's not over until it's over.  With the awarded funds, the CHSRA can start its mischief in the Central Valley, distributing it's lavish largesse to the hundreds of consultants (and their consultants) and contractors (and their contractors).  What a waste!  Since federal dollars are involved, it behooves the DOT Inspector General to take a close look at what is actually happening with that money in California.

You think there might be a problem with HSR's bookeeping?  Judge Quentin Kopp  (who was not re-appointed to the CHSRA Board) has asked for a cancellation of the CHSRA's Ogilvy Public Relations Company contract ($9 million) because of the waste, fraud and abuse in the distribution of funding to their sub-contractors for doing next to nothing, and at great cost.  The fun just never stops with the CHSRA and their hirelings. 

Congressional Quarterly is a totally independent, non-partisan analyst publication.  These brief comments were published prior to the decision for the Continuing Resolution of last week.  Clearly, the financial center for the Republican House, Paul Ryan, has little use for all the empty vapor emanating from the Democratic rail promoters about the benefits from HSR construction.  ". . . extravagant but unfulfilled promises. . . " is a nice turn of phrase that sums this up. 



April 5, 2011 – 12:46 p.m.

Republicans Target High-Speed Rail Funds

By Kathryn A. Wolfe, CQ Staff

Two House Republican budget-cutting proposals released this week place one of President Obama’s signature plans squarely in the cross hairs: high-speed rail.

Both the fiscal 2012 budget resolution and a proposed weeklong stopgap spending bill propose to cut high-speed rail, which has become a favorite Republican spending target.

The fiscal 2012 budget resolution, drafted by House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., assumes zero spending on the high-speed rail program, and suggests that intercity passenger rail should only be funded “if they can be established as self-supporting commercial services.”

Additionally, the weeklong continuing resolution (HR 1363) introduced late Monday by House Republicans proposes to cut $1.8 billion in fiscal 2011 transportation-related spending, of which $1.5 billion would come from high-speed rail. This would leave $1 billion for high-speed rail in fiscal 2011, equal to President Obama’s original request.

Beyond high-speed rail, Transportation Department coffers under Ryan’s budget assumptions would shrink significantly - to $64 billion in fiscal 2012 budget authority from $85 billion in fiscal 2011. The cut would probably be even bigger, since the Congressional Budget Office baseline for fiscal 2011 is $93 billion.

Ryan’s budget also challenges some fundamental assumptions about the job-creating power of infrastructure spending.
“However worthy some highway projects might be, their capacity as job creators has been vastly oversold, as demonstrated by the extravagant but unfulfilled promises that accompanied the 2009 stimulus bill, particularly with regard to high-speed rail,” the budget document says.


Source: CQ Today Online News
Round-the-clock coverage of news from Capitol Hill.
2011 CQ Roll Call All Rights Reserved.
The last two blog pieces are admittedly fairly right wing positions on HSR.  It needs to be reiterated that the advocates, promoters, highly paid public relations companies and government officials eager for the federal dollars are no longer in control of their marketing rhetoric.  The scam and fraud behind high-speed rail has been recognized and is being described in on the internet and in the press.  And, as we've been saying for a long time, it falls along Party lines.  

The Democrats are eager (if not desperate) for federal funding to be pipelined to their states and congressional districts, even if the project 'has a few flaws' in it, so to speak.  So, they are not eager to hear about all the emerging bad news which is starting to overwhelm the promotional nonsense.  The Republicans oppose the project on a number of grounds, some more legitimate than others from my point of view.

At this point, all we can say is that the enemy of our enemy is our friend.
SUNDAY, APRIL 10, 2011
California's High-Speed Rail Boondoggle

Yes, it would be fun to ride one of these, but I've read there's only one in the entire world that makes money--and California doesn't have too much tax money in the coffers to spare right now:

Before the election, the cost of the project was estimated at $33 billion for the Los Angeles/Anaheim to San Francisco portion, and an additional $7 billion for the spurs to San Diego and Sacramento. Voters narrowly passed a $9.95 billion bond in 2008, and the federal government and private investors were supposed to cover the remaining $30 billion. We were promised that a one-way fare between Los Angeles and San Francisco would cost about $55, making it cheaper than flying.

After the election, costs rose to $43 billion for just the Los Angeles-San Francisco phase (chances are the San Diego and Sacramento lines will never be built) and ticket price estimates nearly doubled to $105. Yet none of this seems to bother the California High-Speed Rail Authority or cause it to re-evaluate the feasibility of the project.

Ridership estimates are projected as high as 117 million passengers a year. To put this in perspective, consider that Amtrak’s Acela Express service, which serves the larger, denser Washington, D.C.-New York-Boston corridor at speeds up to 150 mph, counts just 3 million passengers per year. In fact, the entire Amtrak system, which includes more than 500 destinations and 21,000 miles of track in 46 states, serves only 27 million passengers a year...

California continues to run deficits of $20 billion to $25 billion each year and must address hundreds of billions of dollars in unfunded pension liabilities in years to come. The state is facing severe service cuts and significant tax increases (again), yet it persists in pouring in billions upon billions of dollars to subsidize the train travel of a tiny percentage of the population.

I'm on the hook for this lemon. Those are my tax dollars that are going to be poured into this bottomless money pit.

Posted by Darren at 10:49 AM 
Sunday, 10 April, 2011
High-Speed Rail Sold With 'False Promises'

California voters passed a funding bill for a high-speed rail project based on lowball cost estimates and wildly inflated ridership predictions, according to a new report.

Before the 2008 election, the cost of a Los Angeles to San Francisco rail project was estimated at $33 billion, with another $7 billion for spurs to Sacramento and San Diego.

Voters narrowly approved issuing $9.95 billion in bonds, with expectations that the federal government and private investors would cover the rest. But after the election, cost estimates rose to $43 billion for the Los Angeles-San Francisco project alone.

Also, the one-way fare between the two cities was predicted to be $55, making it cheaper than flying. But after the election, ticket price estimates rose to $105, observes Adam B. Summers, a policy analyst at the Reason Foundation.

"Like most large public infrastructure projects, the California high-speed rail project was sold to the public based on false promises, exaggerated benefits and lowball cost estimates," Summers writes in an opinion piece for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

He points out that ridership estimates are projected as high as 117 million passengers per year. Yet the entire Amtrak system, which includes more than 500 destinations and 21,000 miles of track, serves just 27 million passengers a year.

Summers notes that a September 2008 study published by the Reason Foundation and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association found that the actual cost of the high-speed rail system would be at least $65 billion and perhaps as high as $81 billion, and that "the project was not viable because it was based on wildly optimistic assumptions."

Governors in Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin have recently canceled plans for high-speed rail projects in their states. Summers urges that California, which is running deficits of up to $25 billion a year, "should follow their example and put a stop to this boondoggle before it becomes yet another budgetary black hole for the state."