Saturday, July 16, 2011

California's High-Speed Rail: Shiny on the outside, dirty on the inside.

Mark Landsbaum does a very nice job here of describing the underlying problems of high-speed rail and why the project should be terminated, the sooner the better. He bases much of his interpretation on the report from the CHSRA's own Peer Review Committee.  Call it the Central Valley Dilemma.

The FRA wants the project started there, where the population is less dense than anywhere else along the projected rail corridor through California.  The government's assumption is that this is where the train can go the fastest, and actually look like a high-speed train the way they do in Europe or Asia, and where the criticisms from all those adversely affected by the presence of the train will be less than anywhere else.

At least, that's what they thought.  It's not working out that way.  The rail authority doesn't have enough funding promised or in hand to do much more than build about 100 miles of track that -- get this -- can't be used by high-speed rail.  No electrification; no signalling; no rolling stock; no nothin'.  That means, even as it's promised as a "test track," it won't be. Indeed, as Mark points out, the track will be nearly useless since it can't be used by HSR and isn't needed by Amtrak.  And if Amtrak did use it with its heavy-rail rolling stock, they would do great harm to those tracks intended for the much lighter and much faster HSR rolling stock.

I'll give you just one example of problems with regular rail.  When freights or passenger trains go past you and you hear a rhythmic click from the wheels, it probably means a flat spot on that wheel. That can develop by locking the brakes and sliding the wheel.  It's not a big deal and ads to the train's "train music." But, it does harm the tracks.  Meanwhile, for actual HSR, the tracks have to be perfect, especially at 220 mph, which is very fast and very sensitive to imperfections.

And, as we have discovered, the residents, farmers and other businesses in the Central Valley are "mad as hell and aren't going to take it any more."  One resident won a photo award with a photoshopped picture of her house with the HSR coming out of her living room.  Why?  Because those are the actual plans of the rail authority.  Are they upset out there? You better believe it.  Lawsuits are coming!

All of which raises the question, what do they think they are going to be building out there?  And, Mark Landsbaum answers the question pretty much the way we've been answering it in this blog.  They're determined to spend the money.  And, they're staking out their rail corridor territory for the future.  It's a combination of government bureaucracy, empire building, "waste, fraud, and absuse," and the self-serving processing of political pork.

One small difference about our position and the one in the article. The problem with high-speed rail is not the size of government, Mark's comments to the contrary notwithstanding.  The evils of HSR are not an argument for smaller government.  It is an argument for more courageous and smarter government, however.  People in the Democratic Party, for example, need to stand up and say, this is a stupid way to build government work projects. Despite the promises of free pork, we oppose it on both transportation and economic grounds. They could say that "we are smarter and can do better than this."

The right way is to not build this unnecessary luxury train for the rich, but to restore our national infrastructure before it becomes totally useless.  That will be a smart "jobs" program. And, even bring the existing rail and other transit modes "up to speed."  

Another way of saying that is, let's just get our current trains going 125 mph, rather than build new ones we don't need to go 220 mph. 220 mph is just showing off and a wasteful, if not fraudulent way to spend our tax dollars.


\Published: July 16, 2011 8:03 a.m.

California's $4B 'high-speed' rail project gets worse
Mark Landsbaum

California’s high-speed rail, which should be derailed before the spend-a-holics commit to long-term, billion-dollar debt and a lot of train tracks that will just sit there unused, is a source of incredible facts.

Today’s boondoggle Fact of the Day comes from the Peer Review Group that evaluates the boondoggle, er, proposed train. Train authorities want to build the first segment of the line in the Central Valley, and have barely enough money to do that because it’ll cost about $4 billion.

There’s no guarantee – and little likelihood – the train people will ever raise the $40, $60 or $200 billion or more needed to build the whole line from San Francisco to Anaheim, but that’s another boondoggle fact for another day.

Anyway, one of the alleged benefits for building this $4 billion line in the middle of California where almost no one lives and there’s no place in particular to go is that it could be a “chance to construct high-speed demonstration track” and it would draw fewer complaints on environmental grounds.


“…but it would yield very little value if the project cannot be funded beyond this segment alone,” the review group conceded.  And that is extremely likely to be the case.

Yeah, a $4 billion demo.

Nice, eh? How long do you work to earn enough to pay $4 billion in taxes, by the way?

That’s not all.

It won’t even work as a demo.

“Subsequent analysis has shown that the Central Valley segment would not actually demonstrate high-speed service because it would not be electrified,” the review group said. “Even if the segment were electrified, it would have no operational value because the ends of the segment are not electrified and it is impractical to charge locomotives once, much less twice.”

That’s not all, either.

“…without electrification, the highest attainable speed would be 110 MPH or less and would involve heavy diesel-powered rolling stock that might substantially damage the track when subsequently used by (high speed rail) equipment.” Oh yeah, the group also said there’s “substantial doubt” that the Central Valley line would have less environmental opposition, after all.

So, the train people want to spend $4 billion (because they managed to get about that much money from Washington) to build a line that no one will ride to places that no one will go, but can’t even use it as a demo because it won’t be high speed and won’t be electrified.

This not-so-high-speed train to nowhere in particular would cost only $4 billion, which the train people are in a rush to spend because otherwise the feds will take the money back.

Did we mention that this is reason Number 1,429 for small, limited government?

Give ‘em an inch, and they’ll take a billion.

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