Saturday, August 27, 2011

The MountHelixPatch lists 8 good reasons for killing HSR in California

For a slow news week-end with only the East Coast Hurricane to worry about, here is an noteworthy entry on PATCH, the online news service.  O'Connor cites 8 reasons for closing down the HSR project.  She is quite right, and there are other reasons as well that could be added to that list, as I suggested in the comment thread.

As you will immediately recognize, all these points have been raised in this blog repeatedly in the past.  More press entries are receiving print space to air these concerns and therefore more people are becoming aware of them.  Can there be such a thing as "critical mass" of information in the hands of a "critical mass" of people?  A "tipping point," so to speak?

We continue to hear about the election "mandate" when 4% of the voters spelled the difference by enabling Proposition 1A which launched this project in 2008.  At that time, the electorate knew nothing about the project except the very brief language in the ballot statement.  That statement was filled with untruths, if you know what I mean.  Voters were voting for something that they were not going to get. Bluntly, they were lied to.  

That election vote should have been cancelled and the California Appellate Court found that the Legislature had stuffed too much promotional verbiage into the ballot language for this HSR project. 

That vote was almost three years ago.  We now know a great deal more about everything connected with this boondoggle than we did then.  Isn't it time to ask the voters if they've changed their minds, knowing what can be known now, and given the economy and its extremely uncertain outcome?

8 Great Reasons to Shoot the California Bullet Train
The state's plan to build a high-speed rail system, aka the “bullet train,” is a massive bailout-in-waiting.
•By Colleen O'Connor
•August 26, 2011

It has been called “a train to nowhere,” “a train wreck,” “a boondoggle,” and much worse.

One thing it has not been called is “a shining example.”

California’s plan to build a high-speed rail system, aka the “bullet train,” deserves to be shot. Why?

•The money does not exist. The original cost estimate of $45 billion has already increased to $60 billion—before a single track has been laid. The federal promised money is in serious jeopardy (read: the deficit); the expected private investors’ money has yet to materialize; and the state’s share of funds is nonexistent.

•California state treasurer, Bill Lockyer, doubts the wished-for money will ever materialize, as reported by California Watch.  Furthermore, he can’t find a disciplined business plan that makes any sense, and adds, “I’m not sure the economics work out.”  Plus, the state’s budget mess makes selling any bonds much more expensive.

•The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office report on the bullet train is highly critical. The report suggests asking the federal government for delays, changes in routes, and removing the project oversight from the current directors. Specifically, the report “recommends that the Legislature remove decision-making authority over the high-speed rail project from the HSRA [High-Speed Rail Authority] board to ensure that the state’s overall interests, including state fiscal concerns, are fully taken into account as the project is developed.”

•A study by the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Berkeley finds serious faults. Even more critical than the treasurer, the UC Berkeley report found the assumptions of any profitability were highly suspect, concluding: “the profitability of the proposed high speed rail system—have very large error bounds.”  The director, Samer Madanat, added, “As such, it is not possible to predict whether the proposed high-speed rail system in California will experience healthy profits or severe revenue shortfalls." The study also dings the overly optimistic ridership projections.

•Insiders are starting to bail. Burlingame City Councilman Jerry Deal, recently named to the Caltrain board, declared, "High-speed rail, as proposed, will bankrupt California and drain all available transportation money from all other transportation projects. You will pay and pay dearly for many years,” as reported by San Mateo County Times.

Others suggest “it's maybe time to start exploring ways to disencumber the state of its high-speed rail obligation. Translation: “Shoot it.”

And, at least, some legislators agree. "Nobody feels at this moment that everything is hunky-dory," commented state Sen. Alan Lowenthal. "We're not going to go forward unless we have real assurances." However, he wants to wait until January for yet another new business plan, according to Reuters.
•Central Valley farmers are fighting back. Acquisition of farm lands needed to start the first leg of the tracks is meeting a wall of opposition from threatened land owners, according to the Examiner.

•Lawsuits are piling up and the cost to defend will be enormous. Even the eco-chic Bay Area is fighting parts of the bullet train costs and right-of-ways, according to California Watch
•Overruns are guaranteed. Costs will escalate. Sufficient funds will not materialize from the federal government, the state coffers, or private investors’ pockets. The bond-debt will be unsustainable.

Simply put, the bullet train, as currently structured, is a massive bailout-in-waiting. Not one taxpayer should fall for the hype. Not one taxpayer in Northern or Southern California (the last leg of the proposed high-speed rail) should ignore the financial train wreck approaching. Every resident will face new “fees,” “revenues,” and “surcharges” to pay for a train that may never arrive in their communities.

The California State Legislature returns to work this week—for four weeks. They should quickly and mercifully shoot the bullet train before it runs over schools, the elderly, the poor and everyone else.

If not, perhaps it really is time to make the legislature a part-time institution and cut the pay accordingly. On that, and according to the Capitol Journal, 65 percent of voters agree.

Martin Engel
12:20pm on Saturday, August 27, 2011

Great job, Colleen O'Connor. There are some other reasons as well, but you certainly hit the important ones.

You might add that the Republicans control the House and therefore the HSR funds; no federal funds, no HSR. There are none now, nor will there ever be private investments without a government guarantee of revenue returns, and that's illegal under AB3034. Eternal and forever subsidies will be required, as they are for every other HSR system worldwide.

The project has been sharply rebuked by the State Auditor who found numerous shenanigans and disappearing funds with their book-keeping. Also the State Inspector General sharply criticized the project, but Jerry Brown closed down that office (!).

Criticism also came from the CHSRA's own peer review committee. The Inspector General of the US Department of Transportation has a case number on this project and is monitoring closely for federal code violations. The possible identification of "waste, fraud, and abuse" hangs over this project as well.

If HSR were a private project, it would have been terminated years ago for an impossible to achieve business model.
My favorite aphorism is: It's not about the train; it's about the money!

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