Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Another Editorial Rejecting High-Speed Rail in California

The Press-Enterprise is based in Riverside, California. It's part of the LA Basin region. They don't like this high-speed rail project that's being shoved down our throats. They cite the Grindley financial report as one of their sources, a copy of which has been sent to very many papers around the state.

What they say is pretty much what you've been reading in this blog, but they do say it clearly and to the point. We have to ask, how many more editorials, from how many more newspapers, will it take before the Legislature gets the idea that the public, including those who voted for Proposition 1A, would now vote against it?

On another note, we have been giving thought to the idea that it is insufficient to criticize the expenditure of such a vast amount of funding on high-speed rail, without offering an alternative to this project.  We have been suggesting such alternatives, taking many ideas from many sources, and want to persist in our recommendations to put federal funds into fixing what's broken, rather than building a luxury train we don't actually need.

Secondarily, looking at transit in the US and in California, not as a political issue or opportunity, but at the necessary movement of people, reality will tell us that there are several extremely busy transit routes in our state right now that warrant public mass transit upgrades.  One is the Los Angeles to San Diego route.  The other, to my surprise, is the Sacramento to San Jose route of the Capital Corridor Express. These two are, respectively, the second and third busiest transit routes in the US at this time.

Shouldn't the investment in transit upgrades be made there, rather than building space-shuttle rocket-like trains through the Central Valley, trains that will be barely occupied if they ever actually operate?  

Which brings us to the obvious conclusion that rationality has nothing to do with the California project; it's all about politics and money.

Rail sinkhole  

10:00 PM PDT on Monday, September 26, 2011

The Press-Enterprise

California's high-speed rail plans increasingly look like a runaway train. Rising costs, imaginary financing and dubious projections make the bullet train a bad deal for taxpayers. The Legislature needs to halt this project, to avoid a potentially massive public boondoggle.

A new report from a panel of Bay Area business and financial experts says the rail line's construction costs are ballooning, while the project's financing plan is wishful thinking. And the report, released this month, suggests the train line is unlikely to pay for itself, thus requiring public subsidies to stay in business. And while the experts are associated with a group critical of proposed Bay Area bullet train routes, the report echoes questions raised by others, including the state auditor and legislative analyst.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority proposes a $43 billion system that would whisk passengers between Southern California and the Bay Area at speeds of up to 220 mph. The authority plans to start construction next year on a stretch of track connecting Merced to Bakersfield.

The new report, however, estimates the total cost of the north-south line at $66 billion, well above the rail authority's numbers. The higher figure falls in line with a May estimate by the legislative analyst, who put the total cost of the project at $67 billion.

Those rising costs, however, come tied to a financing plan that looks flatly unrealistic even at $43 billion. The rail authority counts on $17 billion to $19 billion in federal funding, plus another $10 billion to $12 billion in private financing.

But California has only $3.6 billion in federal money now. Nor is the state likely to see much more any time soon, given federal finances and congressional politics. And without substantial federal funding, the state has little hope of attracting private investment.

The new report also criticizes the rail authority's ridership projections as overly optimistic. Many other groups, including UC Berkeley transportation experts, have raised the same question. But without enough passengers, ticket revenue would not be enough to cover the bullet train's operating costs.

So what happens if the federal and private money do not materialize? And what if passenger projections fall short, and the system runs in the red? As the High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group, a voter-created watchdog panel, noted in July, "there is no Plan B" if the financing proves faulty.

The rail authority says the new report contains "fundamental misunderstandings" about the project. And it says a new version of the rail line's business plan, due next month, will address the financial questions. But overcoming rising costs and the absence of billions in federal aid would be an improbable trick.

California's perpetual budget crises should rule out any thought of state taxpayers forking over huge sums of money to complete the line or subsidize its operations. The state has more pressing public priorities. Better to stop this potential disaster now, instead of waiting until it careens off the fiscal rails.

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