Saturday, November 5, 2011

High-Speed Rail: Born again, like a Phoenix rising from the Ashes

Do you find it strange that the rail supporters, upon discovering that the new construction costs for the California high-speed rail project are over twice as much as previously stated, are elated -- overjoyed -- at this good news?  Our key State Senators praise the "honesty" and "transparency" that are ostensibly now being displayed by the rail authority.

They didn't "fix" the demonstrably faulty ridership numbers. They reduced the ticket costs but still claim profitability.  They are now -- doubtlessly due to the fact that there won't be any more funding -- stretching the construction period out another 14 years. It's now clear that they can never meet the 2:40 time for the trip from LA to SF.

Isn't that cause for cheers and applause? 

Like a now so popular Vampire, the CHSRA's failed plans have been resuscitated with a new infusion of blood to rise yet again at midnight to stalk Californians.  

What kind of people would find this good news?  

Be afraid.  Be very afraid.

High-Speed Rail: Still Dead

This week saw the latest attempt to breathe new life into high-speed rail. Something similar was done to the high-speed rail plan. The dead body of high-speed rail was propped up and made to look more life-like with a new business plan.

But it's still dead.

The new plan has what is billed as a more honest projection of costs -- $98.5 billion for the first phase. And a more flexible, longer plan for constructing the first phase. And pledges to incorporate local and existing rail lines into the network.

But high-speed rail costs billions in a state with persistent budget deficits. Its costs exceed -- by about 800 percent -- the amount of money the state and feds have to devote to the project.

And there is something less than public clamoring for high-speed rail -- at least the kind of high-speed rail that connects two cities, LA and San Francisco -- that Californians can already travel between quickly and relatively cheaply.

Why the attempts to keep reviving high-speed rail? it can be cheaper than expanding airports or building more roads. The technology is environmentally cleaner. And there's something about the idea of a grand California infrastructure project that stirs the soul.

But this project simply won't sell. Not until the state's governing and budget systems are redesigned so that public policy can be made in a coherent, democratic and timely way. Until that happens, high-speed rail -- like so many other big plans for California -- is still dead.


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