Monday, November 14, 2011

Jerry Brown's HSR is not a sail; it's an anchor.

Good article.  Where we stand this fine Monday morning. At this point, regardless of how compelling this project may be in the minds of all its advocates, they must acknowledge, just as we are, that there will be no further funding for HSR in California. No more federal funds, no private funds, no state funds.  Only the federal government can print money. And the Republicans won't let them do that for HSR. 

From the White House, through the DOT, to California's Governor, there is a desperate clinging to this  HSR vision, as if its presumed significance will produce the necessary funding, magically, from somehwere, somehow.  That's the I-can-win-the-lottery mentality one finds among those who see no other future for themselves.  

It's not my point to belittle dreamers.  It is my point to belittle mature, adult political leaders who persist in evading the obvious, and the cold, harsh realities of the state's and federal government's economic situation.

I have no problem understanding and supporting deficit spending.  But, I certainly do have a problem when this kind of thinking -- that deficit spending produces benefits -- is taken political advantage of.  That's dishonest and that's what we have here.  

The promoters all have agendas, most of highly questionable legitimacy as the data has now demonstrated repeatedly.  Many are supporters really for the sake of benefits accruing to themselves, financial, political, and/or career. Some for the "Romance of Rail."  Very few consider HSR as the solution for California's transit needs, especially since those are concentrated in the higher population density regions, not between them.

The most specious pro-rail argument of all is the trade-off between HSR and all other transit modalities as a zero-sum equation. That is, HSR will replace, and at lower cost, highways and airways.  Either-or.  That position can be found in the Governor's supporting statements.
Therefore, he and others claim, we have no choice but to build HSR, regardless of cost because, whatever the cost of HSR, building anything else will be higher.  That's a kind of fallacious logic you can hear in kindergartens the world over.

Lincoln did not build the Transcontinental Railroad (one of the most corrupt undertakings in the history of the US.).  The Golden Gate Bridge had the funds in place, even during the height of the depression. Tolls, to pay off capital costs, are user taxes. That's how this bridge was paid for.  Just the way the Interstate highway system was paid for, with gas taxes from the Highway Trust Fund. There isn't a chance in hell that this HSR project will be paid for by user taxes of any kind.

Obama, and Jerry Brown must, to a considerable degree, see sustaining California's HSR effort as a legacy project to which they can attach their names that will survive in the history books, the way Eisenhower is remembered for the Interstate Highway System. Yet, this project looks ever more like the Tea-Pot Dome Scandal, to which I suspect they would not want their names to be associated!

One of the things that makes for a smart investor is knowing not only when to hold them, but when to fold them.

We're waiting.

Brown’s Folly

posted in News commentary, Transportation |

Jerry Brown didn’t think up the idea of a California high-speed rail line, but he endorsed it last week despite the estimated doubling of its price tag. Brown has recommended that the legislature release funds so construction can begin in 2012.

“Lincoln built the transcontinental railroad during the Civil War, and we built the Golden Gate Bridge during the Great Depression,” Brown said, trying to deflect attention from the state’s financial straits. Bad examples. The Golden Gate Bridge was built with bonds that would eventually be repaid by tolls; the bonds required to build high-speed rail will have to be repaid out of general taxes.

Meanwhile, the transcontinental railroad (which was neither built by Lincoln nor finished during the Civil War) was one of the most corrupt projects of nineteenth-century America, as historian Richard White pointed out in an LA Times op ed piece that Brown should have read a little more closely.

According to the LA Times, Brown also claimed that high-speed rail “represents a significantly cheaper alternative to additional highway and commercial aviation investments.” Another big lie. The California High-Speed Rail Authority developed a straw-man alternative that called for significantly increasing the capacity of the highways and airports in the San Francisco-LA corridor–whether they needed it or not. Of course, that alternative cost more than the proposed high-speed rail line (at least before the recent cost increases). But the Authority buried deep in its documents the fact that, even though some of the new highways and airports were unnecessary, they were still more cost-effective at relieving congestion than the rail line. “These are all old tricks,” says White.

Let’s do the arithmetic again. The state has approved $9 billion in bond sales–provided there is an outside match. The feds have granted a little more than $3 billion, so the total available is a little more than $6 billion. That’s enough, the Authority homes, to build 140 miles of track in the Central Valley–but not enough to provide “electrification, trains or other necessary parts of an operating system,” says the Times. Meanwhile, the entire SF-LA line is expected to cost nearly $100 billion.

In an otherwise excellent editorial opposing the rail line, the Wall Street Journal points out that the federal government has made construction in the relatively thinly populated Central Valley a condition of the grant. “The Obama Administration’s logic seems to be that if it forces the state to build a train to nowhere, the state will then dig deeper into taxpayer pockets to connect it to somewhere.” The Journal apparently didn’t know that the administration targeted the funds in that area because two Democratic congressmen from the Valley were fighting close reelection campaigns in 2010.

The boosters who promote rail “think we are suckers,” says White. “It’s time Governor Brown put away childish things,” says the Wall Street Journal. Let’s hope the legislature is a bit smarter than Brown or state taxpayers will be on the hook for more than $3 billion for a train to nowhere.

This entry was posted on Monday, November 14th, 2011 at 12:00 am and is filed under News commentary, Transportation. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

There are currently 2 responses to “Brown’s Folly”
On November 14th, 2011, C. P. Zilliacus said: The Antiplanner wrote:
In an otherwise excellent editorial opposing the rail line, the Wall Street Journal points out that the federal government has made construction in the relatively thinly populated Central Valley a condition of the grant. “The Obama Administration’s logic seems to be that if it forces the state to build a train to nowhere, the state will then dig deeper into taxpayer pockets to connect it to somewhere.”

Not just the Wall Street Journal.
The Washington Post had a superb anti-California High-Speed Rail editorial in its Monday (2011-11-14) editions:
California’s high-speed rail system is going nowhere fast
Said the Post (emphasis added):
As questionable as this project is, we would have less business objecting if the only money at risk was California’s. But the Obama and Brown administrations are talking about devoting the nation’s funds to what looks more and more like a boondoggle. If the president and governor won’t slam on the brakes, then Congress or the California legislature must find a way to prevent the spending. Somebody, please, stop this train.

posted on November 14th, 2011 at 4:51 am
On November 14th, 2011, Hugh Jardonn said: The criticism is not limited to the Washington Post of the Wall Street Journal. The OC Register recently published the two following articles:

In case there is any confusion in my position, nothing I post in this thread takes a pro or con position on the concept that HSR and intercity rail is a bad concept in general. The topic at hand is the foxtrot-uniform behavior of CHSRA, which rational rail proponents should object to since these bozos are hurting their cause. Pro- and anti- rail people need to find common cause and kill the CHSRA once and for all. Then they can start bickering on how many HSR trains can dance on the head of a pin.
We’re all aware of the technical success on the Shinkansen, ICE and the TGV, and, because I’m not a Japanese or a French taxpayer, the economics are irrelevant to this discussion. There’s no reason to argue that here, let the Japanese and Europeans conduct these debates.

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