Sunday, November 27, 2011

Looking at California's misbegotten HSR project through Missouri eyes.

We are reading more and more from other states being hassled with their own high-speed rail problems.  And, they have no qualms about looking at the California debacle as further evidence of what a potential disaster high-speed rail will be if they ever actually get started on its construction.

This article comes from Missouri. They are threatened with part of the Illinois-rail spider-web, the center of which being Chicago. That's all Amtrak upgrades and high-speed rail, which by their and the FRA definitions, means 110 mph.

Our article writer, Mr. Stokes hits the ground running with an expose about how fraudulent all those jobs numbers are; all HSR promoters and their political backers make such mindless claims.  Zillions of jobs per billion dollars.  Spend more, they want us to believe, and so many more will be hired.  Those numbers, just like the ridership numbers, are promotional marketing forecasts and convenient statistics that can be manipulated any way the HSR advocates want.  

Why do they do this?  First of all, it's politically correct. There really is an unemployment crisis in the US.  Unfortunately, HSR is not the cure for that problem. It only sounds like one.

Second of all, the Union executives want their rank and file to believe that they are hard at work (earning their generous salaries) creating jobs for their unemployed membership. And the Unions back Democratic politicians running for office.  Therefore. . . . . . . .you can finish this thought full circle for yourselves.

The other problem MR. Stokes picks up on is the commuter issue.  The most successful (or, let us say the least unsuccessful) Amtrak passenger routes are those carrying commuters; that is, the same daily riders going to and from work.  But, as we understand it, that is not the intention of the California high-speed train.

No one in their right mind will commute daily from San Francisco to Los Angeles by rail, regardless of how fast or fancy, and those trains are promised to be the fastest.  There will be necessarily other, slower trains making stops at various stations along the route, but those will not be the fastest.  And, they still will not be ticket bargains that most workers can afford to pay to go to work.  Furthermore, the CHSRA Board has reiterated many times that it is not their intention to build a commuter train, but, instead to connect to urban and regional public mass transit services that include commuter rail.

We have often argued on this blog that increasing and improving commutation within our two major population regions is a far better investment of federal and state funds, since those would not only enhance the work experience of the employed, but provide that elusive jobs opportunities for the unemployed where it is needed most, within the metropolitan centers and their surrounds. 

To develop their inter-city argument, and despite the rail authority's denials, such expansive rail commutation across the state, if it does take place, will assure the growth of suburban sprawl whereby people can find lower cost housing in developments in the more remote towns and cities along the route.  That is why the rail authority denies its commuter role; the inevitable creation of regional sprawl with which they don't want to be associated. 

The bottom line on this is, as someone put it so well, that the high-speed rail concept is essentially a marketing gimmick; there is little realistic substance to the fantasy concept of hurtling at 200 mph across some empty rural landscape.

And HSR continues to be marketed with all the typical ploys with which we are so familiar; we can see such inflated ploys each and every day on television, where the advertising community remains in a very profitable business of trying to sell us stuff we don't need or want. That practice is the same bag of tricks that the high-speed rail authority is playing on us.

Picking up on Mr. Stokes' article headline, high-speed rail claims are, indeed, unreal. And his closing sentence is:

"This proposal is a high-speed path to fiscal disaster."


Stokes: MoDOT's high-speed rail claims are unreal
System won't support 200,000 jobs or allow Missourians to commute as application says.

Did you know that the building of a high-speed rail line across Missouri will support more than 200,000 jobs?

Don't believe me? Well, it is right there on page 21 of the Missouri Department of Transportation's (MoDOT) application for high-speed rail federal funding:

"The construction phase is estimated to support over 208,674 direct, indirect, and induced jobs."

If you think it is ludicrous that the construction of a single rail line across central Missouri could account for 7 percent of the state's entire labor force, well, you are correct. But absurd estimates like this are typical for high-speed rail proposals.

In 2008, California voters approved bonds for a high-speed rail proposal estimated to cost $43 billion. Now, before any construction has started, the actual cost is estimated at $98 billion.

Like many similar projects, the price for it is so high that advocates can only generate support by intentionally underestimating the cost and downplaying the future subsidies.

But back to MoDOT. In their defense (although this hardly qualifies as a "defense"), MoDOT officials did not put much original thought into the 208,000 jobs projection.

They just applied a federal transportation department formula to the estimated $8 billion final cost of the project. Never mind that the formula counts the same job multiple times, assumes that one job in transportation "induces" two jobs elsewhere, and has been thoroughly discredited.

There are other outlandish claims in the same document. On page 10, we learn that Missourians will commute to work on high-speed rail.

Even though the new system will just go 110 mph at its peak (not dramatically faster than the current system); will only stop in St. Louis, Kansas City and perhaps Jefferson City; and a trip across the state will still take four hours at best, Missourians will apparently use it to commute to work each day. The same line will also connect to Chicago.

Other than aviophobics, find me someone in Kansas City who will take high-speed rail to Chicago -- still an eight-hour trip -- when they can fly there on Southwest Airlines for approximately the same price in 1 hour and 20 minutes?

The growing, private bus company Megabus will take you from St. Louis to Kansas City in 4 1/2 hours, for $34. If your mission is to ensure people have safe and affordable travel options, mission accomplished.

If your true mission is to spend government money in pursuit of political aims, I guess it isn't.

Missouri would be much better off sticking with its original plan to spend far less money making engineering-based upgrades to our current Amtrak system.

High-speed rail is a high-cost luxury built to serve a non-existent market demand. The private sector is perfectly capable of providing affordable inter-city travel.

The amount of jobs high-speed rail creates is false.

St. Louis and Kansas City are not Tokyo or Paris, and the $8 billion project would require enormous annual operating subsidies in the future.

This proposal is a high-speed path to fiscal disaster.

David Stokes is a policy analyst at the Show-Me Institute, which promotes market solutions for Missouri Public Policy.

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