Monday, January 23, 2012

Cox and Drum agree: What the CHSRA does is "shameless." We agree with Cox and Drum.

The "shameless" shenanigans of the CHSRA would be highly notable if it weren't for the fact that this is standard salesmanship about pretty much any publicly funded project promoted by the government at any level, national, state, or local. The HSR project in California has been exceptionally flagrant in its abuse of this pattern of behavior, and is being called to task for it. 

(We should be grateful to the rail authority for their continued Three Stooges antics thereby helping California to bring this project to a halt.)

So, here are two articles, one commenting on the other.  The central point is the ridiculous comparison between the costs of high speed rail in California, and what it would cost if the state didn't build this train.  Because, runs their argument, it would therefore have to build far more expensive miles of highways and many additional runways.  This nonsense has been adequately commented on already, both in the press, and on this blog.

But, we're not letting it go.  Kevin Drum, HSR critic, writing for Mother Jones, has apparently just discovered something we have been told about and have known about for years.  That the rail authority has been lying to us about everything.  There's not a word of truth in anything they say. And that includes the If-we-don't-X, then-we-must-Y, logic.

In this case, we taxpayers have paid for this lie through the contract payments made to their prime contractor, Parsons Brinckerhoff.  This company, it should be said, has been in bed with a number of our local and regional politicians over the decades, and has participated in numerous state projects that contributed generously to their bottom line.

This silly If-Then comparison, intended to threaten us with far greater costs if we refuse to pony up the hundreds of billions of dollars required to build this useless train, has now been exposed to the cold light of day. 

So have the job creation exaggerations, the rapidly multiplying cost forecasts for building the train, the inflated ridership numbers, and just about any other so-called "fact" to which you can point. This house of cards has collapsed of its own lying weight.

Wendell Cox, co-author of the Due Diligence Report, a tight, careful analysis of the crap put out by the CHSRA before the '08 elections,  agrees with Kevin Drums's assessment, but also demands an honest and independent review and analysis of this project before even more taxpayers' funds are sucked into the project's black hole.

"Ridiculous" is too kind a term for what we are in for if it isn't stopped.

All this makes Governor Jerry Brown's continuing support for this project particularly cynical and egregious. He either knows better or he doesn't. Either way, it's "shameless." 

California HSR Now Even More Ridiculous Than Before
By Kevin Drum,  Mother Jones, Tue Jan. 17, 2012

As regular readers know, I've been skeptical of California's LA-SF bullet train from the beginning, and my skepticism has only grown as cost estimates have doubled to nearly $100 billion in only a few years. But unrealistic cost projections have never been the only reason to be dubious. There were also unrealistic ridership projections, along with unrealistic estimates of what the alternatives to high-speed rail would cost.

Until today, though, I didn't know just how unrealistic some of those estimates were. Rail supporters say that even if the LA-SF train costs $100 billion, it's still a bargain compared to the $171 billion it would cost to expand road and air infrastructure to handle the increased traffic between LA and San Francisco that we're going to get regardless. But check this out:

The rail authority has relied heavily on New York-based Parsons Brinkerhoff, a contractor that helped fund the political campaign for the $9.9-billion bond measure passed by voters in 2008....In October, Parsons submitted the analysis that came up with the $171 billion, a number that initially appeared in the authority's draft business plan released Nov. 1. In the study, Parsons first estimated how much passenger capacity the system would have at completion in 2033 and then calculated the cost for providing the same airport and highway capacity.

Parsons said the high-speed rail system could carry 116 million passengers a year, based on running trains with 1,000 seats both north and south every five minutes, 19 hours a day and 365 days a year. The study assumes the trains would be 70% full on average.

This is just jaw-droppingly shameless. There's not even a pretense here of providing a reasonable, real-world traffic estimate that could be used to project the cost of alternative infrastructure. A high school sophomore who turned in work like this would get an F.

We are rapidly exiting the realm of rose-colored glasses and entering the realm of pure fantasy here. If liberals keep pushing this project forward in the face of plain evidence that its official justifications are brazenly preposterous, conservatives are going to be able to pound us year after year for wasting taxpayer money while we retreat to ever more ridiculous and self-serving defenses that make us laughingstocks in the public eye. And unless we put this project on hold until we can get some genuinely independent and plausible estimates of costs, ridership, and alternatives, we'll deserve it. 

Kevin Drum is a political blogger for Mother Jones



by Wendell Cox 01/23/2012

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones reports on the highly questionable "cost of alternatives" that has been routinely repeated by proponents of the California high speed rail project, in an article entitled "California High Speed Rail Even More Ridiculous than Before."

The mantra goes something like, "yes high speed rail is expensive, but it would cost even more to not build it." Yes, indeed, it is expensive, starting at the low estimate of $98.5 billion the press and proponents usually cite to the nearly $118 billion that the California High Speed Rail Authority itself indicates. Advocates then cite a $171 billion figure as what Californian's would have to pay if they didn't build the line.

Joseph Vranich and I detailed the flaws in this "alternatives estimate" in a Wall Street Journal commentary on January 10 ("California's High Speed Rail Fibs"). We noted that the claim "sets a new low for planning projections in a field that has been rife with abuse." This was a reference to "strategic misrepresentation” ("lying") that has characterized rail project forecasts, according to top European academics.

Drum goes further, calling the claim "jaw-droppingly shameless," an appropriate characterization based upon the method and documentation. He goes on to suggest that "A high school sophomore who turned in work like this would get an F."

Regardless of the views that officials or the public may have on high speed rail, they are entitled to a standard of professional (and taxpayer financed) analysis above "jaw-droppingly shameless."

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