Look, high-speed rail is the best investment our government can make. It will generate billions in surplus revenues. All private investors in the California HSR project will become stinking rich. There will be zillions of permanent construction and other kinds of great jobs which pay very well.
Although we should be copying Europe and Asia with their high-speed trains, so that we can get ahead of them and be Numero Uno once again, where we belong, we certainly can ignore all their financial problems. After all, aren't we much smarter they they are?
I mean, what could possibly go wrong?
High-speed rail: A £250m lesson for Britain's rail enthusiasts
As the Government prepares to give the go-ahead to its hugely controversial London-Birmingham high speed rail project, its closest equivalent in Europe has had to be saved from bankruptcy with a £250 million government bailout.
By Andrew Gilligan
8:30PM GMT 07 Jan 2012
The new “Fyra” high-speed service in the Netherlands — opened just two years ago — is close to financial collapse with passengers shunning its premium fares and trains running up to 85 per cent empty.
The line, between Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Breda, cost taxpayers more than £7 billion to build but is losing £320,000 a day amid disastrous levels of patronage.
A Dutch passenger pressure group, Voor Beter OV (For Better Public Transport), is now taking the national rail operator to the Netherlands’ competition tribunal after it slowed down services on the regular network in an apparent attempt to drive passengers on to the high-speed line.
“The high-speed line has been a very, very bad result for taxpayers and passengers,” said Rikus Spithorst, VBOV’s spokesman.
“The taxpayer paid for it and the idea was that the money would come back from the train company. But that isn’t going to happen.”
The Dutch infrastructure minister, Melanie Shultz van Haegen, announced the bailout late last year after the line’s operator, High Speed Alliance, ran up a debt of Euro 2.4 billion (£2 billion). “Given the situation, action on my part is necessary,” she said.
The new 103-mile route, also running to the Belgian city of Antwerp, is almost exactly the same length as Britain’s proposed “HS2” line between London and Birmingham. Like Britain, the Netherlands has a dense network of conventional rail services and relatively short distances between major cities.
The high-speed line’s 25-minute saving between Amsterdam and Rotterdam is similar to the 35-minute saving promised by HS2. But it has not proved enough to tempt passengers away from the existing service, which is about 20 per cent cheaper.
In several respects, however, the Dutch line has better prospects than the British one. Its construction costs were relatively low because it crosses largely flat countryside. It is also used by the successful Thalys international service from Amsterdam to Brussels and Paris, helping to offset some of the losses on the domestic trains.
The British line, by contrast, cuts under west London and through the Chilterns, needing many expensive tunnels, viaducts and cuttings, and is budgeted to cost more than twice its Dutch equivalent. Nor is there any prospect of significant international traffic along it.
With the Transport Secretary, Justine Greening, set to announce the formal go-ahead for the £17 billion HS2 project this week, key claims by HS2 campaigners can today be exposed as grossly misleading.
A claim on the website of the Campaign for High-Speed Rail, the main lobbyists for the project, that HS2 will “create a million jobs” is described as “outlandish,” “patent nonsense” and a “lie” by transport experts. The claim. or variants on it, was repeated last Friday in a series of letters by economists, business leaders and trade unions which received widespread media coverage.
The million-job claim is based on a report last year by the Volterra economic consultancy for the “Core Cities” group of the largest English provincial cities. However, the report, in fact, admits that there is “relatively little information available that specifically quantifies the economic benefits that can be generated through high speed networks.” Close examination of the report shows that almost 250,000 of the million jobs supposedly “created” by HS2 will be in and around Bristol and Newcastle, cities more than a hundred miles from the proposed high-speed line.
At a seminar last January, attended by the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, the Core Cities group described the million-job figure as an “upper best case scenario” dependent on “global economic trends,” “improved export performance,” a “rebound in consumer spending,” “more modest public expenditure cuts” and “improved business investment.” No mention was made of HS2 in the published summary of the event.
The Volterra report says that HS2 would merely “underpin,” not create, any new jobs, since “investment in transport infrastructure” would be needed to move all the extra commuters. However, HS2 will be a long-distance, not a commuter service. The report claims commuters would still benefit because HS2 would release space on existing lines.
The report claims that there is a “very high correlation” between rising numbers of rail passengers travelling to a city and employment growth in that city. However, Birmingham, which has seen a 60 per cent rise in rail passengers over the last ten years, has seen only a 0.2% growth in employment.
Experience from the only British town to have been given a fully high-speed service to date suggests that claims about the economic benefits of high-speed rail are false. Ashford, Kent, has had a half-hourly high-speed service to London, using the new tracks built for the Eurostar, for more than two years. The journey time has fallen by almost half, from more than an hour to 37 minutes.
The local council has claimed that the new service has proved an “economic boon” for Ashford. In fact, the town’s unemployment rate since the line opened has fallen more slowly than the South-East England and British averages, and more slowly than in many other parts of Kent which are not on the high-speed line.
Data from France and other countries with developed high-speed networks suggests that they suck economic activity into the capital more than they push it out into regional centres.
Even many of HS2’s strongest supporters say that the jobs created will be only a tiny fraction of the million claimed. Centro, the transport authority for the West Midlands, the region supposedly benefiting the most from the project, says that HS2 will create just 10,000 jobs in its area. A further 12,000 jobs could be created if it is accompanied by a wider package of regional transport improvements, Centro says.
Greengauge 21, another HS2 lobbying group, estimates that the scheme will create no more than 42,000 jobs nationally. Many more neutral experts doubt even these figures. “The evidence that HS2 will have a positive impact on rebalancing the national economy, to use the current jargon, is not really there,” said Professor John Tomaney, of Newcastle University.
Another expert, Chris Nash, professor of transport studies at Leeds University, described the evidence for wider economic impacts as “uncertain.” The transport expert Christian Wolmar described the million-jobs claim as “outlandish,” “patent nonsense” and “basically a lie.” Another element of last week’s publicity blitz for HS2 was the claim that Britain had “slumped behind Morocco” in high-speed rail mileage, with 70 miles of operational line against Morocco’s 422. The claim made front-page news. In fact, however, Morocco has no high-speed lines at all. It is building one, but of far less than 422 miles in length.
In approving the scheme, Ms Greening will claim that HS2 is necessary to solve potential future capacity shortages on the London-Birmingham route.
However, many other routes — including most commuter lines — are over capacity now and campaigners say scarce money should be spent on relieving problems that already exist. HS2 will, in any case, create its own capacity problems north of Birmingham, where its trains will have to use the existing lines.
Government sources also cite a new Network Rail review which will reportedly dismiss alternatives to HS2, such as upgrading the existing line. The report does not yet appear to have been published, but research for the Transport Select Committee found that previous comparisons between a line upgrade and HS2 had been skewed to favour the new scheme.
A spokesman for the Campaign for High-Speed Rail admitted that the Morocco claim was “loosely-worded.” However, he defended the million-jobs claim, saying: “We stand by the Volterra report. It was accepted by a large number of people as being a fair reflection of the contribution to the economy that HS2 could make.”
Another Lesson On A Financial Disaster Known As 'High-Speed Rail'
Topics: Political News and commentaries
As Britain prepares to give the go-ahead to its highly controversial high-speed train project, its closest equivalent in Europe has had to be saved from bankruptcy with a Â£250 million government bailout. The new "Fyra" high-speed service in the Netherlands -- opened just two years ago -- is close to financial collapse, having cost taxpayers more than Â£7 billion to build and now losing Â£320,000 a day amid disastrous levels of patronage.
This, as California, likely the most debt ridden state in the U.S., has been intent on wasting buckets of money it can ill afford on a poorly conceived LA-to-San Francisco high-speed rail project ... but just got word from the California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group that the project "is not financially feasible.".
Fortunately for Florida's citizens, back in February 2011 Governor Rick Scott rejected about $2.4 billion from DOT for a $2.6 billion high-speed train line from Tampa to Orlando, declaring in April that the money should go back to taxpayers or be used for deficit reduction.
With a bit of luck, foresight and financial common sense, Barack Obama's high-speed rail initiative will continue to be a 'train to nowhere' and U.S. taxpayers will be spared from yet another Obama financial disaster.