Saturday, April 28, 2012

High-Speed Rail in California: A Religious Crusade based on Faith Alone

First, a background comment. This article by Adam Summers is from the Reason Foundation online blog.  To remind you, the Reason Foundation, with additional support from the Jarvis Anti-Tax Group, supported the research by Wendell Cox, Joe Vranich and Adrian Moore to produce their seminal major report on the high-speed rail project just before the elections of 2008.  That's when the voters approved  Proposition 1A.

Had a majority of the voters read that Report, called the Due Diligence Report, not only would the voters have voted against this Proposition which initiated the high-speed rail project, it would have inspired the voters to come to Sacramento to ride the members of the rail authority out of town "on a rail!"

And here's a thumbnail summary of that report in bullet form: 
California High-Speed Rail Findings at a Glance

Analyzing the impacts of the state's proposed train system
September 18, 2008

Private Investment Impacts
•Investment losses are likely.
•Commercial bond default is likely.

Traveler Impacts
•Promised travel times are unlikely to be achieved.
•Trains will fail to meet the statutorily required maximum travel times.
•Airlines will continue to dominate the market between northern and southern California.
•Few travelers are likely to be attracted from cars in the shorter distance markets.
•San Diego and Sacramento extensions may not be built for decades, if ever, due to high costs.

Capital Costs
•Construction cost overruns are likely.
•Proposed state bonds will likely be insufficient to complete Phase I, Phase II or complete plan.
•Federal funding is likely to be far less than projected.
•Private funding is likely to be insufficient to finance the complete plan.
•Political "meddling" could increase capital costs.
•Additional state capital subsidies are likely to be required.
•Political "meddling" will require additional stations, more stops and slower train schedules.
•CHSRA's capital cost projections for highway and aviation alternatives are implausibly high.

Operating Costs
•Operating costs are likely to be substantially higher than planned.
•Taxpayer subsidies to cover operating costs are likely.

Greenhouse Gas Impacts
•Impact on greenhouse gas emissions reduction to be small.
•GHG reduction to be far more costly than the international ceiling of $50 per ton.

Public Response
•Opposition may spread as site-specific urban, suburban and rural impacts become better known.
•Opposition by communities is likely to require reduced operating speeds and slower schedules.
•Mitigating unpopular neighborhood impacts could increase capital costs.
•Elevated tracks could create objectionable sound walls and other "Berlin Wall" structures.

•No train in the world meeting the operating specifications can be used legally in the U.S.
•It is unclear that any train redesigned to meet U.S. safety requirements can also meet the CHSRA speed and performance requirements.
•The train's capacity is not set, which calls into question the accuracy of ridership, revenue and cost forecasts.
•Train weight is not set, which could affect speed, schedule, ridership, energy use and cost forecasts.
Road and Aviation Impacts
•HSR will fail to divert significant traffic from highways and airports.
•The Authority will fail to implement the bargain rail fares it currently proposes.


The Medieval Crusades (1095 - 1291)(See Wikipedia) were generated and driven only superficially by a belief in the necessity to liberate Jerusalem from the Muslim residents, but more fundamentally by political and economic reasons.  

Funny why Governor Jerry Brown, who loves analogies for the high-speed rail project, hasn't considered this one. After all he did have a Jesuit education and should be very familiar with the Crusades. Particularly since he is leading one in California today.

Which is to say that underlying these Crusades were imperial ambitions and in the long run, they were not successful in their intended goal to "liberate" Jerusalem. However, they were devastatingly costly in terms of blood and treasure.

What Adam Summers gives us here is a description of the similar fruitlessness of the HSR endeavor, also based in misconceived faith and totally oblivious to reason, reality and the facts.  Said another way, this high-speed rail project is not based on scientific and rational foundations, but on "Intelligent Design" and "Creationism."  Build it and they will come.  It's a fantasy "field of dreams."

But, at the same time there is a very cynical underlying strategy that is far more rational, and that is the greed and lust for discretionary funds from Washington.  Billions of dollars are promised to California if our state initiates construction in the Central Valley, and puts down around a hundred miles of track.  

What both the federal Department of Transportation and the California Governor choose to ignore is the following:

1. The $3.5 billion from Washington is all there is; there won't be more.

2. That and whatever bond funds can be extracted will only scratch the surface of what this rail system will actually cost.

3. The federal government's advocacy for HSR is an "unfunded mandate." They say, you must build it but we won't pay for it.

4.  There is actually no systematic, independent cost-benefit analysis either at the federal or the state level to justify this project. With full-cost accounting, this mode of transit is ridiculously high per passenger-mile.

5. What the public has been told by the rail authority, from the beginning, is not true.  We have been lied to, to get our vote and our support. The rail authority continues to do so. 

6. When most Californians voted for it, they were ignorant of the facts.  Now that they know the facts, they oppose it. That's why the Governor doesn't want it back on the ballot.

7. It is outrageous that the entire US should be taxed to fund construction of this California-only train.

Many of you won't remember this, but during severe fuel shortages in our 20th century past, the saying on bill-boards was: "Is this trip necessary?"

Now is the time we all should be asking, "Is this high-speed train necessary?"  The affirmative answer will come only from those who have actual skin in the game and stand to profit handsomely.

To quote Nancy Reagan:  "Just say No!"

Out of Control Policy Blog
Being Taken for a Ride on High-Speed Rail in California

Adam Summers
April 27, 2012, 4:21pm

In my latest commentary, I once again tackle the boondoggle that is the California high-speed rail project, specifically, the most recent version of what passes for a business plan from the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA).

When the High-Speed Rail Authority recently released yet another version of its purported business plan, it was just another day in the world of the ever-changing high-speed rail plans and assumptions made by the Authority and its backers. The fourth incarnation of the plan relies upon sharing tracks with commuter trains in both Los Angeles and the Bay Area in order to trim estimated costs from $98.5 billion to "only" $68.4 billion—still more than 50% more expensive than the plan voters thought they were approving in November 2008. But, as the non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) observed, this plan makes no more sense than any of the previous ones.

The LAO analysis concludes,

We find that HSRA has not provided sufficient detail and justification to the Legislature regarding its plan to build a high-speed train system. Specifically, funding for the project remains highly speculative and important details have not been sorted out. We recommend the Legislature not approve the Governor’s various budget proposals to provide additional funding for the project.

The vast majority of the expected funding continues to be wishful thinking. As I relate in my article,

As with every other attempt at a plan, the latest effort from the CHSRA lacks any basis in reality. Once again, most of the funding is to come from unidentified federal and private-sector sources that almost certainly will not materialize. In fact, 83.2 percent of the project’s proposed funding is unaccounted for, including $38.6 billion the CHSRA hopes to receive in federal funds (in addition to the approximately $3.5 billion in federal stimulus and transportation funds that has already been allocated), $13.1 billion expected from private investors, and $5.2 billion to come from other sources such as local governments.

In response to such criticisms, CHSRA Chairman Dan Richards argued that it is simply common practice for transportation projects to go forward without knowing from where the money will come. “I spent 12 years on the [Bay Area Rapid Transit] board in the transit world; we never knew where all of the money was coming from,” Richards said. “Our colleagues in Southern California just adopted a $540 billion regional transportation plan for the Southland, for the next 20 years, same time period we’re talking about here. They don’t know where all of the money is coming from.” Added Richards, “It is just part and parcel of the transportation world that people don’t know these things now.”

If ever there was a window into the mindset of a government central planner, this is it. So the excuse for such irresponsibility and carelessness with scarce taxpayer dollars is the notion that “Everyone else (in government) is doing it!” Besides, who needs to know minor details like how something is going to be paid for when your state faces yearly multi-billion-dollar deficits?

Yet CHSRA board member Mike Rossi calls the new business plan “credible, reasonable, and transparent.” Many of the high-speed rail planners are clever people, so it is hard to believe that they could be so divorced from reality. 

There are many special interests involved in a project of this scope, however (which is yet another reason why such things should be left to the voluntary decisions of people in a free market, rather than forced down people's throats through the political process), so perhaps it is simply an attempt to intentionally delude taxpayers whom they hope will be too apathetic or uncritical to notice otherwise.

One of the things that continually amazes me is how basic assumptions such as the cost of the project and the estimated ridership—which affects everything from how much revenue the system will generate to how much it will affect traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions—can change so dramatically, so quickly, and yet the supporters of high-speed rail cling to the project with religious fervor and never question how these seemingly arbitrarily-determined numbers affect the viability of such a large project. As I argued in my column,

The CHSRA and many advocates of high-speed rail have demonstrated that they are beyond reason, despite all the facts that contradict their hopes and assumptions. High-speed rail advocacy has become more of a religious crusade than a policy position. Avoiding the facts stacking against this project is how cost estimates can triple, then be reduced by one-third. It’s how ridership estimates can magically plummet to one-third of their original estimates (see this CalWatchdog article for a good summary on the project’s changing assumptions). It’s how major decisions such as changing from dedicated high-speed rail tracks to tracks shared with slower commuter trains on both ends of the system can be made. And yet with all these arbitrary changes, high-speed rail acolytes have not batted an eye or even questioned how the plan can still be considered feasible, much less profitable.

Moreover, the bond measure (Prop. 1A) that voters narrowly passed back in 2008 requires that a trip between Los Angeles and San Francisco on the high-speed train system take no more than 2 hours, 40 minutes. That probably would not have happened even under the older plans, but seems to be pure fantasy now that the high-speed trains will have to share tracks with slower commuter trains at both ends of the system. As Quentin Kopp, former California state senator and CSHRA chairman who was a leading figure in pushing for the passage of Prop. 1A and the creation of the CHSRA, admitted of the new plan, “This isn’t high-speed rail.” Added Kopp, “High-speed trains have separated tracks. That’s how they could achieve speeds and travel times promised to voters in the 2008 ballot measure.”

The high-speed rail project is such a disaster on so many fronts—economically, politically, even environmentally—that one can only hope that the plug will be pulled before California wastes more billions of dollars it does not have. At the very least, voters should have the chance to re-vote on such a project that is so different from the one put before them in 2008. Barring that, it will be up to the voters to use the initiative process to kill the high-speed rail system in order save themselves from more financial waste and abuse.

Here is  Adam Summers' complete article from which he draws the material for the article above:

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