Saturday, April 21, 2012

High-Speed Rail Momentum Moves More Money to Mayors

Rest assured that there is still an enormous amount of support for the high-speed rail project.  This support is based on an elaborate set of misconceptions and falsehoods that are being perpetuated with an ulterior motive in mind, bringing "free" funds into key cities, and districts.  The purpose of that is to gain and sustain political support, not the least of which comes from the Unions.

Here is a Viewpoint article by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, along with San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa,  Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. (All are Democrats, of course.) The train route promises to go through all those cities (Except for Sacramento).  Needless to say, the Mayors of San Diego and Oakland, for example, are not represented here. They already know they will never see this train in their cities.  

Let's get the bottom line up here right away.  These Mayors anticipate a huge amount of construction in their cities and the expenditure of vast amounts of state and government funding that will be pumped into their economies, thereby making them look like heroes.  It has nothing to do with the train itself.  It's the massively funded process of development that counts. 

There is so much to disagree with these Mayors and their HSR advocacy, that we feel obliged to offer a "counterpoint" view on various sentences and paragraphs throughout the article.

Sacramento Bee
Viewpoints: High-speed rail for a more sustainable state
Special to The Bee
Published Friday, Apr. 20, 2012

We are all strong supporters of building the California High-Speed Rail system, and our state has arrived at a critical juncture. In the weeks ahead, state legislators will be asked to release $2.7 billion in previously approved state bond funds to begin construction of the first section of high-speed rail in the United States. Our long-term economic and environmental future requires an alternative to simply adding more highways and airport runways. 

[This is a perpetual and false 'alternative' argument.  They are saying that if we don't build this train, we will have to build more highways and runways. First of all, we're going to have to do that anyhow, unless we all travel less. One high-speed train route will solve nothing.  The problem of public mass transit and its potential increase is not between San Francisco and Los Angeles, it is within those population regions. Why, in God's name would a fancy, luxury train running between the major cities solve any transit problems.  Are the rich having a tough time getting around? Are there too many Rolls Royces on the highways?]

We need a sustainable, modern way of moving people up and down the state that doesn't rely on gasoline and concrete.

[Why is "moving people up and down the state" suddenly such a crisis? And, the amount of gasoline consumed is declining despite the economic recovery.  Driver miles are also declining.  Meanwhile, automobiles are evolving rapidly toward a far more efficient fuel/power ratio.  By the time any HSR will be running, the automotive industry will have solved the reduction demand far more effectively than a high-speed train ever will.  Not there is no argument favoring regular, and less expensive trains; only this super fast fancy one.]

The high-speed rail project will begin in the Central Valley with construction of a 300-mile initial operating section that will form the backbone of the system and provide high-speed rail service in a decade. This early start will be paired with cost-saving early investments in the electrification of Caltrain and Metrolink, the northern and southern bookends of the system. High-speed rail will connect our cities like never before and provide early, tangible benefits to commuter rail in the urban cores of the state.

["Cost saving early investments"? That's not what they really mean.  What they mean is obtaining funding while there still is some for their cities.  Not that long ago, the promised distance, costing $6 billion, was 130 miles. Where did that 300 mile notion suddenly come from?  There isn't more money. It is highly questionable whether this initial construction section will constitute the "back-bone" of anything if there isn't more funding. And even if they do have sufficient funds to lay 300 miles of track in the Central Valley, it will be only track and therefore not suitable for high-speed rail. (No electric, no signalling, no rolling stock, etc.) Please be assured that there will be no "high-speed rail service in a decade." The Mayors confuse the "initial construction section" with the "Initial Operating Segment."]

Recently, the California High-Speed Rail Authority released a revised 2012 business plan, a document that reflects and responds to concerns expressed over the last three months by residents, businesses, elected officials and communities throughout the state. The revised plan puts a new cost estimate of the total construction of the high-speed system at $68.4 billion, with the initial operable segment up and running by 2022 and the rest of the system completed by 2028. The revised plan delivers on the promise made by Gov. Jerry Brown to produce a project that is faster, better and cheaper, and recognizes the fiscal constraints our state faces.

[The new business plan is a masterpiece of evasion and wiggling out of confronting the huge problems facing this disastrous project. The new $68.4 billion, a reduction of $30 billion from the prior $100 billion cost forecast is based totally on planning to doing less. There is no substance to any of these numbers, which will skyrocket once construction begins. They claim that by using existing rail and corridors in the two population centers, they will save those $30 billion.  That's a scam.  They can drop any construction elements right now that they choose, since the don't have the funds for any of it anyhow. Be warned that if there ever is political change in Washington and more HSR funds become available, the rail authority will revive its prior agenda for a full build-out the entire length of the rail route.  I might add that this $68.4 billion that they don't have is nothing to sneeze at. The word "cheap" certainly does not come to mind!]

While this project is long-term and visionary, it is also a job creator that provides short-term benefits to thousands of construction workers. The high-speed rail project will create the equivalent of jobs for 20,000 workers a year for each of the next five years in a portion of the state that suffers from high and chronic unemployment, the Central Valley. It will also create thousands of jobs in our urban corridors in Northern and Southern California as we take early steps to electrify commuter rail.

[Ah, yes, the "Jobs" creation argument.  It has been amply demonstrated that the jobs promises are false.  Exactly what is "the equivalent of jobs"? Either there's a job or there isn't. The 20,000 number is absurd. HSR construction in Europe for the equivalent size construction project consists of, at most, several thousand highly skilled rail laying professionals. "Jobs" is a lousy reason for pouring so much money into something we don't need.  Why not create jobs where they are needed, on the repair and upgrading of existing, failing and deteriorating infrastructure?]

The environmental benefits of statewide rail are tangible as well: a reduction of 3 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, primarily realized by eliminating 320 billion vehicle-miles over the next 40 years, representing some 146 million hours of time wasted sitting in traffic.

[This environmental argument has also been dismantled and explicated for its gross inaccuracies. There is no environmental accounting for the construction and the manufacturing processes required for this project which can last as long as twenty years or more. The vehicle-mile elimination number (320 billion!!!) is based on a hypothetical train that will carry over 100 million annual passengers.  Nonsense is too kind a word for this claim. All these numbers are "smoke and mirrors" and have no substantive foundation.]

Building on the momentum to move California forward, we join with Brown in reaffirming that the most prudent and responsible step now is to support the revised 2012 business plan for a 520-mile high-speed rail system in California.

[The "moving forward" empty platitudes are very popular with HSR supporters. California is behind. We must get ahead. This train will accomplish that. Absurd.  With this train, bought off the shelves of other countries, we will get ahead of those other countries. Say what? I like the Mayors' use of the words "prudent" and "responsible," since this project is the most flagrant waste of funds and the government, from the Obama Administration down through the Brown Administration in California, is acting in the most irresponsible manner possible!]

It is time to break ground on this investment in our state's infrastructure. This ambitious project will usher in a new modern rail service in California that better connects us, provides faster service, operates more efficiently, has quieter trains and fewer emissions – all while bringing economic development and good jobs to the residents of California.

[Are these Mayors listening to themselves? "better connects us, provides faster service, operates more efficiently," etc. etc. FOR WHOM? Who will this train serve? Who will be better connected? Who will get faster service? Why, the affluent, the well-to-do, the professionals and executives with travel expense accounts, of course.  "Good jobs?" For whom?]

Let's move California forward full steam ahead and start building our nation's first high-speed rail system.

[With all due respect, Mayors, rather than mindlessly parroting the HSR press-release kit, it's time to save the economy and do the right thing by cancelling this project before it's too late.]

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Ed Lee is mayor of San Francisco; Ashley Swearengin, mayor of Fresno; Kevin Johnson, mayor of Sacramento; Chuck Reed, mayor of San Jose; Antonio Villaraigosa, mayor of Los Angeles.

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