Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Money makes the High-Speed Rail world go 'round, world go 'round. . . .

Michael Doyle is certainly one of the better syndicated journalists who cover high-speed rail in California.  Unfortunately, Michael commits the same error that most other journalists have succumbed to; that is, they accept the rail authority's contention that they have reduced their cost projection from $100 billion to $68 billion.  And that's not true.  

What the rail authority has proposed is temporarily building less; that's why it costs less. It will not be the promised and obligated high-speed train from San Francisco to Los Angeles. In the new designs proposed in the new business plan we find nothing more than commuter rail upgrades within the two population centers, plus some non-high-speed rail in the Central Valley.  

While upgrading regional commuter service is inherently a good thing, that's not what is actually going on, and that's why Michael Doyle points out that much more funding will be required from the federal government.  Of course, not only don't they have enough funding to build the entire train.  They don't have enough funding to build what they are now proposing.

What's going on is the rail authority trying to making the Part appear as the Whole; that is, making the "bookends" as well as the several hundred miles of track in the Central Valley look like they are a part of high-speed rail.  When in fact, these  middle of the state and urban commuter routes are only being locked in for high-speed rail service if and when more funding becomes available. They call it a "foundation for high-speed rail."

Got a problem with that? 

That's why I insist that we are being scammed with bait-and-switch.  The rail authority has been doing this right along since the passage of the Proposition 1A bond issue, and they are not stopping now.

Before I forget, this is a good place to interject that this project will cost -- if it is ever completed as a true high-speed train -- well over $200 billion.  The rail authority can post a new forecast every week, for all I care.  Those have no truth-value whatsoever.

None of us should forget the lessons of the Boston Big Dig, which began with a less than $2 billion forecast and now is priced at over $22 billion, and that's modest by high-speed rail standards. 

The bottom line on Doyle's article is this.  There is next to no likelihood of California and the rail authority getting the hundreds of billions of dollars necessary to build this train, regardless whether it's a good or bad idea.  This fact is not stopping either the Administration in Washington or the California government HSR promoters from pursuing this pointless quest  for the sake of the existing federal funding awards and the hope of extracting further funding from the state bond issue. 

This false and devious game reeks of illegality, corruption, immorality and a profound lack of ethics.  It's pure, naked greed. It will be a crime not to terminate this project.

CA: HSR Plan Still Relies on Federal Funds
A streamlined California high-speed rail plan still relies on serious federal funding, even as skeptics try to sidetrack the project on Capitol Hill.

Created: April 4, 2012

April 04--WASHINGTON -- A streamlined California high-speed rail plan still relies on serious federal funding, even as skeptics try to sidetrack the project on Capitol Hill.

Federal grants and loans would account for about $42 billion of the total project cost now pegged at $68.4 billion, the revised business plan released this week shows. 

Getting the money could be a chore, as congressional Republicans continue to resist the project they cast as a high-priced pet of the Obama administration.

"Is that money in the bank? Far from it," state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, said in an interview Tuesday.

California has about $3.3 billion in federal funds available to start high-speed rail construction. This money is secure, although some Republicans have discussed trying to divert it to other transportation purposes.

But within several years, the new business plan released Monday anticipates that additional federal funds will resume rolling into the state. The federal dollars account for the largest share of the expected spending. Private sources, for instance, are expected to provide about $13 billion.

"The new approach helps get the initial operating segment built faster and cheaper," Jessica Kahanek, spokeswoman for rail supporter Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, said Tuesday. "Once trains are moving, private capital can start moving in."

Merced part of first phase

The revised plan envisions a first phase connecting Merced to the San Fernando Valley within 10 years, as well as a "blended system" involving upgraded commuter lines in Southern California and the Bay Area.

The 212-page revised business plan anticipates a combination of federal loans as well direct grants, with some projections extending into a politically opaque future. The plan, for instance, anticipates more than $3 billion from unspecified federal sources in the year 2023.

"It's very much a step in the right direction," Simitian said of the revised plan, while adding that "the question that won't go away (is), where does the rest of the money come from?"

As part of its funding overview, the plan cites an Obama administration transportation proposal that includes billions of dollars for rail spending. The plan, however, does not recount how some Republicans called Obama's proposal dead on arrival.

"You've got a vision," Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., told Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood at a February budget hearing. "It just isn't connected to reality."

The California plan declares that a "cooperative and complementary agenda for jointly pursuing federal support" will be established.

"We believe it is a high priority of the federal government," California High-Speed Rail Authority spokesman Lance Simmens said Tuesday, adding that "we have a very solid working relationship with the Department of Transportation and Federal Railroad Administration."

In anticipation of potential congressional problems, the revised business plan declares that "cap-and-trade funds are available ... as a backstop." Beginning this year, California's cap-and-trade program will collect funds from carbon-emitting polluters.

Revenue projections for the cap-and-trade program have varied extensively, from $1 billion and up. Other political priorities also will be making their claims on the money.

House Republicans have thrown up multiple roadblocks to the California project. A House transportation bill, for instance, included an amendment from Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, that prohibited any of the five-year bill's funding from supporting California high-speed rail.

While the House transportation bill subsequently collapsed amid Republican intraparty squabbling, the GOP-controlled House has used other bills to voice similar sentiments.

Copyright 2012 - The Modesto Bee, Calif.

No comments: