Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Politics of High-Speed Rail in California

This is no longer new news, this information having been made available yesterday, Friday. But it's a key to understanding what this project has been all about. The original project concept -- presented to the voters in 2008 -- was intended to launch the government's intention of creating what was claimed to become an 800 mile long high-speed rail system running from Sacramento to San Diego.

It was going to be built in two phases, the first from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and the second phase would extend to Sacramento in the north, south through the Central Valley and back to the coast and Los Angeles with a branch line to Anaheim, then inland again and south to San Diego, also part of the second phase.  The price was pegged at $33 billion for the San Francisco to Los Angeles part. When the train would become operational and profitable, they would pay for the rest of it with the profits.

That was then. This is now. That game has changed dramatically. The new plan looks nothing like what the voters voted for.  If you thought you had ordered a Cadillac for $33,000. you belatedly discovered that upon delivery you were going to get a lot of parts of a Chevy, and it would cost, when all put together, around $100,000.  And, it may never be all put together.  And, you don't have that much money anyhow.

Would you accept such a deal? Well, you will, because the Governor of California is going to make you accept it, whether you want it or not. He's like the car dealer, only with a gun to your head.

What is this all about? It's certainly not about public mass transit, if that's what you are thinking. It's a fancy luxury train not intended for the general public to get to and from work each day. As we've said repeatedly, if they ever do complete this rail system, train tickets will be the most expensive ones you can buy; that is, if you can afford the high cost. 

Here, from this article below, is an expression of that misconception: "The state of California is growing at a fast clip," she said. "We need to have transit as well as highways." 

The Anaheim Councilwoman who made that remark thinks that what won't get built to Anaheim is transit. She, and all the others who keep talking about high-speed rail as "transit" are quite mistaken. What amazes me is that there so many supporters and advocates of high-speed rail who entertain that same misconception.  All those who talk about transit, and replacing highways and runways, simply don't realize what a high-speed train really is.

Forget about comparing it to subways, trolleys, commuter trains, or any of those other modalities the function to carry large numbers of people daily to and from work. HSR is nothing of the sort.  With the exception of the Shinkansen between Tokyo and Osaka where it does indeed perform that function, but also at very high ticket costs.

Those who doubt this need to Google for ticket prices around the world to appreciate how expensive it is, somewhat like buying first-class air tickets rather than coach.  

Yes, we do need more transit, especially in the population regions like the Bay Area and the LA Basin.  But, we certainly don't need it to run the length of California, even to connect San Francisco with Los Angeles.  That's certainly not where all those problems are that this train is supposed to cure.

There have been no unbiased studies or independent research done that looks at the big picture of transit in California to ascertain what needs there are and how those should be met. There has been no examination of the cost-benefits of high-speed rail systems and how stunningly expensive they are to build and operate in the US -- far more than in any other country, and how few people will benefit from this. 

Wouldn't you want to start there first with such studies? So, why didn't we? Because the project was never actually intended to solve any of those transit problems in the first place. The problem was created to be a boondoggle, a political pork generator so that the state government would have a 'spectacle' project that created the illusion of our government being visionary and future oriented, regardless of the costs.

So the creators, a group of "back-room" politicians, concocted this project and persistently promoted it until finally, Gov. Schwarzenegger put the $10 billion bond issue on the ballot.  The ballot and all the supporting documentation contained a lot of promotional marketing hype, with a lot of numbers that weren't true, such as costs, numbers of projected passengers, time of construction, time it would take the train to make the trip, and so forth.  All lies. All empty promises.  That's what the voters voted for. It's like a political pork chess game.

Once the designing started, it woke up a lot of Californians who realized what, in their intoxication, they had voted for; what a scam it was.  And the costs skyrocketed. And the ridership numbers dropped. And it became apparent that the fix was in; that this was a political game of getting and spending tax dollars.  

Politicians put Anaheim on the route even though it didn't connect further and was out of the way of the intended route. Now politicians are taking Anaheim off the to-do list and that's what this article is about.

So where are we now? Well, for starters, we are not going to get this promised 800 mile train system.  And, it won't connect up and down the state for decades if not lifetimes. Given its staggering costs, funds not being available at the state or federal level, it may never get built.  

But, since there are some funds already committed from the DOT, those are being grabbed up with the intention of spending some in the Bay Area (on commuter rail electrification) and south, in the LA Basin, on similar commuter services.  Oh, yes, and the Federal Railroad Administration insists on their award funds being spent in the Central Valley, where the train is the least necessary of anyplace.

So, I have to ask again, why is this project going forward? What will it take to stop this Governor from committing and spending very large amounts of money illegally, since it's not what the voters voted for?

Calif high speed rail drops Anaheim from $68B plan

Saturday, April 7, 2012
(04-07) 12:08 PDT Los Angeles, CA (AP) --

The route of the planned Bay Area-to-Southern California high speed train system will stop short of Anaheim, state rail officials said.

Instead, the $68 billion bullet train project would have its southern terminus in Los Angeles, 40 miles northwest of the Orange County city, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday (

Rail authority chairman Dan Richard told the newspaper the route between LA and Orange County would cost $6 billion and save only 10 minutes of travel time compared with the current trains.

"Why would we do that, pay $600 million per minute?" Richard said, adding that the savings of dropping Anaheim from initial construction plans makes financial sense.

Bullet train passengers would have to transfer to slower Metrolink or Amtrak trains in Los Angeles to reach Anaheim, Orange County's largest city and home to Disneyland.

Walt Disney Co. has been a strong advocate for the bullet train reaching Orange County from its northern terminus in San Francisco. And Anaheim saw the new rail line as a centerpiece of a $200 million transportation hub, known as ARTIC, near Angel Stadium. The city is set to seek bids for the transit center next month.

Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson, whose district includes Anaheim, said rail officials made the right decision.

"It was never realistic to come to Anaheim," Nelson told the Times. "For four years, I've been saying the thing is never coming to Anaheim."

But Anaheim City Councilwoman Kris Murray said it's essential that the bullet train reach her city and its tourist attractions and professional sports teams.

"The state of California is growing at a fast clip," she said. "We need to have transit as well as highways."

The high speed rail project was approved by state voters in 2008.

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