Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Washingon Post objects to the DesertExpress high-speed rail project. That is news!

This is big time news.  An editorial blasting the DesertExpress high-speed rail project.  More about that in a moment.  The reason this is such big news is because it is from the editorial board of the Washington Post, a Democratic paper and one of the major newspapers in the US.  The Post is THE newspaper of Washington, D.C., which, as you all know, is our Nation's capital.  That's where the decision makers all sit.

So? Well, the Republicans read the Wall Street Journal, and the Democrats read the New York Times and the Washington Post. Trust me on this. I've been there. 

Therefore, when a Democratic paper says all these harsh and correct things about this project, that's a major ideological leap. And it makes my heart leap to read it.  

Now about DesertExpress.  Originally it was intended to go from Las Vegas to Anaheim; from the Casino/strip-club world, to Disneyland, the children's version of Las Vegas.  But, reality interceded with those plans, which were then revised for the train to go from Victorville (WHERE?? in the desert) to Las Vegas.  A much shorter and less expensive project with fewer obstacles.  But, like in California's Central Valley, another train from Las Vegas to "nowhere."

Furthermore, this train was initially intended to eventually connect with our California high-speed train which, as you know, would connect San Francisco with Los Angeles.  

Well, we've also moved on to somewhat more modest plans with what will be the sprinkling of federal and state dollars up and down the state, some in the Bay Area, some in the LA Basin, and a chunk of it in the Central Valley. It won't be a real high-speed train like the laws require, but it will be called that so that everyone will be happy.

Let me say this once more. These projects only sound like they are about trains and moving people around. What they are actually about is moving money around, from the federal and state treasury, into the hands of politicians, corporate interests, consultants, land speculators, developers, and other sharks seeking financial red meat.

Derail this gravy train
By Editorial Board, Published: April 4
THE FEDERAL government has a lot on its mind these days. A war in Afghanistan. Fiscal reform. Health care. With so many genuine issues to address, you wouldn’t have thought that Washington would also be trying to figure out a new way to get tourists from Southern California to the Las Vegas strip.

But you would be wrong. The Federal Railroad Administration is considering lending $4.9 billion to a company called Desert Xpress, for the purpose of. . . . . 

. . . .building a high-speed rail line to Las Vegas from Victorville, Calif., some 81 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.

The brainchild of several wealthy Las Vegas casino moguls, Desert Xpress enjoys the backing of Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and has already secured approvals from the Bureau of Land Management, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Fish and Wildlife Service, among other federal and state agencies. It is pursuing about $1.6 billion in private financing.

All that’s left is the Federal Railroad Administration’s okay on the loan. According to a recent Associated Press report, the $4.9 billion loan would be three times as much as all previous lending by the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) program, a little-known pot of low-interest, long-term credit previously used mainly to upgrade existing lines.

The proposed line’s advertised public benefits are the same as those claimed for all high-speed rail projects: reduced carbon emissions, less air and auto traffic, and, of course, jobs, jobs, jobs. What makes this one unique is that it would be a non-stop route whose Western end, Victorville, would function as a gathering point for people from all across Southern California. They would park their cars and then board the train for Vegas. In theory, that’s no different from driving to an airport and leaving your car. And once you reached the train, it would take only 80 minutes to hit Vegas, as opposed to a minimum four-hour drive each way.

In theory. But if this train is such a good idea, business-wise, how come private banks aren’t lining up to finance it? Previous high-speed rail projects around the world have been plagued by poor ridership, requiring government subsidies to continue operation. You might save travel time by taking the train instead of a car — as long as you’re content to depend on the train’s schedule.

The train’s backers project an average round-trip L.A.-Vegas fare as low as $89 in 2017, with luxury amenities available. (We’re skeptical; the one-way Acela Express fare from Baltimore to New York, a similar distance, is more than $200.) In any case, you can already fly round-trip for as little as $109, with no drive to Victorville. A bus service called My Party Ride will take you and two dozen friends for $99 each and include burgers and drinks. The train won’t help Las Vegans visit Los Angeles, unless they want to ride to Victorville and rent a car for the rest of the trip.

As for jobs, any that the Vegas train creates will come at the expense of alternative uses of the money — upgrading the Northeast Corridor to accommodate higher-speed trains comes to mind — not to mention My Party Ride and other competing businesses, large and small. The new line might be a boon for Victorville, but the shift in traffic could hurt neighboring Barstow. If the casino moguls want a train, let them build it with their own money; taxpayers shouldn’t have to go along for the ride.

© The Washington Post Company

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