Friday, April 6, 2012

When the Left begins to see eye-to-eye with the Right about High-Speed Rail

First, full political disclosure. I'm not a Libertarian.  I'm a Democrat who believes in government and its role in 'leveling the playing field' so that the largest number of us can share the most benefits and, like a rising tide, lift all boats.  If that sounds like Socialism, it's only because those who think so don't know that much about Socialism. However, unlike most of my Democratic peers, I have great contempt for the unscrupulous and greedy aspirations of those who promote High-Speed Rail, since they do it for the personal rewards, not for purposes of public mass transit.

But, I digress, and I said all that to indicate that I am offering an article by professional transportation expert Randal O'Toole from the Cato online publication, and doing so with enthusiasm. 

Randal cites the New York Times article that we posted yesterday on this blog with comments similar to those made here by him in this article.  If the very Democratic Washington Post becomes critical of high-speed rail, Randal points out, that is very meaningful. 

If Randal objects to HSR, as he has done with admirable, carefully documented facts and logic, it should come as no surprise. But if the Post does so, that is surprising. And welcome. 

Like most Democratic newspapers, the Post supported HSR as a major salvation for all our problems.  But, as reality emerged in the process of implementing this "vision," the paper began to see things more critically and that's to their credit to confront the truth squarely and let it lead them where it will. 

The Post article was highly critical of the DesertExpress project whereby the DOT intended to "lend" a private company in which Majority Leader Harry Reid has considerable interest nearly five billion dollars to build this train from Las Vegas to Victorville in the California desert.  

We can assume that this loan will be, in due time, forgiven; that is, it will become a federal gift to private developers with connections. We can also express our displeasure that the sole purpose of this train is to hasten gamblers from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.  

What a noble, honorable and worthwhile enabling project!    Not!

There is an old cliche to the effect that things have to get much worse before they can get better. We can only hope that this seamy DesertExpress deal is the straw that breaks the back of federal and national support for projects such as this, and does so in both Parties.  California's high-speed rail project is no less despicable than Nevada's. Time to call them for what they really are -- boondoggles -- and bring them to termination.

Thanks, Randal, for picking up on this New York Times turn-around.

The Post: Not Even Loans for High-Speed Rail
Posted by Randal O'Toole
April 6, 2012 @ 7:14 am 
The Washington Post is somewhat of a bellwether of public opinion on high-speed rail. Back in 2009, when President Obama first proposed to build a high-speed rail network, Post editorial writers were all for it as a way of reducing congestion. Then in 2010, the paper published an op-ed by a National Geographic travel writer who argued that the “benefits of high-speed rail have long been apparent to anyone who has ridden Japan’s Shinkansen trains or France’s TGV.”

By 2011, though, the Post was having second thoughts. In January of that year, the paper argued that the nation should “hit the brakes” on the California high-speed trains, the only true high-speed rail project in Obama’s plan (since Florida dropped out). (This editorial led to a letter expressing the opposite view from Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.)

In February 2011, the Post argued that joining China, France, and Japan in a high-speed rail race would be joining “a race everyone loses.” Then in May, the Post again hammered the California project in light of new reviews questioning both the claimed costs and benefits of the project. “Somebody, please, stop this train” the paper added that November.

Yesterday, the Post even opposed just loaning federal money to a private high-speed rail company. A private company wants a $4.9 billion loan to help build a rail line from southern California to Las Vegas. But the memories of Solyndra and other solar companies getting federal loans, giving huge amounts of money to executives, and then going bankrupt may be too recent. The Post even understands opportunity costs, noting that, “As for jobs, any that the Vegas train creates will come at the expense of alternative uses of the money,” a reality not always recognized by journalists.

The Nevada group, which is backed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, may get its money, although that money would come from a fund that has never been used for this kind or size of project before. But any expectation by Californians that D.C. pundits will support more federal funding for even a modified high-speed rail plan must be considered wildly optimistic.

Randal O'Toole • April 6, 2012 @ 7:14 am 

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