Thursday, July 14, 2011

High-speed rail project continues to unravel

Photo by Kathy Hamilton

California's high-speed rail project is dying the death of a thousand cuts. Quentin Kopp is worried, which is good news for those opposing this dumb project. The Examiner story (Peninsula speed restrictions could push high-speed rail to San Francisco off fast paceis by Will Reisman, who also talked to  former HSR board member Rod Diridon, who said that "the politics of the Peninsula represent the single greatest statewide hurdle to the project." Not surprisingly, Peninsula cities are worried about the impact trains going 200 miles per hour will have when they go through the middle of their communities. In fact Menlo Park, Palo Alto, and Atherton are suing the High-Speed Rail Authority to stop the project.

But the biggest hurdle for the project is that it doesn't have anywhere near enough money to  even get built, and it's not likely to get it. The Examiner's sidebar on the article gives the Authority's official $43 billion price tag, but no one who's been following the issue thinks that number is still valid. Building the system will cost at least $66 billion, and the sidebar tells us that the project only has $6 billion of that money nailed down. How likely is it that the federal government, for example, is going to give the state another $15 billion to build the system?

Even people in the Central Valley---especially farmers whose property will be trashed---are also mobilizing in opposition to the system there.

The most deceptive number in the sidebar, however, is the CHSR's projected 41 million passengers in 2030, which is not as bad as the 90 million the Authority predicted in 2008. Even the Authority surely knew that number was a lie. But that's the way supporters sell these transportation mega-projects: they lie about future ridership and lowball construction and operational expenses to make projects seem credible. A plausible deconstruction of the Authority's ridership claim comes up with 14 million passengers in 2035.

Reisman understands how this works, since he did a story last year (The high price of BART's expansionon how BART sold the airport connection based on inflated ridership predictions. (That's also how the Central Subway was sold.)

Interesting that the BART story quotes a skeptical Tom Radulovich, whose experience on the BART board showed him how supporters of rail projects operate.

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