Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The left and high-speed rail

Seems like the only people left supporting the California high-speed rail project are editorial writers, Democratic Party leaders, and of course unions, since even bad projects create jobs.

The Chronicle's John Diaz is still on board, but, like his poorly-informed editorial on cycling in the city, he doesn't deign to deal in specifics, even though the Devil is in the details on this project. It's easy for windbag editorialists and other supporters to defend high-speed rail in the abstract. Gee, a fast train between LA and SF! What a great idea!

The Bay Guardian supports the project, which is in line with a recent public opinion poll showing that liberals and the Occupy Movement are the boondoggle's strongest supporters, as if the liberal/prog left was determined to verify the tax-and-spend label pinned on them by conservatives. But Californians overall now oppose the project by a 2-1 margin. 

I understood how poorly conceived the project is after looking at the alleged sources of capital to build the system as per the CHSR authority's 2009 business plan:

State funding: $9 billion from Proposition 1A
Federal funding: $17‐19 billion
Local funding: $4‐5 billion
Private funding: $10‐12 billion
Total: $45 billion

According to the latest CHSRA business plan, the total cost of the project is now estimated to be $99-118 billion. But the project only has $3.3 billion in federal money and $2.7 billion in state bonds authorized by Prop. 1A in 2008. The Peer Group recommended last week that the legislature not authorize the $2.7 billion in bonds the CHSRA is asking for. Obviously, more money from the federal government is highly unlikely, and can anyone think that local governments are going to contribute $4-5 billion to build high-speed rail? Nor has any "private funding" materialized, since return guarantees to private investors to build the system are prohibited by Prop. 1A.

Beyond Chron published a piece the other day by Michael Bernick on the job creation numbers claimed by the project, with a final paragraph as a murky disclaimer:

The Mercury News is correct that the project stands or falls on criteria beyond employment. The main decisions should be made on the project’s role in meeting transportation mobility and environmental policies. The draft 2012 Business Plan does correctly set out its projections in “job years”, though greater precision in language is warranted in the Plan’s final version.

Okay, but while CHSRA's jobs projection---like ridership forecasts and ticket prices---is an interesting and contested subject, the fact that the authority doesn't even come close to having enough money to build the system makes the issue of only academic interest.

For thorough discussions of all these issues, see this website.

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At 2:37 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Have to give the Examiner credit for last Sunday's editorial on high-speed rail, which goes into the numbers in some detail. But, after building a damning case on the project, the editorial's final paragraph seems to belong in another editorial: "...there is time to consider how these costs can be reined in to make sure high-speed rail will arrive with a price-tag taxpayers can live with."

Nope. That train has already left the station. This project is dumb and doomed. The only question is, When are Governor Brown and the legislature going to face facts and pull the plug on this misbegotten project.

At 2:41 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

A link for the Examiner editorial.

At 11:21 AM, Blogger Lex said...

High speed rail is a much better song than a reality -

Standing tough under stars and stripes
We can tell
This dream's in sight
You've got to admit it
At this point in time that it's clear
The future looks bright
On that train all graphite and glitter
Undersea by rail
Ninety minutes from new york to Paris
Well by seventy-six we'll be a.o.k.

What a beautiful world this will be
What a glorious time to be free

At 1:27 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

My computer locked up while I was downloading the "talking points" document linked by Anonymous, and I lost the whole comment. He should send it in again.

At 1:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At 9:49 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

What supporters of HSR need is not talking points and political spin but to face the reality behind the numbers in the post above. There never was money to build this system in the first place. We need instead to invest in the existing transportation infrastucture, not build a luxury rail system for the rich.


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