Wednesday, July 11, 2012

High-speed rail: A "progressive" fiasco

Interesting that there hasn't been a lot of celebration in the local media about the shockingly irresponsible State Senate vote on high-speed rail. The Chronicle, which has supported the project from the beginning, produced a muted celebratory editorial the other day. But the Bay Guardian, which has also supported the project, the SF Weekly, which rarely even mentions it, are quiet on the enormous project. Local "progressive" blogs, BeyondChron and Fog City, have never shown much interest in the project, though a few years ago Fog City ran a City Hall press release with a picture of Mayor Newsom and his wife on a junket to Paris in front of a high-speed train.

Debra Saunders has another sensible column on the subject in yesterday's Chronicle.

Streetsblog has an approving piece, but they like any transit project that doesn't involve cars. Their commenters offered only tepid support for the boondoggle and, as is their custom, change the subject to cars and highways.

The Chronicle editorial lauds the governor and the legislature for taking the "long view," as opposed to the Republicans who are called "anti-rail" for their opposition. The truth is the opposite: the state now has the money for only a piece of the project and has no idea where the rest will come from. The Republicans made sense in opposing the $4.6 billion bonds.

Kathy Hamilton, who writes on, quotes David Schonbrunn, President of TRANSDEF, a transit advocate and a Democrat:

I was surprised by the consistently thoughtful and articulate comments by Republicans, which challenged my naive belief that they are ideologues bent on the destruction of All that is Good. By contrast, the Democratic majority was embarrassing. These party hacks spoke in platitudes and generalities, totally ignoring the substantive criticisms of the project by the three committee chairmen who knew the most about the project. Shockingly, they also ignored mountains of scathing reports by state agencies, including the Legislative Analyst's Office, which recommended rejecting the funding plan.

Randal O'Toole, who is "anti-rail"---not because he doesn't like trains but because they're very expensive to build and maintain---thinks California is headed for trouble on a fast track, much like Japan, which is often cited as a success by high-speed rail supporters:

The government-owned but supposedly profitable Japanese National Railways borrowed hundreds of billions of dollars against its extensive land holdings in order to build and operate high-speed trains demanded by politicians. In 1987, the government privatized the rail lines (selling them well below cost) and planned to sell the company’s land to make up the difference. But the planned land sales helped to prick the nation’s property bubble, and taxpayers instead absorbed much of the debt.

China too has growing financial problems due to an overdeveloped high-speed rail system: see here, here, and here.

Spain is in deep financial trouble with an expensive high-speed rail system that requires government subsidies to survive.

What about the impact of building the Central Valley high-speed rail segment? Kathy Hamilton talks to a Bakersfield opponent:

Jeff Taylor who is with Save Bakersfield Committee, says that "according to the Bakersfield Planning Department, the rail alignment that is planned for Bakersfield will destroy 240 homes displacing 730 residents. It will destroy 280 businesses affecting 1,350 jobs. It will destroy hundreds of millions of dollars of existing community infrastructure and that is only in our relatively small community. This is in small part what makes the project so badly planned."

The folks at CalWatchdog get it. They quote Republican Assemblywoman Diane Harkey on the state's skewed priorities:

Governor Brown and many Sacramento Democrats seem unable to set priorities even though the state is bankrupt, boasts the lowest credit rating in the nation, must borrow $10 billion for short-term cash flow needs, while cutting public safety dollars and practicing ‘catch and release’ for state prisoners...We rank near the bottom of the 50 states in public education achievement and the Sacramento solution is to realign that function and implement trigger cuts IF voters don’t agree to raise taxes in November. But, billions in debt funding for one hundred miles of track with no train, no ridership and no cost analysis is still on the table.

To see exactly how deeply the state has cut money for education and other state programs, go to the California Budget Project website.

The local angle: They tell us here that the state has cut money for San Francisco Unified by more than $25 million since 2007.

Public opinion has turned decisively against the high-speed rail project in the last few years.

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At 2:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And don't get me started on the troubles in the German economy thanks to their folly of investing in high speed trains!

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

Germany isn't mentioned in the post, just Spain, Japan, China, and California.

At 2:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a reason Germany isn't mentioned.

Also, cars and highways are the alternative to HSR so they should be brought into the conversation.

At 3:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why not? Because that is a piece of evidence that contradicts your thesis?

At 4:12 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Maybe you should do a post on Germany's high-speed rail system on your blog. Oh, wait...

At 5:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having a blog means your opinion matters!

At 5:48 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

I've provided an argument to support my opinion and links to other sources. You've provided nothing but an unsupported suggestion about Germany's high-speed rail system.

At 9:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is your link

At 11:54 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Looks like French to me. France wasn't mentioned in the post.

At 2:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

France, another country that has been destroyed by high speed rail!

At 3:33 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

I'm not familiar with any problems with either French or German high-speed rail systems. But I bet, like all such systems, they were built with taxpayers' money and then handed over to private operators. Every HSR system in the world gets government subsidies to survive.

Iñaki Barrón de Angoiti, director of high-speed rail at the International Union of Railways in Paris told the NY Times "that only two [HSR]routes in the world---between Tokyo and Osaka, and between Paris and Lyon, France---have broken even."

Alas for CHSR, 2008's Prop. 1A forbids any operating subsidy. Regardless of how much the Feds kick in to build the system, they won't pay for cost overruns in construction or to operate the system in the unlikely event that it ever gets built. That's why the Governors of Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida rejected high-speed rail money from the Feds. They understood the financial risk to their states.

At 10:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Every HSR system in the world gets government subsidies to survive."

EVERY transportation mode gets gov't subsidies to survive.

At 11:40 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The problem CHSR supporters have: the implementing legislation (AB3034, see 2704.08(J) on page 8) forbids any operating subsidy for the system or any of its segments: "The planned passenger service by the authority in the corridor or usable segment thereof will not require a local, state, or federal operating subsidy."

And officers of the CHSRA, to sell their plans to the public and the legislature, have claimed that worldwide high-speed rail systems are profitable, which is untrue.

At 12:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whoever slipped that in did us all a great disservice.

I can't wait until the next transpo bill has "no new highways shall receive an operating subsidy."

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

"Whoever slipped that in did us all a great disservice."

On the contrary, that requirement---and all the studies and peer group oversight---did the people of California a great service. The HSR project was always based on a fanciful cost/benefit argument, with unbelievable ridership predictions and wildly underestimated costs.

Recall too that Prop. 1A passed with only 52% of the vote, not exactly a resounding endorsement of the idea. I predict that courts, when they take a close look at AB3034, will put a stop to this folly.

At 5:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I predict that courts, when they take a close look at AB3034, will put a stop to this folly.

I'd ask you to put your money where your mouth is but since you are of such low moral character you'd just welch out when you lose.

At 5:57 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, I must be a pretty immoral character, since I have a low opinion of you bike fanatics and your great, planet-saving revolution. Since I linked the text of AB3034, maybe you can tell us specifically which part is legally dubious. I quoted the no-operating-subsidy section. Doesn't seem at all ambiguous or disputable to me.


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