Thursday, January 19, 2012

Governor Brown boards the train to nowhere

Hard to believe Governor Brown really thinks that high-speed rail is a sensible project for California. In a speech that also calls for budget cuts and tax hikes, the governor provides no substantive argument for a project that has never been based on realistic numbers, whether on construction costs, ridership, or where to get the money to even get it built.

As an example, let's look at just the ridership numbers. 

From pages 21-23 in The Financial Risks of California's Proposed High-Speed Rail Project, September 2011:

In 2008 the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) asserted there would be over 90 Million riders annually on the LA to SF route. Their 2009 forecast reduced it to 39 Million riders in 2030, while increasing the fares...Even the lower 2009 CHSRA projection was accused of inflating some stations’ boardings, artificially increasing revenues, justifying specific routes and therefore financial credibility...

In July 2011, Amtrak’s Vice-President for High Speed Rail opined that an enhanced Acela service would attract 18 Million passengers on the NE Corridor when it opened. This official claimed the market catchment area for the enhanced Acela is presently 50 Million, less than ten percent more than the 46.4 Million the Census Bureau forecasts for California in 2030. Acela has the NE Corridor’s very good links to urban transit, its higher population density and its 150-year history of train travel. How does the CHSRA expect to capture more than twice the ridership in just the Phase One Corridor between LA and SF that Acela expects to have with roughly the same market catchment area?

The Draft 2012 HSR Business Plan projects 43 million passengers by 2030, even though, as pointed out above, Amtrak's Acela train, the closest thing the US has to a high-speed rail line, in the most densely-populated part of the country, expects only 18 million passengers. If the projected ridership numbers for the California system are bogus, none of the assumptions about future costs and profits are valid.

After the jump, below the rest of the story on Brown's speech, is a story on tuition at UC:

UC receives slightly more than $2 billion from the state's General Fund, about $1 billion less than it had been getting in recent years. Lawmakers cut $750 million from UC's budget this fiscal year alone. As a result, the world-class public university system considers itself in a financial crisis: Course sections have been eliminated, maintenance drastically cut back, and staff laid off. 

UC is also providing millions of dollars in raises this year, which the regents have said are needed to maintain the quality of the university. Today, as the regents conclude their two-day meeting, they expect to focus almost entirely on developing revenue sources beyond the state, and beyond tuition.

Appropriately enough, on the last page of the same section of today's Chronicle, there's a story on Alaska's Bridge to Nowhere, which will cost the State of Alaska a mere $150 million, not the $100 billion California's taxpayers will be looking at if Governor Brown's dream/nightmare becomes a reality.

The best site for critical analysis of the project is here.

A good site to track the day-to-say media reports on the project is here.

Of course the Bay Guardian was thrilled with the governor's speech.

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