Thursday, August 01, 2019

Destroying the project to save it

Image result for california high-speed rail cartoons
Lisa Benson

Writing for the LA Times, Ralph Vartabedian has been excellent on the high-speed rail fiasco, which is why True Believers like Roger Rudick on Streetsblog hate his reporting. 

Rudick won't be happy with Vartabedian's latest bad news about the dumb project:

Key California lawmakers have devised a plan to shift billions of dollars from the Central Valley bullet train to rail projects in Southern California and the Bay Area, a strategy that could crush the dreams of high-speed rail purists...

The whole story is worth reading, but I've selected a few quotations, like this one on some historical perspective:

Europe and Asia developed high-speed rail that improved on successful slower systems that grew out of the devastation of World War II, while the U.S. invested more in highway systems. But the California bullet train project bypassed the step of creating a successful statewide rail transportation system before attempting to build a luxury edition.

Yes, the California project has to be a "luxury" train based on the ever-growing costs to build it and the huge operating expenses in the unlikely event it's ever actually built, since the 2008 ballot measure promised state voters that the project would get no taxpayer subsidy after it's built, that it would be paid for by its users.

Instead, whatever existing money the project still has will now be divvied up here and there for other projects. 

We're now in we-have-to-destroy-the-village-to-save-it territory:

“It is not the end of high-speed rail, but a way to save it,” [Assembly Speaker Anthony]Rendon said, citing a growing lack of confidence with the current approach...“It is the end of high-speed rail as we know it, but the beginning of a much better program,” said Art Bauer, a former Senate transportation staffer who was a architect of the high-speed rail effort a decade ago. “It is the start of a new chapter of a more realistic and viable service.”

Vartabedian reminds us how impossible the original notion of running the rail line to San Francisco from the Peninsula always was:

[Governor]Newsom’s plan backed off from connecting the Central Valley to Silicon Valley with electric train service through Gilroy, which would have required a 13.5-mile tunnel under the Pachecho Pass in the Diablo Range.

Los Angeles Times

Reality check: Since the two-mile Central Subway in San Francisco will end up costing $2 billion, Vartabedian discusses with experts the money math on that tunnel, not to mention the billions the project will need to tunnel more than 45 miles under the Tehachapi and San Gabriel Mountains to get to Los Angeles!

The San Francisco connection:

The [high-speed]rail authority pledged more than $700 million to electrify Caltrain’s 50 miles of service from San Jose to San Francisco. And in a deal engineered by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), the Obama administration diverted $400 million of a $2.5-billion grant for the high-speed rail to help build a downtown San Francisco railroad station.

Electrifying Caltrain is a good idea, but it seems unlikely that the Transbay Terminal will ever really be a "railroad station." Instead it will always be a $6 billion bus station.

Debra Saunders and Dan Walters have rightly called the project The Train to Nowhere.

But an important part of the Democratic Party's base supports the project: Construction unions, since even dumb projects create jobs for the membership.

Sooner or later Democratic candidates for president will be asked during a debate about where they stand on this fiasco.

SF Chronicle

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