Bullet train: The facts should kill it

COST Commentary: The article below by a California newspaper is about the ever changing route, cost and prospects for a California high speed passenger train. This is another ineffective passenger train with huge estimated cost increases, rapidly declining ridership estimates, increasingly negative environmental issues and little societal value. COST’s main interest in posting this article is that it, in many ways, mirrors the issues with passenger rail planning in Austin, including the city’s current consideration of a central urban light rail.

The magnitude of the California rail’s negative impact is much greater as it has been estimated to cost up to $100 billion and Austin is still estimating up to $2 billion. Experience would indicate both estimates to be low. Then, there are the yearly operating costs which would be tens of millions for Austin’s urban rail. Neither California nor Austin has defined viable, legitimate sources of funding for implementation and operations of their train.

Another fact which is little discussed in Austin is that the proposed urban rail would have more train track on busy central Austin streets than almost any city in the world. This would create very unsafe conditions for citizens on downtown streets as heavy train cars are unable to stop quickly or swerve to avoid accidents as they mingle with people and cars.

As in the California situation below, the facts, or lack of many key ones in Austin’s case, should have stopped the wasteful spending on planning for these trains long ago. To capture an appropriate thought from this article: “—it’s unfathomable that the state [city] would spend billions on a project with this many warning signs.”

When, or will, our city council finally acknowledge the facts about the urban light rail project and stop this train.

Bullet train: The facts should kill it

By U-T San Diego Editorial Board (San Diego Union Tribune), Juy 4, 2012

The state Senate is expected to make a key vote in coming days on the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s plan to begin spending billions of dollars in state and federal funds on the first segment of a bullet-train system linking Northern and Southern California. Gov. Jerry Brown’s latest proposal calls for building a 130-mile link between Madera and Bakersfield in the Central Valley.

The project has been controversial since state voters in 2008 approved giving $9.95 billion in bond seed money to build a system then estimated to cost $43 billion.

As the cost estimate rose to $98 billion, the debate over the direction of the project built in intensity, This led the governor to force changes, including adoption of a new plan that cut the cost to $68 billion.
Since then, the narrative has settled into a tidy package: Brown says California has to be bold, but “critics” worry the project could prove a disaster.

But let’s just stick to facts, not the opinions of “critics.”

The project was sold to voters in 2008 with estimates of not just project cost but ridership and ticket prices that have since been abandoned as far too optimistic by the California High-Speed Rail Authority itself.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office, the most respected institution in state government, has repeatedly warned the project’s business plan doesn’t comply with the legal requirement that there be no taxpayer-supplied operating subsidies when the bullet train is up and running.

Of the project’s estimated $68 billion cost, less than $14 billion in funding (all from state and federal taxpayers) is in place.

No companies have shown interest in partnering with the state to fund and build the project – as has long been envisioned – unless they are given ridership or revenue guarantees to shield them from risk. Such guarantees, the LAO says, break state law.

Once again, these are facts, not the “opinions” of critics. Even in an era in which the state and federal governments were flush with money, we find it hard to believe that anyone who looked at these facts would conclude the Legislature should say full speed ahead.

But in an era in which education, the social safety net and many more important programs are taking major hits in Sacramento because of the revenue crisis, it’s unfathomable that the state would spend billions on a project with this many warning signs.

Brown often depicts criticism of the bullet train as driven by partisan motives, not a genuine fear that an immense boondoggle looms. So how does the California project look to the editorial board of The Washington Post, which can’t be accused of right-wing bias?

In a November editorial headlined “Crazy train,” the Post cited many of the facts we offered. Its conclusion:

“If the president and governor won’t slam on the brakes, then Congress or the California Legislature must find a way to prevent the spending. Somebody, please, stop this train.”
If legislators finally acknowledge the facts about the train project, that’s just what they will do.

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