Three cheers for Kevin Drum, blogging at the left-wing Mother Jones website. Drum, who is based in California, has been opposing the ridiculously expensive California high-speed rail project still supported, against all common sense, by Governor Jerry Brown. In this blogpost he takes aim at the high-speed rail authority’s estimate that it would cost $171 billion to produce highway and airport infrastructure to replace that which would be provided by high-speed rail service. Drum notes that the authority’s well compensated consulting firm bases that projection on an assumption that “the high-speed rail system could carry 116 million passengers a year, based on running trains with 1,000 seats both north and south every five minutes, 19 hours a day and 365 days a year. The study assumes the trains would be 70% full on average.”
Of course this is preposterous. Among the assumptions that these trains would be 70% full on average is an assumption that more people would board trains in Modesto in the Central Valley than currently board trains every day in Manhattan’s Penn Station. Modesto is in Stanislaus County (2010 Census population 514,453), in flat country laced with highways. Manhattan is a densely populated island with a working population of about 2,000,000 in a metropolitan area of (depending on how you define its boundaries) 19,000,000. The idea that Modesto would generate as many train riders as Manhattan is crazy.
Drum goes on to conclude: “We are rapidly exiting the realm of rose-colored glasses and entering the realm of pure fantasy here. If liberals keep pushing this project forward in the face of plain evidence that its official justifications are brazenly preposterous, conservatives are going to be able to pound us year after year for wasting taxpayer money while we retreat to ever more ridiculous and self-serving defenses that make us laughingstocks in the public eye. And unless we put this project on hold until we can get some genuinely independent and plausible estimates of costs, ridership, and alternatives, we'll deserve it.”