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California high-speed rail estimates 'astounding'

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Transportation,Michael Barone,California

The idiocy of California’s proposed high-speed rail line continues to astonish. For reasons why, consult “California High-Speed Rail: An Updated Due Diligence Report” http://heartland.org/sites/default/files/california_high_speed_rail_report.pdf prepared for the Reason Foundation by Wendell Cox and Joseph Vranich. Cox and Vranich point out that the high-speed rail authority’s projections are hopelessly unrealistic. The decision to use commuter rail lines in the San Francisco peninsula and near Los Angeles means that HSR cannot possibly meet the travel time goals. Cost projections are equally unreliable, and there is no financing in sight for a project whose costs have gone far beyond the advertised $40 billion beyond a $3 billion federal match (which the Obama administration is eager to buy) and $9 in state bonds (which can be issued pursuant to passage of a referendum in 2008. As Cox and Vranich write, “’Astounding’ is the only word to describe the manner in which the [High-Speed Rail] Authority has ignored reviews ranging from constructive analysis to censure.”

What I found most astonishing is that President Barack Obama and California Governor Jerry Brown believe that high-speed rail is the wave of the future. It’s half-century-old technology: Japan’s Shinkansen went into service in 1964, when Obama was three years old and Brown was finishing up at Yale Law School. The really advanced technology is the driverless car, as the editors of the Economist recognized by putting it on their cover last week. High-speed rail can take you from station to station, which makes some sense in relatively small countries like Japan and France, with densely populated urban areas close enough together geographically that train travel can compete with air travel. Metro Tokyo and metro Osaka contain nearly half the population of Japan and are served by elaborate mass transit systems. California with its widely dispersed metro areas with relatively skimpy mass transit is a whole different animal. High-speed rail can take you only from station to station; the driverless car will be able to take you from where you are to exactly where you want to go (with a stop at the cleaners, if you like). But a certain kind of liberal likes to herd people like sheep into designated rail lines and then shepherd them into high-rise apartments, even though most Americans prefer free standing houses.

I close with Cox and Vranich’s conclusion: “A project as flawed as the California high speed rail program would be unwise at any time, but is even more so in the present difficult times. The California high speed rail project cannot be delivered at the cost promised to taxpayers, is based upon a business plan incapable of delivering on its legal requirements, and is justified by proponents based upon unachievable benefits. The taxpayers and the state of California would be best served by its immediate cancellation.”

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Author:

Michael Barone

Senior Political Analyst
The Washington Examiner