California High Speed Rail Jumps The Tracks

Published: December 29, 2009

Well here’s a surprise – our politicians lied to us. I know that comes as a shock to you, living as we do in this Utopian state we call California, but according to The San Jose Mercury News and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, we’ve been had. Again.

This time it has to do with the highly touted High Speed Rail system that has been proclaimed the fix to our state’s transportation problems. If we only had a system that could get you from San Diego to San Francisco for half the cost of an airplane, would greatly reduce our ‘carbon footprint’ relative to air travel, and which wouldn’t take much longer that air travel (factoring in travel to & from airports, wait time and TSA hassles). High Speed Rail was supposed to do that – because that was what we were told during the 2008 Prop 1A campaign (not 2009’s 1A tax measure that was defeated, thank you very much).

But according to a reporter at the SJMN who has taken a look at the newest High Speed Rail business plan, the cost of a ticket from LA to SFO has almost doubled from the $55 claimed during the campaign, to about $105 today. They claim that’s about 83% of the cost of an airplane ticket but I think Southwest will get you there for less. The impact of higher ticket prices translates to fewer riders – that estimate has dropped from 55 million annual riders estimated for the ballot prop to just 41 million today – and that may be generous.

So prices up, riders down, what else can go wrong? Oh yeah, the projects cost. That has jumped from an estimated $33.6 Billion to $42.6 Billion. A parallel study has actually estimated those costs to be closer to $110 Billion by the time everything is said and done but that figure wouldn’t have looked too good when they hit us up for the initial $10 Billion bond.

But surely the over arching claim is still valid – that it will significantly reduce our carbon footprint? After all, the Sierra Club and others wholeheartedly endorsed it so it has to be true doesn’t it? After all, in California it doesn’t matter what it costs or if anybody needs it or will use it, if it’s ‘green’ it’s gold. Well, turns out even some of those claims may be a bit over-stated. Recent UC studies indicate that if ridership does not meet projections the environmental performance would be twice as bad as comparable miles traveled by auto or plane.

But the article concludes – don’t count on our legislature to do the right thing and pull the plug on this. It’s like our federal healthcare program – too many promises have been made, to much money has changed hands and too many people have staked their future on this happening regardless of whether it makes fiscal or environmental sense. So hang in there, Folks. One day your children will be able to drive to a high speed rail hub – maybe even one here in Temecula or Murrieta, connect to the mainline in LA, and get off in San Francisco. It will cost more than taking a plane, it will take longer that a plane ride and it will have a bigger carbon footprint but, By Golly, California will have a high speed rail system almost as good as Japan and France, and that’s what counts isn’t it? It must be. There’s really no other reason.

If you’d like to read John  Coupals take on it and look at the studies done by the Reason Institute and UC, follow the link.

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Wheels Coming Off High Speed Rail

When California voters barely approved a $9.95 billion bond measure for High Speed Rail in 2008, they had no idea how soon they would learn the true meaning of the phrase “being railroaded.” As more about this project is revealed, the backlash from the public and political leadership is sure to grow.

For purposes of full disclosure, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association ran the unsuccessful campaign against Prop 1A (not to be confused with 2009’s Prop 1A, an attempt to raise $16 billion in new taxes).  Our most potent weapon was a devastating study by the Reason Foundation which revealed that the proponents’ representations regarding costs, fare price and profitability were pure fantasy. But, from the start, we had an uphill battle convincing voters how poorly thought out this measure was. The California Legislature had already stacked the deck by providing such a bias ed title and summary for the measure that the issue of that deception is still the subject of litigation today. The deceptive ballot material, in addition to the campaign contributions from those who would profit from the project, was enough to ensure victory at the polls – albeit by a very small margin.

Now our predictions have come true. A headline from the San Jose Mercury News last week reads “State High-speed Train Rides To Be Costlier, Ridership Lower Than Promised To Voters.” Describing the most recent “business plan” for the HSR, reporter Mike Rosenberg writes:


Last modified: December 29, 2009 at 1:44 pm | Originally published: December 29, 2009 at 1:44 pm
Printed: October 1, 2020