Railing Against High-Speed Rail | Citizens Against Government Waste

Railing Against High-Speed Rail

The WasteWatcher

On November 4, voters in California will have a dozen propositions on the ballot.  There are four bond issues, including renewable energy, veterans housing, and children’s hospitals.  The most expensive – Proposition 1A – would provide for a bond issue of $9.95 billion to establish high-speed train service linking Southern California counties, the Sacramento/San Joaquin Valley, and the San Francisco Bay Area.  The network would eventually cover 800 miles and enable travel from Northern to Southern California at speeds of 220 mph.  The official estimated cost is $45 billion.

The proposal is ambitious and controversial, especially as California faces a $15 billion budget deficit and Governor Schwarzenegger was ready to ask the federal government for a $7 billion loan in early October.  The budget outlook for 2009 is even bleaker in a slowing economy.

The question for Californians as they go to the polls is whether the possibility of a new form of transportation in California can overcome the flaws in the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s (CHSRA) plan.  High-speed rail can been effective in the right circumstances, such as Japan and Europe, where cities are more densely populated and closer together than those in California.   The defects in the CHSRA plan were pointed out in a joint Reason Foundation-Citizens Against Government Waste-Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association report issued on September 18, 2008.

The report disputed the $45 billion cost estimate, concluding that it could be as much as $81 billion.  They said the ridership projections were “overly optimistic.”  There were “bloated assumptions with respect to greenhouse gas emissions, insufficient attention to environmental impacts, and unachievable travel times between major markets.”

Proponents of Proposition 1A include engineering and construction companies, labor unions, environmental groups, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).  The list of opponents has been growing.  It currently includes, among others, the Bay Area Rail Alliance, California Rail Foundation, and the California Chamber of Commerce.  Local chambers of commerce that are opposed include Fullerton, Irvine, San Diego, San Fernando, and San Gabriel Valley.

While The Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle favor Proposition 1A, newspapers that have editorialized against the project cover the entire path of the proposed high-speed rail system, such as the Bakersfield Californian, The Modesto Bee, The Oakland Tribune, The Orange County Register, The Sacramento Bee, The San Diego Union Tribune, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the Santa Cruz Sentinel, the Torrance Daily Breeze, and the Victorville Daily Press.  In other words, most of the communities that would be affected are saying “no thank you.”

On November 4, Californians will decide whether they should be taken for a ride and go ahead with the $9.95 billion bond, or step off of the high-speed rail express and postpone or eliminate an unaffordable and ill-conceived plan.  As the Bakersfield Californian noted, “The state is facing a huge budget shortfall, a tottering economy, a home foreclosure disaster, a statewide drought and pressing water needs.”  Despite its belief in high-speed rail, the newspaper concluded, “...right now, California just doesn’t have the money.”

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