Okay Governor Brown, enough already! The time has come to derail your high speed bullet train before another dime is wasted on a project that quite literally has become a “runaway train.” Now is not the time for such a fool-hardy investment. After nearly five dismal years of economic recession we are at long last showing positive signs of recovery. The real estate crash appears to be over and home prices are slowly on the rise again. Housing starts and new commercial development is on the upswing, retail sales are rebounding and more people are buying cars and other big ticket items again. Additionally the unemployment rate has dropped, tax revenues are up and the state budget outlook is the best its been in over ten years. Yes it appears the great state of California is in the midst of a healthy, economic recovery.
Why then is Brown so damned determined to put us back in the hole with this crazy bullet train project? Why is he so fixed on seeing it through to completion regardless of the growing cost? Is the bullet train even economically viable? I find it hard to believe that this is the same penny-pinching governor who chose to live in a small one bedroom apartment instead of the governor’s mansion. The same frugal governor who instead of a lavish public luncheon for his inauguration served up hot dogs and chips instead? It seems so out of character for governor Brown to be so gung-ho about spending a hundred billion dollars on a project that is certain to break the bank but yet there he is promoting, pushing and pleading to get the bullet train on track. Perhaps he believes the bullet train will be his greatest legacy. “The Jerry Brown Express!” Better yet “The Moonbeam Express!”
Many people believe a bullet train is a hell of an idea and would be beneficial for California. What they don’t like is the sky-rocketing cost of the project. It’s simply gotten out of control. Sure in 2008 we voted for and approved a nearly $10 billion bond issue for the development of a high speed rail system, but at that time the total cost of the project was projected at $38 billion. Early last year those cost had risen to over $100 billion. Then in April of last year Governor Brown devised a plan which was quickly approved that cut nearly $30 billion in costs and brought the total costs down to somewhere around $68 billion, still nearly double the 2008 projected cost. This is a very conservative estimate and those rallying against the HSR believe costs could still soar well above the $100 million mark before a single track is laid. This is not the bill of goods Brown sold us six years ago!
Certainly having a high speed railway link between San Francisco and Los Angeles would be an incredible alternative to driving or flying, it’s an environmentalist dream. Fewer cars and flights will lower air pollution and the number of jobs both temporary and permanent that would be created would be incredible, but at what cost? The reality is few Californians would benefit from the rail system, so why build a train system that no one will use? Okay that’s not entirely true there is a segment of Californians who will use the train but not in the and numbers the California HSR Authority is claiming. According to the CHSRA official forecast, 65 – 96 million passengers will board the train annually. However several independent groups who have reviewed the Authorities facts and figures conclude that annual ridership will be at less than half that number more like 23 – 31 million. If these numbers are correct, the yearly revenue estimated by the CHSRA plunges dramatically to about half of expectations. Sounds like a loser to me, a runaway train!
Okay, so we have a bullet train that generates speed but no revenue. Seems the only way to generate more revenue is to raise fares and/or put in more stops to pick up more passengers. Well that certainly defeats the whole idea of a non-stop bullet train doesn’t it? It takes time to generate the 220 MPH speed, more stops will slow the damn thing down especially since some of the tracks being used are not high speed rail tracks but regular freight train tracks that will be reworked. So is adding more stops which equates to adding more time already, even an option? I don’t think so. Makes me wonder why we even want to build the damn thing!
Obviously there are many pros and cons to building the High Speed Rail in California, but is this truly the right time? I don’t think so. I don’t believe it will have the impact that proponents believe. I don’t see freeways becoming less crowded or nearly empty planes on inter California flights. It ain’t going to happen. Flying is still faster and in some instances cheaper than the proposed fares for the bullet train. For families, driving is a cheaper alternative. I tell you, the CHSR is not the pot of gold many believe it to be, but it will cost us a pot of gold to build it. Come on Governor Brown get a clue!
What it boils down to is politics. It’s always about politics. The amount of lobbying for CHSR is incredible! you’ve got Engineering Consultants, Construction Companies, Rail Car Manufacturers, and Local Developers all pushing to get this train moving. Several of the companies involved are foreign owned and controlled, and include many of those that were involved with the building of the HSR in France and Japan. By the way, did you know that The high speed rail projects in both these countries are all taxpayer/government subsidized. Neither has generated a profit! Both are big time money-losers! That’s not to say that a HSR can’t be profitable, but it’s highly unlikely. Sad to say, but “stupid is as stupid does”, government has a long track record of making stupid decisions that in most cases fail to profit the many, but never fail to pad the pockets of the few. There is discussion in Sacramento about putting the bullet train issue on the ballot this year so we again may have a say in the fate of the money train. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see what engineer Jerry has to say about that! All Aboard…