California's High-Speed Rail and Proposition 1A: Supporter Now Opponent
Oct 30, 2008
There was a time when my naivetÃ© in supporting government spending programs caused me to think that public officials would do their best in running this or that program. And for nearly 40 years I've supported high-speed rail systems in writing, in speeches here and abroad and in testimony before Congress.
But last week I testified against California's high-speed rail plan before a state Senate committee, causing my surprised friends to ask, "How can you oppose something you've believed in for so long?"
One answer is a change in thinking, which was once explained by Muhammad Ali, who said, "A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life." This is true for me after I've witnessed so many government promises turn into failures.
Next, my priorities have changed from promoting my pet programs (which I'm increasingly seeing as selfish) to being worried about something of a much higher order – the incessant excesses by officials in Sacramento. Which brings me to the California High Speed Rail Authority, whose abysmal work quality has turned me into an opponent.
It started innocently enough when, being curious, I began reviewing the agency's studies in February 2007. The more I read, the more I was stunned. Example: Planners said that by 2030 the system would carry 117 million passengers, a forecast so ridiculously high that it amounts to science fiction.
I saw contradictory designs for the trains. The authority cites six different interior configurations in an astonishing range from 450 seats to 1,600 seats per train in trying to justify absurd conclusions.
So California's "dream train," supposedly the world's most advanced train that will earn a billion dollars in profit – and be a non-polluter, too! – is a hoax. No such train exists, and I realized I was looking at the poorest rail planning I've ever seen.
Cost estimates are understated. It will take more than the projected $45 billion to build the system's San Francisco-Los Angeles-Anaheim line. That's true for a host of reasons including inevitable cost overruns. After combing through thousands of pages of planning documents, a more relevant conclusion is that the entire system could cost as much as $81 billion.
When the authority predicted a $1 billion profit – a feat reached by no high-speed rail system anywhere in the world – I was incredulous. And if "profits" are supposed to expand the system, that means high-speed rail to San Diego, Sacramento and Oakland will never be constructed even though their residents will be taxed to support whatever portion is built.
Research unveiled time and again where the state's data does not match reality regarding train speeds, revenues, energy requirements, GHG emissions, capital expenditures, operating costs, and overall system financial performance.
California's plans do more than mislead taxpayers. They are so lacking in credibility they have the potential of setting back the cause of high-speed rail throughout the United States.
That's why I said in testimony before the state Senate Transportation and Housing Committee:
It is time to dissolve the California High Speed Rail Authority. Give it no more funding than is required for terminating contracts, transferring data and duties to a more responsible agency, and conducting an orderly shutdown.
High-speed rail could serve legitimate public or environmental purposes or be a financial success. But the current proposal is untenable. The train will be slower than they say it will, will carry fewer people than they claim it will, and will cost much more than they admit it will.
High-speed rail in California may be salvageable – after all this poor work – but someone else must be in charge. If the Authority is unable to conduct studies that have credibility, then how will they ever effectively deliver a mega-construction project on time and within budget?
Now my railroad friends understand why I'm voting "No" on California's Proposition 1A, the bond measure that would pour billions of dollars into an incredibly deficient high-speed rail project.
Joseph Vranich is the former president/CEO of the High Speed Rail Association and is co-author of The California High-Speed Rail Proposal: A Due Diligence Report issued jointly by the Reason Foundation, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the Citizens Against Government Waste. No on Proposition 1A lists the organizations, business groups and newspapers that oppose the ballot measure.
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