Monday, May 09, 2011

California High Speed Rail

So California is getting an additional $300 million toward its high speed rail project from the federal government, thanks to Florida turning it down. Now all we need is another $11.7 billion to $15.7 billion and we will meet the planned contribution from the feds for this project.

To refresh your memory, California voters passed an $9.95 billion bond issue for this project which assumes a federal commitment of $12 to $16 billion, private investment of $7.5 billion, with an additional $10 billion to come from local governments. The bond measure stipulates that any high speed rail be independent of public funding in any form for its operation in the future, that is that fees paid by people riding it would “pay the freight.”

You can see how the federal funding is coming along, we have .02% of it so far. We have an even lower percentage of the private investment, and the $10 billion from local governments is really laughable, since they cannot even pave their own streets.

The claims for ridership were, it turns out, wildly inflated to say the least. It pretty much required that every man, woman and child in the state would have to ride the entire length of the damned thing three times per year. Or that every person in Los Angeles would have to make a round trip to Sacramento at least six times per year, which is absurd. Trust me, no one in Los Angeles wants to go to Sacramento even one time per year, let alone six. Few even want to go there once per lifetime.

The $33.5 billion funding shortfall did not deter the project enthusiasts, and did not prevent them from beginning to spend the $9.95 billion allocated. If you check the Wikipedia entry, you will see that the work is being done in bits and pieces pretty much throughout the state, with the only work being done which leads directly to operable trains consisting of a stretch from just north of Fresno south to the state prison at Corcoran.

So high speed rail travel will consist of going south from Fresno to the state prison, or north from Fresno to a point out in the desert where there is nothing but some lizards. They are really nifty lizards, though, so it will probably be worth the trip. If you don’t know where the hell Fresno is, don’t worry about it, neither does anyone else.

Here’s a nice picture of the current Amtrak station at Corcoran, so it looks like that bustling metropolis really needs high speed rail.

Elsewhere, there are things like “right-of-way acquisition, grade separations, utility relocation, environmental mitigation, earthwork, tunneling and track work” and other preliminaries being done, despite the fact that funding to actually build any high speed rail system based on those preliminaries is highly unlikely.

In addition, California sought and received funding from the ARRA, the “stimulus bill,” to make passenger station improvements to support the high speed rail, along with “grade separation work” for that unlikely eventuality, to the tune of $4.57 billion. That is well and good if you subscribe to the theory of “we have to create jobs even if they consist merely of digging holes and filling them back in.”

If the other $28.9 billion never comes through, and we never get a viable high speed rail system (other than from Fresno to the state prison), at least we had fun spending the $14.5 billion that we did get.

Given that the $9.95 billion in bond money that is now being spent carried a stipulation that “any high speed rail be independent of public funding in any form for its operation,” what happens if the money is spent and a) no operational high speed rail system emerges, which seems fairly likely, or
b) a high speed rail system emerges which cannot pay its own way and requires public funding to sustain its operation?

The bond measure, as spelled out on the ballot, did not specify what was to happen in either eventuality, of course. It just specified that there would be a free lunch and did not specify what would happen when the waiter presented a check for payment after lunch was finished.

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