The California legislature approved the first leg of our $98 billion high speed rail project, allocating $4.5 billion for construction of the segment from Bakersfield to Madera. It’s claimed that it will reduce the three-hour trip to one hour, but why that is of value has not been determined. It’s also questionable, since the distance is only 131 miles and Amtrak schedules show trains presently making the trip in 2 hours and 20 minutes.
Madera is in the northeastern portion of the San Joauquin Valley and is noted primarily for “the notable and historic Madera water tower and the city's fully operational drive-in movie theater,” according to Wikipedia. It is 25 miles north of Fresno, and 40 miles south of Merced on Highway 99. That’s state highway 99.
Bakersfield doesn’t have much, but it does have several movie theaters, with air conditioning even, and however historic Madera’s water tower is, I doubt anyone is going to travel even an hour to see it more than once. If I was in Bakersfield, I would certainly leave as soon as possible, but I damn well would not be going to Madera.
I’m not opposed to high speed rail, but I do not think that you should be taking money away from schools, colleges, and health care for the indigent elderly in order to build it, which is what California is doing. All of these services are being cut, with threats of yet further cuts if voters don't agree to raise taxes in November, so now is not an ideal time to be adding $228 million per year in bond payments to build high speed rail in the least populated portion of the state.
And, if you’re going to spend enormous sums building high speed rail, you should at least build it where people might ride it, not in the area of the state which is about as far as you can get away from the major population centers. They’re building it there because only a tiny portion can be built with the money allocated, and land is cheaper out there in the empty desert, which allows more miles of right-of-way to be obtained. The stupidity of that argument simply defies description.
The argument is made that it will provide jobs, and certainly I applaud that, but the logic of eliminating permanent state jobs which provide needed services to the people of the state while borrowing money to provide temporary jobs which… Well, what purpose do they serve when they create 131 miles of 200 mph trains which connect cities of less than 1% of the state’s population?
Claiming to reduce a three-hour trip which actually only takes 2 hours and 20 minutes is fairly typical of claims made by the high speed rail authority. Virtually every claim it has made for ridership and pricing has been thoroughly debunked, some of them even by itself when it has been forced to admit that its numbers were “overly optimistic.” The initiative passed by the voters two years ago required that the project be able to operate entirely on ridership fees. No study has shown that it can even come close to doing that, and the initial cost of the project is now more than triple what was approved by the voters. Yet our legislature moves ahead, undaunted.
If a homeowner who could not meet his monthly mortgage payment went out and borrowed money to buy a new Rolls Royce, you would say that he was irresponsible, at best, or perhaps insane. California cannot pay its present bills, and our legislature is indulging itself in a $98 billion fantasy called high speed rail.