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The Love Train

If just 1/10th of this money were spent on California's water infrastructure, think what it would do for the economy.

Feb 11, 2011


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FEBRUARY 11 2011

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The Love Train

We normally confine ourselves to commentary about water issues in California, but High-Speed Rail is so intrusive to ag land, irrigation and water that we feel compelled to respond.  If just 1/10th of this money were spent on California's water infrastructure, think what it would do for the economy. 

The two articles below about High Speed Rail caught our attention. One is about Vice President Joe Biden promoting spending another 53 Billion for High Speed Rail. The other is the latest study by another independent source exposing the inaccuracy of the ridership numbers and economic projections of High Speed Rail proponents.

Since those concerned about the impacts of HSR on our existing economic valley infrastructures and communities have been continually dismissed as naysayers, Nimbys (not in my backyard), and Neanderthals, we pass on a positive suggestion made by a local water official. The first route ed by HSR is from Borden to Corcoran, and has been labeled the ‘The Train to Nowhere”. A slight modification of the route could give the route a more PR friendly, ‘The Love Train’.

The current route could be slightly extended a few miles to the Chowchilla Women’s Prison, and a station opened at the Corcoran Men’s Prison. By allowing conjugal visits, the ridership numbers would exponentially increase.  We hate turning the whole High Speed Train into a sarcastic joke, but the feds can't seem to find money to solve a water crisis which is going to cost the state billions in lost income and tax revenues; but they can spend billions for a train that will, in the end, only move unemployed Californians from one end of the state to the other in record time.   

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National Review Online

High-Speed Rail, Budget Buster

Virtually Everywhere It Has Been Constructed, Taxpayers Have Lost Out

If the nation is going to reduce its out-of-control spending, the first step is to stop spending money on things we do not need. Despite President Obama’s call in his State of the speech for linking 80 percent of the nation by high-speed rail, it is hard to imagine a more unnecessary program.

For example, people who travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco — along the route planned for one of the nation’s first high-speed-rail projects — already have choices. They can fly, drive, take the bus, or travel by train. True, some would prefer to tax their fellow citizens so that they can have another choice, high-speed rail. But indulging this desire would be as legitimate as funding government grocery stores for people who prefer not to shop at their local grocery chains.

Among intercity transport modes, only Amtrak is materially subsidized. User fees pay virtually all the costs of airlines and airports, which (together with connecting ground transportation) link any two points in the nation within a day. The intercity highway system goes everywhere, and nearly all of it was built with user fees paid by drivers, truckers, and bus companies.

High-speed rail is a budget buster. Japan, with the world’s leading system, illustrates the financial devastation that high-speed rail can produce. For 25 years, Japan borrowed to build a system serving the ideal rail corridor, nestled along a single coast with a population of more than 75 million people. Ridership was artificially increased by high gasoline prices and one of the highest highway tolls in the world. Yet this modest system, only twice as long as proposed California system, played a major role in driving up a gargantuan rail debt that was transferred to Japanese taxpayers. The rail debt added more than 10 percent to the national debt. This is akin to adding $1.4 trillion to the U.S. national debt.

Virtually everywhere high-speed rail has been constructed, financial liability has fallen to the taxpayers. In Taiwan and the United Kingdom, taxpayers assumed billions of dollars in private debts for much more modest high-speed-rail systems than Japan’s.

All of this could have been avoided. Through the years, high-speed-rail cost overruns have been well documented. Most recently, research by Bent Flyvbjerg of Oxford University, Nils Bruzelius of Stockholm University, and Werner Rothengatter of the University of Karlsruhe (a former president of the influential World Conference on Transportation Research) found that passenger-rail cost overruns above 40 percent were common and that overruns above 80 percent were not uncommon. Overruns can go even higher: On Korea’s high-speed-rail project, they were between 200 and 300 percent, the president of the country’s rail system said.

High-speed-rail cost escalation has reached these shores. Even before the first shovel has been turned, California’s high-speed-rail costs have risen at least 50 percent, inflation adjusted. The cost estimates for the first approved section of the Los Angeles–to–San Francisco line, a “train to nowhere” from Corcoran to Borden, indicate escalation beyond $45 billion.

In Florida, boosters tell taxpayers that their liability for the Tampa to Orlando high-speed-rail line would be only $280 million, and that, somehow, a private bidder will shower additional billions upon them to pay any cost overruns.

Boosters also claim that high-speed rail will provide substantial environmental benefits, reduce highway-traffic congestion, and ease air-traffic congestion. Yet, as Joseph Vranich and I showed in the Reason Foundation’s “Due Diligence” report on California’s high-speed-rail proposal, the cost per ton of greenhouse gas removed would be from $1,900 to $10,000. This is 40 to 250 times what the International Panel on Climate Change research indicates greenhouse-gas removal should cost ($50 per ton). Our estimate does not account for the revised (much lower) ridership projection. Even the rosy reports produced by boosters show that high-speed rail would remove only a small percentage of cars from the roads. The hope of reducing air congestion is just as elusive because travel origins and destinations are so dispersed in the United States and because the number of people forsaking air travel for high-speed rail will be small.

Voters gave the new Republican House of Representatives a mandate to cut spending. Zeroing high-speed rail out of the federal budget may be the litmus test. If Congress fails to stop this costly and unnecessary program, it would call into question the commitment to spending reduction.

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public-policy consultancy in St. Louis.

Florida Lawmaker Questions California High-Speed Rail

Michael Doyle

Bee Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON The influential chairman of the House transportation committee voiced skepticism Wednesday about California's high-speed rail plans.

While not ruling out eventual support for California, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., said he's unimpressed by what he's seen so far. Mica specifically questioned the state's current plans to start with tracks connecting a rural stretch of the central San Joaquin Valley.

"The problem with the California pick is that even if they build it, the ridership in that location is not going to be the best," Mica said.

Relying on some $3.2 billion in federal funds promised to date, California's High-Speed Rail Authority identified a route between Fresno and Bakersfield as the first stage of the state project.

In time, officials hope that an 800-mile high-speed rail system will run from Los Angeles to the Bay Area.

Speaking at a conference of high-speed rail advocates, Mica underscored his preference for investing in the nation's heavily traveled Northeast corridor. Pointedly, he warned the rail professionals gathered Wednesday that "if [we] build California's project, and nobody rides it," then overall public support for high-speed rail could diminish.

"It may be able to achieve high speed, but the problem is it may be lacking in ridership and will have to be subsidized for some time," Mica said of the California proposal. "That's not the best model."

Mica added in a brief interview that "we'll have to find out more" about California's plans, and he emphasized that he's still in the information-gathering stage.

Mica's views matter, in particular, because his panel formally known as the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will be writing a six-year transportation authorization bill this year. This bill could be a blueprint for federal high-speed rail work.

"There is no better place to start than California," insisted Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno.

Speaking before the same high-speed rail conference, Costa stressed that "California is home to the second, third, and fifth most-trafficked corridors serviced by Amtrak." He called the high-speed rail proposal an "economic and quality of life game-changer" for the San Joaquin Valley.

On Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden presented the Obama administration's own initial bargaining position, with a call for $8 billion in high-speed rail spending next year and a total of $53 billion for high-speed and inter-city rail over the next six years.

The six-year plan is where Mica and his committee will come in. The 59-member panel includes six Californians.

The give and take will accelerate later this month, as the House transportation panel conducts a nationwide series of hearings, including ones in Fresno and Los Angeles. The hearings conducted sometime between Feb. 17-25 will give skeptics and proponents alike a chance to make their case, as the committee pushes to complete its bill-writing by about September.

"One of our jobs is to explain the strategy that we have come up with," said Fresno developer Tom Richards, a board member of California's High-Speed Rail Authority.

The Fresno hearing will be followed by a session in Los Angeles, where Mica will join forces with Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

A committee spokesperson did not return repeated calls Wednesday seeking details about hearing dates, and California congressional offices had no additional information on timing.


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