Heart-ache: Locals not thrilled with start of $68 billion California high-speed rail construction

posted at 4:01 pm on October 21, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

California continues to go full speed ahead on its high-speed rail project connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco, as construction starts far away from either end of the system in the Central Valley.  The engineers have arrived to start the first 30-mile leg to and from a city that few will want to visit on the line, and the locals aren’t exactly impressed.  In fact, they’re getting angrier as the project slowly rolls forward:

Now, engineering work has finally begun on the first 30-mile (48-kilometer) segment of track here in Fresno, a city of a half-million people with soaring unemployment and a withering downtown core littered with abandoned factories and shuttered stores.

Rail is meant to help Fresno, with construction jobs now and improved access to economic opportunity once the project is finished. But the region that could benefit most from the project is also where opposition to it has grown most fierce.

“I just wish it would go away, this high-speed rail. I just wish it would go away,” says Gary Lanfranco, whose restaurant in downtown Fresno is slated to be demolished to make way for rerouted traffic.

Such sentiments can be heard throughout the Central Valley, where roads are dotted with signs such as: “HERE COMES HIGH SPEED RAIL There goes the farm.” Growers complain of misplaced priorities, and residents wonder if their tax money is being squandered.

Aaron Fukuda, a civil engineer whose house in the dairy town of Hanford lies directly in one of the possible train routes, says: “People are worn out, tired, frustrated.”

Voters in 2008 approved $10 billion in bonds to start construction on an 800-mile (1,300-kilometer) rail line to ferry passengers between San Francisco and Los Angeles in 2 hours and 40 minutes, compared with 6 hours by car now during good traffic.

Except that’s not the apposite comparison.  The correct comparison would be to other mass-transport systems, and the fact is that the route already has service — through the airlines.  At least a half-dozen airlines fly that route each day, with multiple departures and arrivals through multiple airports throughout both endpoint metropolises.  The costs of those flights cost less than the full projected cost of a round-trip ticket on the 160-minute train ride, and gets there in less than half the time.  There is almost literally no need for this boondoggle except to aggrandize the politicians wasting taxpayer money by laying track adjacent to and across the West’s largest earthquake fault.

No one’s really sure what the end costs will be, either.  A recent estimate scaled the final price tag back from $100 billion to $68 billion, but for a state in chronic debt, it’s still monopoly money:

Since then, the housing market collapsed, multibillion-dollar budget deficits followed, and the price tag has fluctuated wildly — from $45 billion in 2008 to more than $100 billion in 2011 and, now, $68 billion.

And that cost “savings” comes at the expense of the train’s supposed speed, too:

Political and financial compromises led officials to scale back plans that now mean trains will be forced to slow down and share tracks in major cities, leading critics to question whether it will truly be the 220-mph (355-kph) “high-speed rail” voters were promised. …

Even the former chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, Quentin Kopp, has turned against the current project, saying in court papers that it “is no longer a genuine high speed rail system.”

Dan Walters pointed out in last week’s Sacramento Bee that the new specs for the project no longer meets the bond initiative’s language.  This sets up a test of integrity that California and Governor Jerry Brown are failing:

Legal maneuvers aside, it’s quite evident that the project, as modified by Brown’s handpicked High-Speed Rail Authority to overcome other political and financial hurdles, cannot comply with the plain language of the bond ballot measure – language that bullet-train proponents told voters would protect the project’s integrity.

Having been integrated with commuter rail in major urban areas, for example, the bullet train could not possibly comply with the requirement of a 160-minute ride between San Francisco andLos Angeles, even if authorities insist otherwise.

Clearly, Brown, et al, hope that if they can stave off legal challenges long enough to lay a few miles of track on San Joaquin Valley farmland, it would create some kind of moral imperative to see the project to completion, regardless of the law or its costs, now pegged at $68 billion but certain to grow.

Ultimately, however, it’s a test of political integrity – especially in light of recent polls showing that most California voters now oppose the project. If the bullet train cannot honestly comply with the requirements that voters were told would guard against flim-flam, it should be derailed.

It never should have been “railed” in the first place, but Walters is right.  This project has become an even bigger joke, one with a price tag that will haunt generations of Californians simply to feed the 19th-century, fixed-rail thinking of politicians.  It’s insanity manifest large in the Golden State.


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I thought California was broke? Oh yeah they are broke, that’s why they are spending $68 billion.

bgibbs1000 on October 21, 2013 at 4:08 PM

1. The end price tag will be well north of $200 billion.
2. It will never be completed.

jukin3 on October 21, 2013 at 4:09 PM

I live in a town on the projected route in the San Joaquin Valley. It sucks. How close will the nearest stop be?

If I need to drive to LA of SF I leave my house and go directly to my destination. If I were to ride the train I would have to go from my house to the nearest train station, ride the train to my destination city, then find transportation to my actual destination.

When you consider all the extra steps and expenses it would be quicker and easier to drive or fly. Driving would probably be a lot cheaper too, especially if I was traveling with family, friends or co-workers.

This is a huge Brown-doggle.

myiq2xu on October 21, 2013 at 4:09 PM

$2.3 billion per mile sounds reasonable. I’m a little worried about the 96% of unfinished rail though.

antipc on October 21, 2013 at 4:10 PM

It would likely be less expensive to buy all prospective riders Prius and pay their insurance.

Murphy9 on October 21, 2013 at 4:12 PM

Since then, the housing market collapsed, multibillion-dollar budget deficits followed, and the price tag has fluctuated wildly — from $45 billion in 2008 to more than $100 billion in 2011 and, now, $68 billion.

It will go back up again if home prices go back to pre-crash levels. And it will end up costing a lot more than the current estimates no matter what else happens.

myiq2xu on October 21, 2013 at 4:12 PM

And now, a little theme music.

M240H on October 21, 2013 at 4:22 PM

leading critics to question whether it will truly be the 220-mph (355-kph) “high-speed rail” voters were promised. …

instead of a 220mph rocket ship, it’ll be a 2-20mph turtle. 2-windows open for ventilation, 20 mph max speed….

kind like, redneck airconditioning.

ted c on October 21, 2013 at 4:23 PM

BREAKING:

CA legislature votes to cancel bullet train; 9th District Court of Appeals rules cancelling the train is unconstitutional

Appeals Court SPOX: “The people have a right to a 160 min trip from LA to Fresno by train”

BobMbx on October 21, 2013 at 4:25 PM

The correct comparison would be to other mass-transport systems, and the fact is that the route already has service — through the airlines. At least a half-dozen airlines fly that route each day, with multiple departures and arrivals through multiple airports throughout both endpoint metropolises. The costs of those flights cost less than the full projected cost of a round-trip ticket on the 160-minute train ride, and gets there in less than half the time. There is almost literally no need for this boondoggle except to aggrandize the politicians wasting taxpayer money by laying track adjacent to and across the West’s largest earthquake fault.

My guess is that as in the movie version of Atlas Shrugged, they’re betting that airline service will be curtailed, either through rising fuel prices or draconian environmental regulations- or both, if The One’s EPA and DOE have anything to say about it.

Also, since the main routes go right through the Central Valley, they can use this as an excuse to justify the water cutoff to farmers they did in the name of preserving some fish. If the farmers aren’t producing, they have no reason to complain when the state takes their land under eminent domain, do they?

In this respect, that “environmentally-necessary” cutoff looks suspicious. It’s almost as though they were trying to drive property values down along their projected right-of-way prior to beginning ED compensation calculations of “fair market value”.

Hmmmmm…

clear ether

eon

eon on October 21, 2013 at 4:27 PM

Dude. Nobody walks in L.A.

Christien on October 21, 2013 at 4:27 PM

political integrity

Are you kidding? There isn’t any “political integrity” in The People’s Republik of Kalifornia. It’s run by and for Democrats and their union pals.

GarandFan on October 21, 2013 at 4:29 PM

Sh!t sandwiches are cheap Detroit, er Fresno.Keep voting for those that are doing these things for your own good.

docflash on October 21, 2013 at 4:30 PM

Moonbeam’s Folly….

There are dozens of laughable assumptions / justifications made in the ‘business plan’ of the High Speed Rail Authority, but this comment…

The engineers have arrived to start the first 30-mile leg to and from a city that few will want to visit on the line, and the locals aren’t exactly impressed.

One of the members of the CA High Speed Rail Board of Directors, Dan Richard, made the case, using ‘conservative numbers’ that by 2030, the sleepy Central Valley CA town of Merced, would process more passengers of the High Speed Rail through the station than New York’s Pennsylvania Station, Amtrak’s #1 station and a major NYC commuter hub, does today.

Nevermind that over half of the funds for this boondoggle was supposed to come from private investment – private investment that is non-existent for the project. Or that the funds expected from the federal government have disappeared. Or that the original $10B bond authorization was contingent on a number of conditions – none of which are valid or in effect today.

Athos on October 21, 2013 at 4:42 PM

Except that’s not the apposite comparison.

Stop write’n werds that I haf to look up.

rogaineguy on October 21, 2013 at 4:43 PM

I recently interviewed someone who is a WORLDWIDE expert on train travel.

After the (phone) interview was over, I said, “As an aside, just out of personal curiosity, what do you think of the high-speed rail project out here in my neck of the woods, California?”

Keep in mind that this guy is a HUGE train advocate. His reply?

“What a terrible boondoggle. Luckily, it will never be completed.”

Zombie on October 21, 2013 at 4:44 PM

It’s not like they are building a billion dollar high school or something….

right2bright on October 21, 2013 at 4:44 PM

It’s run by and for Democrats and their union pals.

GarandFan on October 21, 2013 at 4:29 PM

And that is who is on the board of the High Speed Rail Authority…

Why do the Exective Board members of the CHSRA (and some of the Executive Staff) still have jobs? Well, of the 9 member board, 5 are political appointees of the Governor, 2 are political appointees of the State Senate Rules Committee, and 2 are political appointees by the Speaker of the State Assembly. All of those making the appointments are either Democrats or dominated by Democrats (Rules Committee).

One of the Vice Chairmen of the Board for CHSRA is Lynn Schenk, who was the Chief of Staff for Governor Gray Davis until his defeat in the 2003 recall election. She was appointed by current Governor Jerry Brown. The other Vice Chairman, Thomas Richards, also appointed by Governor Brown, runs a Fresno, CA based real estate investment, development, and construction company and is a significant contributor to liberal Democrat candidates in Californa. The Chairman, Thomas Umberg, is another liberal Democrat, a litigation lawyer, and a former Assemblyman in California’s Legislature where he authored bills promoting the progressive agenda. He was appointed by, wait for it, the hard left union activist, John Perez, a Democrat from Los Angeles who is now the Speaker of California’s Assembly.

From this leadership in the CHSRA, seaped in the Progressive / Democrat mindset, it’s no surprise that there is little fiscal discipline, accountability, or even a grasp of fiscal responsibility. To this leadership team it is play money….because it comes from the ‘government’, not the taxpayers. That’s why this project, if permitted to continue, will become one of the biggest and most expensive flops in history of the US and California.

Athos on October 21, 2013 at 4:45 PM

“What a terrible boondoggle. Luckily, it will never be completed.”

Zombie on October 21, 2013 at 4:44 PM

How narrow minded, of course it won’t be completed…but it will be paid for.

Completion doesn’t matter to a liberal, it’s government spending money, that is what is important.

Results are meaningless.

right2bright on October 21, 2013 at 4:46 PM

This happened in Atlanta, with their train that was supposed to end up at the stadium, but the stadium revolted because of the loss of parking revenue, so it was re-routed to an area that is, well, let’s just say it’s not the best of neighborhoods.
And of course the city is picking up the tab for it’s continuous loss…liberals don’t care.

spend…spend…spend…like it’s someone else’s money. Oh wait, it is someone else’s money.

right2bright on October 21, 2013 at 4:52 PM

My guess is that as in the movie version of Atlas Shrugged, they’re betting that airline service will be curtailed, either through rising fuel prices or draconian environmental regulations- or both, if The One’s EPA and DOE have anything to say about it.

Add to that the gradual conversion of Freeways to toll roads to force people into using “High” Speed rail. The alternatives will be made too expensive and difficult. Commuters WILL ride the high speed rail and like it. Government will make sure they do.

hawkeye54 on October 21, 2013 at 4:55 PM

So facilitating more air travel by, say, building a couple more 2-mile long runways is environmentally horrific, but digging up 800 miles of land to lay rails is “green”?

I don’t get this “Save the Earth” stuff.

ZenDraken on October 21, 2013 at 4:56 PM

This happened in Atlanta, with their train that was supposed to end up at the stadium, but the stadium revolted because of the loss of parking revenue, so it was re-routed to an area that is, well, let’s just say it’s not the best of neighborhoods.
And of course the city is picking up the tab for it’s continuous loss…liberals don’t care.

spend…spend…spend…like it’s someone else’s money. Oh wait, it is someone else’s money.

right2bright on October 21, 2013 at 4:52 PM

They built the light rail here in STL straight from the hood to what was once a nice mall. Totally destroyed it.

Murphy9 on October 21, 2013 at 5:00 PM

I don’t get this “Save the Earth” stuff.

ZenDraken on October 21, 2013 at 4:56 PM

Graft is the key to the project. “Save the Earth” is merely the cover for the easily duped public.

hawkeye54 on October 21, 2013 at 5:01 PM

They built the light rail here in STL straight from the hood to what was once a nice mall. Totally destroyed transformed it.

Totally, from a progressive’s POV. It wasn’t right that denizens from the hood were denied easier access to a better shopping and entertainment venue. Ya gotta learn to share and appreciate diversity in culture.

/snark

hawkeye54 on October 21, 2013 at 5:06 PM

Growers complain of misplaced priorities, and residents wonder if their tax money is being squandered.

Wonder no more, residents. The answer is “Yes, your tax money is being squandered.”

RoadRunner on October 21, 2013 at 6:47 PM

can’t wait to see the windmills and solar panels powering it.
iirc they are not even allowed (per CARB but I may be wrong) a hybrid power unit, iirc has to be only electrical driven.
And that speeds requires higher voltages than currently in their infrastructure.
little crap like that, you know the actual motive power…, just minor details the unicorn will correct.

dmacleo on October 21, 2013 at 7:21 PM

Anyone not familiar with California maps should check out the SF to Fresno to Bakersfield to LA route. Not quite a straight line if SF to LA is the supposed traffic corridor.

20 years from now this boondoggle will be the example when you look up “Manifest Insanity”.

recent polls showing that most California voters now oppose the project.

Duh. Shouda thought before you voted.

fred5678 on October 21, 2013 at 9:12 PM

….what a train wreck!

KOOLAID2 on October 21, 2013 at 10:21 PM

It would likely be less expensive to buy all prospective riders Prius and pay their insurance.

Murphy9 on October 21, 2013 at 4:12 PM

An engineer friend and I sat down last year and did a fairly involved spreadsheet using too many assumptions to list, but your argument holds in our back of the envelope analysis for about 28 continuous years too, which is longer than the Prius batteries themselves would last.

Difficultas_Est_Imperium on October 22, 2013 at 1:23 AM

This is actually one of the reasons I’m leaving the state of California. I can’t live with these people. They’re just too f’ing stupid.

Karmashock on October 22, 2013 at 10:31 AM