Fast Train to Nowhere

The federal government’s most recent $900 million grant to the California High-Speed Rail Authority came with a string attached: most of the money had to be spent, not in Los Angeles or San Francisco where most potential rail patrons are located, but in the central valley. Handed out just before the election, the grant was a blatant attempt to help the re-election effort of U.S. Representative Jim Costa. It might have made a difference, for despite the fact that Costa’s district leans heavily Democrat, he won over an unknown Republican candidate by a mere 3,000 votes.

But now California has to deal with the fact that it only has enough funds to build a high-speed train to nowhere. The authority expects to vote tomorrow on whether to start construction from Borden to Corcoran. To be fair, the route would go through Fresno, but it wouldn’t take anyone in Fresno to anywhere they might want to go at a high speed: Borden is barely a dot on the map, while Corcoran is the home of Charles Manson and his fellow prisoners.


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Fiscal conservatives hope to derail this project before so much money is spent that Congress will feel obligated to come up with another $20 or $30 billion just to finish the project. Surprisingly, one of the critics is Democratic Congressman Dennis Cardoza, who represents Merced. In a letter to Secretary of Immobility Ray LaHood, Cardoza called the plan a “gross misuse” of taxpayer funds.

Of course, rail advocates think that anyone who questions this project is a right-wing ideologue. What does that make them?

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11 thoughts on “Fast Train to Nowhere

  1. Frank

    Wow. What a waste. I can see adding service from Fresno to Sac since 99 is so crowded, but I don’t understand why this project would leave 99 for Hanford and Corcoran. Obviously political.

  2. bennett

    “Surprisingly, one of the critics is Democratic Congressman Dennis Cardoza, who represents Merced. In a letter to Secretary of Immobility Ray LaHood, Cardoza called the plan a “gross misuse” of taxpayer funds.

    Of course, rail advocates think that anyone who questions this project is a right-wing ideologue. What does that make them?”

    Wow. That’s a big leap. Who are these rail advocates? I consider myself an advocate of public rail transport. I acknowledge that a democrat is opposing this line. In fact, though all I know about this line is what I’ve read here today, it sounds like a bad idea to me (probably need to look at more info to take a firm stance).

    Bottom line is that not all rail advocates are for rail no matter the circumstance. In fact I would argue that most planners, who are also rail advocates, will find problems with political pet projects to build rail for the sake of building rail.

    I’ve been a bit surprised by Mr. O’Toole’s hasty generalizations and name calling of late. Usually that’s left to his cronies and opponents in the comment section.

  3. C. P. Zilliacus

    The Antiplanner wrote:

    Fiscal conservatives hope to derail this project before so much money is spent that Congress will feel obligated to come up with another $20 or $30 billion just to finish the project.

    I would presume that this is the “strategy” behind this segment of California’s high-speed rail project.

  4. Borealis

    The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) reported to the State Council recently, urging the large-scale high-speed railway construction projects in China to be re-evaluated. The CAS worries that China may not be able to afford such a large-scale construction of high-speed rail, and such a large scale high-speed rail network may not be practical.

    http://www.echinacities.com/biz-china/business-topics/chinese-academy-of-sciences-high-speed-rail-construction-201.html

  5. MJ

    Wow. What a waste. I can see adding service from Fresno to Sac since 99 is so crowded, but I don’t understand why this project would leave 99 for Hanford and Corcoran. Obviously political.

    Yes, it is political. But the reasoning (I presume) for choosing the route through Hanford is to make use of the existing Amtrak stations in Hanford and Corcoran on Amtrak’s San Joaquin line.

  6. RRider

    I call this strategy the “hole in the ground” gambit. In San Diego, we see projects started (stadium, central library, rail, etc.) and then when they run out of money, the pitch is that “we can’t let all that money we spent be for naught.”

    The game’s afoot, Watson.

  7. C. P. Zilliacus

    RRider posted:

    I call this strategy the “hole in the ground” gambit. In San Diego, we see projects started (stadium, central library, rail, etc.) and then when they run out of money, the pitch is that “we can’t let all that money we spent be for naught.”

    This is essentially how the Washington Metrorail system was financed and built, mostly courtesy of federal taxpayers.

    The construction cost estimate when ground was broken in 1969 was $2.55 billion.

    Millions more dollars were added to the estimated cost by the time that the very first segment of the system opened in 1976, and by the time the system was finally completed in 2001, the cost was beyond $10 billion.

  8. Andrew

    C.P. Zilliacus wrote:

    “The construction cost estimate when ground was broken in 1969 was $2.55 billion. Millions more dollars were added to the estimated cost by the time that the very first segment of the system opened in 1976, and by the time the system was finally completed in 2001, the cost was beyond $10 billion.”

    You are aware of the massive inflation that occurred between 1968 and 1983, aren’t you? And that this inflation was especially acute in the price of heavy construction given its dependence on fossil fuel energy to make products like concrete, steel, and asphalt, and to dig holes in the ground and lift things up in the air? General prices during that time period tripled, compared to a 40% rise in the previous 15 years.

    The final $9 billion+ cost was finalized by around 1981 and was held through the end of the project around 2001. As the price went up, local governments were forced to pick up more of the cost. The initial funding for the first 60 miles was a 90%-10% split. The supplemental $4.3 billion funding for the final 43 miles was split $1.7 billion/$600 million and $1.3 billion/$700 million. This funding included paying for slight extensions in length to the Red and Orange lines to reach more appropriate outlying sites at Shady Grove and New Carrollton, and to reroute the Green Line on account of massive controversies in the neighborhoods it traversed.

    In all, it seems to me in light of prices experienced in LA, Seattle, and Portland for much less functional systems, that the construction of an entire regional rail system capable of carrying 750,000+ riders per day (the equivalent of 8 six lane freeways into downtown Washington and not considering the massive parking that would be needed) of 103 miles, and connecting the airport, train station, and outyling Beltway expressway at nine points for $9 billion is a transportation bargain.

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