California’s High Speed Rail Project Is A Train Wreck

Who would have thought, after forty years of watching Amtrak hemorrhaging money, that the government wouldn’t be very good at building railroads?

California’s much-vaunted high-speed rail project is, to put it bluntly, a train wreck. Intended to demonstrate the state’s commitment to sustainable, cutting-edge transportation systems, and to show that the U.S. can build rail networks as sophisticated as those in Europe and Asia, it is instead a monument to the ways poor planning, mismanagement and political interference can screw up major public works. For anti-government conservatives, it is also a powerful argument for scrapping President Obama’s national rail plans, rescinding federal funding and canceling the project before any more money is wasted on it. …

The train’s biggest problems can be laid at the feet of the High Speed Rail Authority, which is overseeing its construction. Inexperienced board members appointed by the governor and Legislature on the basis of political patronage rather than expertise have made a host of poor decisions. Not the least boneheaded of these is the board’s plan to take a circuitous route from Los Angeles to Bakersfield by veering through Palmdale and Lancaster. Compared with the more direct route along Interstate 5 through the Grapevine, this would add 30 miles to the trip plus $1 billion in construction costs, and make it all but impossible for the train to meet its promised travel time of 2 hours and 40 minutes from L.A. to San Francisco. …

Not all of the bad decisions can be blamed on the rail authority. To qualify for federal funds, planners had to agree to break ground by 2012. With political battles raging throughout the state over routing decisions, federal officials deemed that the only segment that would be ready for construction so quickly was in the sparsely populated Central Valley. As a result, the bulk of the $3.5 billion kicked in by the Obama administration must be spent on a train running between the tiny towns of Borden and Corcoran. Ridership on this initial segment would be slight, making it impossible to operate the train without taxpayer subsidies. Yet under the terms of Proposition 1A, the state can’t issue bonds to pay for the project unless it has been demonstrated to be self-sufficient. What’s more, if federal and other funds for further construction dry up, California could end up with an expensive train to nowhere.

Wasted money. Poor management. Incompetence. Nepotism and cronyism. In other words, big government business as usual.

Remember, these are the same idiots who think they can make your health care less expensive and more efficient by managing it for you.

By the way, remember that Obama wants to put $54 billion into high speed rail projects like this one around the nation.

Meanwhile, we’re running record-setting budget deficits and an almost unpayable amount of national debt.

Rob Port

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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