I quote a brief article from the Wall Street Journal below. Note that:
- Congress will ask tough questions about rail projects
- Congress will refuse to fund billion dollar shares for rail projects
- California's fast rail at over $100 Billion comes to $2,700 per person
- Hawaii's elevated rail at over $7 Billion(*) comes to $7,600 per person
Bullet Train Boondoggle
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee put California's high-speed rail plan on trial last week, asking rail experts and local officials some questions that the project's planners and state lawmakers apparently failed to consider. Like how the state will finance its 500-mile bullet train from Anaheim to San Francisco.
California voters approved a $10 billion bond initiative to fund the project in 2008. At the time, the state's high-speed rail authority, which is responsible for planning the project, estimated that the train would cost only $33 billion and be financed primarily by the federal government and private sector. The authority also promised that the train wouldn't require a subsidy. However, a few months ago the authority released a revised business plan that estimates the rail will cost between $98 billion and $116 billion. The authority expects the federal government to put up $73 billion and the private sector to invest $10 billion. Jerry Brown, the state's Democratic governor, praised the new plan as more "honest."
Investors have refused to finance the bullet train without a subsidy, and Congress isn't appropriating any more money for high-speed rail. Of the $11 billion that Congress has already appropriated, the Obama administration has authorized $3.9 billion for the California project on the condition that the state build the first segment in the Central Valley, presumably because there's less resistance to the train in rural areas than big cities. That may be true, but the train's a losing proposition everywhere. According to a new Field poll, two-thirds of Californians want a referendum on the project. And by a 2-to-1 margin, they'd vote to kill it.
Greg Gatzka, director of the King County Community Development Agency, testified at the hearing that the train would result in "approximately 7,100 acres of severed and/or disrupted" farmland and cost the dairy industry $50 million. It would also interfere with a $67 million broadband infrastructure project. Kings County has sued the rail authority because of the numerous disturbances, as have the cities of Palo Alto and Palmdale.
Even if the rail authority were to settle these legal challenges, a high-speed train wouldn't be operable until the state comes up with an additional $25 billion to complete the segment and electrify the tracks. In the meantime, the authority plans to run Amtrak trains on the tracks, though there may be problems with that plan, too. Elizabeth Alexis, cofounder of the group Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design, testified that it's uncertain whether diesel trains could safely run on tracks built for electric trains.
In any event, Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo insisted that $100 billion is a small price to pay for a modern transportation system and that "adding and maintaining transportation capacity in California, while vital, is expensive." For instance, repairing the Bay Bridge will cost roughly $6 billion; a 10-mile expansion of the 405 freeway will run around $1 billion; and the ongoing modernization of Los Angeles's biggest airport is pegged at $4.1 billion.
So why is a state that is already struggling to finance basic infrastructure initiating an exorbitant project that most taxpayers don't want? None of the witnesses had a good answer.
-- Allysia Finley