California high speed rail boondoggle blocked by judge

California's plan to squander potentially hundreds of billions of dollars on a "high speed" rail line that would achieve average speeds no higher than railroads routinely achieved a century ago has hit a serious roadblock. Melody Gutierrez of the San Francisco Chronicle reports:

A Sacramento judge put the brakes on California's plans to build a bullet train after dual rulings Monday blocked the sale of $8 billion in bonds and ordered the rail authority to rewrite its funding plans for the huge project.

Sacramento County Superior Court JudgeMichael Kenny ruled that there was "no evidence in the record" to support theCalifornia High-Speed Rail Authority's request in March to sell the bonds from Proposition 1A, a $10 billion measure approved by voters in 2008 that allowed the bullet train project to move ahead.

In a separate but related case, the judge sided with the Kings County Board of Supervisorsand two homeowners who sued the rail agency, saying it had failed to detail how the project will be financed, as legally required, before seeking bond money to begin construction.

The judge's rulings leave the future of the $68 billion project in question. The state has been trying to get the first 130-mile segment in the Central Valley built using $3.24 billion in federal funds and $2.61 billion in Prop. 1A bond money. The rail authority has already signed a construction contract to build the first 29 miles of track from Madera to Fresno.

The judge rejected opponents' calls for that contract to be rescinded.

The first thing to keep in mind is that $68 billion is far from the actual cost. That was the initial bait-and-switch figure. The recently-completed Eastern Span of the Bay Bridge was originally quoted as a billion dollar job, and ended up costing at least $12 billion. The second thing to keep in mind is that although voters were promised 200 mph speeds between LA and SF, the actual average speed will be more like 80 miles per hour, thanks to the decision to skip the most expensive portions of new elevated or tunnel high speed track going through urban areas of the two big cities, and instead share tracks already used by commuter trains, with level grade crossings and other speed-reducing impediments. Not to mention noise-sensitive neighbors who don't want the noise associated with true high speed rail.

Some former advocates of the ballot measure have turned against it:

"It's needed, and - built as promised to voters - it would succeed," said Quentin Kopp, a former state senator and San Francisco supervisor who was chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority when voters passed Prop. 1A.

Kopp has now become a leading critic of the high-speed rail construction plan, saying it's not the project voters approved. He said he became disillusioned when plans were changed so commuter trains would share the tracks in some locations, limiting the number of high-speed trains.

"You must be honest with voters," Kopp said. "If they want to continue down this path, submit another ballot measure to voters."

Such a ballot measure, if honest, would quote a figure closer to 200 billion dollars, prhaps much more, and would provide an estimate of necessary train fares to sustain such an operation that would be far more expensive than current airfares. Travelers have a choice of flights between 3 Bay Area airports and five metro LA airports, taking travelers closer to their final destination than a train system would, and requiring only an hour or so of travel time, as opposed to at least four hours for the train.

Bullet trains may be great for crowded nations like Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea, but for California, they don't make any sense. I hope that this judge's decision stands and the project is closed down before it wastes any more money.

 

California's plan to squander potentially hundreds of billions of dollars on a "high speed" rail line that would achieve average speeds no higher than railroads routinely achieved a century ago has hit a serious roadblock. Melody Gutierrez of the San Francisco Chronicle reports:

A Sacramento judge put the brakes on California's plans to build a bullet train after dual rulings Monday blocked the sale of $8 billion in bonds and ordered the rail authority to rewrite its funding plans for the huge project.

Sacramento County Superior Court JudgeMichael Kenny ruled that there was "no evidence in the record" to support theCalifornia High-Speed Rail Authority's request in March to sell the bonds from Proposition 1A, a $10 billion measure approved by voters in 2008 that allowed the bullet train project to move ahead.

In a separate but related case, the judge sided with the Kings County Board of Supervisorsand two homeowners who sued the rail agency, saying it had failed to detail how the project will be financed, as legally required, before seeking bond money to begin construction.

The judge's rulings leave the future of the $68 billion project in question. The state has been trying to get the first 130-mile segment in the Central Valley built using $3.24 billion in federal funds and $2.61 billion in Prop. 1A bond money. The rail authority has already signed a construction contract to build the first 29 miles of track from Madera to Fresno.

The judge rejected opponents' calls for that contract to be rescinded.

The first thing to keep in mind is that $68 billion is far from the actual cost. That was the initial bait-and-switch figure. The recently-completed Eastern Span of the Bay Bridge was originally quoted as a billion dollar job, and ended up costing at least $12 billion. The second thing to keep in mind is that although voters were promised 200 mph speeds between LA and SF, the actual average speed will be more like 80 miles per hour, thanks to the decision to skip the most expensive portions of new elevated or tunnel high speed track going through urban areas of the two big cities, and instead share tracks already used by commuter trains, with level grade crossings and other speed-reducing impediments. Not to mention noise-sensitive neighbors who don't want the noise associated with true high speed rail.

Some former advocates of the ballot measure have turned against it:

"It's needed, and - built as promised to voters - it would succeed," said Quentin Kopp, a former state senator and San Francisco supervisor who was chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority when voters passed Prop. 1A.

Kopp has now become a leading critic of the high-speed rail construction plan, saying it's not the project voters approved. He said he became disillusioned when plans were changed so commuter trains would share the tracks in some locations, limiting the number of high-speed trains.

"You must be honest with voters," Kopp said. "If they want to continue down this path, submit another ballot measure to voters."

Such a ballot measure, if honest, would quote a figure closer to 200 billion dollars, prhaps much more, and would provide an estimate of necessary train fares to sustain such an operation that would be far more expensive than current airfares. Travelers have a choice of flights between 3 Bay Area airports and five metro LA airports, taking travelers closer to their final destination than a train system would, and requiring only an hour or so of travel time, as opposed to at least four hours for the train.

Bullet trains may be great for crowded nations like Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea, but for California, they don't make any sense. I hope that this judge's decision stands and the project is closed down before it wastes any more money.

 

RECENT VIDEOS