Look, don’t get me wrong here. I’m on record as saying I like the idea of a high-speed rail system running from San Diego to Sacramento and San Francisco. High-speed rail in Europe is competitively priced with air travel, more efficient than flying, more accessible, and in many ways more pleasant. Even after the Madrid bombings in 2004 security is light and safety seems both high and unquestioned. It could be that way here, too; I do not buy in to the idea that Americans will never embrace rail travel in the European or Japanese style.
But when the original high speed rail measure was put on the ballot, the numbers and timing seemed optimistic to me, and the proposed route seemed odd, with too many stops in too many central valley cities. I questioned whether that was the right way to build ridership and thus a base of users who would support the remainder of the project, especially when the initial construction of the project was to be between low-population density central valley cities rather than either Bay Area or L.A. area cities so as to service commuters. Frankly, the project has been so mishandled I’ve questioned whether it will happen at all.
So it’s with a heavy but unsurprised heart that I see the chickens coming home to roost this morning. The San Jose Mercury News reports that the California High Speed Rail Authority now believes that its project will wind up costing nearly triple their original estimate, and will not be running until 2033, 13 years later than originally represented to the voters. Although the Mercury News article is ambiguous on this point, coupled with previous information, it seems likely that in 2033, the high speed rail will be running on a sixty-one mile-long stretch between Corcoran and Madera. Corcoran, for those of you out of state, is famous mainly for its prison, the home of Charles Manson. Madera is… a lovely city near the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Between them, these cities have a non-prison combined population of about 85,000, with Madera having about three quarters of that.
Compare the ridership potential of Corcoran-Madera to that of Anaheim-Los Angeles, or San Jose-San Francisco. Right now, it’s about an hour’s drive from Madera to Corcoran. High speed rail would cut that time in half, twenty-two years in the future, at a cost to taxpayers of a hundred billion dollars. I don’t know what more evidence needs to be offered to indicate that this plan is a waste of money and time on a staggering scale. Bear in mind, I want high speed rail — but I’d kind of like to see it up and running before I’m scheduled to collect Social Security, and while I’m willing to see the state invest in infrastructure, I want that investment to be managed intelligently.
This boondoggle needs a reboot.