In a remarkably candid interview in the Sept. 9 Sacramento Business Journal, California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Jeff Morales admits that a straight-shot line from San Francisco to Los Angeles could conceivably have been built privately.
He notes dismissively that such a line “would have bypassed all those population centers” in the Central Valley and Antelope Valley. All those population centers, however, constitute less than 10 percent of California’s population. So why would the authority plan to build a route through these cities at enormous cost, if they don’t have that many potential passengers?
The answer is simple: These cities contain huge swaths of vacant land perfect for sprawl development. Morales unwittingly disclosed how the authority has changed the fundamental nature of the project: What had been sold as a self-sustaining profitable business has morphed into crony capitalism with generous government support.
Adding 100 miles of detours to serve favored land parcels will waste tens of billions of dollars. It will harm high-speed rail’s competitiveness with air travel, and require faster speeds, which use much more energy.
Besides the massive undisclosed subsidy to developers, the current plan cannot possibly work financially. There’s no conceivable source for the $26 billion shortfall for a line just to get from Merced to the San Fernando Valley. Neither federal nor private investment is forthcoming. Cap-and-trade revenue cannot fill the gap, either, even if that proposal survives a legal challenge.
The burning desire to spend its $6 billion in and near Fresno led the authority to play fast and loose with the requirements of Proposition 1A, the 2008 high-speed rail bond. Two courts have ruled that the authority failed to meet bond measure requirements.
The Train Riders Association of California believes that the authority has no prospects for building a larger system. That’s why achieving a working high-speed rail line in California will require discarding the current wasteful plan.
The state needs a much less costly plan, built around private investment, which benefits passengers now – not 20 years in the future. Here’s what our association proposes:
We are concerned that the current approach will fail miserably, making it politically impossible to ever improve rail service in California. We want rail to succeed and become an essential part of the state’s transportation system.