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EDITORIAL: On the tracks to bankruptcy
Golden State’s $68 billion train boondoggle showcases government folly
California’s fanciful bullet train project embodies everything that is wrong with government today. The state’s High-Speed Rail Authority on Tuesday released details of a revised business plan that claims laying down tracks from Los Angeles to San Francisco will now cost a mere $68 billion instead of $98 billion - as if that were a bargain.
President Obama’s infatuation with the effort to create another government-subsidized rail entitlement means the rest of the country is on the hook for at least half of this still considerable sum. Retirees in Florida and schoolteachers in Mississippi, who will never ride California’s train, will be forced to pay for it anyway.
Politicians asked Golden State voters in 2008 whether they wanted this shiny new train set. Fifty-three percent said “sure,” without devoting much thought to the cost of their choice. To put $68 billion in perspective, five major airlines offer flights from Los Angeles to San Francisco for $200 or less - an amount that includes $39.60 in various taxes. Volume discounts aside, for the cost of the rail infrastructure, California could purchase 340 million round-trip tickets - enough to provide nine round-trip flights for each of the state’s documented residents.
Based on market capitalization, the state could even buy a few airlines - American, Delta, Jet Blue, Southwest and United - and have $40 billion left over. Taking to the skies quite simply is more efficient. It only takes an hour and 20 minutes to journey by air between Los Angeles to San Francisco. At best, a nonstop “high-speed” train would take an estimated two hours and 38 minutes, charging a pricey $326 fare. Based on the experience of Amtrak in the Northeast corridor, the trains will make so many stops that actual trip time would be closer to four hours.
Airlines already offer, on average, 61 flight options per day along this route, maximizing convenience. Granted, train passengers are not currently groped or photographed in the nude by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents prior to boarding, but the solution to that problem is to abolish the TSA, not to create a $68 billion alternative.
According to the High-Speed Rail Authority’s rather fanciful analysis, the expenditure makes financial sense because rail creates $76.1 billion in benefits, including $948,280,227 in carbon dioxide “savings,” $12.6 billion in time savings for drivers and a billion saved from “productivity increases” as travelers opt for a train instead of an airplane. All this assumes 19 million riders will get onboard each year. That’s hard to swallow, considering Amtrak’s most successful line, the Northeast corridor, boasts a mere 5.1 million customers.
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform opened an investigation on April 9 into this wasteful undertaking, which has already received $4 billion in funding from federal taxpayers. If it is true, as alleged, that some rail authority board members have been using the project to line their own pockets, California’s legislature ought to give voters a second chance at shutting down this boondoggle.
The Washington Times
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