Brown’s bullet train 2.0 still doesn’t make sense on cost, convenience

Now let me get this straight: In the 2012-13 federal budget unveiled Tuesday, when it comes to California, the Obama administration wants to cut programs helping devastated Central Valley farmers, to slash federal funding to deal with the huge state cost of jailed illegal immigrants, to reduce money for beach environmental programs and to scale back plans to upgrade national parks in California — at the same time it pushes to shower money on high-speed rail?

In a rational state, a project that’s gotten less favorable coverage than anyone or anything outside of Mark Berndt would be dead. It doesn’t have long-term financing, it’s been terribly planned, it was sold with a farrago of lies, it faces intense opposition in Silicon Valley and the Central Valley, and every independent review concludes the bullet train is a fiasco waiting to happen.

But a federal government running staggering, jaw-dropping deficits wants to spend billions and billions more on it, and a state government that’s coming off years of budget dysfunction and chaos wants to commit to a $98 billion (minimum) project that is at best about 13 percent funded. Why?

The only reason that makes sense is that Barack Obama and Jerry Brown have both come down with edifice complexes. And high-speed rail is the best that they can do. (Which is a pretty sad commentary in its own right, separate from the feasibility question.)

Meanwhile, it’s becoming increasingly clear what the gov’s reboot of the bullet train project will look like: a proposal to link San Jose and Lancaster or somewhere in north Los Angeles County with a high-speed rail line, and then to just pretend that this is what voters wanted to spend tens of billions of dollars on, not a true statewide system. This story offers hints that is where Brown is headed.

But the problem is a high-speed rail line that links the southern fringes of the Bay Area metro area and the northern fringes of the L.A. metro area just isn’t that attractive — whether you’re thinking about convenience or cost. Once you get to San Jose or Lancaster, then you have to switch to conventional, slower rail to get to where you want to go.

That’s true even if these urban/suburban rail systerms are upgraded using some of the billions that the state has in hand, as Jerry appears to want to do in the Bay Area..

This doesn’t sound like an inspiring vision for the 21st century at all.

Beyond that question/concern — Is that all there is? Really? — it will be amazing to see the contortions the Brown administration will have to go through to pretend the new business plan laying this all out complies with the letter of Prop. 1A. It’s already a full-blown assault on the spirit of Prop. 1A.

I expect a blast of semantic game-playing that makes Bill Clinton’s “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is” seem elemental.

That’s the case not just on the likelihood that state officials will seek to guarantee private investors a minimum level of ridership or revenue even though Prop. 1A experts like Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor say that violates the law’s requirement that the project never receive taxpayer-funded operating subsidies under any conditions. A state lawmaker I was talking to recently said he had heard that the California High-Speed Rail Authority was ready to argue that the bullet-train would meet this Prop. 1A requirement …

…. the train system be capable of sustained maximum speeds of at least 200 miles per hour ….

…. by having one stretch of track and one stretch only somewhere in the state be that fast.

Why give up on such a basic promise? Because there’s no way to get to 200 mph for an L.A. to S.F. bullet train route if big chunks of it are covered by commuter rail in L.A. and S.F.

I’m still amazed at how this is playing out. The bullet train is such a preposterous boondoggle that this should be a clean kill. Instead, we face a messy, prolonged fight for a project that amounts to the Big Dig on Victor Conte‘s best steroids.

If Jerry Brown thinks this will add to his legacy, he needs to talk to people in Fresno or Atherton. If this is Zen, Zen is for dummies.

2 thoughts on “Brown’s bullet train 2.0 still doesn’t make sense on cost, convenience

  1. When will California figure out this is not the East Coast. The State of Connecticut isn’t all trying to get to Manhatten out here! Too many people going to too many different places for mass transit to work on a large scale. That’s basic common sense for everyone that isn’t a Politician. Jerry take off your hippy hat, it’s not 1965 anymore………………

  2. This will happen because Washington wants to spend $200 billion in California to buy votes and Jerry Brown wants another bucket of money from which to steal. He has ripped off all the Redevelopment Funds, he is dipping into the Teachers Pension Fund, but still needs more. We will never see that train. It is more Brown smoke.

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