According to a recent report, a judge has ordered California’s High-Speed Rail Authority to “rescind its original funding plan, a decision that figures to halt state bond funding for the $68 billion project until a new plan is put in place.” That might slow down the project but taxpayers should recall the reasons it never should have started in the first place.
The state’s major north-south highways render good service and air travel is cheap and readily available. So high-speed rail is not needed. Rail is 19th century technology, an odd choice for a supposedly progressive state. It is as though in 1880 politicians had promoted a swifter brand of covered wagon. Californians will not be eager for a train that is slower and more expensive than air travel, and which doesn’t exactly take them where they want to go.
The so-called “bullet train” will supposedly link Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, but it is slated to start in a remote area of the San Joaquin Valley. That is because a key purpose of the train is to shore up the fortunes of valley politicians by showing that they can “create jobs” and bring home the bacon for their district.
The train is also prohibitively expensive. As Lawrence McQuillan noted, when voters approved bonds in 2008 they were told it would cost $43 billion. Now voters are told it will cost nearly $100 billion if completed by 2033, but they don’t get to vote on the higher price tag. It’s a classic bait-and-switch deal, like other boondoggles.
And as in Blazing Saddles, one thing stands between the state rail bosses and the property they need: the rightful owners. They are not eager for a train to displace productive farmland. The project would also be environmentally destructive but supporters such as California governor Jerry Brown want to suspend environmental regulations for high-speed rail.
State bond issues may be in doubt but according to another court ruling California’s High-Speed Rail Authority can still spend the $3.4 billion in federal money on the first segment near Fresno. So even if the bullet train is not needed, wasteful, destructive of the environment, and a threat to property rights, it will still succeed at wasting money. And as governor William LePetomaine put it in Blazing Saddles, the project will protect “phony-baloney jobs.” That’s why politicians and bureaucrats are still yelling “all aboard!”