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Politicians pitched it as a magic carpet that would speed riders from Los Angeles to San Francisco in record time, with complete safety and total comfort. According to promoters California’s high-speed rail project, also known as the bullet train, would also clear up the state’s crowded highways and of course protect the environment and help stop global warming. Governor Jerry Brown saw the bullet train as part of his legacy but for taxpayers it shaped up as a boondoggle.
Few commuters were panting for an essentially 19th century form of transportation that was slower and more expensive than air travel. Commuters were also puzzled that the first stretch aimed to connect Bakersfield and Fresno. As in Blazing Saddles, one thing stood between the rail bosses and the land they needed: the rightful owners. And as we noted, the project also had costly tunnel vision. The rail bosses kept switching tracks, and politicians started talking about a “blended system” with local rail networks. To longtime observers, that doesn’t sound much like the original plan.
“All in all, therefore,” writes Dan Walters in the Sacramento Bee, “it’s likely that the bullet train as envisioned, linking San Francisco and Sacramento in the north with Los Angeles and San Diego in the south, won’t materialize.” So he wonders, “what, then, happens to the $9.95 billion in bonds that California voters authorized for the project?”
Walters cites Jerry Brown advisor Dan Richard that the object was not high-speed rail but “rail modernization.” For Walters this validated the suspicion that the bond legislation was so much BS, “a bait-and-switch ploy to get state voters to finance local transit projects they otherwise would not support.” The bait-and-switch strategy helped earn the project a Golden Fleece Award, but taxpayers should not expect the High Speed Rail Authority to disappear.
Like other useless state bodies, it remains a comfy sinecure for ruling-class retreads like board member Lynn Schenk, a former congresswoman and chief of staff for governor Gray Davis. And as we noted, a convicted embezzler also found work with the rail authority, so criminals are also all aboard.