Rick Santorum’s decision to suspend his presidential campaign last week has positioned former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as the Republican presidential nominee for the 2012 election. And with recent polls showing Romney neck-and-neck with President Barack Obama, many citizens and legislators are beginning to consider the future of green-lit government projects.
Nowhere is this fear more tangible, or more relevant, than in the current California high-speed rail proposal, a gargantuan $70-billion project that would create a 520-mile line of electrified track from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
The project, which was approved Thursday after many years of opposition, would be an absolute financial disaster for California. If elected president, Romney should immediately withdraw all federal funding for this nonsensical project and encourage California legislators to shelve the idea altogether.
If current American railways are any indication of this line’s potential to succeed, the project should be stopped immediately. According to the Bureau of Transportation’s statistics, rail and mass transit receive considerably larger federal subsidies on a per passenger-mile basis than any other forms of transportation. In spite of all these subsidies, only 30 million Americans rode Amtrak last year.
In particular, the California high-speed rail project has been an absolute public embarrassment.
A few months ago, the price approximation swelled from a $30-billion proposal to a $98-billion proposal. After hasty revision, legislators were able to slice $30 billion off the price tag. The plan now stands at $68.4 billion — still $25 billion more than what voters approved four years ago — thanks to the implementation of a “blended system.” Under this system, high-speed trains would share tracks now used by commuter trains.
But the new proposal also removes stops in Sacramento, San Diego and Anaheim — three destinations that were heavily used to sell the project to voters in 2008.
The ballooning price tag is not the only part of the proposal that has come under fire. This project has been expedited through the use of imploded and biased numbers. In 2008, the Reason Foundation, a public policy think tank, published a report estimating that the rail would see only 24 to 30 million riders in 2030, far below the 65.5 to 96.5 million rider estimates that were touted by the California High Speed Rail Association. And these numbers came out before the project scrapped San Diego and Anaheim from the proposal. Officials are struggling to find a new way for the system to turn a profit.
Beyond the ample statistics that illustrate the futility of this project, we should look to common sense. Proponents of the project have argued that the railway will allow millions of L.A. residents to spend the day in San Francisco and vice-versa.
I question the lure of such an opportunity. What USC student would spend five hours of his or her Saturday traveling on a train to spend a few hours in San Francisco? Why would anyone pay a large fare to travel by train to either city when they could fly to that destination in under an hour for approximately the same price? I don’t think most Californians would even be willing to make the roundtrip flight. Sure, security is a hassle at airports, but similar measures could very well be implemented for this railway. And if a plane breaks down, you can almost always catch another flight. If the train breaks down, you don’t have a whole lot of options.
The Obama administration has already promised $3.3 billion toward initial construction of the railroad. The current business plan anticipates $20 billion or more in additional government funding over the next decade.
Fortunately, Republicans in Congress have been able to temporarily block future federal spending for the project.
The rise of the railroad in the 19th century propelled the American economy to incredible heights. But the Iron Horse has had its time and should remain in its own sector of history.
The decision to stop the California high-speed rail project is clear. At the very least, this project needs to go back to the drawing board before legislators proceed to saddle our state with even more debt.
Ryan Townsend is a freshman majoring in business administration.