High-speed rail funding must be stopped

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.

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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. 

8 replies
  1. The Environment
    The Environment says:

    How does High Speed Rail score environmentally?

    It is much more expensive in terms of initial cost than roads or low speed rail.
    It consumes much more land than airplanes and airports.
    It has a much higher carbon footprint than other modes of transportation once you consider the amount of steel, electricity and unused capacity of near empty cars.

    Will environmentalists fight for or against high speed rail? I lived in Belgium for a few months before the construction of the TGV and many did not want high speed rail. Noise, property destruction, and cost are reasons to use tax payers money for essential infrastructure (water) instead of shiny, new, projects with limited usefulness (single mode, high cost travel).

  2. David
    David says:

    Want to know who is the main, driving force behind this
    boondoggle? The entities that are driving Democratic politicians to keep
    supporting a project that will not pencil out, will require hundreds of
    billions to construct (due to mega project cost overruns) and require billions
    in yearly operating subsidies because no one but business travelers will be
    able to afford the high ticket prices – who are these entities behind
    HSR? Well, watch this video and public comment from the CA Sentate
    Transportation Committee hearing on May 3, 2011 (where State Senator LaMalfa’s
    state Senate Bill 22 to defund the CAHSRA and project was being discussed). In the
    OPPOSITION public comment to this bill you can see who speaks against LaMalfa:
    1. California Labor Federation (union);
    2. State Operating Engineers (union);
    3. State Buildings and Construction Trades Council (union);
    4. California State Federation of Laborers (union);
    5. State Laborer’s Council (union);
    6. Contractors/Vendors standing to make money off the project (i.e.
    Siemens/Parson’s Brinkerhoff, etc.)

    The Unions support Democratic politicos, from Governor Brown, to Galgliani, etc. There is also a
    revolving door between former public sector Democratic politicos then going “in house” with fat “non-public” employment contracts that aren’t subject to a California Public Records Act Request (under Cal. Govt.
    Code) for review of those contract – so they need to make sure the boondoggle and BILLION DOLLAR CONTRACTS are still being awarded when they leave office – it’s about the money, money, money –
    that’s it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDEgullAF5w

  3. William Buttrey
    William Buttrey says:

    Money for infrastructure seems a far more sensible expenditure than wars without end. We’d at least have something to show for it at the end of the day.

  4. Lee Drake
    Lee Drake says:

    Ryan, how do your numbers work out if fossil fuels are suddenly 2x the price they are today? 3x the price? Mass transit in general is a huge plus as prices for fuel goes up. The only reason it’s cheaper TODAY to fly or drive those distances is because the US Government (and especially the republicans within the US Government) have artificially kept fossil fuel prices low by subsidizing energy companies, and waging wars that spend many more billions than a train project would cost in fossil fuel rich countries. Mass transit becomes practical when it’s financially relevant. The reason that it’s so popular in those other countries (mentioned above) is that their fuel prices are not subsidized by government tax breaks and military power.

    As an LA resident you’re perhaps not familiar with how wonderful both a subway and high speed rail system can be. I would point you to heavily used subway systems in cities like Toronto Canada, or heavily used high speed rail systems in places like Japan and Europe for examples of working and efficient high speed and subway based train systems. In many of those places a car is simply unnecessary – you can get everywhere youw ant to by train, bus, or subway. Adding a station at a later date to places like San Diego would be a fraction of the cost of the whole train system going in. There is no reason that if a city such as that wishes to join the system they could not at a later date.

  5. Alex
    Alex says:

    I couldn’t agree more Ryan. Sure, HSR is great in concept and definitely has a future in CA in my opinion but you don’t move forward with a partial plan that is not cost-effective whatsoever, especially when the projected cost stands at ~80% of state revenue. It’s completely non-sensical that voters approved the project in the first place, then to tack on 25 more billion dollars for an incomplete construction. Are you kidding me? Last time I checked, embarking on colossal ill-planned projects are not the best way to close a multi-billion dollar deficit.

  6. Rail
    Rail says:

    If high-speed rail (or rail traffic in general) is so bad, why are we basically the only industrialized nation left who has not adopted it? HSR runs smoothly all over the world–England, France, Spain, China, Japan, even Uzbekistan all have high speed lines. The US has the Acela line in the Northeast, yes, but why should it stop there? Republicans and Democrats both agree that we need to cut our dependence on foreign oil; what better way to do this than to switch to a vastly more fuel-efficient form of travel? Republicans and Democrats both use the national interstate highway system today and it was one of the most expensive public-works projects ever.

    We need to invest in infrastructure and HSR is one of the best ways to do it. Reducing dependence on gas-heavy transport systems like air-travel and automobiles can only help our country. I, for one, believe that it is a national responsibility for Congress to continue funding HSR across the country, and a route from LA to SF would be a great place to start.

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