Governor Newsom — Stop the Bullet-Train Debacle!
By Joseph P. Charney
If insanity is doing the same thing expecting a different result then California’s leadership’s continued support of California’s High Speed Railway Authority (HSRA) bullet train project is insane.
In 2008, Governor Jerry Brown promised Californians a 500 mile high-speed railroad running from Sacramento to Los Angeles if the State’s voters would endorse a 33 billion dollar bond issue. He claimed it would make travel from northern to southern California easier, cheaper and more environmentally friendly. The Bond was issued, billions were spent, and as of yet, not a single track has been laid. This is historic bureaucratic bungling on a grand scale.
Since 2008, seven high-speed rail business plans have been issued. The recent 2022 plan estimates that the full, 500-mile high-speed system between Los Angeles and San Francisco will now cost as much as $105 billion (rising five billion since last year and 70 billion over the original estimate). All the business plans can be found at the HSRA site, https://hsr.ca.gov , where the Authority continues to project the delusion that a track carrying sleek futuristic trains will eventually carry tens of thousands of passengers up and down California tracks each year. While the fantasy is still posted, the “dream” of a 500 mile railroad is long gone and replaced by a potential 171 mile operating system between Bakersfield and Merced.
A recent editorial in the Pasadena Star News, expressed the growing frustration towards the “project” within the California State Legislature focusing on Governor Newsom’s failure to stop the boondoggle.
“Three years ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom had an opportunity to prove he could be a competent leader. At his very first State of the Address, he sounded like this editorial board when speaking about the bullet train. “Let’s be real,” Newsom said. “The current project, as planned, would cost too much and, respectfully, take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency…He was right about that, but then proceeded to simply double down on the Bakersfield-Merced line which, respectfully, isn’t exactly what anyone would consider a necessary project.”
Instead of cutting the losses, acting responsibly and having the courage to stand up to Unions and to environmental lobbies touting “high paid jobs” and massive C02 reduction, Newsom caved. When you call up the link to California’s “High Speed Rail Authority” today, https://hsr.ca.gov, it still portrays the slick renditions of the original 2008 projection of a 500 mile long railroad, a system as likely to emerge as a Jurassic Park dinosaur. Only the entrance fee now comes to more than 100 billion dollars.
If Governor Brown or Governor Newsom considered the testimony of high speed rail supporter and expert, Joe Vanich, when he persuasively argued against proceeding with the High Speed Rail Authority, claiming it irresponsibly promised what it could not deliver, this debacle could have been prevented. Vanich described himself as a consistent high speed rail supporter for decades, but it was the first time he was unable to support such a project and he pulled no punches:
“After reviewing countless rail plans over many many years I have found the authority’s work to be the poorest I have ever seen…the current proposal is untenable. The Train will be slower than they say — carry fewer people than they claim it will and cost more than they admit it will. The ridership projections of 117 million annual rider is so far from reality that I have to call it what it is ‘science fiction.” He accused the Authority of “attempting to dupe the Legislative Committee by failing to detail the deficiencies in the plan, as well as the assumptions that would justify the billions invested.” He ended by urging the Committee “to dissolve the High Speed Authority and transfer the job to a more responsible agency”.
To appreciate the full thrust and power of the expert’s critique this dramatic and forceful testimony must and should be listened to in its entirety https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=704&v=SS0RD6dqpKY
His warning was tragically and irresponsibly ignored, and the California’s High Speed Rail Authority (HSRA) formed and proceeded to spend billions without any track being laid and without effective oversight.
But this 14 year debacle shouldn’t merely be measured in waste and failure. There is a concept in Economics called “opportunity cost”. What could have been accomplished if the focus had been on more pressing and obtainable State goals rather than chasing the great white whale of carbon reduction. What if all the time, energy, resources and effort could have been directed at California’s most pressing and serious concerns faced in 2008? Isn’t it foreseeable that in 2022 we would have been closer to achieving more important goals?
- Today, 68 percent of California fourth grade students don’t read at grade level. Is this not an “emergency”? This is a true”high-speed” pipeline — one that goes directly from failing schools to prisons — one constructed by neglect and apathy. Where were the billions needed for tutors and mentors so that failure could be deterred and incarcerations diminished? Where were the biannual reports by well-organized and well-paid Committees reporting on the attempts to mitigate this criminal neglect?
- Since 2008, there are 25,000 more California “homeless” (mostly mentally ill and drug addicted) individuals sprawled in encampments. Why weren’t billions targeted for the construction of the necessary mental health facilities, and well trained mental health professionals which collectively could have saved thousands of lives, diverting the mentally ill from jails to treatment and drug rehabilitation, while reducing open-drug sales and street violence.
- Instead of having focused on the 100 billion dollar boondoggle, California’s political class could have invested and planned to end California’s consistent water insecurity by addressing the overuse of water for non-essential food crops, building reservoirs or desalination plants. We could have begun to do that instead of hiding behind the inevitability of climate change.
Unfortunately, it has been easier for California’s Governors to appease powerful state agricultural lobbying groups, a well-funded permanent supportive housing lobby, as well as those opposing creative school reform, then to tackle these difficult and expensive challenges.
Newsom is now responsible for this continued failure and should be held accountable.