Your View: Stop high-speed rail before it gets on track

By Kevin Knight

La Jolla

When Californians voted for high-speed rail they were shown unrealistic estimates for construction costs, journey times, fares, ridership and revenues. Lynn Schenk’s article on high-speed rail continues the process of misinformation.

She says we need high-speed rail because California prides itself on “innovation.” Sadly, compared to Google, Apple and the many San Diego technology companies that drive California’s economy there is nothing innovative about a 200-year-old inflexible form of transportation that produces basic construction and operating jobs.

She also says high-speed rail will contribute to clean air because it uses electricity. But why are trains, which use electricity whether full or empty, better than electric cars which will be in common use by the end of the decade?

As for her claim that a new rail system takes less land than widening freeways, the reality is she is proposing building brand new travel corridors, which will require massive new feeder infrastructure  and result in significant land development.

But the main issue, which she ignores, is will anyone use these trains? Who will travel long distances to a new station, built where nobody objects instead of somewhere useful, to ride to another similar station and find some way to get where they want, instead of driving direct?  In movies set in Europe people hop off a train and walk to their destination, but that isn’t reality even there, where major cities are relatively concentrated, let alone in our sprawling California. And the fact is that railways in Europe are in long-term decline. Every time a new rail line gets built there rail ridership increases briefly, then continues its decline. This is because Europeans are buying more cars and spending more time in them, like us, because cars are more convenient.

We have spent the past two years seeing just how much money government can spend on things for absolutely no end result. High-speed rail in California is likely to be more of the same — an underused white elephant, costing taxpayers in perpetuity. It’s time to stop this madness before it goes any further.

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Posted by Staff on Sep 5, 2011. Filed under News, Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

4 Comments for “Your View: Stop high-speed rail before it gets on track”

  1. Joseph Taylor

    Who will use the High Speed Rail System is a good quesition, one right behind who will pay to build it and who will pay for operating it. The last question is easy, it will be all state tax payers when in fact few will ride it due to the cost and inaccessiblility of other transit systems.

    Public transit has not caught on – See http://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/report/R_610LBEH...

    See the 5-page PPIC study on CA transportation trends, published last June.

    The share of the workforce commuting on public transit in the state’s four largest metropolitan areas barely increased from 5.5 percent in 1990 to 5.6 percent in 2006, despite the introduction and expansion of several light rail and commuter rail systems such as Bart.

    Consider a stop now, even if it causes the loss of federal dollars, since the loss of our money make the fed contribution look like a drop in the bucket.

  2. James Leno

    Ridership and revenue projections are just that – projections. If you are faulting people for how badly they predict the future, that's a common fault to find. It's not misinformation to provide updated information when changes are made to the project after public input.

    How will all of those Google, Apple, and San Diego tech company employees going to get to work on crowded freeways? More and more, the answer is "Wake up and leave earlier to beat the traffic."

    The reason trains are better than electric cars is that trains will always be able to carry more people than freeways. Even if every gasoline car were replaced with an electric, freeways would still be clooged twice a day, every weekday. Drivers would just sit in traffic jams more efficiently.

    And no matter whether California's HSR uses a new or existing right of way, the new rail corridor will still take less space (and therefore displace fewer homes, farms, and businesses) than widening freeways. That's not a claim. That's a mathematical certainty.

    Millions of people already travel far out of town to an airport, just to fly to another airport, to find another way to get where they want. And even if rail travel in Europe is declining, it's not being abandoned at all. As you said, more new rail lines are being built in Europe. In fact, worldwide, rail travel is on the rise. Brand new HSR plans are being made in places like Australia, Brazil, India, Uzbekistan,and even Iraq. Yes, IRAQ, where we right now have troops looking for Al Qaida, has signed a deal with France to build a HSR line in that country. Will anyone use trains? All around the world, the answer is Yes.

    If we've seen what little our government can do over three years with HSR, we've seen even less over the last 30 years since the last time we tried to build it. Back then, the argument was "The economy is so good, we don't need it!" Today, the argument is "The economy is so bad, we can't afford it!" How long are all the HSR detractors going to dance from argument to argument, while the rest of the world passes us by?

  3. Sharon

    HSR is a boondoggle and cost overruns may run over 100%. This will be CA's "Big Dig".
    FL was smart to reject the HSR financial disaster. An election is upcoming – vet your candidates on the issue of HSR and remember Congress will be CUTTING so CA taxpayers get to pick up the overrun tab.

  4. Melanie

    Nice to see somebody summarize the flaws in the HSR proponents arguments. I grew up in Europe and to try to say that HSR will be successful here because it is there is ridiculous – there are corridors on the east coast like Boston-NYC-DC (where I have lived) which are comparable and where a HSR line would make sense, but in CA our infrastructure is completely different. HSR is a dream of politicians who want to see their names associated with grandiose infrastructure projects to make them feel good about their achievements without regard to economic reality after they've left office. Hey, we've already wasted $500 million on bankrupt Solyndra, why not a few hundred billion on CA HSR?

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