California Bullet Train Might Be Breathing Its Last

 

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny, following up on a ruling earlier this year, might have finally put a stake through the LA-San Francisco bullet train:

Kenny ruled that the state does not have a valid financing plan, which was required under the 2008 bond measure, Proposition 1A. The measure included provisions intended to ensure the state did not start the project if it did not have all of the necessary funds to complete a self-supporting, initial operating segment.

The state rail agency created a funding plan, but it was an estimated $25 billion short of the amount needed to complete a first working section of the line. Kenny ruled that the state must rescind the plan and create a new one, a difficult task because the state High-Speed Rail Authority hasn’t identified sources of additional revenue to allocate to the project.

As near as I can tell, the HSR authority’s plan all along has been to simply ignore the law and spend the bond money on a few initial miles of track. Once that was done, no one would ever have the guts to halt the project because it would already have $9 billion sunk into it. So one way or another, the legislature would keep it on a funding drip.

It’s a time-tested strategy, and it might have worked if not for a meddling judge. But I don’t see how Kenny could have ruled any other way. The bond measure is clear about the financing requirement, and the authority’s flouting of the requirement is equally clear. Not only does it not have a plan to fully fund even a part of the HSR project, there’s no remotely plausible plan they can put forward. The federal government is plainly not going to provide any further money, and the prospect of private funding is laughable. No one in his right mind believes either the authority’s ridership projections or its cost projections anymore.

I’ve been a skeptic of this project from the start. Its numbers never added up, its projections were woefully rose-colored, and it was fanciful to think it would ever provide the performance necessary to compete against air and highway travel. Since then, things have only gotten worse as cost projections have gone up, ridership projections have gone down, and travel time estimates have struggled to stay under three hours.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this is the kind of project that gives liberals a bad name. It’s time to kill it. For a whole bunch of reasons, LA to San Francisco just isn’t a good choice for high-speed rail.

 

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