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Choo-choo, Ah-choo!

July 2, 2012

It’s tough to spell a sneeze, let me just point that out.

Let’s check in on the latest in California, as the state still attempts to figure out how to start building half a rail system that stars from nowhere and ends to nowhere… so that someday people can get on a train and make it from San Francisco to Los Angelas in more time for more money than just flying.

There’s a state-wide vote coming up this week (probably tomorrow) for another $6B in start-up bonds, in addition to the nearly $10B in bonds the project already has.  To get this moving, the legislature and the Brown administration have cooked up a bunch of nice adds to the already lousy budget that sweetens the post for the end points.  Samples of what the Bay Area will get if the legislature will vote for this include:

In the Bay Area, those connections include:

— $140 million for new BART cars.

— $105 million to modernize Caltrain.

— $61 million for San Francisco’s Central Subway.

— $46.5 million to improve the tracks on the Capital Corridor commute line between Oakland and San Jose.

High-speed rail needs 21 votes in the state Senate to get the green light to start spending voter-approved bonds in a major way.

That’s probably enough that quite a few votes will show up given the local largesse.  So vote for $6B, and get about 10% of that immediately into your already losing-proposition public rail… (I believe one government-run rail system in the world makes money right now, and I can never remember which one.)

Reason Magazine, as usual, says no to the public system.

The text of Proposition 1A asking California voters to approve $9.95 billion in bonds for the project in 2008 said: “The total cost to develop and construct the entire high-speed train system would be about $45 billion.”

Now the High-Speed Rail Authority says the price tag for a scaled down system will be $68.4 billion. Last year, the HSRA actually estimated the costs would be over $98 billion but to lower the sticker shock by $30 billion they’ve shifted to a “blended” plan that uses slower, existing rail tracks instead of building the exclusive tracks capable of handling high-speed trains that they originally planned on.

Go read the whole thing.  It’s got lots of reasons why something like this is a bad idea.

Mind you, I really like trains and rail travel.  Here in Oregon, we have a nice link to the AmTrak line that runs up to Seattle.  On many occasions, I’ve looked into using that instead of flying or driving to get to my meetings outside of Seattle.  And usually, it doesn’t work at all.  For instance, last week, I needed to be in Seattle by 8AM, and had an indefinite departure time.  That doesn’t work well for trains where you need your defined ticket.  In this case, it didn’t work for air travel, either, and I ended up driving (and a lovely 21 hour day, but that’s another story).  But when the train is competing with both a viable air travel route as well as a half-way decent road system?  I don’t see the math adding up.

We’ll see if California’s legislature does.  Right now the vote looks to be short, but let’s see who’s arms get twisted in the final hours.

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