California’s bullet-train to nowhere: $44 billion in the hole and not a foot of track laid
From my latest for the Weekly Standard:
Building the first viaduct: So you can travel at 220 mph to an almond orchard
What I was to see consisted of a 1,600-foot viaduct spanning the Fresno River on the rural outskirts of Madera, a rundown city of 63,000 in the heart of the state’s agriculturally rich but economically parched San Joaquin Valley—a landscape that is geographically, topographically, demographically, and culturally far away from the bustle of the two coastal metropolises that the train was supposed to be designed to serve. The Fresno River viaduct is part of an initial 130-mile stretch of track through the valley that would allow passengers to travel from Madera, 164 miles -southeast of San Francisco, to Bakersfield, 110 miles northeast of Los Angeles. Well, actually not quite all the way to Bakersfield, California’s ninth-largest city, with a population of 364,000, but to the edge of an almond orchard on the fringes of Shafter, a sleepy farm town of 17,000 some 19 miles to the north. That was because the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA), the autonomous state agency in charge of planning and building the train, didn’t have quite the money in its budget to take the train to downtown Bakersfield, and passengers bound for that city would presumably have to board a low-speed connector bus to actually arrive there. The estimated date for completing this initial stretch was September 2017, the deadline for spending $3.5 billion in “stimulus” money from the Obama administration. Actually linking San Francisco and Los Angeles with a southerly terminus in Anaheim on a total of 520 miles of track had been pushed out to the year 2022. Critics have dubbed the high-speed rail project the “train to nowhere,” and it was easy to see why.
Those longueurs are only part of the story. The rest of the story is the astonishingly widespread political opposition to the train by California voters these days, even though 53 percent of them approved the idea when it was on the state ballot in the November 2008 election. The opposition spans ideological left and right and demographic rich, poor, and middle-class: from wealthy Silicon Valley technocrats horrified that the ultra-fast rail lines, with overpasses only every 10 miles or so, would wreck their leafy, bicycle-friendly upscale-suburban neighborhoods, to Latino-majority working-class towns in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley that would be split in half by the train corridors, to equestrians in the San Gabriel Mountain foothills who would see their horse trails destroyed and environmentalists concerned about wetlands destruction in Northern California and threats to wildlife and endangered plant species in Southern California’s Angeles National Forest, through which several of the proposed train routes would plow.
Posted by Charlotte Allen