Update: California High-Speed Rail Nearly Dead

Virginia Postrel has a good article on Bloomberg discussing the latest snags in the HSR project, the boondoggle being kept on life-support to shield the careers of politicians who have kept it going long after the original promises to voters were broken. I ended the previous post on the project with this:

A high-speed rail line through dense urban areas and mountains was always going to be a difficult project. But pie-in-the-sky projects pay off when you can direct money to your political supporters preparing for it, get back some of that as campaign contributions, and retire from public life before the public realizes they got nothing for their tax dollars. As in all these Bootleggers and Baptists stories, the “bootleggers” — politicians, unions, and contractors — pushed the project through fully aware the proposal was a fantasy and sold the dream to idealistic voters. Having foolishly voted for the bonds, the voters will never be allowed another vote to stop the project.

I don’t remember my own vote on the bond initiative — I may well have said yes since like other voters, I believed the promises made in the initiative would be kept, or if not, that the funding would be blocked. But courts have allowed the project to proceed and bond money to be spent despite ample evidence that those promises have not and cannot be met.

When I mentioned this on Facebook, I got this response back from friend David Gerrold, who is a good representative of those dreamers (the Baptists) who want something good and ignore until the bitter end the evidence that it can’t happen. I sympathize with the idealism, but also see the damage done when fantasy is more politically important than reality. Here’s his reaction:

David Gerrold Comment

This is the dream we were sold. None of those promises can be kept, especially the climate change benefits — since the fate of the project is now certain, further expenditure of $billions will leave behind nothing but partly-constructed tracks for a route that won’t be used enough to save even the carbon emissions used in materials to build it, so it’s even going to be a big net loss on the global warming front.

Developments since my last post make this even clearer. The Obama administration gave the project a temporary exemption from the rule requiring the state put up its own matching funds before the Federal money would be released. This exemption is the only reason project work can continue, with the state essentially borrowing its own contribution from the Federal government until its own funds are available.

The funds the state expected to have from emissions control credit auctions have gone missing. The latest auction was a failure, providing only $2.5 million for the train project vs the $150 million expected. The original promise of private matching investment has not happened and no private company is interested. The emissions money amounts to a tax on California industry and citizens and is not structured to be a reliable stream of funding. The entire funding scheme teeters on the brink as legislators eye the lists of much more critical infrastructure projects that would have to be cut to fund the train. While Governor Jerry Brown continues to support it, others are edging toward the door, eying each other as the realization sinks in that the merde is about to hit the rotational airfoil. No one wants to be first on the governor’s team to declare the truth, and so the zombie project appears to live. Here’s the original proposed route:

California HSR Original Route - Wikipedia

California HSR Original Route – Wikipedia

The original promise of high-speed service from downtown SF to downtown LA (and San Diego) was scrapped years ago, with the current $65 billion project estimate for the originally-proposed first phase from SF to LA unfunded and likely to remain unfunded. The desperate goal of project proponents now is to build something to entrench the project. The LA Times story on the rationalizations for building the least-useful part first:

The shift to the Bay Area [building the segment from San Jose to Bakersfield first] will help the California High-Speed Rail Authority hold down costs and expedite construction of the system, which is already two years behind schedule, according to details of the new plan released Thursday.

The change would also avoid expensive tunneling and viaduct construction through the geologically complex Tehachapi and San Gabriel Mountains, where several potential routes have been proposed through the Angeles National Forest. Those options have generated political opposition in communities that border the forest.

The high-speed rail authority said shifting to the Bay Area will allow it to have the initial segment operating by 2025, earlier than planned, which will make the project attractive to private investors that would help fill holes in funding.

California HSR Downsized Route - LA Times photo

California HSR Downsized Route – LA Times photo

The HSR Authority has failed to get rights-of-way through the urban areas needed to reach the stations in SF and LA, and the state’s laws giving local NIMBYs power to stall or block any major project with lawsuits funded by wealthy residents of towns like Atherton along the way means those routes will never be available as initially envisioned. Having compromised away all the speed benefits, the high-speed rail project is now a medium-speed rail project, offering little time advantage as its trains will proceed slowly through urbanized areas and stop at every intermediate city. And the low density of California cities, especially LA, means it will be more practical for most people not living near downtown stations to drive directly to their diverse destinations — trips from one downtown to another downtown are only a small fraction of the total demand for instate travel. Improvements to bus services in all metropolitan areas, and smaller, cheaper projects serving the real needs of middle and lower-income workers and families, are being neglected so this shiny dream choo-choo can keep going.

It’s clear the original project proposal was designed to offer some service to most towns in California, whether that was feasible or not, and it was on that basis that it got enough support to get the bond issue through the legislature and the voters. Every single one of the promises — routing, trip times, costs, self-supporting operation, private investment matching — has been broken since, yet the inertia of the project keeps the consulting companies, lawyers, and union workers spending borrowed money to build the train to nowhere.

The Great Slackening is caused by the bureaucratization of everything and the lack of accountability for failure. California’s government is no longer capable of building major infrastructure projects in a timely or efficient manner, and the state will exhaust its funds trying before recognizing that the system must be reformed.

Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples OrganizationsDeath by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations,  available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]

The first review is in: by Elmer T. Jones, author of The Employment Game. Here’s the condensed version; view the entire review here.

Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”

Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.


More reading on other topics:

Regulation Strangling Innovation: Planes, Trains, and Hyperloop
Who Killed Prince? Restrictions on Buprenorphine
The Great Progressive Stagnation vs. Dynamism
Captain America and Progressive Infantilization
FDA Wants More Lung Cancer
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Public Employee Unions
Jane Jacobs’ Monstrous Hybrids: Guardians vs Commerce
Death by HR: How Affirmative Action is Crippling America
Death by HR: The End of Merit in Civil Service
Death by HR: History and Practice of Affirmative Action and the EEOC
Civil Service: Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive Dream
Bootleggers and Baptists
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Justice Dept. Extortion
Corrupt Feedback Loops, Goldman Sachs: More Justice Dept. Extortion
Death by HR: The Birth and Evolution of the HR Department
Death by HR: The Simple Model of Project Labor
Levellers and Redistributionists: The Feudal Underpinnings of Socialism
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
Trump World: Looking Backward
Minimum Wage: The Parable of the Ladder
Selective Outrage
Culture Wars: Co-Existence Through Limited Government
Social Justice Warriors, Jihadists, and Neo-Nazis: Constructed Identities
Tuitions Inflated, Product Degraded, Student Debts Unsustainable
The Morality of Glamour

On Affirmative Action and Social Policy:

Affirmative Action: Chinese, Indian-Origin Citizens in Malaysia Oppressed
Affirmative Action: Caste Reservation in India
Diversity Hires: Pressure on High Tech<a
Title IX Totalitarianism is Gender-Neutral
Public Schools in Poor Districts: For Control Not Education
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
The Social Decay of Black Neighborhoods (And Yours!)
Child Welfare Ideas: Every Child Gets a Government Guardian!
“Income Inequality” Propaganda is Just Disguised Materialism

The greatest hits from SubstrateWars.com (Science Fiction topics):

Fear is the Mindkiller
Mirror Neurons and Irene Gallo
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
Selective Outrage
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
“Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire
The Death of “Wired”: Hugo Awards Edition
Hugos, Sad Puppies 3, and Direct Knowledge
Selective Outrage and Angry Tribes
Men of Honor vs Victim Culture
SFF, Hugos, Curating the Best
“Why Aren’t There More Women Futurists?”
Science Fiction Fandom and SJW warfare

More reading on the military:

US Military: From No Standing Armies to Permanent Global Power
US Military: The Desegration Experience
The VA Scandals: Death by Bureaucracy

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