State high-speed rail project slowing to a reasonable speed

From its inception, California’s high-speed rail project had two troublesome aspects: It was a dreamy solution in search of a problem, and it could become a money pit draining taxpayers’ money better spent on other, more cogent needs.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority, whose credibility has been shredded by countless missteps, unveiled a much revised “business plan” Tuesday that largely deals with the money-pit issue.

It slows down and stretches out the construction schedule and merges the high-speed system with existing lower-speed commuter rail services in urban areas — thus mitigating at least some of the local opposition. And it promises to avoid open-ended financial commitments for construction or operational subsidies, even though the total cost has more than doubled from initial estimates.

Whether a 200-mph bullet train is a rational approach to California’s transportation issues is still problematic, since local rush-hour congestion is the biggest problem. But at least the newly revised plan scales back the pie-in-the-sky ridership figures that the rail authority was peddling, but no one was buying.

Gov. Jerry Brown appointed two advisers, Michael Rossi and Dan Richard, to the CHSRA board recently, and by all accounts, they rewrote much of the plan to deal with its many political and financial problems. Chairman Tom Umberg called it “a new time, a new day and a new beginning.”

The new version would still begin with a $6 billion, 130-mile section roughly between Fresno and Bakersfield, financed with a federal grant that specifies that route, evidently for local political reasons. It’s been dubbed “a train to nowhere,” and standing alone, that’s not an inaccurate epithet.

Its fate depends on what would, or would not, happen next.

As envisioned, the next section would extend service either southward to the outskirts of Los Angeles or northward to San Jose. That looms as a major challenge because it would require an additional $20 billion, most likely from the federal government.

However, support for high-speed rail in Washington is scant outside the Obama White House.

The extension, the plan says, would make it an operational high-speed system that would generate enough ridership and fare revenue to pay its operational costs. And that track record, in theory, would entice private or foreign government investors to finance extension to San Francisco on the north and Anaheim on the south, and eventually to Sacramento and San Diego.

Will it all come to pass?

The plan doesn’t promise success, and it also doesn’t over-commit the state. Its numbers seem to be much more realistic, and it appears to quiet at least some of the local opposition, especially on the Peninsula. So we’ll see.

Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.

Bay Area NewsOp EdsOpinionTransittransportation

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

A screenshot from SFPD body worn camera
New videos show police shooting man armed with knife, frying pan

Police say Antonio Estrada set fire to apartment building before shooting

Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the Department of Public Health, said he expected San Francisco to enter the purple tier within days.
Chris Victorio/Special to S.F. Examiner
SF still in the red but expects move into purple tier ‘some time soon’

Four more counties moved into highest COVID-19 risk category by state

The area near the Castro Muni Metro Station is expected to be affected by construction work on the Twin Peaks Tunnel, with lane closures on Market Street and some loss of parking. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Construction on Twin Peaks Tunnel to begin November 30

Area around Castro Muni Station will see greatest impacts including lane closures on Market Street

Cal Junior Quarterback Chase Garbers completed 28 of 42 passes 315 yards and three touchdowns and two interceptions in his last game against Oregon State. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
The Big Game: Stanford at Cal

What: The 123rd Big Game When: Friday, 1:30 p.m. Where: Memorial Stadium,… Continue reading

Most Read