California's Leaner Meaner High Speed Rail
Gov. Jerry Brown, who had assumed control of the project, then ordered up another revision aimed at subduing critics and it was released last week.
Most of its 212 pages are essentially political rhetoric, touting the wonderfulness of linking the northern and southern regions of the state via high-speed trains.
It purports to reduce the cost "by almost $30 billion" to $68.4 billion, and counters the train-to-nowhere epithet by quickly attaching the initial San Joaquin Valley segment to enhanced commuter rail in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles.
Dan Richard, a long-time Brown associate who now chairs the High-Speed Rail Authority, declared that it would "meet the performance standards set by the voters."
The supposed cost reduction is misleading. The earlier cost estimate was for a fully realized system – one that would carry passengers between San Francisco and Los Angeles in the 160 minutes specified in the voter-approved ballot measure.
The new "blended system" is a different animal – similar to a $78 billion alternative in last year's plan – that is unlikely to meet the time standard. As such, it could even be challenged legally.
Even the blended system, however, is highly dependent on federal funds. The plan assumes that the feds will kick in $41.9 billion, or nearly two-thirds of the cost – even though there's no money of that magnitude in the pipeline and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has declared war on the White House's bullet train plans.
The state only has money in hand for the train-to-nowhere segment, assuming the Legislature appropriates the state's share. Anything beyond that, such as connecting Bakersfield to Los Angeles, is pure conjecture.
Brown and Richard talk bravely about using proceeds of a new cap-and-trade system of controlling carbon emissions to fill in the blanks, but the legality of that plan is very uncertain.
Committing the state to a project of these dimensions on nothing more certain than hopes and intentions would be, to say the least, dangerous.