Never underestimate California's creative ability to make good things bad, bad things worse, and worse things into catastrophes. We were The Golden State. The money is gone ($26 Billion budget deficit and growing). The education system has gone from great to horrendous (currently rated last in the Nation). The Infrastructure either destroyed or decaying, etc. etc.
California is expert in finding remedies for its woes: Cut the deficit by raising State income taxes, property taxes, car registration fees, sales tax, etc. Sadly, these "remedies" have resulted in a decrease, not an increase, in State revenues. The 9.75 percent sales tax has cut sales tax revenues and in-state purchasing. We shouldn't leave out massive increases in foreclosures (top 3 in that) or our unemployment rate of 13 to 15 percent.
California has a new solution to its woes: the Bullet Train. On November 4, 2008, Californians, in another show of our inanity, voted for Prop 1A, authorizing $9.95 Billion in General Obligation bonds as a cash beginner for designing and building the Bullet Train. This Train, says the Transit Authority, will offer passengers the opportunity to travel from San Diego to San Francisco in only 3 to 3 ½ hours, for, who knows, how much. This Train will compete with the airlines. 'Compete' needs to be clarified by the Transit Authority. How often the Bullet will leave to sweep thru the state isn't clear, although one would have to guess it won't be every ½ hour (Southwest Airlines' current flight frequency).
According to CHSRA (California High Speed Transit Authority) the Bullet will reduce unemployment (160,000 construction-related jobs and 450,000 permanent jobs), increase State revenue, and catapult us into the no Techno-gap future. Unfortunately, should this train actually be built, operation of the first part (Gilroy to Palmdale) will not start for 20 years. This is a long time to wait for reduced unemployment and increased State revenue to kick in. The unemployed will sing Hallelujah as they begin their jobs in 20 years, if they are still alive. That's a long time to wait for a job. And, as you will see, state generated numbers are notoriously inaccurate. The new job numbers will be less. Way less. Trust me.
The initial estimated cost for building the first part of the route, Gilroy to Palmdale, was $9.5 billion. That estimate has been changed at least 3 times, the last occurring last week, an increase from $34 Billion to $42 Billion. The cost of bullet trains is really going up. We should have bought ours at an introductory discount sale price. Or just found a used Bullet.
Over the past few years, state estimates of projected ridership have varied wildly. This first number, 175 million, happens to equal one third of the population of the United States. Picture one third of the United States population journeying to California to ride the Bullet. Many critics thought this 175,000,000 number to be a joke. Interestingly, so did CHSRA, except for the joke part. CHSRA adjusted their ridership estimate, both then, and on numerous other occasions. Down. Way down. From the high water mark of 175 million to 120 million then 90, 60, 50 million, and so forth. The last lowering to 40 million riders was last week, a number felt by many to still be pie in the sky high.
Between the falling estimates of ridership and the increasing cost estimates, there was a big problem, astutely recognized by CHSRA. They did the math and realized that their own estimates, cost of project and income of project, left the whole Bullet project financially underwater. However, this is where 'California think' swung into action. CHSRA doubled the projected fares -- from $55 one way from SF to Palmdale, to $110. No income problem. And they say Californians aren't clever.
Safety is a concern of many. The Bullet is supposed to hit either 220 mph or 280 mph or any number in between, according to CHSRA. These high speeds are only reached over the Palmdale to Gilroy section, the one directly over the San Andreas fault. Not to worry, says CHSRA, we have seismic sensors. These sensors will, and I can't figure out how, have to 'think' or at least predict, what a sensor going off means -- maybe nothing, perhaps a little, or maybe even, it's "The Big One". Again, says CHSRA, not to worry. These Trains are built to go from 280 to 0 in one minute. Unfortunately, such a rapid change of speed will accordion the Train and kill everyone on it. Not good. Not good at all.
So there you have it, California's biggest boondoggle ever. A useless Train to nowhere, very expensive to build and ride, slow, (regular Train speed between San Diego and Palmdale, and Gilroy and San Francisco) dangerous, and likely, transporting very few people... And losing very, very large amounts of money.
Believe it or not, tickets can be purchased now for the maiden trip. Let's all buy a ticket now at what will later be a bargain price, and meet up at the platform for that first trip. In 20 years.
(All estimates, costs, income, ridership, etc,, used in this article, come from CHSRA, the California High Speed Rail Authority. All other descriptive material also comes from the same source. Let's hear it for CHSRA. So they're mathematically and logically challenged. Who amongst us is without defect?)
Follow Ronald Ricker on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RonaldRickerMD