High Speed Rail Takes More Punches, is On the Ropes

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

If the California high speed rail project were a boxer you’d wonder how it could still be standing. It has been pounded by both left hooks and right jabs.  With the powerful governor of California in its corner it has managed to stay upright in the ring, but it may not be too long before project supporters cry, “No mas.”

Following Judge Michael P. Kenny’s ruling last November that the high speed rail funding plan does not meet the requirements demanded by the bond measure passed by voters, state Senate leader, Darrell Steinberg said that the governor’s budget spending on the proposal would be subject to debate.

The Legislative analyst threw another haymaker at the governor’s bullet train funding proposal saying the $250 million the governor wants to use from the cap and trade fees from business is “legally risky.” The reason: the fees are supposed to reduce greenhouse gases by 2020. The train will not be completed by then and may even add to the greenhouse gases problem. Environmental groups who don’t like the use of cap and trade fees for the train project are applying those left hooks to the project.

The right jabs are coming from Republicans in Congress. The bullet train has relied on federal funds so far but now some influential members are questioning the use of additional federal tax dollars.  At a congressional committee hearing yesterday, warnings were made by Republicans, who hold the majority, that federal funds could be cut off.

Another punch at the bullet train came in the form of a recently filed initiative proposal to ask voters to reconsider the project they barely passed in 2008. Assemblyman Jeff Gorell filed the initiative to stop funding the train project and instead dedicate money designated for the bullet train to educational purposes. How strong a blow against the train this is remains to be seen. Who will fund the initiative? And who will lead the fight as Gorell spends his time running for congress?

Even from across the country the bullet train took a shot a couple of days ago from an editorial columnist in the Washington Post. Charles Lane wrote,  “As it happens, Kenny’s ruling on the California rail plan was almost certainly correct; the Brown and Obama administrations have never plausibly explained where they would get the $68 billion needed to build the whole California system. Even if completed, high-speed rail would not enhance productivity; rather, it would consume subsidies, as it does in other countries. With teleconferencing a reality and driverless cars on the way, bullet trains don’t seem so cutting-edge anymore, anyway.”

The California bullet train is on the ropes and soon may be counted out.

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