Bullet Train’s Latest Plan Sends Your Money Far Afield

Susan Shelley

Columnist and member of the editorial board of the Southern California News Group, and the author of the book, “How Trump Won.”


California, meet the future.

In Zaraza, Venezuela, a factory that was supposed to be building the country’s first bullet train stands hollowed out and abandoned. Cattle roam the site and chew on the grass that grows through the rubble.

A decade ago, the government said the high-speed rail line would extend 290 miles, carry 5 million passengers per year and bring economic revitalization to agricultural areas far from the coast.

Instead it’s one of “many unfinished politically motivated projects dotting Venezuela,” in the words of Associated Press writer Joshua Goodman, who reported recently on the dismal fate of the railway.

In a related story, the California High Speed Rail Authority has just approved its 2016 business plan, a document that with just a bit of editing could be the script for a new Monty Python movie.

The rail authority announced in February that the first segment of America’s first bullet train would be built from San Jose to a field north of Shafter.

That’s not a pun on what they’re doing to California, that’s really the name of the town. Shafter, population 17,000, is 18 miles northwest of Bakersfield, and the field is north of Shafter.

“This location would not have the types of facilities and nearby businesses, such as transit connections, rental car facilities, and shops necessary to meet the needs of train passengers,” the state Legislative Analyst’s Office gently explained in a report.

No, it wouldn’t. It doesn’t have transit or shops or restrooms or Hertz outlets. It’s a field.

Nonetheless, the California High Speed Rail Authority projected that in 2025, the first year of operation, 2 to 4 million people would ride the bullet train between San Jose and the field.

In April, the rail authority wisely amended its draft business plan so the bullet train doesn’t go to a field. Now it will fly like the wind between San Jose and Wasco.

That’s a town with a population of 25,000, about 8 miles northwest of Shafter.

The rail authority says it has “refined” its forecasting methods for ridership since its last business plan in 2014. The new model produced ridership numbers that are 25 percent higher, which is how they arrived at their scientific estimate of 2 to 4 million people taking a train to a field.

This loony delusion of a project has now gone so far off the rails it actually produced a two-year business plan to move 4 million people a year between San Jose and a field.

And you’re paying for this.

One reason California has the highest gasoline prices in the continental United States is the ongoing implementation of the 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act, also known as AB 32. Starting in 2015, that law hit the makers of transportation fuels with a penalty for emitting greenhouse gases. Those extra costs are passed along to consumers in the price of gasoline, diesel fuel, and everything that’s made or moved with fuel-powered engines.

The penalty fees flow into a special fund in Sacramento that’s informally known as the cap-and-trade fund. This money is collected and spent outside the regular budget process, because it’s supposed to be used only for projects that reduce greenhouse gases.

However, Gov. Jerry Brown made a deal with lawmakers to spend 25 percent of the cap-and-trade money on the bullet train.

So every time you fill up your gas tank or buy anything that was made or moved in California, you’re paying a little extra for a bullet train from San Jose to Wasco.

The rail authority would like you to know that Wasco, like the field, is just a temporary solution, made necessary by the multiple restrictions and requirements that voters and lawmakers have imposed on the project. For instance, the bullet train must operate without public subsidies, so the ridership numbers must be sufficient to generate enough revenue to break even. That means projected costs can’t exceed projected revenues. The field north of Shafter is where they ran out of money.

However, the voters were promised a train that would go from San Francisco to Los Angeles in less than three hours, without a tax increase. How did that promise turn into higher prices at the gas pump to pay for a train from San Jose to Wasco?

You can read the whole hilarious story in the 2016 business plan atwww.hsr.ca.gov. Or you can wait for the movie. The Monty Python guys knew the right project would come along eventually.

Share this article: Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Comment on this article


Please note, statements and opinions expressed on the Fox&Hounds Blog are solely those of their respective authors and may not represent the views of Fox&Hounds Daily or its employees thereof. Fox&Hounds Daily is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the site's bloggers.