The state Senate voted by a bare majority today to fund initial construction of California’s $68 billion high-speed rail project.
The approval was uncertain as recently as hours before the vote. With all 15 Republican senators opposed to the measure and several Democratic lawmakers wavering, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg scrambled to muster at least 21 of 25 Democratic votes. …
Sen. Joe Simitian, of Palo Alto, was one of four Democrats to break ranks with his colleagues. Simitian said he supports the vision of high-speed rail, but not the current plan. He said there are “billions of reasons” to oppose it.
Fiscally sane train lovers unite!
But even I, an unapologetic train lover, shake my head in dismay at this vote. The cost isn’t just high, it’s patently absurd, like a script from a Swiftian satire about political boondoggles.
And the first leg to be completed — which the Obama administration insisted upon, because it’s the only portion of the route that isn’t undergoing environmental challenges — essentially leads from nowhere to nowhere. Perhaps the citizens of Bakersfield will protest at being classified as “nowhere,” but the good people of Madera (whose own State Senator voted against the funding) I’m sure are honest to know that their city has minimal (if any) tourist or business-travel appeal. The number of people who need to take high-speed rail from Madera to Bakersfield can be counted on one finger, while the number of people who desperately need to rocket from Bakersfield to Madera is approximately one less than that.
Will the rest of the line ever be completed in my lifetime? Doubtful. And even if it were, as critics have rightfully pointed out from the beginning, the high-speed rail will cover the same route as innumberable commercial air carriers who travel the exact same distance in less time, for less money, with vastly more frequent departures. What motivation would anyone have to take the train, aside from nostalgic old train buffs in goofy conductors’ caps (present company excluded)?