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High-Speed Liberalism

When I give speeches about California politics (particularly when I’m talking to out-of-state crowds), I almost always open on the same note: California has traditionally been a bellwether for the rest of the nation. Traditionally, that has been a source of hope. These days, it’s a threat.

In my newest weekly column for the Center for Individual Freedom, I look at the reductio ad absurdum of California liberalism: the seemingly invincible plan for a statewide high-speed rail network, which continues to move forward despite a jaw-dropping record of broken promises and outright lies. From the piece:

The comedy of errors began with the 2008 ballot initiative [that approved plans for high-speed rail], whose supporters were utopian in thought and intemperate in speech. During the initiative campaign, advocates for the project claimed that it would replace up to 92 million car trips annually, the sort of wild-eyed forecasting the world hasn’t seen since the days of the Soviet politburo.

As enthusiasm for high-speed rail has cooled, those projections have declined alongside the poll numbers, with estimates now running between 28 and 37 million riders per year. But as Stanford transportation historian Richard White noted late last year in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, “If California high-speed rail captured the same percentage of riders as Amtrak’s Acela does today in the Northeast corridor, an area with a long tradition of rail travel and a higher population than California, it would have about 5 million riders, not 28 million to 37 million.”

Similar failures have been ubiquitous. The project’s price tag, pegged at $40 billion when it appeared on the ballot in 2008, has now swelled to nearly $100 billion (more than 5 percent of the state’s entire annual economic product), with expenditures including more than $12 million that have already been spent on PR alone. In January, the state-appointed California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group suggested delaying the project indefinitely because it lacked something so basic as a viable business model.

A lawsuit against the project filed by Kings County (located in the state’s Central Valley, where the first segments are to be built) alleges that no research has been done to establish the speed of the trains, even though Prop 1A contained a legally-binding requirement that they average 140 miles per hour.

The Center for Investigate Reporting’s California Watch quoted Kings County’s lawyer, Michael Brady, as saying, “All over the state … they’re going to use commuter trains, Caltrain, light rail in Stockton. You’re not going to be able to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco in six hours.” Consider, by way of contrast, that flight times between the two cities average about an hour.

You can read the piece in its entirety here.