February 14, 2019

Bullet Train

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“California Governor Gavin Newsom said on Tuesday the state will dramatically scale back a planned $77.3 billion high-speed rail project that has faced cost hikes, delays and management concerns… In March 2018, the state forecast the costs had jumped by $13 billion to $77 billion and warned that the costs could be as much as $98.1 billion.” Reuters

See past issues

From the Left

The left acknowledges this as a setback but maintains that high-speed rail is both possible and desirable in the US.

“From the beginning… the project’s critics have tied it up in lawsuits, hearings, investigations, administrative challenges and other red tape; Republicans in Washington have passed budget riders preventing it from accessing federal funds; state officials have repeatedly revised the route, and have struggled to negotiate with affected landowners…

“I went to a raucous town meeting in 2011 in the small farm town of Hanford, where an angry Q-and-A session revealed that residents saw the train as a liberal assault on rural culture, a cosmopolitan Obama plot to help minorities in blighted cities like Fresno and Bakersfield at their expense. John Tos, a fourth-generation fruit-and-nut farmer with six properties in the project’s path, warned that the state would have to kill him to take his land.”

“Opponents of high-speed rail often invoke some kind of American exceptionalism, arguing that America is too big, too dispersed, and too car-dependent to have a market for intercity train travel. In reality, the only American exceptionalism is our debilitating lack of expertise… A recent overview of research suggests that planes and high-speed trains are competitive on routes under 600 miles… Under 300 miles, rail becomes dominant.”

“Indeed, building a new national high-speed rail system to compete with air travel would be expensive. But it has to be compared to the costs of our existing system of highways and airports… ‘No matter what, with a growing population, we’re going to be investing in a high-speed transportation system’... Whether it’s trains or more aircraft is up to us.”

“As early as the beginning of the 20th century, American trains were traveling well over 100 mph on routes connecting Chicago, Los Angeles, the Northeast, and more. Now, trains outside the Northeast Corridor are limited to 79 mph and must pass dozens of at-grade road crossings that add dangerous risks… [Meanwhile] Morocco constructed a high-speed rail connecting its capital, Tangier, with Rabat and Casablanca, a major business hub, for just $2 billion. It's time for the US to rein in costs and catch up with the rest of the world.”
Business Insider

Some point out that San Francisco “has a greater concentration of wealth and tech talent than anywhere in the world. If any group of people can figure out how to build a modern train line, surely these folks can. Part of the problem may be that a good portion of these tech savants (Elon Musk excluded) are directing their genius at perfecting delivery apps rather than developing infrastructure the U.S. desperately needs…

“The G.O.P. was quick to dunk on California’s troubled rail project… but [offered] nothing to explain what the state should do instead to ameliorate its benighted freeway system. Democrats, meanwhile, are unlikely to look at how their own mania for regulation might be making infrastructure so prohibitive in the first place. For instance, why does a mile of subway in New York (another deep-blue state) cost seven times more than in other cities around the world?”

Many note that “though the project has often been sold as a fast train between Los Angeles and San Francisco, its greater economic and societal value always has been the connections it would create between the state’s Central Valley cities and its coastal urban areas. The train would lessen the isolation between affluent coast and struggling interior towns, and give Californians easier access to jobs, affordable housing and universities… [Newsom is] right to be realistic about the challenges, but he can’t give up on the ambition and vision that high-speed rail represents.”
Los Angeles Times

Others argue that “Biden was almost the only one on the stage who talked like a normal person. There was a point near the end of the debate when he was talking about getting men involved in stopping domestic violence and he said that we need to keep ‘punching’ at it… I knew that the twitterati and the analysts would tut tut. Ol’ Joe is just out of touch! He doesn’t know you can’t use words like that. Meanwhile, every non-political junkie watching the debate thought there was nothing wrong with this. Biden was just using ordinary language, not worrying too much if it was fully approved by the woke brigade.”
Kevin Drum, Mother Jones

From the Right

The right sees this as evidence that the Green New Deal (GND) is unrealistic.

From the Right

The right sees this as evidence that the Green New Deal (GND) is unrealistic.

“That California, America’s most populous state led by its most progressive politicians, would abandon a government-run high-speed rail system within a week of the Green New Deal’s introduction in Congress says much about the Green New Deal’s viability.”
Fox News

“The balance sheet Newsom is looking at must be… Fukushima-level radioactive for him to pull the plug at this highly inopportune moment, knowing how the GOP will use this to prosecute the case against the GND.”
Hot Air

“If California were its own nation, its economy would close out the top five in the entire world. The state has the highest income tax rate in the nation, and the Obama administration did almost everything in its power to make the bullet train happen. But it didn't. It couldn't. And if California failed to make it happen, how the hell could the rest of the country replace our entire airline system with high-speed trains? The answer, of course, is that even though the dozens of Democratic leaders [are] demanding that we do so as a part of the ‘Green New Deal,’ we can't and we won't.”
Washington Examiner

The project “fell prey to exactly the cost overruns and construction delays that plague nearly all government infrastructure projects. If high-speed rail did not make sense for a wealthy, high-population area such as coastal California, it makes even less sense for the nation’s heartland. The expense it would take to build high-speed rail lines connecting every city in the country large enough to have an airport, followed by continual operation subsidies, would be stratospheric.”
Daily Signal

People living on the coasts just don't realize how big this country is… The coastal clerisy don't realize that on their five-hour flight from LAX to LGA they're traveling 2,500 miles… let's say we could get high-speed trains for the whole trip that averaged 200 miles per hour, and could travel as the crow flies: that's 12.5 hours. Except of course you couldn't because the crow is flying over some of the highest mountains in the country. You're going to need rights of way, and you can't use the rights of way that exist because they're not suited for that kind of speed and they're pretty full anyway.”
PJ Media

“California appeared to have the rare advantages of a bunch of heavily populated cities in a line and a patient group of lawmakers who were committed to the idea. When people rave about high-speed rail in other countries such as Japan or parts of Europe, that’s what you have. The United States has that in the northeast corridor, but beyond that, our major cities are too spread out for these projects to make financial sense…

“Newsom and California’s decision to pull the plug on the high-speed-rail project dovetails with Vermont’s experience trying to create a statewide single-payer health-care system from 2011 to 2014… no matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t make the numbers work; the analysis kept telling them they had to double their tax revenue overnight and that the savings for patients were modest. Even a liberal progressive governor could grasp that businesses would flee the state in droves.”
National Review

“If you went to Starbucks 35 times for a venti latte, you’d spend more money — and more time — than you would on round-trip air travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco. This is the ‘problem’ that California has tried to solve with a $77 billion boondoggle… Ordinary market processes (in air travel, a heavily regulated industry) created the system by which anybody who wants to travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco can do so in less than two hours for the cost of a few dozen cups of coffee. The central planners failed to create an alternative even with enormous sums of money at their disposal and enormous power to command.”
National Review

President Trump should be happy. As much as Warren is articulate, obviously intelligent, and energetically supported by Democrats, she would also be far easier to defeat than Joe Biden… Considering Trump's economy, the president is well placed to defeat Warren.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

There are many reasons, all of them hard-to-impossible to fix, all of them conspiring to deprive us of the (gee-whiz!) trains that many of us would like to ride… Our current rail infrastructure isn’t that straight where it needs to be. Building newer, better, straighter rail lines would require the government to buy all the land between Point A and Point B and tear down anything that happened to be in the way. Because we’re already really, really rich, what’s between Point A and Point B is no longer farmland…

“[Moreover] the U.S. legal system offers citizens an unparalleled number of veto points at which they can attempt to block government projects. Any infrastructure project bigger than painting a schoolhouse thus has to either fight out the reviews and court cases for years, or buy off the opponents, or more likely, both.”
Washington Post

On the bright side...

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