Comment: Kill HSR to prevent more trains running by my condo
- Published Wednesday, February 27, 2008, by the Menlo Park Almanac
High-speed rail: Stop the bonds to stop the project
NOTE: On the November ballot, California voters will be asked to
approve a ballot measure for startup funding of $9.95 billion for
California High Speed Rail. It is anticipated that a federal funding
agreement and private sector investment will finance the first phase
from San Francisco to the Los Angeles area at an estimated cost of
By Martin Engel
You've heard me rail before about the disaster that Caltrain grade
separations will bring to Menlo Park. We all should understand that
they won't happen without capital funding from the high-speed train
bond issue that will appear on the November ballot. If the bond
issue passes, and that seems likely, they are guaranteed.
Having been a diligent student of the California High Speed Rail
project for several years, here's what I've learned.
Most people seem not to know about or care about this train one way
or the other. California newspapers have been mindless supporters
of this $40 billion project. No one is asking hard questions. [BATN:
perhaps because issuing bonds (or taking out mortgages) to finance
large purchases or projects does not frighten these "mindless"
supporters any more than it does financially secure homeowners or
captains of industy.]
For example, do you know that, as a rule of thumb, each $1 billion
of new bonds sold at 5 percent interest adds close to $65 million
annually in state debt-service costs for as long as 30 years? (This
is from the Legislative Analyst's Office.)
This means that paying the debt service on the $10 billion high-speed
train bond will take $650 million each year from the state treasury
for as long as 30 years. Over 30 years that amounts to $19.5 billion,
twice the cost of the original bond. Are we that crazy? And there's
still the original $10 billion loan that has to be paid back, the
principle on a "mortgage" payment that will be paid by us, our
children and their children.
And, there are costs to operate the train. Ticket sales won't begin
to cover this expense. [BATN: HSRA's financial analysts expect an
annual operating surplus on the order of hundreds of millions of
dollars.] Also, high-speed trains are very maintenance-intensive.
Who pays? We pay.
If history is any indicator, this train will cost far more than
proponents say it will. At $40 billion it will be the single most
expensive infrastructure project in the history of the United States.
But once construction begins, will taxpayers be asked to pony up even
more than the original $10 billion in state bonds? Even Quentin Kopp,
chairman of the rail authority's board of directors, has hinted that
they might need "several billion more."
What the high-speed train promoters want us to believe about their
project is simply not true. They understate costs and persistently
exaggerate the profits and rider numbers. The environmental costs
of constructing this train will be as great, or greater, than those
caused by the Three-Gorges Dam in China.
Comparing the California train with those in Europe, Japan or
elsewhere is comparing apples and oranges. Distances, population
densities and tax-based economies (state subsidies) are only some
of the critical differences.
We all should be asking who the real beneficiaries will be if
the bond issue passes. Answer: the construction companies, the
landowners and developers, the hundreds of consultants, engineers
and contractors, the lawyers and politicians, the vast bureaucracies
and their empire-building agendas.
Even if high-speed trains are a good idea, this particular project,
at this particular time, in this particular economy, with this
particular route, is a terrible idea. This train will not be a mass-
transit commuter train. It will not solve any traffic problems,
either on the highways or in the sky. This train will be a luxury
train for the white-collar well-to-do. It will be the Disneyland
Express. The government has no business building it.
California needs serious solutions to its transit problems in both
the Bay Area and the Los Angeles Basin. This train won't solve these
problems in either area. It's time for our state to put aside this
political pork-barrel and get on with the serious issue of integrated
mass transit for all its citizens. This is a project the state
doesn't need and cannot afford.
Martin Engel lives [BATN: adjacent to rail line the HSRA is proposing
to share with Caltrain] on Stone Pine Lane in Menlo Park
[BATN: See also:
Letter: Anti-rail Menlo Park NIMBY on why rail is "obsolete"
Letters: Readers (Engel) have much to criticize about proposed CA HSR
Comment: I'll say anything to oppose HSR, trains near my condo
Comment: Trackside Menlo Park NIMBY on "scary" push for HSR