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Comment: Kill HSR to prevent more trains running by my condo

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  • 2/27 Menlo Park Almanac
    Published Wednesday, February 27, 2008, by the Menlo Park Almanac Comment High-speed rail: Stop the bonds to stop the project NOTE: On the November ballot,
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 27, 2008
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      Published Wednesday, February 27, 2008, by the Menlo Park Almanac

      Comment

      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
      $30 billion.

      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"
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/37298

      Letters: Readers (Engel) have much to criticize about proposed CA HSR
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/37254

      Comment: I'll say anything to oppose HSR, trains near my condo
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/36062

      Comment: Trackside Menlo Park NIMBY on "scary" push for HSR
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/35184 ]
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