Now playing in Sacramento: “Jerry Brown’s Bullet Train,” rated UI for Utter Insanity

John Myers of KQED is absolutely right: Thursday’s developments mean Jerry Brown owns high-speed rail. He kept the plug from being pulled, he put his own guy in charge, he got the people who were the symbols of the CHSRA follies to move along. But what’s so ridiculous about all of this is that Brown’s confidence he can take on this terrible mess and come up with a better outcome is precisely parallel to his confidence he could take on the state’s terrible budget mess and come up with a better outcome. How’d that work out? Yo, Jerry, the bullet train isn’t a boondoggle because of the people in charge. It’s a boondoggle because it was built on lies. Your taking ownership changes nothing.

As I and many others have written before, the rail project has been trashed by independent experts for years for deceitful estimates of ridership, project cost, ticket cost, job creation and pollution reduction, and for the inability of its staff to craft a legal business plan that avoids future taxpayer subsidies. The bullet train is also slated to have its first segment built in a lightly populated area despite the state legal requirement that the second segment can only be built after the first segment breaks even or is making money. It also faces deep skepticism from private investors and from the folks on Wall Street who would be asked to buy billions in state bonds to help pay for the project.

Those are just some of the many problems the media acknowledges. As I alone detailed last month, there’s also this: In providing California $3 billion-plus in federal funding for the project, the Obama administration is breaking clearly written rules on how stimulus dollars are supposed to be spent.

These rules, published in the Federal Register on June 23, 2009, say that state applications must stand up after being subjected to a “rigorous analysis.” The key factors of this analysis involved the “financial plan (capital and operating),” the “reasonableness of financial estimates” and the “availability of operating financial support” and “quality of planning process” for proposed projects.

If that “rigorous analysis” really happened, how did California’s project get a dime from D.C., much less $3 billion? Problems on all these fronts are precisely why independent evaluations are so harshly critical.

How can Jerry Brown look at all this and think his managerial genius will make things get better? Talk about hubris. Talk about vanity. Talk about a lunkhead.

Historians like to champion the “great man” theory of history — revolutionaries who transform the course of human events with their brilliance and charisma. Jerry evidently puts himself in this category.

For me, when I look at the bullet train mega-debacle, other nostrums come to mind. The British social critic John Ruskin put it well: “In general, pride is at the bottom of all great mistakes.”

Then there’s the aphorism based on a longer passage in the Bible: “Pride goeth before a fall.”

Timber! Jerry Brown’s going down!

What are the odds that the California High Speed Rail Authority, the state of California and the federal government will come up with a bullet train that isn’t a boondoggle the size of the Pacific Ocean?

They are Carl Sagan-esque: Billions and billions to one. A bullet train has never broken even before. So if you put one in the Central Valley, it will?

Feel free to laugh or cry or both. “Jerry Brown’s Bullet Train” is rated UI for Utter Insanity. Not only should you not let your children go see it, you should encourage them to consider moving to another state.

California’s future is grim with this bunch in charge. And that’s putting it charitably.

10 thoughts on “Now playing in Sacramento: “Jerry Brown’s Bullet Train,” rated UI for Utter Insanity

  1. I need to know why these leftists are so desperate to build this. They know it is a huge waste of money-do they see themselves as WPA managers of the 30s?
    This is actually one of those things where if you paid everyone in California $100,000 it would be cheaper.
    EVERYTHING the left touches is ruined.

  2. There is one positive aspect in all this resistance to killing off Frankenstein’s lurching HSR monster. Two, actually:

    1. HSR will be the “poster child” we need to defeat the MANY state tax increase props currently planned for a vote for November. No one can seriously argue for a tax increase while this madness continues.

    2. By doggedly supporting HSR, Democrats firmly establish themselves as the profligate nut-ball party. Voters now oppose HSR by a 2-1 margin, and that’s without a publicity campaign to expose the public to this nonsense — and in spite of millions spent by proponents to sell this white elephant. No, the GOP will not take the state legislature (not even close) — but a couple competitive seats swinging to the GOP would be enough to retain some veto power in the State Assembly and State Senate.

    Stay the course, dopey Democrats. Your union straitjacket (mandating pro-HSR positions) is perhaps our best hope this election year. Wear it proudly.

    • It’s really hieatbtakrng to read that Samuelson actually cited the average national density figure to claim that trains are not a feasible transportation option. How can the WaPo still publish him? Do they have no standards? I actually expect something of Glaeser, though, since he’s known for his good housing and policy work. Inevitably he’ll dismiss the criticisms as the ramblings of some know-nothing bloggers. As a side note, I think this debate demonstrates precisely why newspapers are doomed. They are miserably failing at their job of proving informed commentary.

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  5. The proponents of HSR are squirming as they realize the facts are against them, and the public and (finally) the state’s newspapers are getting wise to their lies.
    And yet, Jerry Brown and the legislature plugs on, spending more and more money every day toward this boondoggle that everyone knows will be aborted. The longer they wait to pull the plug, and the more money wasted, the greater will be their embarrassment when it happens. This is gonna be fun to watch.

    • As usual, excellent anblaced comments from this blog. While I believe HSR may actually work in some areas, I believe when penciled out (even with your corrections) these will be the exception rather than the rule.This does not mean the concept should not be explored. I see the future of American transportation to continued to be tied more directly to roads than rail.This is driven by America’s multi-generational desire for personal mobility. This is a very different (some may say selfish) mindset than Europe. In the end some HSR projects may economically woprk, perhaps, but the vast majority of the proposals I have seen are both short and long term economically unsustainable.

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