California's Public Transportation Sinkhole

Thanks to labor unions and big-government activists, transportation has become another form of social engineering.

Americans suffer under the delusion that transportation systems are just that—systems for transporting people from one destination to another. What most of us fail to recognize is that the politicians, activists and planners who play the greatest role in creating those systems have far different goals than improving the way we move from Point A to Point B.

To today’s transportation movers and shakers, such systems are giant jobs-creation programs designed to boost the economy and provide high wages to members of influential unions; and the key means by which to remake society in a way that is nicer to the environment and leads to a changed citizenry that is less likely to use automobiles to get around. Think of transportation these days less as civil engineering and more as social engineering.

Understanding those points is crucial to understanding the current debate in California over a proposed High Speed Rail system defined by inexplicable route selections, massive cost overruns, predicted travel times that will never be realized even under the most optimistic scenarios, and fantasy-land funding promises.

None of those realities stop the political engines promoting “high-speed” rail from chugging along. At a press conference last month, a coalition of construction unions and business leaders championed the project. “We need jobs and we need jobs now,” said one union official speaking at the rally, according to a Palo Alto publication. But the government cannot create economic growth by shaking down taxpayers and running up debt, even if those dollars are used to benefit one particular interest group in one particular part of the economy.

At least we know where the unions are coming from. But consider the bigger vision pitched by President Obama: “What we’re talking about is a vision for high-speed rail in America.  …  Imagine whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination.”

Actually, it’s hard to know what he is talking about. Riders still need to get from their home to the center of a city, and there’s no way that any rail system is going to take most riders to within walking distance of their destination. Train rides are far slower than plane flights. I have pipedreams too, but at least I don’t have the ability to fund them with your money.

Unfortunately, California’s voters in 2008 approved Proposition 1A, which authorized nearly $10 billion in debt spending to begin this rail line that would ultimately link Anaheim to San Francisco. The rest of the money for the system (then predicted at around $40 billion) would come from federal funding and a variety of local and state sources. Since then, Congress has killed the Obama administration’s rail plan. California’s state government still struggles under a massive deficit. Local governments are struggling with a down economy and overspending on things such as pensions and high salaries for government workers, with some municipalities now considering bankruptcy. There is no money and taxpayers already are struggling here.

Even in spend-happy California, the rail proposal has become something of a joke—a project rarely discussed without the term “boondoggle” attached to it. So, recently the High Speed Rail Authority released a new business plan that purports to solve the problems that critics have raised. It claims to have slashed $30 billion from a price tag that had ballooned to nearly $100 billion.

And instead of just building the Train to Nowhere from two out-of-the-way cities in the state’s Central Valley, it connects the line from Bakersfield to the San Fernando Valley. The initial plan now cuts out the LA to Anaheim route and instead will require Orange County suburban riders to take a commuter train to Los Angeles. The system will also share tracks with commuter trains from San Jose to San Francisco. So much for an Asian-style rail system that will get people from Southern California to San Francisco in 2 hours and 40 minutes without changing trains!

Even one of the architects of the system has complained bitterly that the new proposal has become a “train robbery” that diverts rail funds to local commuter lines. Many critics argue that the new business plan almost certainly violates the clear dictates in Prop. 1A—i.e., that the train move people quickly between south and north without requiring transfer.

Gov. Jerry Brown, who refuses to address the bloated state government even as he spends more and demands higher taxes from taxpayers, argues that the state’s draconian cap-and-trade system, which imposes fees on businesses that produce carbon dioxide, will fund the train line. That amounts to yet another massive tax on businesses to fund something far less than necessary. How many more companies will head for the exit door or expand their operations in states that encourage business creation rather than view private enterprise as a cash cow that can always be milked?

Boosters still argue that private investment will help fund the system even though it’s unlikely that any private companies would invest in a boondoggle. The Chinese will be glad to lend California the money, but that’s a different matter.

Here’s how ridiculous the proposal is—the notoriously spendthrift state Legislature is in no rush to approve the new plan, according to news reports this week.

Meanwhile, many Californians wonder why the rail is needed when they can currently hop an inexpensive plane flight in LAX and be at SFO in about an hour and 10 minutes. Those who think that way are forgetting the rules detailed above. Transportation these days isn’t about getting around, but about creating government-funded jobs and pursuing big-vision projects that have little correlation to how we actually get around. No wonder the state’s system of roads and freeways—not to mention its budget—is such a mess

Steven Greenhut is vice president of journalism at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.

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  • Brian D||

    Is there a chance the track could bend?

  • Ted S.||

    Damn you, Brian D!

  • Nephilium||

    Not on your life, my Hindu friend.

  • fish||

    What about us brain dead slobs?

  • Auric Demonocles||

  • Arf?||

    Real men have this memorized, AD.

  • Arf?||

    You'll be given cushy jobs.

  • Anacreon||

    Were you sent here by the devil?

  • R||

    No good sir I'm on the level.

  • Ted S.||

    1th!

  • BakedPenguin||

    1th of 4th.

  • ||

    I call the big one "Bitey."

  • NoVAHockey||

    One of my favorite lines.

  • ||

    My 5-year-old daughter quoted that the other day. One of my proudest moments as a parent.

  • robc||

    That episode is well older that her (duh, as it comes from the era when the Simpson's was still good), so well done.

  • ||

    as it comes from the era when the Simpson's was still good

    Is there anything that's not prone to nostalgia warp?

  • ||

    The first 8-9 seasons were great. There was a slump in the 00s, but I haven't watched any recent episodes, so don't know about current quality.

  • PantsFan||

    I suggest that the Poochie epsidoe is when the Simpsons jumped the shark.

  • Anacreon||

    No way. A great episode that made fun of jumping the shark. Unless that's what you are trying to say.

  • robc||

    Its not nostalgia.

    You can compare DVDs from seasons 2-9 or so vs today and see the difference.

    Part of the problem was referenced by South Park. For almost any possible plotline, "The Simpsons did it". They are repeating themselves.

  • ||

    Yeah, that's usually when most shows end. But since they characters never age, there's not as much pressure. Which oddly makes the stories potentially even more repetitive.

  • ||

    Yeah, I DVR the syndicated episodes, though I generally only watch ones from the first ten seasons. Lately they've been running a bunch of 2010/2011 episodes and it seems like every episode description is identical to an old episode.

  • ||

    I don't think that occasionally recycled plotlines makes one era of the show better than another. There's a different between saying "the originality is lacking" vs. saying "this era's shows aren't as good as before".

    I don't think the quality of the Simpson's has ever really dropped. It's just been on TV sooooo long now that there's nothing really new that it brings to the table any more...and that I'll agree has been true for years.

  • ChrisO||

    This will end up being just as ridiculous as Amtrak's Acela service between DC and Boston. Depending on time of day, Acela costs at least $50 more per ticket and saves you a whole 20 minutes on the DC to NYC trip, since it uses the same tracks and only cuts out a few stops in between.

  • anon||

    Yeah, I rode that train once.

    I was not impressed.

  • mauricegirodias||

    at least $50 more per ticket

    Usually more than $100 over the local train between NY-DC. I'd sometimes take the Chinese bus up, and then be so hung over I grabbed the train back rather than have bus drama. Never bothered with Acela; just wasn't worth it.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    And yet, some of my idiot California friends still think that high speed rail is a viable possibility if they could just get the evil Republicans out of it so that a good plan that doesn't serve evil corporate interests could be developed.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    Just out of curiosity, do they ever specify which evil Republicans or corporations they're talking about?

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Well, they hate Issa just as a matter of course.

    But you're lucky if they don't start screaming Comcast! whenever corporations are mentioned.

  • Registration At Last!||

    I think your friend is talking about certain wall-eyed mouth-breathers who use the term "Democrat Party."

  • Brett L||

    I hates me some Comcast, too. But just because they charge dearly for shitty service. I blame government policy for them not being run out of business and their ashes pissed on by their competitors.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    According to my CA friends, you've got it all wrong. We need more government regulation to make them play nice not less regulation and more competition.

  • wareagle||

    do they also think that regulation includes the state having the power to force you to use public transit? Been to Europe, where the public system often makes sense in densely populated areas where parking is a huge hassle and the ride is cheap. Even makes sense in some crowded US metros, but the public system for its own sake is usually defined as buses with single-digit ridership subsidized by everyone else.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    They would stop short of that. But they would approve of disincentives to the alternatives.

  • SFC B||

    I'm getting ready to move to Germany (thank you taxpayers for subsidizing my 3 year European vacation!) and I was considering what I'd do for transportation while I wait for my POV to arrive. I figured I could use the bus since I've been told how awesome public transit is over in Europe. I suggest this to my sponsor and he laughed. Then explained that, unless you're in Munich or Berlin the public transit is useless. Doesn't go where you need it to, let alone at a time it would be useful. So, over in the heart of super-duper public transit land, I will be borrowing a car from someone with an extra because the bus sucks.

  • robc||

    When I lived in Switzerland, a bus/train could get me wherever I needed to go. Not always when I wanted, but I could get there.

  • Brett L||

    Look how well its worked in CA!

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    In various Comcast vassal-towns, "regulation" is the thing that gets the Evil Empire to foot the bill for local origination studios. We have a sweet Community TV center in Santa Cruz CA. They have three dedicated channels on the cable system, and equipment that would have inspired techie wet dreams, when I was studying TV production, many years ago. Indeed, it probably inspires such dreams in TV crew wannabes even today. The digital editing suites are especially well-equipped and popular. It almost makes up for not having any commercial TV stations within the entire County. If regulation went away, so would the dollars for this Local-O operation, which is the darling of the liberal establishment.

  • Zeb||

    TO be fair, everyone should hate comcast.

  • anon||

    I think everyone already does.

  • Bobarian||

    I used to hate Charter, but then I moved, got Comcast, and discovered and truer, purer, form of hate.

  • Bobarian||

    a not and

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    In Santa Cruz County, Comcast has the overwhelmingly larger monopoly, but Charter has the other big slice of the pie. So sometimes the locals spend their time arguing about which of the two is more evil: we enjoy both flavors of hate.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    But consider the bigger vision pitched by President Obama: “What we’re talking about is a vision for high-speed rail in America. … Imagine whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination.”

    Whenever I hear nonsense like that, I can't help but wonder: "So, have you ever had to ride a train or subway or bus to work? If so how could you say anything so abysmally stupid?"

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    It's taken me a while to realize just how craven Obama really is. But now, I recognize that he doesn't have a single fucking principle whatsoever other than the continuation of power for himself and the Democrat party.

  • Registration At Last!||

    "Democrat Party."

    Hey Scruffy, try breathing through your nose once in a while.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    RAL - Try to stop talking out of your asshole

  • Arf?||

    That's hard to do when your head is up there.

  • Bucky||

    this^^^

  • ||

    What the hell kind of fairyland magic transportation system would be able to get up to speeds of 100 miles an hour while also remaining accessible enough to be just a few steps away from your start point and end point? Wouldn't the need for frequent (convenient!) stops necessitate, y'know, constant accelerating and decelerating? The only way that could possible work is if they had hundreds of train lines, which would be so mind-bogglingly cost prohibitive that the tickets would have to cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars, even if they were subsidized.

    I hate politicians.

  • wareagle||

    Obama's pronouncement is one more example of how liberalism can only survive with a massively uninformed population. And absent the thousand stops he's talking about, your end point is more likely to be MILES from your final destination than blocks. Close proximity only works in major metros.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    It's pronouncements like that which demonstrate that modern progressivism is really nothing more than a technocratic version of Manifest Destiny. Progressives believe that mankind can solve any kind of problem that comes their way, if they're only given "enough resources" (a term always vaguely defined and the amount given is never sufficient). Whether it's global warming, choo-choos, poverty, AIDS, Kony, or whatever hobbyhorse they attached themselves to, they reflect the same sense of entitlement and self-regard that those early Americans displayed towards the North American continent.

  • SFC B||

    President Obama has found a large source of eezo. Mass effect drives for trains are but a scant couple years away.

  • ||

    I agree it's ridiculous, but the starting and stopping part could theoretically be overcome.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Needs more chung

  • ||

    That's kind of interesting, but then you of course have the problem that each of the top-level cars can only hit the next stop. If you want to go more than one stop but fewer than the entire length of the trip, you're sort of screwed unless there are several high speed trains running on a single line in rapid succession (which strikes me as a great way to make train wrecks a serious concern).

  • ||

    I sort of assumed that you'd descend into the train and the top level cars would be for picking up and dropping off, like the white zone.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Listen Betty, don't start up with your white zone shit again.

  • ||

    Oh really, Vernon? Why pretend, we both know perfectly well what this is about. You want me to have an abortion.

  • widget||

    What the hell kind of fairyland magic transportation system would be able to get up to speeds of 100 miles an hour while also remaining accessible enough to be just a few steps away from your start point and end point?

    The autobahn?

  • ||

    I've rarely been able to drive 100 mph on the autobahn. Crowded as hell and they always seem to be reconstructing seemingly pristine stretches of highway. I'm assuming that the German roadworks people are government employees.

  • ||

    Actually, I'm fairly sure that most roadwork other than minor maintenance is contracted out to private firms just as it is here.

    And just like here the engineering and construction lobbies (both the employers and the unions) have a lot of political clout and are able to get a lot of projects voted which might not otherwise be given high priority.

  • ||

    But then you have the political problem of advocating a no-speed-limit highway system that might encourage people to use their evil, polluting cars! That's a non-starter for most transportation-advocacy types.

  • KDN||

    no-speed-limit highway system


    Cars travelling at more than 40% of their max speed!? The horror! The chaos! Won't somebody please think of the children?!

  • Harvard||

    You saw what happened to Montana over their "reasonable and prudent for conditions" speed limit offended the liberals. They got to choose between keeping the speed limit or losing federal transportation money.

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    "The only way that could possible work is if they had hundreds of train lines, which would be so mind-bogglingly cost prohibitive that the tickets would have to cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars, even if they were subsidized."

    Not so. Look into Personal Rapid Transit. To guarantee that nobody is more than a block away from a system entry or exit point, a credible estimate of construction cost, inclusive of infrastructure and rolling stock, is currently about $66M per square mile. Depending on a given local situation, that might be a steep price, but in many cases far from prohibitive. PRT runs smaller, lighter, independent, automatic 3-6 passenger cars on relatively lightweight, small-footprint guideway that is usually elevated, apart from street traffic. Stations are offline, so through traffic on the PRT is not affected by those getting on and off. A pilot system, which implements a particular vendor's vision of PRT, has been running at Heathrow in London for some time, and has proven to be very popular, reliable, and efficient.

  • T||

    The DC metro wasn't bad. It beat the hell out sitting in traffic on 66.

  • ChrisO||

    If you like being crammed-in like sardines on the Orange Line, that is.

  • T||

    You live in Vienna. You need to go downtown.

    Option 1: crammed in like sardines on the Orange line.

    Option 2: Crammed in like individually tinned sardines on I-66.

    Both suck, but the metro was preferable.

  • ||

    And you can sleep on Metro. Not that some people don't do the same in their cars.

  • ||

    You'd be very popular in Honshu, Kristen.

  • Ska||

    For being a gaijin?

  • ||

    And sleeping on a train, to boot.

  • ChrisO||

    Vienna is tough because of I-66 outside the Beltway, it's true. The key is to not to work 9-to-5. The drive from the Reston/Herndon area is mostly civilized if you can get into work at 10.

    Another problem with taking the Orange Line is finding a parking spot at any of the outer stops. You pretty much have to get to the station by 7am to do it. I'm not even awake by 7am...

  • Kwanzaa Cake||

    Imagine speeding through a town at 75 mph, all in the comfort and privacy of your own vehicle, stopping the vehicle within feet of you destination, and being able to park it there and have it wait for you until you are ready to drive it home.

  • Zeb||

    Well some people seem quite happy to ride a subway or train to work. Even people with cars. But they are in densely populated urban areas. Even in close suburbs, there is no way a train gets anywhere near as convenient as having your own car.
    I really like trains. I'd use them if they didn't suck and were priced in a way that seems reasonable to me. But that's just never going to be cost effective (i.e. not requiring massive subsidy) anywhere but the most densely populated places.

  • Invisible Finger||

    Well some people seem quite happy to ride a subway or train to work

    Every single one of them is either avoiding the parking fees or doesn't have a driver's license.

  • PaganPriestess||

    "But consider the bigger vision pitched by President Obama: “What we’re talking about is a vision for high-speed rail in America. … Imagine whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination.”

    This was definitive proof that Obama is a clueless idiot when it comes to trains. Trains have speed limits set by the fed gov according to the quality of the track. Most current tracks are class 4, the speed limit of which is 80mph for passenger trains. However, even this is bogus because trains are required to slow way the hell down while passing through towns because the speed limit is downgraded according to the type and quality of the crossing signals.

  • Invisible Finger||

    The only way I can imagine whisking through towns at 100 mph on a train is if 50,000 federal regulations were repealed. And I can't imagine that happening.

  • PaganPriestess||

    Exactly.

  • Registration At Last!||

    This makes no sense on its own terms. High-speed rail is supposed to be a long-distance project, like connecting Seattle with San Diego. Intra-state high speed rail is an absurdity.

  • Sam Grove||

    Your government at work.

    Hawaii has an interstate highway.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Nuff said

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    That is pretty funny. Perhaps the Alaskan bridge to nowhere was actually the North American terminus of a covertly planned bridge to Hawaii, which would link up to the Interstate there. Heh heh heh.

  • ||

    Exactly! But the way to get elected is to tell people what they want to hear, regardless of how possible it is. Then, when your promises inevitably fail, blame it on the opposition. Lather, rinse, repeat.

  • Doctor Whom||

    It's obviously Bush's fault.

  • ChrisO||

    LA to SF is a reasonably long distance and would seem like a possible candidate for high-speed rail, except that I doubt that enough people would use it.

    I was never under the impression that there is a lot of business traffic between the two cities, despite being in the same state.

    Are there air shuttles on that route, like the ones between DC and NYC? That makes more sense to me.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Southwest rules the commuting flights out there. They have about a dozen flights daily on that route.

  • Brandybuck||

    Yup, and Southwest is cheap too. It's a cheap one hour flight. Hell, waiting in line for your TSA grope is longer.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    I fondly remember my commute flight from SD to SJ on Southwest. I say fondly because at that time I could show up 15 minutes before takeoff and still make it on the plane.

  • Brandybuck||

    Southwest can board passengers quickly and efficiently without treating them like cattle. Other airlines just can't seem to manage this. You would think seating assignments would get you seated quicker, but it actually doesn't. Southwest has no seating assignment but it all works because every seat is the same. There is no bullshit about first class, elite, premium elite, premium, gold member, silver member, etc. Most airlines only keep the back row available for those of us who aren't enrolled in some special airline program. (One of these days I'll pull a Rosa Parks and refuse to sit in the back of the plane).

    Southwest also figured out not to charge you to check in your first two bags. Thus you don't get people fighting over the limited overhead space, and then fighting through the line of folks trying to find a seat so they can check in their bag at the jetway. It's so simple the other government teat sucking airlines can't figure it out: if you charge your customers to check in baggage they'll try to carry on more baggage.

  • Bobarian||

    Taking the train from SF to LA is actually quicker than flying because of all the airport bullshit.

    The ride is beautiful and in one of the double decker trains.

    It sucks though, because it costs more and at the end of it you are at the LA train station, which is its own special circle of hell.

  • Invisible Finger||

    Yeah, there will never be any TSA bullshit for a train ride.

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    You haven't been paying attention to the news, have you?

  • Bucky||

    'circle of hell'
    reminds me of working in retail...

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    There's occasional talk about high speed trains between DFW and Austin, etc.

    I think there's a very narrow band between "too inconvenient to drive" and "far enough to fly" (or "don't have an airport close by") in which trains at least could theoretically make sense. At the right price and with a lesser TSA beatdown than planes. I doubt there's much profit to be made there.

  • Zeb||

    High speed trains could probably work in the NE, say DC-Boston. But there are so many crossings that they can never really be high speed without rebuilding all of the rail beds and getting rid of level crossings. 70 MPH does not count as high speed rail.

  • Tonio||

    Don't know how things are North of DC, but South of DC Amtrak uses the same track as freight trains. The track is owned and maintained by CSX who (understandably) prioritize freight since that pays the rent. They only carry Amtrak because the have to.

    So, even a fast 100-120 MPH train is going to need dedicated track, which means more eminent domain, etc.

  • ChrisO||

    North of DC, the entire ride to NYC looks like its occurring on rail facilities that are at least 100 years old. Even 70mph seems a little scary under the circumstances.

    And yeah, designing a brand new rail system in that corridor would be the Mother of All NIMBY Battles. Our grandchildren wouldn't live long enough to see it completed.

  • Translucent Chum||

    Just flew SF to LA for $57 on Delta.

  • ||

    SF to LA is longer than Osaka to Tokyo.

  • o3||

    and you dont have sidweways pootang to leer at

  • KDN||

    You don't on a lot of Japanese trains either. Train groping is such a problem that there are special pink painted, women-only train cars. So the only leering is through the door glass, and you can't even get there thanks to all the pervy businessmen.

    Oh, Japan. You so crazy.

  • ||

    I thought all that explicit manga was supposed to put an end to that frottuerism.

    Chijos don't make the problem go away either.

  • ||

    Tell me when we're getting a single rail line from Bangor, ME to San Diego, with stops every 25 miles in between. Even if it's just the middle of a fucking corn field. Then we'll talk.

  • Zeb||

    Is there a particular cornfield you are trying to get to?

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

  • Brandon||

    Yeah, There's a big cornfield up near Buxton. It's got a long rock wall, a big oak tree at the north end. It's like something out of a Robert Frost poem. It's where I asked my wife to marry me. We went there for a picnic and made love under that oak and I asked and she said yes. Promise me, Zeb. If they ever build that rail, find that spot. In the base of that wall, you'll find a rock that has no earthly business in a Maine cornfield. A piece of black, volcanic glass.

  • PantsFan||

    I thought this was required on every rail thread:

    J sub D|3.31.11 @ 3:58PM|#|–|filternamelinkcustom
    I just assume the passenger rail supporters in the US are just trying to work out the anguish of not finding a Lionel set under the tree on Xmas morning by spending other people's money on real one.

  • Brett L||

    It should be. Hoist one for J sub tonight.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Now I am seriously contemplating breaking into my office scotch for the first time.

  • ||

    If you have, and cannot be fired for using, office scotch, then you are doing yourself a disservice by not drinking it at every possible opportunity.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    I have some. I could be fired if I had too much, but a bit here and there is fine. My company gives us beer all the time.

  • ||

    Your company is clearly superior to mine. Although I technically work at a client location, so maybe they're more lax in the main office.

  • The Unknown Pundit||

    Hear. Hear.

    RIP JsubD

  • robc||

    Was that his last post? Its got to be close.

  • PantsFan||

    It's believed to be his last post, yes.

  • Doctor Whom||

    Where I live, transportation funding is pretty much about income redistribution from the political have-nots to the political haves.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    That doesn't narrow it down for me at all.

  • Brandon||

    So you live on Earth? Am I close?

  • juris imprudent||

    I think we can rule out Easter Island.

  • Sevo||

    "It claims to have slashed $30 billion from a price tag that had ballooned to nearly $100 billion."

    The "$100Bn" was nothing other than guesswork, and there's no reason to believe it would have been built for anything close to that.
    Nor is there any reason to believe that the 'savings' are anything other than a more palatable guess.

  • sarcasmic||

    Show me a transportation construction crew and I'll show you a bunch of people who are related by blood or marriage to the members of the local government.

  • Kwanzaa Cake||

    And who are standing around a construction site, doing nothing.

  • Chupacabra||

    You need a large crew to oversee the one young guy doing the work.

  • Brandybuck||

    Out here on the Left Coast, I've noticed that our mass transit parallels major freeways. Why is that? Is it simply to make access to the stations easier?

    The new Fremont to San Jose BART extension continues it's parallel along 880. The old high speed rail project was supposed to most follow 99, while the new one is going to be following I5.

    What's the point? If I didn't mind the security hassle, I could take a Southwest flight from Burbank to San Jose for about $60. Or for the time it took to stand in line and get groped, I would already be halfway there by car. I do tend to use BART to get into San Francisco, but ONLY because it's such a damn pain trying to park in that city.

  • Brett L||

    Probably the freeways were built on or next to old railway grades. So when it came time to make new ones, that's where the shallowest grades are.

  • ||

    This. Also, there may be a Right of Way that allows the Authority to construct lines without going through the hassle of more eminent domain.

  • Zeb||

    I would guess that using existing rights of way had something to do with it too.

  • Brandybuck||

    Well yeah, but what's the point if all the alternate travel routes parallel the main travel routes? If I have to drive to the freeway where the transit terminal is, and then drive from the destination transit terminal to the my final destination, just on the freeway in between them is a hell of a lot easier.

    **IF** mass transit were quicker there might be point to it. But mass transit is nearly always slower than driving.

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    Right of way is extremely important. When transpo geeks talk about this or that "corridor," there is usually an established right of way that goes along with it; new transportation projects that utilize the corridor have many fewer hurdles to jump in order to get permits, approval, etc.

    There is also a PR benefit to having alternative transit run parallel to freeways. San Francisco's BART, for example, used to run ads (maybe they still do), which showed happy train riders zooming by thousands of poor slobs parked in freeway traffic jams. You really DO get a great feeling when you're the guy whizzing by gridlock traffic, and I suspect systems like BART count on at least occasional shots of that euphoria to inspire "rider loyalty."

  • Kroneborge||

    Many good points, but at least with transportation you get something left after you spend all the money.

    For example, what if that 700 billion in stimulus had been used to put in high speed rail? Sure a lot of it would still have probably been wasted, but at least we would have a high speed rail system now.

    Instead we got nothing.

  • Kroneborge||

    Many good points, but at least with transportation you get something left after you spend all the money.

    For example, what if that 700 billion in stimulus had been used to put in high speed rail? Sure a lot of it would still have probably been wasted, but at least we would have a high speed rail system now.

    Instead we got nothing.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    They would have been better off throwing it out of a helicopter instead.

  • Paul.||

    Instead we got nothing

    Which was the point all along. Ned Stark wouldn't be very good at this game.

  • ||

    Gee, what would Floridians have gotten if the Orlando-Tampa High Speed rail line have gotten built.

    I don't consider being able to watch empty train cars go by in the median while you drive on I-4 to be a positive.

    The fact that high speed rail is expensive to build is what makes it popular among the engineering an construction firms who will be awarded the contracts to build it and the building trades unions who's member will be employed on them (thereby enhancing dues and the political checkoffs that flow into Democratic Party coffers).

    It isn't nearly as popular with the taxpayers some of whom seem to be aware that the "something" you get left with "after you spend all the money" is a subsidy sucking money pit that will never come anywhere close to the ridership levels touted in all of those engineering reports.

    Oh, and those engineering reports with the rosy ridership numbers are prepared by those same engineering firms that are in the running for the design contracts.

  • ||

    To be fair, those same engineering firms also do highway feasibility studies that project much higher traffic counts thus ostensibly justifying the project's potential viability based on the toll or fuel tax collections.

  • Old Mexican||

    To today’s transportation movers and shakers, such systems are giant jobs-creation programs designed to boost the economy and provide high wages to members of influential unions[.]


    Hence the word 'boondoggle.'

    Unfortunately, California’s voters in 2008 approved Proposition 1A, which authorized nearly $10 billion in debt spending to begin this rail line that would ultimately link Anaheim to San Francisco.


    So San Franciscans can go to Disneyland when they get tired of all that pillow biting or donut bumping...

  • Paul.||

    When dealing with government, I prefer words, not deeds.

  • Pip||

    derp

  • Brandon||

    Is this not a bot?

  • juris imprudent||

    I think it is some kind of long-play con.

  • NoVAHockey||

    My wife's step-brothers were hired by Amtrak through their father, who also works there. They are morons.

    With overtime policies, they make about 85k as conductors. Best I've been able to figure out, they punch holes in tickets.

    On the plus side, this keeps them away from me

  • Sevo||

    "On the plus side, this keeps them away from me"
    Sometimes, what doesn't sound like a bargain turns out to be one.

  • Old Mexican||

    Meanwhile, many Californians wonder why the rail is needed when they can currently hop an inexpensive plane flight in LAX and be at SFO in about an hour and 10 minutes.


    Because governor Moonbeam wants to throttle the airline industry in California through his cap-and-pillage system, silly!

  • ||

    After watching Kennedy's video on DC metro, I noticed on my way into work this morning that the platform at Braddock Rd was torn all to shit and replacement tiles had been laid in, but not spaced or grouted (literally, they just dropped the new tiles into the empty spaces). Then the various areas (4 or 5 of them) were roped and coned off. It looks like the crew spent more time roping off than they did putting in the tiles.

    There were no workers anywhere to be seen on the platform.

  • NoVAHockey||

    Re: the tiles -- leave it to Metro to install tiles that are a slick as ice when wet.

  • ||

    Yeah, I love the total 70's aesthetic of the Metro system, even down to the octagonal burnt sienna lawsuit-waiting-to-happen platform tiles.

  • Randian||

    I like those tiles! They remind me of my childhood.

  • ||

    The TORT cases that ensue are a stimulus; "The Broken Tile Fallacy."

  • Old Mexican||

    But consider the bigger vision pitched by President Obama: “What we’re talking about is a vision for high-speed rail in America. … Imagine whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination.”


    Yes, this is certainly a weird fantasy: Who wants to live within "walking distance" of a train station, especially one run *gulp!* by government?

    Or is Obama thinking of packing all of us into big housing units, all connected by rail to the factories and the reeducation centers?

  • robc||

    Google cars may make this a reasonable vision. If JohnnyCabs count as public transit.

  • ||

    Google cars may make this a reasonable vision. If JohnnyCabs count as public transit.

    You reminded me why I stopped listening to Clark Howard's radio show. Absent his cogent views on the WOD, the man has a blind spot for nanny statism.

  • Invisible Finger||

    Imagine whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination.”

    You know who else imagined this?

  • Anacreon||

    Yes, that truly is the plan. Google "Agenda 21" or "Transit Village" if you don't believe me.

  • Old Mexican||

    Transportation these days isn’t about getting around, but about creating government-funded jobs and pursuing big-vision projects that have little correlation to how we actually get around.


    What do you mean with "these days"??? Transportation boondoggles have been the norm in the US since the 19th Century.

  • Tonio||

    inexplicable route selections

    They're not inexplicable, Steve, they're just counter-intuitive. In a private industry model the routes would go where the most riders are to be found. In the government model the routes go to the best-connected constituencies (hint: "under-served").

    Also, there are land-use and acquisition issues. Many rural communities don't want the RR anywhere near them. And don't even get me started on the eminent domain issues.

  • ||

    And don't even get me started on the eminent domain issues.

    I say, let 'er rip.

    Eminent Domain == Social Engineering

    Kelo was such a shit decision.

  • A Serious Man||

    As I understand it, they're building the first line in the central valley because presumably it would be easier to appropriate the land, but even then they are being callenged by the owners of the walnut and peach groves. Got to love how the liberals pipe dream is being strangled by the very bureaucratic red tape they so love.

  • Tonio||

    I'm sure the opponents will be accused of either plutocracy or false conciousness.

  • Tonio||

    Also, Volvo has successfully tested road trains on closed track with road trials coming soon.

  • Marty Feldman's Eyes||

    ...Imagine whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination.”

    The internal contradiction in this is breaking my brain.

    Imagine... that the town being whisked by is *yours*.

  • Randian||

    Worse: he said "whisked through"! "Oh, we just went by my stop at 100 mph"

    If only we had a transportation system that dropped people off steps away from their destinations, that stopped where each traveler wanted it to, and goes at speeds of 70 MPH or so. Man, we can dream, eh?

  • ||

    What is this construct of which you speak? It seems so...lofty...

  • Marty Feldman's Eyes||

    Unfortunately, California’s voters in 2008 approved Proposition 1A, which authorized nearly $10 billion in debt spending to begin this rail line that would ultimately link Anaheim to San Francisco. The rest of the money for the system (then predicted at around $40 billion) would come from federal funding and a variety of local and state sources.

    And it apparently can't be repeated enough (because story after story on the topic fails to mention it), that Prop 1A explicitly forbids operating subsidies, which appears to be impossible under any current business plan. This should be killing it in the womb, but miraculously everyone just ignores that part of the law.

  • Tonio||

    You've got it all wrong, Eyegore. It's not really about having a working choo-choo, it's about all the jobs for construction and planning.

  • Pip||

    The Staten Island Ferry carries cars. Why not have trains that carry cars? You drive to the station, pull up onto a waiting rail car, sit in your car reading the paper as the train travels from say, SF to LA, and then drive off in your car.

  • Zeb||

    Amtrak did that for a while on the East Coast. Not sure if it is still going or how huge a pile of money it lost.

  • ||

    Amtrak still does.

    More exactly Amtrak revived the service a couple of years after the private company,Auto-Train Corporation, that used to operate it failed.

    The Central Florida to DC area train is and was quite successful. The failure of Auto-Train Corporation seems to haver followed expansions into less lucrative markets.

  • San Jose||

    So recently the High Speed Rail Authority released a new business plan that purports to solve the problems that critics have raised. It claims to have slashed $30 billion from a price tag that had ballooned to nearly $100 billion.

    Sacramento Taxi

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    The implementation of Personal Rapid Transit (and, as a libertarian, I would prefer that this be done by private companies, not by municipalities, regional transportation authorities, or "public-private-partnerships") would give a great many people a credible alternative to the personal automobile on many occasions, and would also allow intercity rail terminals and airports to be reasonably far away from city centers, where land is cheaper and the NIMBY population density is much lower.

    A popular system that demonstrates the mechanical feasibility and reliability of PRT approaches has been serving passengers for some time at London's Heathrow Airport, and is expected to grow to serve the entire airport and adjoining neighborhoods in the years to come.

    Cost for full PRT coverage (the ability to get on the system within a block of your location and exit the system within a block of your destination) is fairly estimated at between US$60-US$70M per square mile of service area, inclusive of infrastructure and rolling stock.

    You would think that, with all this and more going for it, PRT would be at the center of the talk about the grand social experiment that is public transportation in today's America. But instead, everyone keeps talking about Highways, Buses, and High Speed Rail. I can understand Highways being central; that will be true for a long time to come. But Buses are not well-liked or utilized, and HSR seems more boondoggle than boon.

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    Oh yeah, and now there's a lot of talk about car-trains and self-driving cars. I worry that these high-tech "improvements" to the existing road transportation system will just make things worse for other vehicles that must share the road, or ultimately force them off the road altogether (as, for example, bicycles and pedestrians are not allowed to use freeways -- for their own safety!). In contrast, PRT has its own small-footprint infrastructure, which keeps it from affecting or being affected by street traffic.

  • NanGee||

    Don't you think that part of the egalitarian social engineering aspect is also that all citizens should have access to everything nd every place that other citizens have access to? So that people living in their self-made ghettos should be able to travel quickly an easily to stores, events and jobs that middle and upper-class citizens have access to? With the result that you then have flash mobs of "youths" in hoodies hopping the local to get to the financial district where it's much easier to rob and steal ipads and the to hop the local again, melt into the crowd and be home in minutes. With the further result that you have communities such as Beverly Hills saying "no way, go away" to proposals to link them up to South LA, or even to the LA downtown financial district.

  • Zav||

    Want to hinder massive car usage? Stop funding public roads and building new highways, and legalize common-sense town planning practices.

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