Federalism

High Speed Rail Goes Loco

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Borden from the air.

California's high speed rail project could be shaping up as the awesomest catastrogeddon of 2011.

The California High Speed Rail Authority is committed to breaking ground on a leg of the train that will serve passengers between the unincorporated town of Borden and the half-incarcerated town of Corcoran.

Whether you call it the train from nowhere or the train to nowhere, nobody will be riding it even when it's done. That's not libertarian cant: The actual plan for the $4.15 billion leg is that upon completion it will sit idle until other sections of track are completed.

Nobody likes this plan.

Borden from the ground.

Background: The CHSRA needs to break ground by September 2012 or lose $2.25 billion in federal funds. The U.S. Department of Transportation has for reasons of its own favored the sparsely populated Central Valley for this first leg of the thinly imagined high speed rail project. Although Golden State Democrats would prefer to start off by connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles or L.A. to Anaheim, they have generally accepted the humiliation rather than lose the funding and miss another start for the nearly 15-year-old project. The recent dedication of a high-speed terminal in San Francisco by outgoing Democratic House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi was for show purposes only.

Three great leaders lay the tombstone of San Francisco's Transbay Transit Terminal.

Geography buffs are invited to try and make any sense out of the CHSRA's proposed alignment. Not only does the authority plan to incur all the financial and public relations costs of driving a 150-mph train down the heavily populated and extremely wealthy San Francisco-to-San Jose corridor; but it then plans to sacrifice the only goal that could possibly make that trouble worthwhile: a direct San Fran-L.A. run. 

And after scrupulously avoiding the mostly-direct Interstate 5 route, after stops in Fresno and Visalia and Bakersfield and Palmdale, the train will then make a sharp westward turn, over toward the 5, and take that route south into L.A. There's already a Metrolink train that follows this route. As of 2002 the Antelope Valley Line was carrying 5,135 riders per day. Earlier this year, Metrolink proposed cutting service on the Antelope Valley Line, citing an 11 percent decline in ridership systemwide.

In other rail news, CalWatchdog's Anthony Pignatoro takes another look at the fabulous ridership projections CHSRA has been making with no support.  And in a two-page letter to DOT and Federal Railroad Administration, U.S. Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced condemns Borden/Corcoran as a "gross misuse" of taxpayer money.

There's plenty of previous Reason coverage of the Cal HSR saga. Get all you can eat.

Related: California government employees get a fleet of sweet rides during the state's worst economic crisis since the 1930s. The coolest thing about government vehicle fleets is when they auction them off.

Very vaguely related: Communist former federal green jobs czar Van Jones hosts a poetry competition where everybody wins. Proving that when government officials do poetry slams, poetry slams sound like city council meetings, a woman at the 4:30 mark launches into some lengthy testimony about the counties the bullet train will be passing through. Sing it, heartland of Cali: