Friday, March 04, 2011


Florida governor Rick Scott recently said “No thanks” to 2.4 billion federal dollars for a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando. The governor, based on empirically-grounded estimates in a Reason Foundation study, foresaw significant cost overruns and doubted the optimistic annual ridership estimate of three million.

In prior weeks governors in Wisconsin and Ohio also declined a small mountain of Federal Reserve Notes dedicated to high-speed rail in their states.

Then there’s New Jersey’s gutsy governor, Chris Christie, who last year pulled the plug on the nation’s most expensive public works project—an 8.7 billion dollar rail tunnel between New Jersey and Manhattan.

For Democrats in Sacramento and bureaucrats at the California High Speed Rail Authority, these acts of fiscal sanity only mean more “free money” for California’s massive high-speed boondoggle.

Recently, Orange County’s PBS station (in between using federal funds to urge its viewers to support more federal funding) interviewed CHSRA’s Vice-Chairman, Tom Umberg--a long-time Democrat politician who got his position at the Rail Authority thanks to former California State Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez.

Though the government-funded interviewer did have a Reason Foundation representative present for balance, Umberg was never pressed on critical points like how much the project will cost Californians, how much the drowning-in-debt feds will be chipping in, what tickets will cost, what eminent domain issues exist, and whether Umberg can point to any history of success for federal rail projects in the U.S.

Umberg doubtless enjoyed the futuristic visuals of the system as he grinned broadly, stressed his free money scenario, and said the Spanish high-speed rail system from Madrid to Barcelona was a great prototype. (Viewers of government-sponsored journalism wouldn’t know that those tickets currently cost $330, round trip. Nor would they have information about the total cost of the project or its ongoing expense in a country that currently boasts a 20% unemployment rate.)

Assemblywoman Diane Harkey did pose these hard questions in the relative privacy of a subcommittee hearing a few weeks earlier.

Harkey said that what we now have is a “high-speed marketing machine…with absolutely no accountability.” When she asked Rail Authority reps, “At what point do you determine that…a segment of this line is too expensive to build?” She says she was told, “Never.”

Harkey noted that the plan “shifts and moves continually” and that one can’t get a handle on the dollars. Current estimates range from 60 to 80 billion dollars, plus operating expenses. Harkey also observed that some money, both for capital expenses and connecting facilities, are expected to come from impacted counties.

To those questions Umberg and Sacramento Democrats reply, “All aboard.”

Additional note from a Reader: Here's a clip from a Simpson's episode about a con man pushing residents to build a monorail in their town: 

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