A Sacramento judge’s decision to reject a funding plan for the California High-Speed Rail System isn’t especially surprising. The present plan — to spend some $68 billion on the rail line between Los Angeles and the Bay Area — isn’t what voters approved when they approved the initial plan in 2008. At that time, the voters OK’d $10 billion in bonds for a train system that would cost some $45 billion. Promoters of the system were confident the federal government and private enterprise would cough up the other $30 billion. Well, that hasn’t happened.
The feds did allocate $3.2 billion in economic recovery funds, and the rail system’s bureaucrats would love to spend that money. But the funding plan still leaves a big gap between what the rail system can count on and what it wishes it could count on.
The judge told the rail system to go back to the spreadsheets and come up with a plan that approaches reality. There are some problems, though.
- The $68 billion plan is down, by order of Gov. Jerry Brown, from an initial estimate of $100 billion that was approved once serious planning began. Who’s to say $68 billion is any more realistic than $100 billion was?
- Little, if any, indication could lead one to believe private capital is waiting in the wings to invest in the high-speed scheme. People who put pencil to paper have found the rail system’s operating plan to be a likely money-loser, based on anticipated pricing and ridership. The first projections of how many would ride the trains were pipe dreams.
- About $705 million already has been spent — $400 million on planning the system and $305 million on improving other, localized rail systems that eventually could be connected to the high-speed rails. Ironically, it is the improvements to existing rail systems that seem to make the most sense and have the most popular support. Improvements on Amtrak here in the Valley and elsewhere have been called for, as well.
Although the high-speed project remains alive, it may be another five years before an improved economy can provide the kind of financing it needs to meet the judge’s demands.
We keep hearing that in just a few weeks, construction on the rail bed will start right here in Madera County. But then, a few weeks passes, and nothing happens. That has become a pattern. With this latest judicial decision, that pattern is beginning to look permanent.