CAHSR Blog, L.A. Times Paint Different Pictures of High Speed Rail Planning

A video promoting High Speed Rail by the California High Speed Rail Authority

In addition to writing a charming piece on bus riding, the Times also published a piece that slammed the efforts to bring High Speed Rail to California.  While Rich Connell and Dan Weikel didn’t come right out and say that pursuit of the $45 billion for the High Speed Rail train connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco; they did write an article that was long on attacking various portions of the project and light on a defense.  If you were to just read the Times article, you could conclude that:

  1. The ridership number for the High Speed Rail train are fraudulent
  2. The cost for a ticket is going up so that people won’t be able to afford it
  3. Taxpayers are going to be on the hook for all the money lost because the ridership numbers are fraudulent and nobody is going to ride it

But other than that, it’s a great idea!

As you could expect, Robert Cruickshank at the California High Speed Rail blog fired back almost immediately pointing out that if anything, the ridership estimates are probably low because they were taken before the transit boom of the last couple of years and that High Speed Rail has made money everywhere it’s been tried.  Heck, they even took umbrage with the Times presenting Long Beach State Senator Alan Lowenthal as a High Speed Rail supporter; a claim they’ve attacked several times in the past.

The largest point of contention in the Times article, was the one issue that Connell and Weikel’s research partially debunked itself, that the promise made to the state that taxpayers would not have to cover part of the operating expenses was being backed away from.

And some government watchdogs are concerned that a linchpin commitment
to taxpayers in the bullet train’s financing measure — that no local,
state or federal subsidies would be required to keep the trains
operating — may be giving way.

High-speed rail planners recently advised state lawmakers that
attracting billions in crucial private financing will probably require
government backing of future cash flow…

…But Morshed, who is stepping down next month, reiterated that some
guarantee, probably from the federal government, may be needed to
ensure that cash flow can repay front-end construction investments by
private parties. That is not uncommon in federally backed projects, he
said, and would not violate the state’s ban on taxpayer operating

Just over a week ago, CAHSR Blog took a look at my coverage of the Senator Boxer and Secretary LaHood meeting Downtown and took issue with my light mocking of LaHood for claiming to have never heard any criticism of High Speed Rail planning in California.  Regardless of whether the criticism is valid or not, the Times piece and the strong defense by Cruickshank show that the debate over this project is far from over and far from isolated in California.  For better or worse, the cost of High Speed Rail has subjected the line to some close scrutiny and often times that scrutiny leads to negative media coverage.

That being said, I took issue with large parts of the Times’ piece as well.  From the headline, "Some fear California’s high-speed rail won’t deliver on early promises" through the story there is a tendency to not always explain who is actually criticising the project and why. We see it again in the above quote "some government watchdog groups."  Of course, "some" people fear that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim Socialist who pals around with terrorists and "some government watchdog groups" protest with signs comparing him to Hitler, Mussolini or Stalin.  See what we did there?

Expect to see more of these kinds of debates, which have been more common in the Bay Area than Southern California in recent years, as more government and private money flows in to High Speed Rail planning and construction; there’s going to be more scrutiny and more controversy.


Photo: Ryan Stern

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