Almanac

Viewpoint - December 8, 2010

Letter: Some rail critics hope to save Caltrain

The critics of high-speed rail I know, including myself, want to save Caltrain because it provides a vital service. Our children and a grandchild rode it to school. We would use Caltrain for evenings in San Francisco if the service were more frequent and the connections in SF better.

High-speed rail presents a huge and unbearable risk to the financially strapped state of California. We have a chronic, apparently unbridgeable fiscal deficit of over $20 billion a year and debt service on bonds for high-speed rail will make that worse, and we have the worst credit rating of any state.

The state has some $80 billion in bonds outstanding and also over $400 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. Like practically all high-speed rail in the world, California's will be a big money loser and, contrary to Prop 1A, will have to be subsidized with money the state does not have.

California does not satisfy the necessary conditions (population density, local public transportation at each end) for financially viable high-speed rail. This project was sold to voters on the basis of false claims: no taxpayer subsidies, which cannot happen; a $50 fare which has now increased to $105 and probably higher (compared to $60 on Southwest Airline); a $30 billion price tag for Sacramento-SF-LA-San Diego service, now estimated by the high-speed rail commission at $43 billion for SF-LA only and most likely to increase $10 billion-$20 billion if past high-speed rail history repeats. California taxpayers would bear that risk. Would anybody want to buy our bonds without a very large interest premium?

California high-speed rail will not get any more money from the federal government. American voters have just sent to Washington a Republican majority in the House of Representatives pledged to cut the deficit. Without more federal funds, the project will die. California should now stop spending the $200 million a year the project is costing, and redirect the money to support of local commuter public transportation and also education.

Alain Enthoven, McCormick Lane, Atherton CA

Comments

Posted by Hank Lawrence, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Dec 8, 2010 at 8:30 am

When I attended the Naval Post Graduate School in 1976 I learned about the McNamara Whiz Kids. These young geniuses transformed the Defense Department into an institution held accountable to its budgets through the introduction of Integrated planning, scheduling, and budgeting and measuring performance against plan. The two most accomplished and revered Whiz Kids were Charlie Hitch and Alain Enthoven.

Those two legends are quintessential examples of bright, articulate, prescient and accomplished hard workers that Harold Geneen would have hired in a New York minute if he could get them.

This web link details Dr. Enthoven's days in the trenches

Web Link

Dr. Enthoven is spot with regard to high speed rail. The public was duped with inflated ridership numbers and lowball procurement and operation and maintenance (O&M) costs. For instance how can Gilroy attract more ridership than Baltimore? How can HSR make money when the Washington D.C. New York Amtrak corridor with the highest population density in the United States is losing money? The answer is it can't and HSR will be an albatross around the necks of every California resident unless we kill it soon.

You always get the most bang for the buck from intra-city transit. That is because far more people go to work than go on trips and the population density of the San Francisco Bay area is far great than the HSR corridor. However the main benefit is keeping traffic off the highways. 101 is at saturation level and can not take any more. If CalTrain goes belly up we will see the worst traffic nightmares beyond anyone's imagination. We should forget HSR and electrify CalTrain. This subsidy is well worth it in terms of time saved for commuters, carbon footprint reduction, and commuter stress reduction. It is the right thing to do and it is the smart thing to do.


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