California's ill-fated statewide bullet train project - which has been reduced to a "train to nowhere" between Merced and Bakersfield so the state doesn't have to return $3.5 billion in federal funds - took residents of the Golden State on a ride for over a decade.
While initially projected to cost $33.6 billion in 2008, former Gov. Jerry Brown's "special legacy project" ballooned in estimated size to nearly $100 billion in 2018, with service beginning from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 2033.
Opining on the demise of the bullet train in an "I told ya so" Op-Ed, the WSJ editorial board provides a post-mortem on yet another failed attempt towards a progressive utopia using taxpayer dollars.
Death of a California Dream
Gavin Newsom gives up on Jerry Brown’s bullet-train fiasco.
Like Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War, California Gov. Gavin Newsom inherited a quagmire in the state’s bullet train with no good options. Rather than attempt a full-out retreat, the Governor announced Tuesday that he would cut taxpayer losses by completing a segment in the sparsely populated San Joaquin Valley. But please don’t call it a train to nowhere.
A decade ago California voters approved a $10 billion bond measure to build a 520-mile high-speed train that would supposedly take riders from San Francisco to Los Angeles in two hours and 40 minutes. The choo-choo’s supporters vowed that the federal government and private investors would foot most of the estimated $33 billion bill, and the referendum explicitly stated there would be no subsidy. President Trump’s promise to make Mexico pay for a border wall was more believable.
The Obama Administration chipped in $3.5 billion on the condition the first 160-mile segment be built in the San Joaquin Valley district of Democratic Rep. Jim Costa, a longtime bullet-train supporter who provided a critical vote for ObamaCare. Former Gov. Jerry Brown made the train his special legacy project, his contribution at taxpayer expense to the illusion of stopping climate change. His people sent letter after letter claiming that our editorials were mistaken.
Our criticisms have now been validated by none other than Mr. Newsom. Cost projections for the train have soared to around $80 billion amid litigation, engineering challenges and ordinary government morass. Private investors have run the other way. The state rail authority has spent more than $5 billion acquiring and destroying hundreds of properties but not yet laid tracks. Taxpayers have lost patience, and Mr. Newsom stated the obvious on Tuesday that “there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to LA.”
The new Governor is thus proposing to finish the initial planned route from Merced to Bakersfield, now with the stated goal of revitalizing rural areas that have been parched due to water rationing. Lo, high-speed rail is “about economic transformation and unlocking the enormous potential of the Valley,” which is “hungry for investment” and “good jobs.” Mr. Newsom in his speech also pared back a project championed by Mr. Brown to deliver more water to farmers.
Liberals envision that the bullet train will someday turn Fresno and Merced into Silicon Valley suburbs and ease the Bay Area’s housing shortage. But this too is a dream. As economic consultants William Grindley and Bill Warren document in a recent study, a worker who lives in Fresno would spend 10 hours and 20 minutes each day commuting to San Jose at a cost of $154 round trip—assuming no subsidies.
California’s bullet train provides a miniature model of the Green New Deal. Alas, the main reason liberals like Mr. Newsom are likely turning against it is they are eager to redirect taxpayer money to entitlements and other green largesse.