Lawmakers in California have approved the first phase of funding for a high speed rail line planned to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco.The approved measure allows the state to issue $4.5 billion in bonds, $2.6 billion of which will be used to start construction on a 130 mile chunk of the operation between Madera and Bakersfield. The move also allows the state to collect more than $3 billion in matching federal funding to help finance the project.
The final price tag for the run between San Francisco and Los Angeles is expected to come in around $68 billion, making this initial effort a very small chunk of the overall project. Even more bizarre is that the initial section will touch neither Los Angeles nor San Francisco, leaving it dependent on regional customers to have any revenue flow. Many regions around the world have high speed rail and nearly all of them use it to connect major metropolitan areas, not smaller towns.
I’m a big fan of high speed rail and I believe there are portions of the United States which could benefit dramatically from seeing lines constructed. I want to be incredibly excited about this announcement as a forbearer of great things to come in the world of rail travel. And by acting this week the state secures the federal matching funds. But they’re still going to have to spend a lot of their own money on the project, one which seems doomed from the start based on the ordering of the phases.
The bill also provides for improved mass transit funding around Los Angeles and San Francisco. That’s definitely a good thing. But it isn’t clear that they also needed to start the HSR construction in the middle of the state where there is going to be limited demand in order to fun that portion.
I’m quite skeptical at this point that the program will be successful. Hopeful, but skeptical. And if this one fails it has the potential to destroy what little public support there is anywhere else in the nation for such an effort. Derailing chances of true high speed rail in the northeast corridor, around Chicago or in Florida would be a huge blow.
Good luck, California. We’re all counting on you.