It was only a matter of time, really. Libertarian and far-right anti-tax groups in California have been unhappy about our high speed rail project for a while now, and sooner or later they were going to run into noted passenger rail hater Wendell Cox. Cox believes light rail, heavy rail, high speed rail are all inherently flawed concepts, perhaps because he takes no small amount of money from bus and highway lobbyist groups. Cox has also been associated with the conservative Reason Foundation for many years, a group that is funded by oil companies and their affiliated foundations. When Cox, the Reason Foundation, and the rabidly anti-HSR Howard Jarvis Association got together, the outcome was predictable.
That outcome was a anti-HSR report (full 190-page version here) that the Howard Jarvis Association included in their 2008 "Piglet Book". It's their attempt to put some "evidence" to their usual anti-train claims. In reality it's full of so many contradictions, half-truths, and outright nonsense that it would take more time than I have to fully refute the whole thing.
The Howard Jarvis Association in particular is coordinating a full-fledged media rollout of the study, with an op-ed in the LA Daily News that suddenly introduces a $54 billion price tag for HSR out of nowhere, to an appearance on KQED forum (Rod Diridon was there on behalf of HSR). That, alongside the media's love for stories on "government waste" should ensure this gets some traction in the press, albeit fleeting.
Reaction to the study has been swift from those who know a thing or two about rail. From our friends at The Overhead Wire:
And yes...they play the fear card.Terrorism against rail targets is a concern considering the extent of attacks that continue to occur on rail systems around the world.
Typical of current culture warrior thinking. When you can't win with the facts, try to scare people.
The study makes some rather outlandish claims. They charge that because HSR's projected cost has risen to around $40 billion, that by the time it opens we might have to spend as much as $80 billion. It's not enough to simply look at a trend and assume it will continue on forever - you have to explain the underlying logic, as we have with gas prices. They don't. Nowhere is global inflation of construction materials or the declining value of the dollar mentioned. A gallon of gas costs 200% more in 2008 than it did in 2000, but somehow I doubt that Reason and the Howard Jarvis people would suggest we abandon cars and freeways as a result.
Their $80 billion cost estimate is pulled out of thin air - and if we use their same logic, a gallon of gas will cost between $8 and $10 by 2018 ensuring that HSR is a financial bargain.
Numerous other examples abound. They claim California isn't as favorable for HSR as Europe or Japan, even though Spain's conditions are similar to our own. They claim Acela isn't a success, but it has at least 40% of the market share on the Northeast Corridor, a stunning number for a system that isn't true HSR. Their claims about ridership aren't backed up by a close study of the assumptions that went into the CHSRA's studies - instead they say "well this doesn't compare well to Europe so it can't possibly be right?!" They say non-HSR alternatives will be cheap, that freeways can be expanded for $900 million - but it'll cost $6 billion to widen Highway 99 alone!
It goes on and on like that for 190 pages. But the details of the study aren't important to the authors and promoters, who don't expect anyone to actually read it and see the nonsense for themselves. Instead they just want to muddy the waters in the public mind by saying "boondoggle! pork! massive cost overruns!" often enough in hopes that the media will listen and repeat it for them.
We remain confident that Californians will see the value of high speed rail. While Cox and the Howard Jarvis Association quibble over numbers Californians are screaming for solutions to the airline crisis, to high fuel costs, and to the nasty economic downturn that we're sliding into head-first. They know better than to have oil company and highway lobby shills convince them to abandon California's future.