The largest newspaper in the state has come out in favor of high speed rail:
There's something undeniably alluring about a bullet train -- the technology is so powerful, the speed so breathtaking, it makes quotidian trips seem exotic. Perhaps that's why proponents of Proposition 1a, which would authorize $9.95 billion in bonds for a high-speed rail line connecting Northern and Southern California, think it would be wildly successful. They predict the line could draw 117 million riders a year by 2030, compared with 3 million now taking the high-speed Amtrak train in the densely populated Northeast. And they say it will turn a billion-dollar profit by then even as it keeps ticket prices remarkably low.
The projections by the measure's opponents, led by the libertarian Reason Foundation in Los Angeles, are much less sanguine and more persuasive. If voters approve Proposition 1a, it seems close to a lead-pipe cinch that the California High-Speed Rail Authority will ask for many billions more in the coming decades, and the Legislature will have to scrape up many millions of dollars in operating subsidies.
And yet, we still think voters should give in to the measure's gleaming promise, because it's in their long-term interest. Weaning travelers from gas-powered, road-choking cars is critical to the state's health and competitiveness. A high-speed rail line would not only provide a cleaner and faster alternative to automobiles, it would encourage transit-friendly development.
The measure isn't as big a risk as it would be if the state were footing the entire bill. The "backbone" segment from Los Angeles to San Francisco is projected to cost $33 billion, with about 75% from federal and private sources. Until those funds are secured, the state won't issue most of its bonds. If the line never gets built, the state's losses will be well under $2 billion. That's not too much to wager on a visionary leap that would cement California's place as the nation's most forward-thinking state.
I could do without the citation of the Reason Foundation study that we thoroughly discredited here. It is far from a "lead pipe cinch" that the Authority will ask for "many billions more" - and it is highly unlikely that they'll need ongoing operating subsidies.
But what I find so interesting about this editorial is their argument that even if the discredited Cox-Vranich study were right, HSR is still worth doing. They are absolutely right that "weaning travelers from gas-powered, roads-choking cars is critical to the state's health and competitiveness." I would add airlines to that as well, something we have to develop an alternative to anyway.
The editorial also nails it at the end - if the matching funds don't come through, then we don't issue the bonds, California loses at most $2 billion, and we survive just fine. The LA Times editorialists saw right through all the baseless, factless, nonsensical claims that HSR will cost us upwards of $100 billion and instead focused on this state's dire need for just such a system to revive our economy and improve our environment.
The LA Times should be congratulated for shifting public focus to the "gleaming promise" of high speed rail. It is the most important infrastructure project this state has considered in 50 years. We will be kicking ourselves very soon if we reject Prop 1A. The LA Times gets the big picture. About time someone in the media did.