One of the most reliably anti-HSR voices in the state is the Media News Group, publisher of several major newspapers (including the San Jose Mercury News). During the 2008 campaign they were among the most die-hard HSR deniers. Now that a judge has issued a mixed decision in the Atherton v. CHSRA lawsuit, MNG is taking advantage of the situation to yet again try and kill high speed rail:
OFTEN THERE IS a wide gap separating a concept from reality. Such is the case with California's high-speed rail project. Conceptually, fast, comfortable, fuel-efficient, intercity, passenger rail transportation makes a lot of sense as fuel prices rise and reductions in carbon dioxide emissions are mandated.
However, there are a number of inconvenient realities that come between California's dream of high-speed rail service and actually constructing it.
The latest roadblock is a court ruling that the High Speed Rail Authority's environmental impact report is "inadequate." The court's conclusion is hardly surprising considering that the EIR failed to address Union Pacific's decision not to allow the trains to run along its tracks from Gilroy to San Jose.
It never ceases to amaze me how usual standards of journalistic practice, such as they are, don't apply at all to the editorial page. The judge most assuredly did NOT rule that the EIR as a whole was "inadequate." He ruled that three specific parts of it were inadequate, but that the overwhelming majority of the contested portions were perfectly adequate, including the basic elements of the choice of the Pacheco Pass over the Altamont Pass for the HSR route. This inconvenient truth doesn't stop the MNG editorialists from plowing ahead with further bits of disinformation:
When the high-speed rail project was first proposed, supporters assumed it would use the Union Pacific's tracks. Without Union Pacific's right of way, an alternate route would have to be considered, affecting the Monterey Highway or requiring the taking of additional private property.
The ignorance here is astounding. UP's tracks were NEVER going to be used, at least not in any plans I've seen over the last two years. I can't speak for the CHSRA, but this HSR supporter never expected to use UP's ROW either. Ever since I became familiar with the situation in May 2008, I understood the plan was to use land next to UP's ROW, but not the ROW itself. Additional private property may have to be taken, but as southern Santa Clara County region is much less built up than the Peninsula, this should not require much if any loss of housing.
As a result of the court's ruling, the rail project is likely to be considerably delayed as a new EIR is written and the additional time and costs of buying land or battling Union Pacific in court are considered.
This is blind speculation almost entirely lacking in evidence. We have no indication what remedy the judge will order. A new EIR does not seem likely, and although it is a possibility, MNG has no basis whatsoever to assume it is a definite outcome. The time and cost of dealing with UP is certainly a consideration, but as I explained yesterday federal assistance can expedite this process.
Alternate routes, such as one over the Altamont Pass, which some rail advocates favor, are even more costly and also would require a new EIR.
Well, at least they got that one right. Altamont is dead. Will groups like the Planning and Conservation League finally accept that reality and devote their efforts to actually supporting HSR?
Voters approved a $9.95 billion rail bond measure last November. The rest of the money is supposed to come from the federal government and investors. Delays can only increase the costs and discourage investors.
But that is hardly the only problem with the high-speed rail project. The business plan is inadequate. There is no accurate estimate of ridership, fares, operational costs and investor interest. Also, the $40 billion cost estimate is dubious.
I see MNG decided to rehash a bunch of the old discredited HSR denier nonsense for good measure. I suppose this means that once we've discredited this editorial we can expect its claims to keep reappearing in MNG editorials for years to come?
With so many other greater capital project needs such as fixing the Delta, highway repair and school renovations that require large amounts of funding, California should sidetrack its highly questionable high-speed rail project.
This is the new line of attack against HSR, and we heard it in Menlo Park last week: that HSR isn't worth the money given all the other priorities.
The fact is we need to and can do all of these things. HSR is necessary to this state's future. To sacrifice it because we're too cheap to find money to pay for our other priorities would have been like refusing to build the Golden Gate Bridge during the Depression. That move, funded by local bonds issued in the depth of the Depression, worked out pretty damn well for California. So too will HSR. MNG will never admit it, and that's fine. We didn't need them in the campaign to pass Prop 1A, and we don't need them in the campaign to ensure that the will of the voters is respected and the HSR project built.