American Elephants

When The Romance With the Rails Gets Derailed… by The Elephant's Child

America has had a long romance with the rails. From the pounding of the golden spike at Promontory Summit, Utah that united a continent to the present, we fell in love with trains.  From “the Little Engine That Could” to “The Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” “Casey Jones,” and the” Atchison,Topeka and the Santa-Fe,” songs about trains and travel, stories about the building of the railroads and movies have captured the imagination of the American people.  In some parts of the country, you can still ride a steam train, get cinders in your hair and a feel for the pounding rhythm of the wheels on a track. But times have changed and the romance has soured.

Holman Jenkins Jr. remarked in the Wall Street Journal that “if you’ve been listening closely to President Obama, you know that corporate jets are the cause of all our problems and high-speed rail is the solution.” He quoted Mr. Obama in one his more soaring moments:

Imagine boarding a train in the center of a city, no racing to an airport and across a terminal, no delays, no sitting on the tarmac, no lost luggage, no taking off your shoes.  Imagine whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination.”

Soaring fantasy. Eight billion dollars of Obama stimulus funds were spread over “high-speed rail” projects that had little to do with high-speed rail. but  had a lot to do with certain congressional districts.  Saul Alinsky, Obama’s community organizing mentor, was about mobilizing to gain power over resources. Political ambitions concern increasing the resources over which they have power. Think how often you have heard the phrase —”We have to get the people out of their cars.” Except eight billion dollars was barely a down-payment on Obama’s high-speed rail fantasy. The rest of the money had to come from states that were already struggling to balance their budgets. Most turned down the Obama “gift.”

But not California. Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee said in July that:

Every single independent review of the project to link the northern and southern halves of the state with a bullet train has concluded that it’s not working. No exceptions.  Not even one.

The only ones saying that the bullet train will work as promised are the rail authority itself, its highly paid consultants and media cheerleaders, and those on the political left who hate cars and planes and love trains.

A new business plan from California’s High-Speed Rail Authority  has raised the cost estimates from $34 billion to $43 billion and now up to $98.5 billion before the first rails are laid.  They raised the estimate by figuring in a more plausible inflation rate of 3%. Yet claims are still stuck  in magic castle territory.

They claim that the system would attract at least 7.4 million riders a year. They project an operating profit at that low ridership level.  They are sure that private investors would come forward to cover 20% of the cost. They project the fare one-way between San Francisco and Los Angeles at $81.  A ticket, advanced purchase, round-trip on any number of flights goes for $139. They are talking about 2033, and apparently assuming no improvements in air travel nor in the car industry.

All that hopey–changey stuff was apparently dreamed up in a lot of “wouldn’t it be neat if…” conversations,  and then they got their hands on the public purse and started trying to make a lot of changey stuff come true without knowing anything about the engineering or economics or politics or practicality of it — and of course it has ended up with wasted funds and wasted time and wasted effort.  When the economy is in the tank and the people are unemployed, you just don’t take the public’s money and use it for clearly unworkable schemes.

If you don’t know anything about a subject, you really need to study up before you start investing billions and demanding other billions.  It’s not government money.

[Just for fun, go to Wikipedia and enter “train songs” — you won’t believe how many there are!]

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