Time and again one hears High-Speed Rail proponents argue that since airports and highways receive government subsidies, why should we mind if HSR requires our support?
Aside from Proposition 1A’s provision barring taxpayer-funded operating subsidies, the argument that HSR is as deserving of government assistance as air and roads is specious.
The argument would bear some logic if commercial and private vehicle traffic through the San Joaquin Valley, particularly along routes 5 and 99, and airline travel were intended to primarily serve intrastate commuting between Northern and Southern California.
Airports in California serve far more than the travelers flying between the state’s cities.
The second busiest airline market in the US is the San Francisco – Los Angeles route at around 3.75 million passengers per year. A large number for sure, but it pales in comparison to the number flying the third and fourth busiest routes – between LA and New York, and LA and Chicago. These two routes total 6.3 million. Add in service to DC, Seattle, Atlanta, Denver and other hubs and the gap between intrastate and other markets widens even more. International travel turns the gap into a canyon.
Airports are gateways to the nation and the world. CAHSR would connect cities where the bulk of the travel is not only discretionary, but travelers have far more flexibility with their itineraries within the current network, as imperfect as it may be. You can adjust departure times far more easily between SF and LA than you can with trips to most of the nation and the world.
Highways funnel more than people. Our economy depends heavily on trucks to deliver goods to the market. While rail freight is the most efficient means of transporting goods, food and raw materials, trucks also connect rail yards to local stores, warehouses and individual residences.
A few years ago, Governor Brown equated the importance of the high-speed rail project to the construction of the transcontinental railroad in the second half of the Nineteenth Century. He may have been around back then for all we know.
This is an absurd apples and oranges analogy. Probably more like fruits and nuts, with the governor belonging to the latter category.
The transcontinental railroad facilitated commerce. Prior to its existence, the only practical way to ship goods between coasts was by sea through Cape Horn, a journey that took months and was perilous.
Within ten years after the golden spike was driven into the last tie in 1869, $50 million of goods were shipped from California to and from the east. That’s $50 million in 1879 dollars. Trade grew exponentially afterwards.
The bullet train is designed to move passengers, a very small segment of the transportation market. It will add little or nothing to commerce. If anything, there will be a high cost in relation to the limited environmental value, if any, the HSR Authority swears will lessen the effects of global warming .
I can accept the need for airport and roadway subsidies. They promote commerce and seamlessly connect large and small communities. No inter-regional rail system would be able to deal with a mere fraction of the markets they serve, let alone delivering the products we need in our everyday lives.
And as I have stated in other articles, it is far more important to support rail/subway transportation systems within large metro areas that reduce local commuting traffic.