The Obama Administration has put high-speed rail at the forefront of its infrastructure policies, but in reality it’s a slow-moving target for criticism. “Ask any CEO where they’d rather locate and hire: a country with deteriorating roads and bridges, or one with high-speed rail and Internet; high-tech schools and self-healing power grids,” said the President in his February State of the Union speech. Ostensibly, high speed rail projects have gone forward in the U.S. even though they have shown little-to-no progress to date. It is telling that when the sequester went into effect the Obama Administration canceled White House tours and let go thousands of illegal immigrants instead of revisiting waste such as this.
CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Drew Griffin should be commended on their reporting of the $12 billion high-speed rail boondoggle. According to Griffin, who interviewed Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood, “so much of the money has been spent really making the old trains go a little bit faster.” How much faster? About 10 minutes faster for an $800 million investment. “I think people like the investments we're making,” responded Secretary Lahood during the interview. “There is so much enthusiasm in America for high speed rail.”
Not so in California, where cost overruns loom large. Griffin said that “There is only one true high speed rail line actually envisioned in the entire United States. It's the California plan to bring a 200 mile-an-hour train from San Francisco to Los Angeles.” This is the same state where the public opposes additional spending on high-speed rail. “The Public Policy Institute of California released a poll Wednesday showing that likely voters are opposed to spending $68 billion on high-speed rail by a margin of 54 to 43 percent,” reports Melissa Griffin for The San Francisco Examiner. “Ten years ago,” she writes, “the authors of ‘Megaprojects and Risk: An Anatomy of Ambition’ examined more than 200 projects and concluded that the costs for large-scale public transit projects usually result in cost overruns of 50 percent and that revenue routinely falls short by 20 percent to 70 percent.”
“The forces behind such wild projections are the contractors, builders and consultants who stand to gain from the construction and are unchecked by policymakers with no real means to verify overly optimistic ridership models or stop construction once it has begun.”
It is not surprising, then, that the Heritage Foundation’s Emily Goff writes that “High-speed rail and intercity rail projects waste taxpayer money, divert limited transportation funds to vastly more expensive forms of transportation, and force taxpayers to subsidize the operating costs.”
“If it worked, the commercial financial sector wouldn’t have steered clear of it before costly federal subsidies came along,” comments Goff.
Lahood, in his CNN interview with Drew Griffin, seemed disconnected from reality, claiming that more investments are needed than the $12 billion already spent. “In some parts of the country, we are going to have trains going 200 miles an hour,” said Secretary Lahood. “When?” asked Griffin. “As soon as we can get the kind of work that needs to be done started,” replied Lahood (emphasis added).
“It's been in the planning stages for nearly ten years and not a single piece of rail has been laid,” said Griffin. “Back in Seattle, one day they do hope to reach speeds of perhaps 110 miles an hour in some sections of the track, but at what price?” If California is any indication, the price is probably too high.
Cooper and Griffin made the point that the waste of money and lack of results is bad enough, but even worse is the dishonesty with which the Obama administration is selling this to the American public:
COOPER: “It's one thing, I mean, if you just set out and said you know what, we wanted to make, you know, a 60 mile-an-hour train go 70 miles an hour, we want to cut 10 minutes off this time, and then people could judge whether that's, you know, worth it for the $800 million. But if you're selling it as high speed rail, that seems almost misleading. I mean, people are still riding trains. People still like trains, as the guy said, Amtrak use is up.”
GRIFFIN: “True, but is it wise and getting to your point, Anderson, this was sold as high speed rail. People thought they were getting high speed rail. The bullet trains. That's what they're selling. That's what they're showing to us. But if you look at what was happening in Washington State, you know, right now after $800 million, it's still cheaper and many times faster to take the Greyhound Bus from Seattle to Portland. So what was that investment all about? It wasn't about high speed rail. It was just about fixing up Amtrak, fixing up the low speed rail and really making freight trains move a little better, but not high speed rail.”
Cooper said this is the third piece on this subject that Griffin has done for CNN. It’s about time that the rest of the media got on board exposing this reckless, dishonest boondoggle.
Roger Aronoff is the Editor of Accuracy in Media, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.