William Grindley and William Warren wrote a 2014 report, “If you build it, they will not come,” that questioned many of the authority’s assumptions in its business plan to build the rail from Los Angeles to San Francisco that voters approved in 2008. Public support for the rail system, which has bridges under construction in the Fresno area, has since plummeted. Assuming wiser heads prevail and the rail project is halted, columnist Dan Walters has suggested that 150 years from now people will see those concrete monuments as this generation’s Stonehenge.
The authors put together the report without any help from the rail authority, which denied their public records requests so they could thoroughly understand the assumptions in the business plan. Undaunted, they undertook their own research to evaluate trips from key markets and compare the total travel time and cost by air, by car and by the rail.
Their findings demonstrate the huge waste of money the rail is and the cash sink it will be on an ongoing basis if it is built. Their work covered 140 routes between 2029-2032 when the first phase is scheduled to open and 180 routes between 2033-2040. The authority’s plan claims 14.4 million riders in the earlier period and 36.2 in the second window.
Their conclusion: less than one-in-five of the forecasted riders are likely to choose the rail over driving their own car or taking an airplane. They found rail costs are always more than driving and on distances of more than 400 miles, always more costly than air travel. They point out that 74 percent of California’s population live in three markets (the Los Angeles area, the San Diego area and the Bay Area) and argue that the authority is stretching it mightily to claim any riders from those markets.
Their report also points out that San Joaquin Valley legislators traveling from Sacramento to their district offices, they will be on an authority bus each way for at least 2 hours and four minutes in the second period; four hours in the first period. That means 50 percent more time travelling by bus/rail than by an automobile.
For Bay Area legislators, it’s twice the travel time by car. For LA area, air travel is cheaper and less than half the time.
Costs have soared and delays continue. The initial San Jose-San Joaquin Valley link have seen costs rise 43 percent to $29.5 billion and the opening of the first link was postponed four more years between 2016-2018. Remember, the whole system was to be $33 billion when voters approved. It’s now more than $77 billion and I’ve got a bridge to sell you in Death Valley if you believe that number.
With Jerry Brown now retired to his Colusa County ranch, it’s a great opportunity for Gov. Gavin Newsom to order a fresh look. Democrats dominate both houses of the Legislature, but they have hefty spending on new and expanded programs in mind. It’s a perfect time to trash the plan and invite the voters to reaffirm to deny the project based upon the current costs and timeline.