Opinion

OPINION: California’s High-Speed Rail Foreshadows Disaster For The Green New Deal

REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

Robert Wines Americans for Tax Reform

The Green New Deal being pushed by congressional Democrats suggests building a complex cross-country high-speed rail system. The deal’s FAQ sheet said the taxpayer-funded rail system would be so extensive as to create conditions where “air travel stops becoming necessary.” Radically transforming the American transportation system is ambitious to say the least, and the California “bullet train” is a case study in the unrealistic nature of the Green New Deal.

Approved by California voters in 2008, the rail system would supposedly transport residents from San Francisco to Los Angeles in just two hours and forty minutes, saving almost four hours compared to a drive. Now, a decade later and $60 billion over its original budget, the rail is yet to see a single passenger, and will not until at least 2033.

Due to delays, cost overruns, and numerous route revisions, newly elected Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared the project will be scaled back, removing the Bay Area from the blueprint. He announced in his State of the State address, “The current project, as planned, would cost too much and, respectfully, take too long.”

Passengers were supposed to have access to the train by 2022. A Dornsife/LA Times poll, however, indicated that just 31 percent of California voters want the state to continue with the project. When originally approved, the 520-mile track was to cost $32 billion. After releasing its most recent business plan, the state’s high speed rail authority projected costs would top $100 billion. The change of heart by California voters was largely driven by this new figure.

The state has consistently failed in its management of the project. State auditor Elaine Howle pointed to a number of blunders that have cost California taxpayers dearly. Before securing land to build on, the project’s administrators began construction. With this uncertainty in direction, the project had to undergo a significant number of route revisions. In addition, the authority in charge of the building failed to inspect the work of private contractors.

To acquire the needed land, the Golden State has turned to eminent domain, a process by which government can take private property for public use. By 2015 the state had declared 192 resolutions for 425 acres of private land in the Central Valley. Families were removed from their homes and owners lost their place of business, all for a fruitless product.

Proponents of the Green New Deal argue that the example of California is an isolated incident — that with proper management, a cross-country high-speed rail system can be a reality. However, California is a microcosm of the high-speed rail system proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey.

Projects like the one in California fail because they are not subject to the scrutiny of market forces. Instead of assessing consumer demand, the deal starts with the conclusion that replacing a profitable industry (air travel) with an alternative that has no history of success is more than a utopian pipe-dream.

Studying government-run projects, researchers at PWC wrote:

There is a lack of incentive for project success, which is typical for public organizations. Successful completion results in fewer personnel and a budget reduced by the expected efficiency savings, and the manager being expected to deal with further IT projects.

In the event of failure, however, personnel and the budget remain as before, and the manager will not have to manage further IT projects.

Compared to high-speed rail, air travel has a significantly more impressive history of success. Since deregulation in 1978, the airline industry has seen its number of travelers spike 210 percent, while prices have fallen 40 percent, when adjusted for inflation. Airline companies have been able to compete against one another, benefitting consumers. Those companies that were unable to contend were not propped up by an endless stream of taxpayer funds, but reformed or went under.

When asked how it will be paid for, Ocasio-Cortez suggested that the Green New Deal would be paid for just as any other government project through a “combination of taxes, deficit spending and other kinds of investments.”

The example of the California High Speed Rail system, however, ought to speak to the non-potential of the Democratic Green New Deal. In addition to the trillions of taxpayer dollars to be spent on every other part of the bill, this portion is already a living failure.

Robert Wines is an associate at Americans for Tax Reform, a nonprofit group advocating for lower taxes and limited government.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.