Friday, July 6, 2012
Today the California Senate approved funding for the first segment of the nation's first true high-speed rail network: over $3 billion in federal funds and nearly as much in previously-authorized state bonds. The money will go toward construction of a 130 mile segment of the planned network through the central valley from Bakersfield to Madera. This is the easiest and cheapest part of the rail line to build, and basically goes from nowhere to nowhere. The rest of the funding, to build the more important and difficult segments, is years away and increasingly doubtful.
I hope we eventually build the whole thing, and I can someday travel to San Francisco by a train traveling over 200 miles an hour. But even if we never build more than this pathetic little segment, I'm still thrilled. That's because approval of this project means that we have not abandoned the dream of grandiose and ambitious and forward-looking projects in California. We have not given up.
F22 fighter jet program. The F22 fighter jet is a marvel of technology. It is awesome. It does things other fighter jets can only dream about doing. And it cost taxpayers about $79 billion, or more than $400 million per plane. A remarkable sum of money taxpayers have shelled out, especially considering that none of these incredible fighter planes has flown a single mission. That's right. Even though we've been engaged in complicated military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and most recently Libya over the last few years. In all that time, the military has not found a use for this highly advanced aircraft. It seems that the F22 fighter jet is so advanced; it is so beyond the capabilities of any other nation we may be in conflict with, that it has no worthy adversaries. We don't need it. Perhaps we will need it in the future, but we just haven't found a use for it yet.
Let's suppose, after we build a high speed rail line in the central valley, that hardly anyone will find it useful. After all, you can usually do 75 mph in your car in those parts, and you might not find it worthwhile to park in Bakersfield and wait for the train just to go 200 mph for a half hour stretch. If we never build the segments that will serve California's major cities, and this bullet train demonstration project merely turns into an object of curiosity out in the farmlands, we can still admire it as a monument to our technological prowess. Just like the F22 fighter. But even if only 100 people find it convenient to take the train from Bakersfield to Fresno once in a while, that would still make this tiny, useless segment of the high speed rail line 100 times more useful than the F22 fighter jet. Since this segment is less than one-tenth the cost of the F22, that means in terms of bang for the buck, it would still be more than 1000 times as useful as the jet.
And that's the worst case scenario. The best case is the more likely one, that once we build this initial segment, we will find the money to build the rest. Then eventually people will not be able to imagine life without a high speed connection between California's major cities. And a lot of us will be able to avoid the freeway traffic or airport security lines we currently have to endure to travel across this state.
The funny thing is, a lot of Republican Congressmen screamed bloody murder when President Obama canceled the F22 fighter jet program. Some of them are the same people who object to any spending on high speed rail. They would rather spend untold billions on useless equipment that is taking up space on airfields in the Middle East than a single dollar on transportation projects that might actually help Americans get from place to place a little faster.