Earlier this month, the Economist reported that the few remaining high-speed rail projects in the U.S. were all in critical condition. Blaming both national partisanship as well as local and regional pressures, the report noted that in California ”if given a second chance to vote on the 2008 $9 billion bond issue that is funding the early stages of the project, 59% of survey respondents would vote it down.”
A third reason may simply be that people have come to learn more about what HSR entails. The costs (and not just monetary) have begun seeping through the rhetoric about the benefits and people are just exercising better judgment than two years ago. Tory Gattis on the Houston Strategies blog compares the efforts spending gobs of money to reduce travel times (e.g., HSR) versus spending less (“90% or 99% less money”) to improve the travel experience. The latter approach actually results in higher rider satisfaction.
Back to the Golden State (via Washington, D.C.), the U.S. House of Representatives just passed its version of the Highway bill that “forbids federal funding next year for California high-speed rail,” effectively gutting the project. Depending how the House bill is reconciled with the Senate version, this could be the end of the line for California’s high-speed rail ambitions. And the California example be enough to get other states to rethink these billion dollar boondoggles.