Monday, March 31, 2008

Walters on Bullet Train

A great overview on the train, which I would love to see in California going though the center of the state all the way from Oregon to Mexico.

Dan Walters: Does California really need a bullet train?
By Dan Walters -
Published 12:00 am PDT Monday, March 31, 2008

Zipping through California on a 220-mph bullet train – in just 2 1/2 hours from Los Angeles to San Francisco, it's being said – is certainly a romantic concept.

They do it in Europe and in Japan, bullet train devotees say, so why not do it in California and relieve highway and airport congestion?

California voters may get a chance to answer the question in November. An often-postponed $10 billion bond issue to provide initial financing for the system that would link the state's northern and southern regions through the San Joaquin Valley is finally likely to make the ballot.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has praised the bullet train idea but balked at some financial details, appears ready to offer voters a revised version that would include public-private partnership financing, The Bee reported recently.

The notion is that the state bonds, which would have to be repaid from a general fund already seeing multibillion-dollar deficits, would trigger a like amount of federal funds, but that $20 billion or so would still be less than half of the current price tag of $42 billion.

Financing the remainder – through private funds, a special sales tax or some combination thereof – has been one of the hang-ups.

It's unlikely, however, that a complete plan, including the additional financing, will be available before voters are asked to pass judgment in November. And that's troublesome, because even the most ardent advocates have yet to present a persuasive, fact-grounded rationale for spending so much borrowed money on an entirely new transportation system.