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By Paul Losch

High Speed Rail: What a Boondoggle, Volume 1

Uploaded: May 30, 2009

I have learned in my professional life is to ask what are the objectives a certain concept or idea is meeting. It is important to get some agreement about objectives before coming up with approaches that may meet those objectives.

When it comes to the High Speed Rail Project, the objectives are not right, which means the approach should not even be on the table.

Before you get to objectives, you need to identify the actual problem. Just what problem is the High Speed Rail solving? And just as importantly in these times of scarce resources for public funding of infrastructure, what problems are not getting solved that could benefit from the types of funding that the HSR initiative is getting?

Here is the problem as I see it: most people in California take local trips for work or personal reasons via car. Not something that will ever go away entirely. But take my case, I live here in PA and work in Fremont. There is no feasible way for me to go to work in a reasonable amount of time with the existing local public transit infrastructure. How many people like me would benefit from more local transit improvements compared to the number of people that would use High Speed Rail to get between Northern and Southern California?

Which is the bigger problem?

I would consider taking an HSR train trip if it ended at a place where I could get to my ultimate Southern California destination. If I am headed to Anaheim, and the HSR terminal in somewhere near downtown LA, I will continue to fly to John Wayne Airport. HSR does not address my North/South problem. Southwest Airlines does.

Bottom line: the funds being allocated to High Speed Rail would be better allocated and provide greater benefit if they were instead used to improve local transit in areas with terrible auto traffic problems. A bigger problem would be getting solved, with objectives that are clearer than what have been posited by HSR advocates.

The HSR funds are getting applied to the wrong problem. Which leads to setting the wrong objectives, and ultimately the wrong strategy. Local transit that reduces local transportation problems need the sort of funding HSR is supposed to get. Who will join me in setting the right objectives to solve the right problems?

I will have other blogs about why I perceive the High Speed Rail initiative to be a bad idea. I will make a point of addressing aspects of it that are not part of other postings on PA Online, such as the impact on Peninsula cities. My next one will focus on the economics and purported benefits of the project. This blog was intended to point out that such huge expenditures could be better directed to local transit initiatives.

Assuming the money is actually there. But that is another blog.