One rail thing

There’s one important thing to think about before bemoaning the high cost of building a high-speed “bullet train” rail system in California.

It’s the cost of not building it.

As Cosmo Garvin writes this week in Bites, last week’s release of a new internal report questioning ridership and revenue projections for the $43 billion fast-train project caused every media outlet and policy wonk in the state to rush to judgment about the high-speed rail system’s high price tag.

Much of the response has been shortsighted.

In truth, results of the new study do not spark red flashing lights—they are hardly cause for alarm. The findings—that a forecast of nearly 117 million rail riders per year by 2030 is likely too optimistic—seems kind of obvious. Experts have been questioning the first-phase projections (that’s the link between San Francisco and Los Angeles) for a while. We actually find it heartening that experts at the California High-Speed Rail Authority have now examined and copped to this fact.

We urge Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature to keep a keen watch over the project, but ultimately, the new report doesn’t change a thing. California stands to benefit from an investment in a “green” public-transit system, and the state’s voters know it. Studies show that building this system will save $100 billion that would otherwise be spent on concrete for new freeways and more airports.