This week, two high-profile high-speed rail projects became largely sidetracked. California pulled back on most of its overly-ambitious, severely-underfunded plan to have bullet trains running from San Francisco to San Diego. Scrapping the $77 billion price tag that some argued still underestimated costs, it now foresees completion only of segment between the booming metropolises of Bakersfield and Merced, and hopes money will rain from the federal government and private sector to finish the rest in the indeterminate future.
But the state shouldn’t hold its breath on investment dollars, a similar event in Florida shows. There, a firm with a short haul line between Miami and West Palm Beach with hopes to expand to Orlando and Tampa yet again postponed receiving another round of financing, eschewing an initial public offering over skepticism the project would turn a profit any time soon. It already is light years ahead of the California project in that it already owns much of the infrastructure involved, but still at this point can’t see enough of a draw to entice investors.
Given these projects have stalled in corridors with millions of people, one might think Louisiana interests stumping for high-speed rail between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, which wouldn’t serve much more than a million folks, would pull back in the knowledge that neither state taxpayers nor private interests wish to throw money at the idea. Guess again.
St. John the Baptist Parish the week before these announcements said in March it would unveil plans for a station along the hypothetical route in LaPlace. This comes on the heels of last year’s revelation by Gonzales of a budgeted $5.8 million open-air station.
This and the yet-to-be-announced price tag for the LaPlace station are in addition to the estimated $260 million needed to build the line, which doesn’t include steep subsidization costs. Whistling into a gale, the Southern Railway Commission says to keep the faith: federal grant money, it alleges, will save the day.
While Pres. Donald Trump has made off-and-on statements about the federal government boosting infrastructure, he doesn’t seem likely to apportion much of that largesse, if any, to high-speed rail, judging from comments made after the California announcement. He asked for the state to give back the $3.5 billion federal money paid out to what he called the “disaster,” which it hopes to keep by completing the one segment – in which avoiding having to pay back may be the only motivation to do so.
Given this environment, with no immediate help from the private sector and no additional willingness for the federal government to pick up the tab for at least the next couple of years, any additional money now spent by Louisiana or local governments in furtherance of this pipe dream simply wastes precious taxpayer resources. Any official suggesting otherwise deserves citizen opprobrium.