High-Speed Rail: Still Dead

General Francisco Franco
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Here are three things that claim to be living but are still dead:

1. General Francisco Franco (see Chevy Case, Saturday Night Live circa 1975).

2. That dude in "Weekend at Bernie's" who was proppped up, dressed and carried as though he were alive.

3. The California high-speed rail project.

This week saw the latest attempt to breathe new life into high-speed rail. Something similar was done to the high-speed rail plan. The dead body of high-speed rail was propped up and made to look more life-like with a new business plan.

But it's still dead.

The new plan has what is billed as a more honest projection of costs -- $98.5 billion for the first phase. And a more flexible, longer plan for constructing the first phase. And pledges to incorporate local and existing rail lines into the network.

But high-speed rail costs billions in a state with persistent budget deficits. Its costs exceed -- by about 800 percent -- the amount of money the state and feds have to devote to the project.

And there is something less than public clamoring for high-speed rail -- at least the kind of high-speed rail that connects two cities, LA and San Francisco -- that Californians can already travel between quickly and relatively cheaply.

Why the attempts to keep reviving high-speed rail? it can be cheaper than expanding airports or building more roads. The technology is environmentally cleaner. And there's something about the idea of a grand California infrastructure project that stirs the soul.

But this project simply won't sell. Not until the state's governing and budget systems are redesigned so that public policy can be made in a coherent, democratic and timely way. Until that happens, high-speed rail -- like so many other big plans for California -- is still dead.

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