President Obama’s budget includes $47 billion for a six-year high speed rail building program whose only certainty of success will be in its ability to raise the deficit and establish a brand new magnet for subsidies and waste.
The effort is part of an attempt to mimic China, which apparently is now the Gold Standard country for economic policy. China is building lots of Bullet Trains, lining the pockets of corrupt officials and charging ticket prices no one can afford.
But even the Washington Post, not known as a rabid hive of Obama criticism, has torn into his campaign to get people out of safe, private sector-owned airliners and into publicly subsidized Bullet Trains.
In a July editorial, the Post wrote that a terrifying accident in which one Chinese Bullet Train shot into another and killed more than three dozen people was evidence of the futility of the project.
For months, it has been increasingly obvious that China’s shiny new high-speed rail system is not the triumph of national planning that Beijing or Western admirers claimed. The Chinese government this year fired top rail officials for alleged wrongdoing , an implicit recognition that corruption and debt plague the project.
The only mystery is why people in the West who should have known better looked at high-speed rail in China and saw a model for the United States — instead of an accident waiting to happen.
And then in December, a piece by Washington Post reporter Michael Fletcher detailed America’s own failed experiment in central planning.
According to the report, the first leg of California’s futuristic network of Bullet Trains runs from nowhere to nowhere out in California’s farm country, instead connecting major population centers.
Spiraling cost estimates and eroding political and public support now threaten a project crucial to a 21st-century vision of train travel that President Obama promised would transform U.S. transportation much as interstate highways did more than a half-century ago.
The estimated cost of the rail network has tripled from earlier estimates, to nearly $100 billion. Planners are at a loss to say where they will get the bulk of the money needed to complete it. And the completion date for the 800-mile system has been pushed back from 2020 to 2033.
Obama set a goal of providing 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail within 25 years. But that lofty vision is yielding to the political gravity generated by high costs, determined opponents and a public that has grown dubious of government’s ability to do big things.
Virtually none of the projects has gotten off the ground, and the one that has is in trouble.
None of which has stopped our own Politburo from forging ahead, eager to keep pace with the geniuses in Beijing.