It’s been more than a century since the legend of railroad engineer Casey Jones became a ragtime music hit. Now, in this second decade of the 21st Century, railroads are hardly the stuff of legends; yet they continue to hold a strange fascination for political leaders searching for ever more creative ways to spend taxpayers’ dollars.
In recent years, advocates of taxpayer-funded transit projects, including one of its biggest cheerleaders, President Barack Obama, have told Americans that “investing” in rail projects around the country would “get the nation moving again.” The rhetoric may be intriguing and the sentiments laudable; but the price tag for such nostalgia is staggeringly high.
Take for instance California’s planned high-speed line. The original cost estimate for just the first section of the line running 178 miles from Merced to Bakersfield, was $7.1 billion – nearly $40 million per passenger mile. But wait – there’s more. The Associated Press reported last week that costs for the line will be dramatically more than the earlier estimates — anywhere between $2.9 billion to $6.8 billion, pushing the total cost of the line to $10 billion to $13.9 billion. This computes to an astronomical pre-passenger-mile cost of between $56 and $78 million.
Roelof van Ark, chief executive of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, explained to the AP that the higher estimates for the rail line “are now realistic and fair.” He also acknowledges that the price tag for the entire planned system will cost more than the original $43 billion price tag.
Likewise, the Obama Administration has called the line “sustainable” and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid recently said that “it would be so short-sighted for California – the most populated state in the country – to walk away from the bonding capacity they already have, some $10 or $11 billion, because of what they think the cost might be.”
It is this cavalier attitude toward spending American taxpayers’ money that has caused our nation – and states like California – to rack up trillions of dollars in debt with no end in sight. Clearly, this rail line has become a taxpayer-funded boondoggle, despite what its apologists say.
On a slightly smaller scale, Georgia politicians are preparing to sucker Peach State taxpayers into funding rail projects as part of next year’s “TSPLOST” — a one-cent sales tax increase that will raise billions in spending cash for political leaders.
Among the frequently mentioned projects that could be used to sell the tax hike to voters is a $1.2 billion light-rail line in Cobb County that will take 15 years to build and at least $10 million to operate. If history is any guide, this line will see costs increase substantially and the government will keeping comeback to taxpayers for more money.
The legend of Casey Jones may have dimmed in the past century, but the costs for ill-conceived and poorly-planned rail projects have become legendary in their own right.
By Bob Barr – The Barr Code