Funny Thing About High Water…
And by “funny” I actually mean “not remotely funny at all.”
Dennis Wyatt of the Manteca Bulletin has criticized the high speed rail project before, and this blog has pointed out the numerous flaws with those criticisms. He’s at it again this week with an op-ed that I could not resist reading, especially with the title of “High speed rail business plan: Hell or high water”.
Anytime “high water” and the Central Valley are discussed together, it should only mean one thing – the impact of global warming on inland sea levels:
Now I can see why someone in Manteca might welcome this – having Manteca become a waterfront city would certainly boost property values. But it would also come at a staggering cost, as farms, water delivery systems, and cities would be inundated by the Pacific Ocean.
So whenever someone talks about “high water” and high speed rail, it’s worth keeping in mind that building high speed rail and reducing the state’s carbon emissions will help keep the high water away.
Wyatt opens his article by painting Kings County farmers as the sensible types who would never do anything quite so crazy as propose an HSR project:
Dairy farmers in these parts – and the rest of California for that matter – do not operate in a fantasy world.
They have bills to pay, families to feed. They’ve got to constantly worry about delivering a product on time and adhere to stringent regulations. Shortcuts are a cardinal sin and can put you out of business.
They also have to have a thorough understanding of their customer, which explains why dairy cooperatives strive to produce milk-related product that reflect what consumers want and not what they think they need.
And they can ill-afford to go out on a financial limb making improvements without having a secure source of financing. And they certainly never would start building an expensive new milking barn if they only had the financial means at their disposal to complete just a third of the foundation.
On the other hand, would they jeopardize their fellow farmers a few miles to the north by putting them at greater risk of having their land rendered useless by rising sea levels? Would they jeopardize the economic prospects of their neighbors by cutting them off from the rest of the state and denying them new job opportunities that a bullet train would bring? Would they even risk their own farms by stopping reduction of carbon emissions that, along with raising the sea levels, threaten to bring prolonged drought to their lands?
Wyatt never mentions any of these concerns, instead focusing on a deeply flawed conception of cost analysis that excludes the actual costs that would come with not building HSR:
To get people out of cars, trains have to be more cost effective and take you where you want to go. High-speed rail is neither for people in Kings County or much of California for that matter. As the system stands now, it only practical for business travelers between Los Angeles and San Francisco who don’t have to venture far into the suburbs of those metro areas.
Having high-speed rail stations in Merced, Fresno, Kings/Tulare and Bakersfield makes about as much sense as United Airlines scheduling jumbo jet service at airports in Stockton, Modesto, Fresno, and Bakersfield.
High-speed rail makes no sense for the San Joaquin Valley, financial or otherwise. And with each passing day it seems like the same argument can be made for California as a whole.
Wyatt’s definition of “cost effective” does not include the cost of rising oil prices, the savings that come from using electric power over fossil fuel power, the rising cost of flying and driving, or the time savings one has on a bullet train over sitting unproductively behind the wheel of a car. For most of his life flying and driving have been cheap. They’re much more expensive now than they used to be, and it’s only getting worse.
HSR stations in the Central Valley make perfect sense, of course, because bullet trains aren’t jumbo jets. They can stop and pick up new passengers quite quickly, without losing much time, unlike airplanes. And all those millions of Valley residents represent paying customers that will help the HSR system generate more revenue.
And oh yeah – building HSR can help reduce the threat that rising sea levels pose to the Manteca region, itself a huge savings. Surely that ought to be included in his calculations too.