High speed train not worth cost

Funds could go towards other important underfunded programs

What would you do with $68.4 billion? For that much, you can buy every single team in both the National Football League (NFL) and the National Basketball Association (NBA), 11,000 brand new Ferraris and the entire 164.5 square mile Hawaiian island of Lanai. The state of California decided to take $68.4 billion and use it to build a high speed electric train from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Though this project seems beneficial for travelers, it is most certainly not.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of a high speed train from the heart of Northern California to the heart of Southern California and I support the vast reduction of carbon emissions as well as the thousands of new jobs which will accompany the train.

However, there are many alternative ways to spend $68.4 billion that prioritizing a single railway line does not seem prudent. Public education could be improved with additional funding, pension care could be better secured and more money could be funnelled into healthcare. As the most populous state in America, California should think carefully before investing dozens of billions of taxpayer dollars into just one train system; the financial repercussions could be damaging.  After voters passed the idea of building a high speed train in 2008, a budget of $9.95 billion ($10.84 billion today) was proposed. In the subsequent seven years, not a single mile of track has been laid and the budget is now six times more. A ‘groundbreaking’ was finally held on Jan. 6, 2015 to mark the start of construction. Today, a grand total of 10 feet of track has been laid.  

The budget rise is a red flag in that it indicates further increases for the future when actual construction may cause setbacks. Yet, even if there are no more setbacks, $68.4 billion will not be the final cost. With California using bonds to pay for the project’s costs, the lowest possible interest payments will add another $28.14 billion to the heavy bill taxpayers already have to foot. At such a cost, is a train really worth it?

Most of California doesn’t think so. In 2008, 53 percent of Californians supported the train project, and 5 years later in 2013, the approval rating was 43 percent. I agree with the majority of California in the belief that we should not be spending an enormous amount of money on the train project, whose budget has skyrocketed to no visible positive effect.

There are many other institutions in California that could use funding, most urgent among them being public education. A mere ten percent of California’s yearly budget is spent on funding for elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and the University of California/California State University/California Commnity College system.

Education is key to the well-being of not just individuals, but the state of California and ultimately America as a whole. Children today will grow up to be the leaders of the future, working in both the private and public sectors representing the interests of the United States. Putting the train funds towards public education would be making an investment in millions of California citizens instead of making an investment in a single transportation line. Giving money to schools also would not entail any setbacks and is much needed as we have recently seen increases in UC tuition in order to pay for educational costs as well as reluctance from the state of California to grant additional funding. The abundance of money from the high speed rail program could be an easy solution to the struggling education fund.

As well as education, pensions are in dire need of money. Since the financial crisis of 2008, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System has looked to the government to subsidize its shortfalls in retirement funds. These subsidies have been up to $70 billion at worst in one year. 

A third possible option for where the $68.4 billion could go is into health care. California’s Medi-Cal organization provides health coverage for 11.3 million people with low income, offering care for mental health, substance abuse, vision, dental, pregnancy and many other programs for Californians.

By funnelling money into the Medi-Cal system, the government is guaranteed to help at least 30 percent of the states’ population, whereas with the train there is no such set figure.

It would be nice to have a high speed train from Los Angeles to San Francisco, and it might even be profitable; but not at a price tag of $68.4 billion.

Inefficiencies have caused the train building budget to go up by a factor of six without any significant construction, indicating further rises along the way.

If California is planning on spending billions of dollars, why spend the money on something not entirely beneficial, when you could be putting the money towards something that, guaranteed, would benefit millions.