Herewith the next installment of “The Perils of Pauline,” which was a serial movie early in the 20th century. Its shtick was that at the end of each episode, Pauline, the heroine, was left tied to railroad tracks while a train was rounding the bend and rushing at her, leaving the audience in suspense and eager to return the following week to see how it turned out. So here we go again, with the California high-speed rail farce. And make no mistake, it is beginning to assume farcical proportions.
To sum up for the benefit of newcomers, back in 2008 the ever gullible California voters approved a ballot proposition that would approve and finance a high speed train line operatting between San Diego and San Francisco. There were several conditions in that proposition: those using it would be able to board at one end and go to the other without changing seats, as many as 12 trains an hour would operate each way, and the system would operate without taxpayer subsidies. (Good luck with that one.) And oh yes, the funding approved in that vote woud be $9 billion.
Long story short, by the time the preliminary plans were unveiled, the cost went up ten-fold to $98.5 billion, and the rail authority announced that it would start by building a segment of that line, not in the populated areas in need of rapid mass transit, but rather in the Central Valley, between Bakersfield and Fresno (which if you are not a Californian, you should know is the middle of nowhere).
Naturally, politicians all over Californis, particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area decided to get in on the action, and before you knew it, instead of being planned to run on a separate bullet-train track, the envisioned high speed rail would serve their bailiwicks and run on the same tracks as ordinary passenger and freight trains — no, we are not making this up. That’s what it says right here in black and whie in the Los Angeles Times (Ralph Vartabedian and Dan Weikel, Concessions on Bullet Train May Violate Law, L.A. Times, March 26, 2012, at p. AA1).
Now, it turns out that there are other problems. Big problems. Persnickety readers of the law enacted by the voters in 2008 have noticed that the currently proposed high speed rail layout and manner of operations deviate from the terms of that law.
“Whether a court would actually stop the project because of such alleged violations is not clear, said UC Berkeley assistant law professor Bertrall Ross, an election law expert. The conditions in the law, he added, were not in the ballot summary that voters saw at the polls, and judges often attach more importance to that than the underlying statute. On the other hand, some conditions were in voter pamphlet and a judge could rule against the [current] plan on that basis.”
Ain’t law just swell? Aren’t you glad we live under a rule of law, rather than the say-so of judges who according to Professor Ross, can just approve a project likely to consume $98.5 billion (and counting) rather than the $9 billion solemnly promised to the suckers, er, we mean of course the voters.
You can draw your own conclusions from all this, but it seems to us that if the railroad types pull off that one, California will deserve whatever it gets, including, alas, insolvency.