Grabbing money with both hands (and not letting go) is the image that sums up the essence of what the California mega project to build a high speed train from Sacramento to San Diego is all about. Currently guesstimated at $68 billion, of which only $12 billion appear to have been secured, if it comes to pass the cost of the project could reach in excess of a half a trillion dollars given the consistent record of such projects to run hugely over budget (as much as ten times, at times).
The project is expected to break ground this summer but it is not clear that it will ever be finished. Those who have visited Lima, Peru, may be familiar with the giant cement pillars protruding high from the ground and the skeleton on a public transit monorail once started by the socialist government of Alan Garcia in the early 1980s.
It stands a monument to an unfinished mega project, but also as a reminder of how such “job-creating” adventures can ruin an economy. It took a decade for Peru to recover from Garcia’s wild economic adventures.
Some Californians are pinning their hopes for economic recovery in the mammoth project, but all they may get is a half finished structure, perhaps usable through a small corridor that is not the most densely populated. Opponents of the giant money pit are trying to stop it.
Once you have sunken $100 or so billion into a few hundred kilometres of rail and all the money is gone, then what? You can grab the money with both hands and not let go now, buy houses and cars, and keep employed for a decade, but the private money flow does eventually end. And then come the consequences. It is the public who is left holding the bag in an economy where tens of billions worth of economic oxygen have been burned.
The projected line for a high-speed track all the way to Las Vegas, Nevada, has already been killed on technicalities. Some bad ideas are zombie-like, however, and keep coming back.
Enthusiasts for an Alberta high speed rail through the even less densely populated Edmonton-Calgary corridor should keep a close eye on this one.