Thomas the Tank Engine was sad.
“Why so said?” asked Percy, Thomas the Tank Engine’s best friend.
Thomas looked up and let off a sigh of steam.
“I found out that Slick the Runaway High Speed Train is going to cut through Farmer John’s prime farmland, the children’s school in Bakersfield, a hospital or two and countless farms and homes because he doesn’t want to waste any time dallying around the valley. He says he has to get through here in a hurry and he doesn’t care who he hurts. He’s even enlisted Buster the Steam Roller to do his environmental studies,” Thomas said.
Percy was stunned.
“But that can’t be, Thomas. We all have to follow the law. Even Sir Topham Matt who runs our railroad can’t run roughshod over people,” Percy said.
“That’s not the worst of it. Instead of using the sleek and shiny Spencer Express Engine to take people up and down California at normal speeds, Slick the Runaway High Speed Train is spending $1 billion to build the first segment from Madera to Fresno,” Thomas said.
Percy started laughing.
“Who rides a train from Madera to Fresno?” Percy asked incredulously. “It makes more sense to ride the monorail at Disneyland. At least you can get someplace you want to go. How much are they going to charge to ride from Madera to Fresno?”
“I’m not sure,” Thomas said, “but they plan on charging $81 for a one-way ticket between San Francisco and Los Angeles. And even charging that, the Reason Foundation says high speed rail will need upwards of $373 million a year to cover operating losses because they overestimated ridership by 65 to 77 percent.”
Percy whipped out his Smartphone and Googled air fares from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
“Thomas, you can fly for $178 roundtrip between those two cities in less than 90 minutes. You’re saying Sleek the Runaway High Speed Train is spending $70 billion to get the travel time by rail down to two hours and 38 minutes. It’s taking more than an hour longer and only costing $11 a round trip less. That doesn’t make sense. Why, it’s a waste of money,” Percy said as his steam started boiling over.
“You’re telling me,” Thomas said. “When you mention that to Slick the Runway High Speed Train he tells you that you’re an idiot as there is less hassle getting to the train station and therefore less time. But when I mention high speed rail will probably have the same security delays as airports and you still have to park your vehicle and lug your baggage and deal with huge crowds if their ridership estimates are even halfway right he just brushes me aside and calls me a stupid little engine who’s no smarter than California taxpayers.”
Percy kept getting more steamed.
“Why don’t they just clone Spencer Express Engine and double track conventional routes and have train service that allows people to move within regions to work, visit or do business as well as go from Los Angeles to San Francisco?” Percy asked. “The people who travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco are already served by seven airports.”
Just then the lights dimmed as the roundhouse was on a brownout as Slick the Runaway High Speed Train was on the move sucking up electricity.
Then, faster than Sacramento politicians can dream up ways to spend $100 billion, Slick the Runaway High Speed Train pulled up.
“So what are you stupid little engines doing?” Slick the Runaway High Speed Rail Train demanded.
“We’re moving goods to market and giving passengers’ rides to places that most of them want to go,” Thomas said proudly.
“You worthless idiots,” Slick the Runaway High Speed Rail Train sneered. “I ferry the beautiful people and don’t soil my couplers pulling dirty freight.”
Thomas became even sadder.
“California has 38 million people,” Thomas pointed out.”They need to get to work and go place besides between San Francisco and Los Angeles. With all that money you’re blowing on one line that only ultimately will have a dozen stops you could extend heavy rail passenger service to hundreds of more places and even help our little light rail cousins get off the ground in other urban areas to really reduce travel times, congestion and air pollution.”
Slick the Runaway High Speed Rail Train sneered at Thomas.
“This isn’t about the little people of California. This is about being cutting edge. Who cares how farm workers in Fresno get around, commuters from the Inland Empire reach downtown LA, or whether people who aren’t making big bucks have to drive three hours a day to and from their jobs in the Bay Area because they can’t afford housing there,” Slick the Runaway High Speed Train said. “The only thing they are good for is to pay for the bonds so I can swoosh up and down the state and not have to worry about them scuffing up my passenger cars.”
Slick the Runaway High Speed Train just laughed and then zipped off from the Fresno station to Madera carrying just a handful of passengers.
“You’ve got him wrong, Thomas,” Percy said sadly. “Slick the Runaway High Speedway Train can take Californians one place we can never go.”
“Where’s that? Thomas asked.
Percy replied, “The poor house in record time.”
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209-249-3519.