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Time to bite the bullet (train) & pull plug
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If you own a Ford Focus, Chevy Cruze or a Honda Civic it costs you 16.3 cents a mile to operate your vehicle once gas, maintenance, tires, insurance and depreciation are taken into account.

The study released by the American Automobile Association earlier this year puts the cost for median sedans such as Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry, and Honda Accord at 19.1 cents a mile.

That means it would cost a Ford Focus owner $50.69 to travel the 311.8 miles from Modesto to Los Angeles. The owner of a Ford Fusion would spend $59.40 for the same one-way trip.

Why you should care about this is the $68.4 billion upfront – plus $403 million annual operating costs – question.

Those are the numbers the California High Speed Rail Authority folks attach to the bullet train. The odds of them not going up significantly is about the same as the University of California holding the line on tuition and instead finding ways to cut administrative overhead.

What brings this up is the ongoing campaign by high speed rail folks to win the hearts of San Joaquin Valley residents who are about as enthusiastic on the whole about the bullet train as the French were with the Third Reich armies occupying Paris.

Billboards have popped up along Highway 99 between Merced and Bakersfield proclaiming “Out with the old, in with the . . .” It shows a California High Speed Rail train ripping through a billboard photo of an ancient steam locomotive. Below that are the words “Jobs. Clean Air. Opportunity.”

Just like the bond measure, the propaganda effort underway to entice the San Joaquin Valley to fall in love with the high speed real train is smoke and mirrors. The bulk of the construction jobs will likely go to skilled workers not living in the valley. The trains aren’t being built in the valley. And there will be very few permanent jobs created for the valley.

Getting people traveling from Los Angeles to San Francisco out of airplanes won’t improve air quality in the valley. And if it does induce growth by increasing the exodus of higher paid commuters out of the Bay Area to Merced and the Los Angeles Basin to Bakersfield to take advantage of lower costs of living accessed via high speed rail fares they can afford it will increase air pollution. That’s because new commuters still have to drive around valley cities to run errands and such.

As for the opportunity to “transform the valley,” is it smart state policy to alter the landscape significantly of the region that produces 12.8 percent of the food America eats? The question was never asked since everything Sacramento politicians and their campaign ATMs registered as lobbyists do is always done in a vacuum.

We are told valley residents will flock to the high speed rail for intra-valley trips. Has anyone making such claims ever driven the Highway 99 corridor on a routine basis?

It doesn’t matter what the ticket cost is between Bakersfield and Fresno, you still need a vehicle to get around once you reach either destination.

We are also told if you live in a place like Manteca, the lower cost of the ticket would entice you to leave your car behind and take high speed rail instead to Los Angeles. Using the authority’s 2008 projections, a ticket from Modesto to Los Angeles would cost $52 one way. That’s $1.31 more than with a small sedan and $7.40 less than with a medium sedan.

At first glance, being able to cut your travel time by as much as 75 percent looks like it might be worth it.

Guess again. Unless you drive solo, the numbers bounced about the rail authority are worthless. If there are two of you in a Ford Fusion, the one-way cost to LA from Modesto is still $59.40 but the train now costs $104. If there is a third person in your car it is $95.60 more to take the train to get there. The real cost since you have to return home makes it $191.20 more expensive to take the train. Assuming you make $15 an hour and have about a quarter of your paycheck set aside for taxes and benefits, you would have to work 23.8 hours to cover the extra cost of taking the train versus driving.

And that’s just the start. Once you get to LA, you will need a rental car or taxi to get where you are going and to move around.

It is doubtful most middle class people will feel flush enough to put themselves through such an inconvenience that requires switching modes of transportation. As for the working folks, they might as well be inmates at Folsom Prison that Johnny Cash sang about wishfully thinking as they hear a passenger train rumble by the penitentiary. The only difference is that the inmates at Folsom Prison aren’t forced to subsidize the train as the working stiffs in the valley will with the greenhouse tax that will be blended into pump prices starting Jan. 1 with a large chunk going to prop up high speed rail.

Then there is the reality of what economists call “perceived costs.” Most people don’t look at the cost of tires, insurance, maintenance, and depreciation when they plan a trip. They think of one thing and one thing only – fuel costs. Ford Fusions get 34 miles per gallon on the highway.

It would take $25.20 worth of gas at $2.80 a gallon to reach LA. That’s half the cost of one ticket. 

Four people would pay $216 to ride the bullet train from Modesto to LA versus $25.20 to go in one car.

It’s time to bite the bullet. Kill the high speed rail train.



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 or 209.249.3519.