Fiona Ma’s prudent assessment of the bullet train

If the United States is ever going to have an extensive high-speed rail system, the nation must learn from California’s missteps and more closely follow the approach taken in Florida when it comes to getting a high-speed rail project done.  That’s basically the message of California Treasurer Fiona Ma in a bluntly written recent letter to Congress.

In the letter addressed to the House Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Ma emphasizes her strong support for a national bullet train system. Ma also notes that as a member of the California Assembly in 2008, she supported  the placement of the ballot measure which set California’s project in motion.

Despite her enthusiasm, however, Ma notes that, “the prospect of setting foot on a train still feels distant 13 years later despite the significant progress we’ve made.”

Indeed.

The California high-speed rail project is cartoonishly behind schedule.

As the Los Angeles Times reported back in March, ‘The project’s rising price tag has forced the state to repeatedly scale it back and delay indefinitely a goal to have the train running from Los Angeles to San Francisco — at speeds up to 220 miles per hour — by 2020.”

These days, Californians will be lucky if the Bakersfield to Merced portion will be operational by 2030.

Clearly, Ma has learned from the failure of California’s project and urges Congress not to just pour billions of dollars into high-speed rail projects.

“Our experience in California has convinced me that we must embrace multiple delivery models if we hope to realize a cohesive national network of high-speed rail,” argues Ma.

“To be clear, a repeat effort that spends billions without getting any new lines operational after another decade will be the death of high-speed rail in America.”

Instead, Ma recommends the federal government focus less on primarily government-driven projects and do more to work with the private sector.

What a concept.

Ma pointed to the private Brightline system in Florida, which is now also working on a high-speed rail project from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, as a model.

“I’ve visited Brightline firsthand and believe it is proof that private investment can produce tangible results quickly and affordably,” Ma writes.

While we wish California officials heeded this insight more often on more issues, Ma is right on this.

California’s high-speed rail project has been and continues to be an embarrassment to the state. It’s only use at this point is as a symbol of government incompetence and failure.

Fiona Ma’s prudent assessment of the bullet train