California voters -- unskeptical, unrealistic, and gullible -- nevertheless trusted their elected and unelected technocrats in Sacramento to be telling them the truth when they agreed to a $9.95 billion bond issue for high speed rail. It turns out, even according the HSR's most fervent supporters, that the numbers that were used to sell the bond issue were total crap, and they knew it at the time
In September, I was one of several journalists who interviewed top officials with the California High Speed Rail Authority. Here is board member Lynn Schenk’s response to my question about accountability:
Q: In 2008, this project was sold to voters with the claim that when it was done there would be 117 million annual riders, which is more than four times what Amtrak now has, and it operates in 46 states. It was sold with claims of a $100 round-trip ticket and many other claims that no one believes anymore. If we had known then what we know now, it might not have passed. So when do we get accountability?
SCHENK: This deserves as much of a direct answer as I can maybe possibly give. And that is about the first business plan and those early studies. These gentlemen were not there at the time. I was there. We had one professional and two half-professionals, who were constantly being furloughed because of the state budget issue. That first plan, much to the regret of many of us, was pulled together with Scotch tape and hairpins because we had to get something to the Legislature, but we didn’t have the money, the resources, the people to pull together, so there were a lot of errors. You’re right. But there were also things in there that still stand true today. And we have new studies, a new business plan coming out. The ridership study that we had it is not as bad as the opponents would say. But there are tweaks. And there are things that need to be adjusted and we are looking to do that.
Because the last thing a bureaucratic is ever going to say is "we don't know." So they told they public the rail line would have 117 million annual riders, when even an estimate of 5 million is probably high. Jeff Skilling is in jail for a far less substantial exaggeration of his business prospects.
Of course voters were idiots to accept these numbers, when 5 minutes of research would have shown them absurd (the media did nothing to help, of course). One relevent factoid:
The current air passenger traffic between LAX and SFO is 2.7 million a year
But we are going to have tens of millions of rail customers. Right.