Pacific Maritime Magazine - Marine Business for the Operations Sector

By Chris Philips
Managing Editor 

Train in Vain

 

March 1, 2019



The good news for Californians this year is that, finally, those of you hoping to travel the 119 miles between Bakersfield and Merced will eventually be able to do so at 220 miles per hour, compared to having to drive two hours and 35 minutes on Highway 99. California’s new Governor, Gavin Newsom, has made the executive decision to abandon previous Governor Jerry Brown’s hopes of a high-speed rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles, as the “bullet train to nowhere” approaches $44 billion over budget and 13 years behind schedule. Governor Newsom says he intends to finish the Central Valley portion.

“We’re going to make high-speed rail a reality for CA,” Newsom tweeted on February 12th. “We have the capacity to complete the rail between Merced and Bakersfield.”

With a population of 381,000, Bakersfield is the second most populous city on the route, which will pass through Fresno, population 527,500, on its way to the 83,000 taxpayers in Merced. The state has already spent $2.5 billion in federal stimulus money and has almost a billion more in the hopper, as well as a voter-approved $10 billion bond. Assuming every man, woman and child in the three cities gets to ride on the train at some point in the future, that’s $13,500 per rider.

On learning of the failure of the high-speed train project, President Trump suggested California return the $3.5 billion in federal funds. “This is CA’s money, allocated by Congress for this project,” Newsom tweeted. “We’re not giving it back.”

Meanwhile, the seaports of California have been quietly making money for the state and moving containers in and out efficiently and in increasing numbers. In calendar year 2018, the Port of Los Angeles moved almost 9.5 million TEUs, while nearby Long Beach saw just more than 8 million TEUs. Oakland handled 2.55 million TEUs.

At a Ports and Terminals Luncheon hosted by the Pacific Transportation Association in June of 2018, Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero and Oakland counterpart Chris Lytle called for government support for maritime industry clean air efforts and infrastructure development.

“In California, we have the cleanest ports in the world,” said Lytle, “But we could use help if we’re going to do more.”

Although the amount of cargo moving through California ports continues to rise, the pollution measured at those same ports has steadily decreased, according to annual air emissions reports, with diesel particulate emissions dropping 87 percent for Los Angeles and 88 percent for Long beach in the past decade. Oakland has reported a 76 percent reduction.

Cordero, who served as Chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission before he took the helm at Long Beach, said roads, bridges and rail networks must be upgraded to keep international supply chains working. “We’ll be as successful as government support allows us to be,” he said.

Regardless of whether the $3.5 billion in federal funds ultimately go back to Washington, DC or remain in California, we have serious doubts about the utility of a high-speed train between Bakersfield and Merced.

We humbly suggest to Governor Newsom that those funds could be better spent in the maritime sector.

Chris can be reached at chris@pacmar.com

 
 

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