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The California High-Speed Rail train travels near Mission Beach in San Diego, California, U.S., in this artist rendering released to the media on Monday, Feb. 14, 2011. Source: California High-Speed Rail Authority via Bloomberg

Gov. Jerry Brown wants to go forward with California's high-speed rail project despite its all but certain failure. He said, "I would like to be part of the group that gets America to think big again."

That's an admirable sentiment, but if the state or nation is going to think big, it also must think smart, and there is nothing smart about the high-speed rail boondoggle.

The High-Speed Rail Authority has bungled the project from the beginning with poor management, a lack of a coherent business plan, no realistic estimates of cost, ridership or fares, no final decision on the route and even less chance of obtaining the tens of billions of dollars in private financing that is needed to complete the system.

It is difficult to fathom how Brown cannot see that a high-speed rail system in California is doomed to failure. The estimated $43 billion for the first phase of the project from the Bay Area to Anaheim is likely to be way low.

The $9 billion in bond authority approved by the voters in 2008 won't even cover a quarter of the cost, and requires matching funds that are not likely to be forthcoming.

Despite all of these problems, the rail authority is moving ahead with plans to lay 100 miles of track in the Central Valley. Even though this is the least expensive and least complicated part of the route, cost estimates already are running way higher than forecast.


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Initial reports on the segment that would almost but not quite connect Merced and Bakersfield were estimated to cost $7.1 billion just for the track. Those cost estimates are now as much as $13.9 billion, and this is the easy part of the project.

It would not be surprising if the cost of the complete rail project rose north of $100 billion. No wonder the Legislative Analysts Office advised against Brown's request for $185 million to keep the project alive.

Even with large subsidies, ridership is not apt to be anywhere near what is needed to keep fares competitive with airlines, even with higher fuel prices.

It would make far more sense for California to spend transportation money on urban transit projects such as BART to San Jose than to try to build a high-speed rail system in a region that does not have the population density to support it.

If California continues to proceed with such an obvious waste of billions of taxpayer dollars, how can the state expect voters to ever pass tax increases and extensions?

Brown should have shown some leadership by dropping his request for high-speed rail funds and calling for the entire project to be canceled before any more money is wasted. It's still not too late to do the right thing and derail the boondoggle express.