When the Media Loses Its Skepticism - High Speed Rail Edition

I have said for a long time that I don't really think there is a lot of outright media bias in the sense of conspiring to bury or promote certain memes.   But there are real issues with the leftish monoculture of the media losing its skepticism on certain topics.

For example, high speed rail is one of those things we are just supposed to do, from the Leftish view.  Harry Reid's justification for a high speed rail line is typical:  he wants to see  "America catch up with the rest of the world".  Everyone else has these things, so it must be some failing of ours that we don't.  For the left, the benefits of high speed rail are a given, they are part of the liturgy and not to be questioned.  Which means that it is up to outsiders to do the media's work of applying some degree of skepticism whenever a high speed rail project is proposed.

Thus we get to this article on high speed rail about a supposedly "private" rail line from LA to Las Vegas.  As is usual in the media, none of the assumptions are questioned.

Greg Pollowitz gets at some of the more obvious problems.  First, it is fairly heroic spin to call a line that currently is getting $4.9 billion in public subsidies "privately funded."  Second, he points out that, like the proposed California high speed rail line, this is a train to nowhere as well

And second of all, having grown up in Los Angeles — and having lied to my parents to drive to Vegas since the time I was 16 years old — I consider myself somewhat of an expert on the Los Angeles to Vegas drive. (CNN, Fox, MSDNC — call me!) I remember Victorville fondly as the place where we’d make our food-stop and pick up some In-N-Out burgers for the final half of the journey. And I can tell you this: There is no way anybody would ever drive through L.A.’s notorious traffic only to stop halfway and hop on a train on the other side of the El Cajon Pass and in doing so give up their personal transportation once they actually get to Vegas.

I want to reality-check their usage numbers.

DesertXpress estimates that it will carry around five million round trip passengers in the first full year of operation,with the company charging fares of around $50 for a one-way trip.

OK, right now there are about 3.7 annual air passengers between Las Vegas and the southern California airports, according to rail supporters.  It is hard to get at drivers, but the Las Vegas tourism folks believe that 25% of 36 million annual visitors to Vegas come from Southern California, so that would mean about 9 million total or about 5 million driving.

What this means is that to make this work, they are counting on more than half of all visitors from Southern California (and remember this includes San Diego) taking the train.  Is this reasonable?

  • The train is supposedly $50 (I will believe that when I see it).  Currently JetBlue flies from Burbank to Las Vegas for $56 in a flight that takes 69 minutes (vs. 84 for the train and remember that is from Victorville).   The standard rate from LAX, Burbank, or Long Beach seems to be around $74-77.
  • Airplanes leave for Las Vegas from airports all around LA and in San Diego.  Let's take a couple of locations.  Say you live near downtown LA, not because that is likely but it is relatively central and does not feel like cherry picking.  Victorville is a 84 mile 90 minute drive AT BEST, with no traffic.  The Burbank airport is a 15 mile, 18 minute drive from LA.  LAX is just a bit further.  Victorville is 82 miles and 90 minutes from Irvine and 146 miles/144 minutes from San Diego.  Both of these Southern California towns are just a few minutes from an airport with $70-ish flights to Vegas

So are drivers going to stop half way to Vegas, once they have completed the hard part of the drive, to get on a train?  Are flyers going to drive 1-2 hours further to get to the rail terminal to say $20?  Some will.  But will more than half?  No way.

Postscript:  If you really want to promote the train, forget shoveling tax money at it and pass a law that the TSA may not set up screening operations at its terminus.  That might get a few customers, though the odds this would happen, or that it would stick over time, are minuscule.


  1. Agammamon:

    In the mid 90's I was stationed in San Diego and would go home to Tucson on some weekends. At first I took Greyhound from the downtown terminal because it was cheap ($56 back then) but it took 13 hours. Then I found that there were flights at $75 that only took an hour.

    I was a single E-4 living on the ship and I still forked over the extra $20 to cut 12 hours off the trip - I can't imagine that people going to Vegas wouldn't do the same thing.

  2. Mark2:

    It would take me 3 hours to drive from Poway, CA (close to San Diego) to get to Victorville, and then I am suppose to stop and park and wait for a train and then spend 84 minutes on the train? It is only 3 more hours to drive, assuming I had to spend 1/2 hour parking and waiting for the train, I would only save 1 hour on the trip. And then there is the $100 each way for me and my wife. It cost me maybe 30¢ per mile to drive - and so my vehicle cost would be only $54 each way and I would save on Taxi costs in Vegas, so I am not saving any money going on the train.

    They would have to do like they do Yosemite now, and close the road for me to stop driving to Vegas. I wonder how they would enforce an I-15 partial closure? I guess if you have CA plates you could be cited for using Vegas freeway exits.

  3. Benjamin Cole:

    If the media is "left-wing" for never challenging high speed rail (a bad idea), is it "right-wing" for never challenging the $80 billion-a-year in military R&D (also a waste of money)?

    Really, we need that much military R&D? Now, when we have no military foes of any import?

    Military spending has been sacrosanct for decades---with predictable results.

    In the private-sector, they do more for less every year. In the public sector, they do less with more every year, including in the Defense Department.

  4. Mark2:

    I should point out the cost of $54 each way on I-15 is from Victorville, to Vegas, not Poway to Vegas.

    Another problem I would have is getting there on time for the train - traffic through LA (I-15 from Poway, goes through Riverside where the traffic unpredictable) I would have to budget an extra hour if I had to hit a train at a certain time - unless the train goes every 15 minutes, where I would only have to deal with 1/2 parking plus wait.

  5. Mark2:

    @Ben, I agree there is waste in the Military, just like every government program. A good percentage is congress meddling with DOD. The force the DOD to pay salaries higher than they want to pay, They force the DOD to make purchases of equipment that is outdated, and they no longer want, or never needed in the first place, just because the plant is in some congressman's district.

    And I am sure there is general waste, but the one thing DOD has that other departments don't is that Defense is a required function of the Federal government. High speed rail is not.

  6. Allen:

    Unfortunately the pro-rail-transit + pro-HSR communities have caught on to what sports was doing 20 - 35 years ago. They find economists who make nice consulting fees finding dubious but technically not a lie type numbers for their over-inflated projects that have little benefit other than making us feel good.

  7. Brad Warbiany:

    If I'm going to Vegas alone, I'm flying. Living in Orange County, I can be at John Wayne airport in ~20-25 minutes. And the flight cost is reasonable.

    If I'm going to Vegas with a group of people all paying their own way, we're probably flying. The time savings is worth the cost.

    If I'm going to Vegas with my family, I'm driving. I'm not forking over $400+ for each passenger (currently 4 as my kids are old enough to need seats) when I can drive round-trip for a little over $100 in gas and then have a car while I'm there.

    The point is that I can't see any reasonable scenario that puts me on that train. Getting to Victorville is a nightmare. The rest of the drive is cake.

  8. BFD:

    The Harry Reid’s of the world ignore that out rail freight system is one of the best if not the best in the world. That the private sector does freight by rail and not passengers is totally lost on the taxpayers must pay for my boondoggle folks.

  9. Another guy named Dan:

    It's worse than that: the analysis assumes that the airline prices are static. Airlines are notorius for using agressive, if not downright predatory, pricing to protect their routes. If they percieve that they are losing passengers to a $50 train, expect that you're going to see $49 flights from Burbank and Orange County within a week, and billboards advertising that fact outside the train stations on both ends within two.

  10. Another guy named Dan:

    @ Benjamin Cole - by wasteful military R&D, you mean like the project to determine if you can build a centerless, self-routing communications network like the one you're using to make your post?

  11. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States:

    >>>> If the media is “left-wing” for never challenging high speed rail (a bad idea), is it “right-wing” for never challenging the $80 billion-a-year in military R&D (also a waste of money)?

    Benny: Clue: You're an ignorant twat on two levels. First is claiming that military R&D is an unquestioned waste of money. The second is bringing up this irrelevancy in an entirely unrelated thread.



    Try and reform. I realize there's next to no hope of this happening, but try.

    When you go to the comment box, ask yourself, "Is this really On Topic?"

    In this specific case --- if the answer to the question, "Does it mention the military or defense in any way whatsoever?" is no, then the answer, for all intents and purposes, for you, should be is that it's OFF Topic.

  12. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States:

    AGND, re - Buffoon Beeny: Nice. ;-)

  13. Smock Puppet, 10th Dan Snark Master:

    >>> "...that have little benefit other than making us feel good."

    Allen, I'm supposed to feel good when my pocketbook getting raped? Am I supposed to "lie back and enjoy it"?


    No, it's to make THEM feel good. As Warren has noted in a different thread, the point is to put some jerkoff politician's names on some Big Grand Project.

    You know, the "Asshole Politician Express".

    And, I think, if they named it that, it actually might be worth it, too.

  14. Smock Puppet, 10th Dan Snark Master:

    I even noticed that it has a catchy acronym: APE

    "Yeah, Bill, we thought about going APE but decided to fly instead, since it was much more cost and time efficient..."

    "Yeah, Joe and I went with the family over to Vegas for the weekend. We thought about going APE, but decided that it would cost more to rent a car there than to just drive our own..."

    See? It even makes sense in conversation.

  15. Benjamin Cole:

    Mark@ and Bupkis-

    Actually, if you read the Constitution and the Federalist Papers and recorded conversations, you find out that out Founding Fathers loathed and detested standing militaries. Some wanted an explicit ban on standing militaries written into the Constitution, such as George Mason. And this sentiment prevailed mere months after we had just driven the British from our homeland.

    In his first term in office as President, George Washington had no Army. None. Zero. Despite his pleas, Congress would not give him even one soldier. He got 1500 soldiers in his second term to exterminate Native Americans only, not for foreign boondoggles and entanglements.

    It is written into the Constitution that we citizens have the right to form militias and bear arms, intended to be our major defense establishment. That is our right, Constitutionally--yeah, try doing that. Constitutionally, the militias are to be formed by our design and our officers. Yeah, again. Now you can join the National Guard and be federalized at any moment. All at fantastic expense. (BTW, Homeland Security just put in an order for 450 million .40 caliber hollow-point bullets.) If you want to bray about strict constructionism, you would have citizen militias as our bulwark in matters of defense.

    The modern-day hyper-mobilization of a standing military is a perversion--even worse is $80 billion a year wasted on military R&D, when we face no enemies of any import.

    Yes, I love the Internet, originally a creation of the federal government, DoD, UCLA, and maybe Al Gore. If we wish to justify federal outlays by the occasional good fortune spin-off, then almost any federal R&D is justified. And we know where that leads---to coprolitic agencies such as the Defense Department, Homeland Security and the VA, a trillion-dollar-a-year boondoggle of parasitical lard buckets.

    We demobilized after WWII, and the GOP back then kept the ship trim through the 1950s.

    But eventually, the GOP was co-opted by big spenders. Inevitable, I suppose.

    Time for new parties, and sunsetting of entire federal agencies, such as Defense, USDA, HUD, Labor and Commerce.

    This point of mine is on-topic as the topic is whether the media is biased by overlooking some types of federal waste. Yes, the media is biased and clueless--think Defense and petrified lard.

  16. el coronado:

    Harry Reid seems to be the chief idiot driving this boondoggle forward, no? So how come nobody - and I mean NObody - ever asks the moron about the near-instantaneous failure of the very expensive, taxpayer-funded, World famous Las Vegas Monorail? The one that puts the 'Simpsons' monorail to shame.

    Almost immediately after it opened to great fanfare, ridership rates were 30% of projections; and it's only gone downhill from there. And it at least is entirely in Vegas. Victorville? Srsly??

  17. Benjamin Cole:

    The Vegas monorail belongs with the B2 bomber is the Stupid Hall of Shame.

  18. Griffin3:

    I have to side with Benjamin on this one. Yes, the media should be asking the hard questions about high speed rail. It should be asking the "WTF is THIS?" questions about all the military boondoggles. It's not a right or left thing, it's some sort of--bought and paid for thing. The media and the politicians, right up each others ...

    Today, in the news, reason.com/blog mentioned this one link. Gulf seafood deformities alarm scientists; it is a well researched article, talks to several different university scientists, all over the map, references for each one if you want to verify. It got picked up on Huffington Post and Fox News, so far, a day later ... and it was written by fricken Al Jazeera (English)!!!!eleventy!

    We should all be enraged that it takes Al Jazeera to ask the (not to hellishly hard) questions about the Gulf oil spill follow-up. I mean, it's practically US territorial waters! But, how come, we really just sort of expect this sort of crap reporting from the US media?

  19. NormD:


    Although it is way off topic...

    As long as you are bringing up the founding fathers....

    Seems to me we needed a Navy and Marine corps by the time of our third president to stop our citizens from being carted off into slavery by the Barbary Pirates.

    And we needed an Army and a Navy by the time of our fourth president ("Father of the Constitution") to stop our citizens from being impressed into the British Navy. Perhaps of we had a larger, better Army, OUR CAPITAL WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN BURNT DOWN!

    Lets take this a little slowly so its easy to understand... You cannot built a military AFTER the war has started. If you try to do this, you will lose all your wars. You have to build a military BEFORE the war starts. And, if your enemies are scared of your military most likely they won't even attack you. And then people like you can ask "Why did we waste all that money on the military when we did not even use it?"

  20. el coronado:

    I should be able to resist this - it's too easy: like shooting fish in a barrel.

    Ah, well. Sister Margaret always said I'd come to no good. Yo! Norm! How'd that standing army/navy work out for us on 7 Dec 1941? Why did we waste all that money on a [navy] that just lined up their ships & planes like pretty little maids in a row - to be turned into expensive scrap metal in a matter of minutes?

  21. shotgunner:

    5,000,000 people will drive to Victorville, park their car and take a train to Vegas?

    Do they indicate anywhere how many parking spaces they plan to provide for this gold rush of 'convenience'? Those same cars get parked all over Vegas when we arrive at literally hundreds of destinations. This plan requires they all park in one spot.

    Let's say we have an average of 2.5 people per care, that's 2 millions cars. At an average stay of 3 days they need parking for over 16,000 cars. If the average stay is 2 days then they'd need parking for 11,000 cars. I've never counted car park capacity before.

    Of course, this assumes that there are an equal number of visitors 365 days a year. Travel doesn't work that way.

    If we assume half the travelers are going during the week and that every weekend would split the other half of the visitors equally, the number climbs to nearly 20,000 parking spaces. Forget heavy weekends like New Years or Super Bowl.

    Is this need for, perhaps, 20,000 parking spots even reasonable?

    @$50/person it is cheaper for my family of three to drive. Plus we have use of our own vehicle when in town.

    The only reasonable users are the singles going for business. Take the train from Victorville, get a shuttle to the hotel do the trade show and reverse the transportation home.

  22. DoctorT:

    "... there are real issues with the leftish monoculture of the media losing its skepticism on certain topics...."

    Politeness is a virtue, but that statement leaped beyond politeness into the territory of mischaracterization. The mass media isn't passively credulous and uncritical, it is actively biased toward the left-wing agenda. If the same reporters and editors had been spoon-fed a story that made mass transit look bad, they would have ignored it, misquoted it, questioned the motives of the authors, or diluted it by mixing in quotes from some pro-mass transit "expert." The fact that they did not do the same to a pro-mass transit spoon-fed story shows active bias, not lack of skepticism.

  23. Benjamin Cole:


    We mobilized for WWII, and I think that was a pretty serious one. We did not pre-mobilize, and we won in a few years.

    Actually, thanks to a nuclear umbrella, the idea of any nation invading the USA today is laughable. So our $1 trillion in-oulays Defense-VA-Homeland Security is for what? That's $3,333 for every man woman and child in the USA, or $1333 from a family of four. Every year. And growing.

    Let me ask you this: Would you even consider hiring a Bain, McKinsey or other think tank to devise a national security plan budgeted at 1 percent of GDP?

    I find most right-wingers won't even allow the topic to put on the table. They simply do not want to consider ways to cut military spending.

  24. Not Sure:

    If you wanted to build a factory in Victorville, you'd be tied up for years in environmental impact studies on the viability of the project vs. the endangerment of some desert bug. But we're supposed to believe that a Victorville to Vegas train won't involve any such costs? I mean- nobody ever seems to account for them.

    I wonder why.

  25. perlhaqr:

    It'll be a tourist attraction: "World's Largest Parking Lot"

  26. Red Diva:

    Ha! I live next door to Victorville and I will interject that this area is SO surpressed due to lack of economy that very few locals can even afford a trip to Vegas. The drive time from Victorville to Vegas is between 1 1/2 to 2 hours so this is NOT time effective nor cost effective. Most people do not want to visit the high desert much less reside here. This is a "lose-lose" in my opinion....another lovely waste of tax payers money.

  27. MJ:

    With a $4.9 billion federal loan, this project is literally Solyndra x 10.

  28. Mark2:

    @Griffin, I read the article from a domestic source yesterday, the article was full of assertions but no facts. 600 dolphins died this year beaching themselves - Well dolphins do that all the time, every year, how does that compare to the last few years, have there been similar beaching numbers in previous years?

    shrimp harvest was down, well it naturally goes go up and down, as famously depicted in Forest Gump, how does that compare to the historical trend?

    There was oil discovered in seafood since the well erupted - sounds scary, but since the gulf naturally leaks oil in a reasonable proportion to the well blow out every year, I would be shocked!, shocked!,if there was no evidence of oil in the food chain prior to the gulf spill.

    There were no links or references to studies, and the whole scare aspect was written so well, without context, which is what is usually done in scare articles, that I think I will just discount the whole thing.

  29. Mark2:

    For those of you hammering on the military. I agree we are probably wasting money, just as we are in any government program. We are actually overpaying the troops. We are probably a bit overextended, and can easily pull back from such hot zones as West Germany and Japan. And maybe even Saudi Arabia.

    But I have to say, defending our country is more important than many of the other programs we have.

    Also need to say, you can't just stop all research. We don't necessarily know when the next major conflict will occur, and when it does we can't sit there with 30 year old technology, and fight a modern opponent. Again, I am sure there is research waste, and procurement could probably be more efficient, but it isn't 80 billion down a hole.

  30. shotgunner:

    http://www.forbes.com/2008/04/10/parking-automobiles-retail-biz-logistics-cx_ew_0410parking.html says:

    For now, though, the West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada, remains king of shopping-center parking. With 20,000 spaces in its wrap-around parking structure, West Edmonton holds the Guinness world record for the largest parking lot.

    This Victorville to Vegas run would require duplicating the worlds largest parking lot.

  31. Benjamin Cole:

    Restructuring defense R&D
    Article Highlights
    The US spends nearly $76 billion annually on defense research and development, an amount that exceeds the total defense spending of any other country except China.
    Much military R&D goes not to research but to development and demonstration projects for expensive gadgets based on unsound technology.
    Reform of defense R&D could save tens of billions of dollars while increasing support for the basic research that has powered the American economy, from radar to the Internet.
    In view of the United States' massive budget deficits, there is growing, bipartisan recognition that the current level of defense spending -- about $700 billion per year -- is no longer sustainable. The Obama administration has made a variety of proposals to reduce the defense budget; cuts to big-ticket weapons programs like the F-22 or the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter are routinely mentioned. None of the defense-cutting proposals, however, seriously question the rationale and, more important, the structure of the American defense research and development (R&D) enterprise, which has grown wildly since it was established at the beginning of the Cold War.

    There is irony here, and reason for reappraisal and restructuring. In 2011 the United States spent $76 billion annually on defense research and development, an amount that exceeds the total defense outlays -- not just for R&D, but for all defense purposes -- of every other country in the world except China. In the mid-1980s, as the Reagan administration pursued its Strategic Defense Initiative, the military R&D budget reached its previous high level of less than $70 billion in constant 2010 dollars. Now, two decades after the end of the Cold War, the US spends $6 billion more than that on R&D that often produces little of military or other value. Most of the US casualties in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been caused by improvised explosive devices, which require little in the way of technology beyond the mobile phones used to detonate them. The United States' high-technology, high-price, and high-maintenance weaponry is of relatively little value in such conflicts.

  32. Mark2:

    @Ben, your article is obviously from a partisan source.

    Just want to point out that Ron Paul says he will pull our troops home from all over the world. But even Ron Paul won't cut our defense R&D and procurement spending.

    And again, I am sure there is some waste, programs that should be cut, but congresscritters won't allow to be cut. And yes, we should pull out of NATO and let Europe pay for their own defenses (That would make them friends wish Israel pretty quick)

    But to cut back most defense spending would be foolish. Doing so has hurt us dearly twice before, and not maintaining a modern military will hurt us again in the future. I only wish that we would allow the military to fight, rather than have these humane wars with so little colateral damage, that the folks we invade frequently don't even realize it.


    It is not just local tourist is our target here wherein our local dollars will be just transfer in the same place. Think of these foreign tourist who will give us dollar earnings. Tourist from asia for example. Their time are so precious to reach place to place.

    BTW, have you experience to travel way back from LV to Victorville
    during weekends and holidays for 5-6hours.?

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