Former House Speaker and Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is being ridiculed for his new campaign promise to build a colony on the moon by the end of what would be his second term in 2020.
Laugh all you want, Californians. But know this: Newt's lunar colony would almost certainly be cheaper than just the state's current high-speed rail plan.
In today's dollars, the Apollo program that took us to the moon in the late '60s and early '70s would cost about $100 billion -- the same as the most recent estimates of the LA to San Francisco "Phase 1" of the high-speed rail project. But estimates of a lunar mission now suggest that the real costs would be about half that. So let's say $50 billion. That is not unreasonable, since a round trip manned mission to Mars has been pegged at $80 billion, and Mars is a 214-day trip. The moon can be reached in less than a day.
Of course, the Gingrich lunar colony is relevant to the high-speed rail discussion for reasons other than cost. Both are futuristic sounding ideas that really aren't very bold. Astrophysicists see little value in building a moon colony. Why go to the trouble when the moon is easily reachable? Mars is a better place for a colony.
The same logic exposes the problem of high-speed rail. Why spend so much to get a train that goes from LA to San Francisco in two-and-a-half hours at a relatively high price? There are already ways to get between those two places, just as fast and just as cheap. High-speed rail might make a difference in creating faster, quicker ways to get between San Francisco and the Sacramento area, or between downtown LA and San Diego or the Inland Empire.
Gingrich and the high-speed rail authority should rethink their less-than-grand plans.