2011 November 20 Sunday
California High Speed Rail Triples In Price

The editors of the Washington Post, who already have front row seats to the on-going federal follies, are amazed at California's unsound plans for a high speed rail system.

THINGS JUST WENT from bad to worse for high-speed passenger rail in California. After the Golden State’s voters approved a $9 billion bullet-train bond issue in 2008, officials said they could build an 800-mile system by 2020, for $35.7 billion. The cost projection now, as issued by the state Nov. 1: $98.5 billion, with a completion date of 2033.

Time to pull the plug, right? Not according to Gov. Jerry Brown (D). The new “business plan is solid and lays the foundation for a 21st-century transportation system,” he said. Equally upbeat, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood offered Mr. Brown his congratulations on “a sound, step-by-step strategy for building a world-class high-speed rail network.”

The Post editors are amazed at the brazen delusion.

This is unreal.

The state government still faces budget deficits and the need to cut spending further. But in spite of Jerry Brown's maverick persona he's in bed with the state public employee unions. Those unions (and faux independent Jerry) oppose cuts in their excessively high and unsustainable compensation.

California used to be a state with a rapidly rising living standard, high quality of life, and students who performed well in school. It led the country in many developments of a more positive nature. That was before it grew too large and imported a large lower class from Latin America. That was before the political system became thoroughly corrupted by public employees unions. Now California is the poster boy of governmental dysfunction while politicians like Jerry Brown still pretend the fundamentals have not changed. Perhaps when San Jose goes bankrupt (more here) and other cities get dragged into bankruptcy by employee retirement costs the state's fallen condition will become harder to deny.

BTW, $100 billion for a high speed rail system for a state of about 40 million works out to about $2500 per resident (can't really say per citizen). But the vast majority won't live close enough to use it much if at all. Also, the majority pays too little in taxes to contribute much toward its construction. In fact, just 1% of the state income tax filers pay almost half the state income tax. So effectively Jerry Brown's asking less than 150k taxpayers to pay about $50 billion over a couple of decades. What if they leave the state instead?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2011 November 20 09:42 PM  Democracy Failure

red said at November 21, 2011 1:05 AM:

This is beyond a boneheaded idea. It costs just over a 100 bucks to fly round trip from LAX to San Fransisco. Total flight time: 1 hour 15 mins. Total time including security: 3 hours. A "bullet train" from LA to Frisco? More like 4 hours even without the new TSA train security check ins. And there's no way in hell the fare is going to be less than a 100 bucks.

Given the choice between the airline security and a longer train ride, I'd take the train. But I'm sure before the TSA is done the security will be just as annoying as the airline security.

Worst of all the shutdown after 911 proved that airplane contrails actual reduce the temperature by at least 1 degree Celsius. Eliminating airplanes in favor of trains actually contributes to global warming.

Stultum facit fortuna.

(Whom fortune wishes to destroy, she first makes mad.)

Black Death said at November 21, 2011 9:47 AM:

You've heard of the "Bridge to Nowhere." Looks like this is the "Train to Nowhere." All aboard!

AMac said at November 21, 2011 10:02 AM:

As well, the LA-to-SF time claimed for the bullet train by CalTrans is unrealistic. It would require speeds that are higher than France's TGV and Japan's Shinkensen. The TGV recently rejected increasing speeds to that level, citing expense, wear-and-tear, and safety issues.

But, heck, they've got a dream to pursue, at any price! Who cares about about frumpy engineering realities?

Mark said at November 21, 2011 12:57 PM:

After the liberals bankrupt California, they'll just move to other states. It's already happening here in Indiana. They move here from California and then complain how we need to become more progressive. They also complain how bad things are where they moved from and how there are no jobs there, prices are high, crime is high and on and on. They never make the link in their minds that the liberal policies they advocate for Indiana are what ruined California and forced them to move out of there to here.

Jerry Martinson said at November 22, 2011 2:20 AM:

I think the whole high-speed rail thing sucks. If we wanted to build choo-choo train infrastructure with Keynsian stimulus money, Caltrain electrification on the peninsula with a few more grade separations and track upgrades so it can go faster than 79MPH. This was basically "shovel ready" in 2008. During rush hour, this route already actually generates a profit (not overall but marginal revenue > opex), is packed with poeple, and provides much shorter commute times than driving for those who live/work nearby the stations. Putting $1.5B into this would have doubled the line's rush hour capacity and cut the commute from San Fran to San Jo from 59 minutes to 45 minutes, which would further increase it's usefullness. It would still be a stupid investment but a lot less stupid than blowing that money buying up a bunch of land between Fresno and Bakersfield. There's probably some bus rapid transit lines that could have been expanded down in LA too.

Randall Parker said at November 24, 2011 1:09 PM:


I think a lot of liberals have adopted a fantasy view of European mass transit that is at variance with the fairly low rate of use of mass transit in Europe as compared to usage of cars.


Totally agreed. They don't learn. This is the tragedy of modern American politics. We no longer seem to learn from our mistakes and the costs of those mistakes keep going up.


Sure, if we are going to spend taxpayer dollars on mass transit then better to spend it on lots of small incremental improvements than on radical big projects. Far more cost effective. I think a bigger benefit could be had just by creating better bike and pedestrian options that totally separate bikes and pedestrians from roads that carry cars. This is happening to a limited extent with things like the Permanente Trail overpass for 101 and other small projects that open up longer stretches for bikes.

I've played with commuting travel times on the SF Peninsula using Google Maps. Mass transit still is very slow. Choose pairs of points in that region or some other area around the country with Google Maps and switch between car, pedestrian, mass transit, and bike views. Very enlightening. I come out wanting better bike trails far more than trains or buses.

Sycamore said at November 25, 2011 10:52 AM:

Hilarious. The project will doubtless take somewhat longer than projected, but even by 2033 there will be few bullet-train "types" in Cali, I should think. That is, few high-powered businessmen and researchers (etc) who can zip around expensively at a profit, for themselves and for Cali and the US. Today the rich can insulate themselves and it's the middle class that's leaving, but as the latter disappears, the affluent will lose their ecological niche: the price of a fine auto mechanic will rise and the price of a fine lawyer will sink. Eventually there will be a big reaction in this country, but I'd think it will be too late for CA.

There's a chain reaction. Surely lower middle class whites have lost their niche on the coast at least, through sinking wages and high prices. That's going to hurt the revenues and push up the costs for those just above them in the food chain of exchange, the mid-middle class. And so on.

Sycamore said at November 25, 2011 11:05 AM:

> at variance with the fairly low rate of use of mass transit in Europe as compared to usage of cars.

Yeah, despite the population density in W. Europe, trains between cities certainly are not cheap. They seemed "painful" to consider buying, in the continental cities I visited long ago, despite nearly all other things seeming quite cheap... at least three times the cost of buses, probably more like five. In America, with like 3x lower population density, trains will surely cost palpably more than they do there. If you look at the density of rather highly productive persons here - the potentially train riding class - it will be something like 4.5x less than in France/Germany, instead of 3x.

Randall Parker said at November 25, 2011 12:22 PM:


We get screwed multiple ways with high speed rail:

- Huge money spent.
- Once it is built it will require an operating subsidy paid by taxpayers. Why?
- It will be useless to most people. They won't have trips between the places it goes.
- It will displace people and split neighborhoods.
- It will generate noise pollution.
- High speed rail uses a lot of energy.

Check out some city with Google Maps and compare travel times between places with cars, bikes, walking, mass transit. The mass transit times are enormously longer.

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