California High-Speed Rail Project in Chaos! Double the Cost for “Slowest High-Speed Train in the World”
California’s high-speed rail project will be completed as both the slowest bullet train in the world, and the most expensive.
The high-speed rail line was sold to voters on the bold promise that it will someday whisk passengers between San Francisco and Los Angeles in under three hours.
Nine years later, the project has turned into such a disaster that its biggest political champion is now suing to stop it. The costs have doubled and the project will never come close to reaching the speeds promised when it was sold to the voters. In fact, it will be the slowest high-speed train in the world.
Since 2008, lawsuits have multiplied, private investors have fled, and the official price tag has doubled, from $33 billion to $64 billion. When the legislature cleared the way for the Rail Authority to begin selling the voter-approved bonds in early 2017 to fund construction, the agency declared it a “milestone.”
Quentin L. Kopp introduced the legislation that established the rail line, and became chairman of the High-Speed Rail Authority. He helped convince voters in 2008 to hand over $9 billion in bonds to the Rail Authority to get the project going. Since he left, Kopp says the agency mangled his plans. Now he is suing to get the project stopped.
“It is foolish, and it is almost a crime to sell bonds and encumber the taxpayers of California at a time when this is no longer high-speed rail,” says Kopp. “And the litigation, which is pending, will result, I am confident, in the termination of the High-Speed Rail Authority’s deceiving plan.”
California’s project will be both the slowest bullet train in the world, and the most expensive.
The Rail Authority cut costs by using track mixed with conventional rail. That means the train won’t reach the speeds they promised. Add to that the winding pathway between endpoints, that means it will never go from Los Angeles to San Francisco in the promised 2 hours and 40 minutes.
As for the often-promised environmental benefits of high-speed rail they won’t materialize in California either.
In fact, rail lines around the world have failed to remove cars from the road. The initial construction of the tracks alone would release more greenhouse gases than the California train could recoup in 80 years.
“The costs of building such projects usually vastly outweigh the benefits,” says Baruch Feigenbaum, assistant director of transportation policy at the Reason Foundation. “Rail is more of a nineteenth century technology [and] we don’t have to go through these headaches and cost overruns to build a future transportation system.”
“If government gets out of the way of deciding which transportation modes we need in the future,” says Feigenbaum, “the private sector will do a much better job of innovating and creating profitable transportation modes that people want to use, instead of locking in a sub-optimal choice from the nineteenth century.”
Supporters, who claim that most high-speed rail systems operate at a profit, use accounting tricks like leaving out construction costs and indirect subsidies. If you tabulate the full costs, only two systems in the world operate at a profit, and one breaks even.
High-speed rail lines began popping up in Europe and Asia in the early 1980s. Passengers were exhilarated by the futuristic trains rocketing between cities on glass-smooth rails at upwards of 200 miles per hour.
With high-profile roll-outs in France and Japan, bullet train mania was underway. And then, as always, reality set in.