February 27, 2021

THE DESIRE NAMED STREETCAR: The Low Spark of High-Speed Rail.

Confidence in the original timeline was once high, but setbacks have mounted. One high-speed rail blogger wondered in 2009 if the state itself should make a bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics, since California was “on track” for “fast, high-capacity public transportation” that would allow events and venues easily to be “spread out over a much wider area.” Twelve years later, as the Los Angeles Times has noted, the project “may run out of money” before the “171-mile starter system between Bakersfield and Merced” can be completed. And this month, rising costs forced the High Speed Rail Authority to reduce the planned pair of tracks between Bakersfield and Merced to a single track, saving $1.1 billion but likely coming at the expense of train speeds.

The project, which has gone through at least a half-dozen business plans, is the definition of a money pit. When voters approved it via 2008’s Proposition 1A, they were told it would cost $33 billion. The Los Angeles Times editorialized that the cost was “not too much to wager on a visionary leap that would cement California’s place as the nation’s most forward-thinking state.” Several other newspapers favored the train, but a few came out against it, with the Orange County Register warning that Prop 1A was “a fast track to bankruptcy” and a “boondoggle.”

The original projection has proved far too optimistic. Cost estimates have bounced around since 2008, landing at various times at $64 billion, $77 billion, $98 billion, and $117 billion before settling, for now, at $100 billion for a scaled-back version that links Los Angeles and San Francisco. That’s $20 billion more than the price tag of a year ago when Governor Gavin Newsom, in one of the political understatements of the year, said that “the current project, as planned, would cost too much and take too long.”

As with all government-sponsored rail projects, graft is the ultimate goal, in sharp contrast to America’s privately-owned freight railroads: How America Fostered The World’s Best Freight Rail System.

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