Tag: High-speed rail

California’s White Elephant, The Saga Continues

I’ve written several times about California’s massive high-speed rail boondoggle. This project, which supposedly will allow travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles in three hours (or about twice the time it takes to fly), has been praised to the skies by liberals and condemned by anyone with two brain cells to rub together. It is massively overbudget, massively behind schedule, has not secured all of its funding and doesn’t even have most of the land it needs to build.

Oh, it gets worse:

The total construction cost estimate has now more than doubled to $68 billion from the original $33 billion, despite trims in the routes planned. The first, easiest-to-build, segment of the system — the “train to nowhere” through a relatively empty stretch of the Central Valley — is running at least four years behind schedule and still hasn’t acquired all the needed land. Predicted ticket prices to travel from LA to the Bay have shot from $50 to more than $80. State funding is running short. Last month’s cap-and-trade auction for greenhouse gases, expected to provide $150 million for the train, yielded a mere $2.5 million. And no investors are lining up to fill the $43 billion construction-budget gap.

Now, courtesy of Los Angeles Times reporter Ralph Vartabedian, comes yet another damning revelation: When the Spanish construction company Ferrovial submitted its winning bid for a 22-mile segment, the proposal included a clear and inconvenient warning: “More than likely, the California high speed rail will require large government subsidies for years to come.” Ferrovial reviewed 111 similar systems around the world and found only three that cover their operating costs.

The truly damning revelation, however, isn’t just that Ferrovial’s research flatly contradicts the California authority. It’s that the company’s warning on subsidies disappeared from the version of the bid posted on the state’s website. The Times obtained a copy of the full document on a data disk under a public records act request.

In short, the government of California has gone from relying on insanely optimistic estimates of the light rail program (they project 117 million riders a year, approximately 40 times the ridership of Acela) to editing studies to make sure the claim that it’s going to work. And at least few outlets are now admitting that the program is in serious trouble but are saying it’s worth it because reasons.

And you know what? They have a point. Because as far as the Democrats are concerned, none of this is a problem. The California high speed rail program is fulfilling all of its objectives:

  • It’s spending lots of money on “infrastructure” and “jobs”.
  • It provides a convenient piece of virtue signaling so that supporters can prove how much they care about the environment.
  • It’s spendings lots of money.
  • If it ever actually gets built, they’ll be able to point to it and say, “we built his thing!”
  • It’s spending lots of money.

A bottomless money pit that shows how morally superior Democrats are too Republicans? We’ll take two please. Or maybe one for the price of ten.

California Digs Pit, Throws in Money

It has begun:

California broke ground Tuesday on its $68 billion high-speed rail system, promising to combat global warming while whisking travelers between Los Angeles and San Francisco in less than three hours.

The bullet train project, the first in the nation to get underway, faces challenges from Republican cost-cutters in Congress and Central Valley farmers suing to keep the rails off their fields. Others doubt the state can deliver the sleek system as designed, and worry it will become an expensive failure.

But Gov. Jerry Brown said high-speed rail is essential to meeting his latest goal: Encouraging the nation’s most populous state to get half its power from renewable energy by 2030.

California only has a tiny fraction of the $68 billion dollars needed for the program. That’s $68 billion now. God knows what it will cost by 2030 when Jerry Brown will be 92 years old, if he’s still alive.


Ultimately, the plan is for a 520-mile line that is supposed to get people from downtown L.A. to downtown San Francisco. We’re told there’s “hope” of getting that done by 2029 and also that “The authority needs to speed up the eminent domain process, since only 100 of the 500 land parcels needed for the rails and stations have been purchased.” Which ones? Have they got all that downtown L.A. and San Francisco land yet?

My prediction is that these endpoints — without which no one would want this project — will never be reached by the line that’s getting started now in Fresno. The only question is when people will freak out sufficiently to abandon the desperate throwing of good money after bad.

Brown and his allies are touting this as jobs program. That’s odd, because the President has just issued a veto threat over the Keystone XL program and the same liberals touting the construction jobs for the California Calamity poo-poo the construction jobs for Keystone XL as temporary (in today’s economy, all jobs are temporary).

I’m also dubious that this project will be beneficial either economically or environmentally. Rail projects have a long history of being fantastic boondoggles. At a cost of $68 billion (and probably a lot more), this rail system would have to create a hell of a lot of economic activity to “pay for itself”. And the governor has already admitted that ridership will likely have to be subsidized for the train to function.

As for the environmental aspect, trains don’t run on good thoughts. They run on electricity, which is still mostly generated from fossil fuels. An empty train running between two cities would be a lot worse for global warming than no train.

You should check out Reason, which has been making the case against this boondoggle for years. Right now, I have 2019 as the year in which California will realize what a colossal mistake they’ve made. The only question is whether they’ll run a tiny little train to show they got something out of it or have another great project to fill in the giant hole they’ve just dug.

More Like China

China’s high speed rail system is supposed to be the model for our country. Thomas Friedman has said that he wishes our country were more like China and we could “get things done.”

Well, to quote reasonable liberal Matthew Yglesias, it’s easy to build a high speed rail system if you don’t insist that it actually works or anything:

A section of new high-speed rail line in central China has apparently collapsed two months before it was scheduled to go into use, in the latest blow to the nation’s already troubled high-speed rail ambitions.

The extent of the collapse wasn’t clear. The state-run Xinhua news agency and other local media said Monday that a 300-meter (almost 1,000-foot) section of a high-speed rail line intended to connect the Yangtze River cities of Wuhan and Yichang collapsed Friday, apparently following heavy rain. The collapse, near the city of Qianjiang in China’s Hubei province, happened on a rail line that had already undergone test runs.

Last year, they had an actual accident that killed 40 people and injured another 172.

There are three reasons I don’t take China seriously as an economic threat. One, their economic growth figures looks better than they are. It’s easy to grow an economy 10% when you’re ridiculously poor to begin. Second, thanks to China’s one-child policy, they are about to get older faster than any nation in history.

And this is the third. Their economic miracle is like all centrally-planed authoritarian enterprises: shoddy, corrupt and in danger of failing over the second someone pisses on the side of it. Heaven help us all if the the Three Gorges Dam is built to this standard. China makes a lot of our beloved products, including the iPad I read the above report on. But there’s a difference: they are selling those to a capitalist society in which people have choices. If iPad’s fell apart before you used them, no one would buy them. But in a centrally-planned controlled economy, you simply have no choice but to ride on the Crumble Express to nowhere.

Light Rail To Nowhere

There’s a nifty little article at the WaPo disputing the notion that America’s infrastructure is falling apart. Sample quote, on the ‘D’ the ASCE gives our roads:

while that D from the American Society of Civil Engineers is undoubtedly sincere, the organization has a vested interest in greater infrastructure spending, which means more work for engineers. The engineers’ lobby has given America’s infrastructure a D in every one of its report cards going back to 1998, except for 2001, when the mark was D-plus.

Lane, it should be noted, is not disputing the notion that our infrastructure needs maintenance and support. He’s disputing the claim that the country is literally falling apart. He also disputes the idea that infrastructure is necessarily a great economic stimulus:

Top-notch though it is, the U.S. infrastructure could use an upgrade; by their very nature, roads, bridges and the rest require constant maintenance. The effort could boost both current employment and the economy’s capacity to grow in the future.

But it’s not just a matter of turning on the money tap and letting it flow. Though roads, rails and levees represent huge, upfront capital expenditures, the long-term benefits are often difficult to calculate objectively. The whole business is fraught with uncertainty, trade-offs and pork-barrel politics.

Nor are the economics of public works simple. After its economic bubble burst, Japan tried to restart growth with more than $6 trillion in infrastructure spending between 1991 and 2008. It ended up with little to show for it but a swollen national debt and lots of bridges to nowhere.

Infrastructure spending has a horrific tendency to ignore potholes and failing bridges in favor of massive Davis-Bacon-inflated boondoggles. Just to pick one example:

Faster than a speeding bullet train, the cost of the state’s massive high-speed rail project has zoomed to nearly $100 billion — triple the estimate given to voters and more than enough to run the entire state government for a year.

What’s more, bullet trains won’t be up and running until at least 2033, much later than the original estimate of 2020, although that depends on the state finding the remaining 90 percent of the funds needed to complete the plan.

The new figures come from a final business plan to be unveiled by the California High-Speed Rail Authority on Tuesday, though some of the details were leaked to the media, including this newspaper, on Monday. Officials at the rail authority did not respond to repeated requests for comment Monday.

That estimate of $33.6 billion was made three years ago. If the cost has tripled in three years, you can only imagine what might happen in the next 22.

Of course, to the Democrats, the inflated costs are a good thing — more spending is more stimulus! It’s now three times as stimulusy as it was was just three years ago! But to the rest of us, this calls for a fork to be stuck into the project. And for some serious reconsideration of just what the hell we’re doing with all this infrastructure money.

The Debate and the Trains

I’m on vacation. I’ve spent most of this week in a pool, throwing Sal 11000 Beta up in the air. So I refused to harsh my mellow — well, as mellow as I get — by watching the debate. I watched Galaxy Quest instead with some friends and some beers.

Those of you who did watch can post your thoughts here. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with some fun reading material. Some right wing rag is going on about California’s high-speed rail project now costing at least three times what was projected. That right wing rag is … oh, crap. Mother Fucking Jones.

The China Crash

With everything on this weekend, a huge story got missed. I saw it on Twitter but forgot about it. Here we go:

With all the other horrible events of the weekend, China’s high speed rail crash sort of faded into the background. But the toll is horrific: 43 dead, and hundreds more injured after one high speed train ran into another. Critics are now arguing that this is the result of cut corners in the construction process:

China’s decision to build a $400 billion, 16,000 km high speed rail network in the space of a few years was initially greeted with awe at their committment to winning the future, and laments from the usual suspects that America could never do something this fantabulous. Then the network was forced to slow the average speed of its bullet trains down due to safety concerns; lower-than-projected ridership caused big deficits; and the head of the rail ministry was removed in a tawdry corruption scandal.

And now 43 people are dead. Yeah, it’s one accident. It’s one accident in only the fourth year of service. The system should be as good now as it’s going to be. What’s going to happen as it starts to fall apart?

Here’s a question for the floor: Think about the nitwits who have expressed admiration for China’s system, who have wished we were more like China, who have proclaimed China’s high-speed rail system the model for the hyper-expensive pork projects they want this country. Will any of them back down?

You don’t really have to answer that.

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