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By Tim Hunt

No surprise in latest soaring cost estimate for high-speed rail

Uploaded: Mar 22, 2018

Was any thinking person surprised that the latest iteration of the high-speed rail business plan shows costs soaring, competition dates extended far into the future and more changes to conditions in the ballot measure voters approved way back in 2008?

Here’s believing most Californians would love a do-over on what was a bad plan initially and has gotten nothing but worse. And, sadly, there’s a portion of the line in the San Joaquin Valley under construction as proponents perhaps hope that if enough money is spent, people will accept throwing additional money at the project.

As is, the funding plan is again a house of cards with hopes of private investors (none have emerged to date) necessary to deal with the toughest segment of tunneling and bridging through the mountains between the San Joaquin Valley and the L.A. basin.

Propping this disastrous project up is the mis-use of the state’s cap-and-trade funds. The latest deal between Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature allocates 25 percent of funds from these auctions to the high-speed rail. Given that, if it is ever completed, it will have a minimal positive benefit on climate change—it’s arguably an inappropriate use of those funds, but one that allows the governor to keep the bad project under construction. To secure loans for construction, the Legislature would have to extend the program until 2050.

The business plan shows costs growing by $13 billion to $77.3, an increase of as much as 35 percent in just two years. Voters approved a $9.95 billion bond for what was advertised as a $40 billion rail system with a travel time between San Francisco and Los Angeles of under three hours.

The updated plan also includes diminishing service levels, so some route is open by 2029. It calls for 224 miles of track in two segments: one from Madera to Bakersfield (imagine how many riders on that route) and the other from Gilroy to San Francisco. These trains would run on existing rail lines (Amtrak and CalTrain) and operate a normal train speeds—not the promised high-speed rail. The plan also postpones a costly 13-mile tunnel under Pacheco Pass that is necessary for high-speed operations.

Bay Area high-speed backers and business groups likely will continue to push for the train because the plan includes the expensive exercise of electrifying CalTrain along the Peninsula—a long sought improvement that may (if you believe in fairies) someday be used for high-speed trains.

Gov. Brown has brought an adult’s mentality to Sacramento, particularly when it comes to the budget—much less so on social issues. The absurd rail line is one of the exceptions—throwing away money on a system that will not work (the transit connections that make high-speed rail work in Europe are missing in California) and will be a sinkhole swallowing taxpayers’ funds.