Breaking Promises

The high-speed rail ballot measure that California voters approved in 2008 made two promises: first, that fares would cover operating costs; and second, that trains would carry passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in just two hours and forty minutes. The first promise will be hard to keep but no one will know for certain until and unless a rail line is actually built.

But the state seems ready to break the second promise right now. The High-Speed Rail Authority has proposed to save $30 billion by using existing tracks, at conventional speeds, in the LA and Bay areas, leaving the trains to operate at high speeds only between the metro areas. This means the fastest trains will still take far longer than two hours and forty minutes.

Of course, saving $30 billion means the rail line would still cost at least $25 billion more than the estimates published when voters cast their ballots.

The Obama administration is so desperate to have high-speed rail that it waived a September 30, 2012 deadline for construction to begin, even though the deadline was set by Congress and it isn’t clear that the administration has the authority to change it. That’s lucky for rail proponents, as the state admits that it can’t begin construction until 2013 at the earliest.

Rail opponents are skeptical that the authority’s new plan will actually save the $30 billion claimed. But at least one legislative observer projects that the legislature has the votes needed to allow the authority to sell the bonds so construction can begin. If so, state taxpayers can look forward to paying $700 million a year in interest alone on the initial bond sale, which will only cover about 10 or 15 percent of the total cost of the project.

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5 thoughts on “Breaking Promises

  1. LazyReader

    You’re not going very fast if all you do is use existing rail. High speed rail consists of using concrete ties, new steel track, deeper rail beds underneath. So the typical train speed may be no more than 90-100 miles per hour. Far removed than the 200+ mph they advertised.

    the highwayman Reply:

    The same goes with the engineering of expressways.

  2. C. P. Zilliacus

    The Antiplanner wrote:

    But the state seems ready to break the second promise right now. The High-Speed Rail Authority has proposed to save $30 billion by using existing tracks, at conventional speeds, in the LA and Bay areas, leaving the trains to operate at high speeds only between the metro areas. This means the fastest trains will still take far longer than two hours and forty minutes.

    Save money?” Surely you jest, Randal!

    Why not call it what it really is – waste construction money a little slower than the CHSRA had originally demanded.

    And if the thing does at some point get built to the point where trains can run between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the slower speeds will almost certainly mean larger operating deficits.

    Electrification of existing railroad tracks is not cheap. See this for details.

    the highwayman Reply:

    CPZ that’s bullshit and you know it!

    There’s an electrified railroad line between UT & CO that cost less than $10 million a mile to build.

    So HSR costs should be around $40 million a mile to build.

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