Boondoggle: California High Speed Rail

California High Speed Rail, K-12 Education, boondoggleThe masterminds in Sacramento are at it again. This time, their utopian fantasy is California’s high-speed rail boondoggle. Surely, it’s time to get a dose of reality as to how damaging this fiasco in the making will be for our the Golden State. The biggest losers in this financial disaster will be taxpayers and K-12 Education. Here’s why.

High-speed rail was sold to us on the notion that the private sector will pick up a big part of the funding, and yet so far, private sector funding is nonexistent. Originally, California High Speed Rail was supposed to cost $33 billion, but since government always underestimates costs, the real cost ballooned to $98 billion. Governor Brown reduced the cost to a more reasonable $68 billion. What’s worse, interest for the bonds will easily double the final price tag taxpayers will end up paying.

The Contra Costa Times has reported that the date of completion has been delayed from 2020 to 2029. Ticket costs have swelled from $55 to $85. Many have reported that it is unlikely that the trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles can actually be completed in 2 hours and 40 minutes.

It’s simply irresponsible for Governor Brown to say that deep cuts need to be made to education and Healthy Families and yet he seems to think we can afford this boondoggle!

Railroading a vote to pass High Speed Rail, Sacramento has proven just how far out of touch they are with the concerns of the citizens of California. It does not make sense to reduce the amount of time our students are in the classrooms while increasing the debt on these same students.

Democrat leaders are saying NO to the success of future generations by cutting the education budget while spending more money on jobs that help unions that contributed to the politicians.

Have we forgotten that the rail network in our country today was built by private initiative? Have we forgotten that the air network that is in our country today was built by private initiative?
The fact that there is no private sector funding suggests that this will truly be an example of government inefficiency at its finest.

This is not a case where the private sector is driving this project. Instead, the government is forcing an expensive project in the name of jobs upon us.

President Obama and others like to point to China as an example of high-speed rail that we should emulate. Unfortunately, Chinaís high-speed rail is fraught with waste and corruption and it breaks down frequently.

The only good news is for Sacramento politicians who can rest easy knowing the unions who support them with campaign financing and votes will be placated once again.

The bad news is that our children and grandchildren will shoulder the burden by having to pay for this massive government monstrosity.

~ Mark Meuser is a candidate for the California State Senate, District 7.

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12 thoughts on “Boondoggle: California High Speed Rail”

  1. Absolute nonsense! The most distressing aspect of the entire high-speed rail controversy is that so much of the opposition has been generated by a massive misinformation campaign supported by the Reason Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute and other so-called “think tanks”, all of which advocate an ultra-conservative and/or Libertarian political philosophy as opposed to a transportation policy.

    Californians should be aware that much of the funding for these “foundations” comes from oil companies, several of the major airlines, the highway lobby and, in particular, from the multi-billion dollar foundation run by the infamous Koch brothers.

    Much of this anti-rail rhetoric is shot through with half-truths and outright fabrications has been picked up with no vetting by the so-called mainstream media to their everlasting shame.

    Here’s what these self-proclaimed experts do not tell you: Their alternative transportation “solution” is, by default, to build more and more and more highways, the cost of which will far exceed the one-time cost of building high-speed rail.

    The truth is, high-speed rail has been proven to be fast, efficient, cost effective and — most important — the preferred mode of transportation everywhere else in the world. What a pity that high-speed rail has had to fight an expensive and time-wasting uphill battle here in the United States as the result of a misbegotten campaign based on an inflexible anti-government-no-matter-what political ideology.

    1. @ Jim, Ted’s big adventure.

      Your arguments for ignoring facts and misrepresenting data, and wanting to close down open public discussion with name calling is starting to sound like Nancy Pelosi’s defense of Obamacare. We have to build it to find out how much it will cost.

      To argue that any argument against the waste, fraud, cost, and inefficiencies of the California High Speed Rail plan as proposed and currently being railroaded down our throats by the political class and planning elites is financially backed by the evil oil companies is simply ludicrous and read like talking points from the NPR echo chamber.

      The justification that everything will be fine based on examples from e.g. Europe (Paris-Lyon) and Japan (Tokyo-Osaka), are fraught with misinformation about profitability and raise more questions than answers regarding true comparative cost per passenger seat mile. Per your own website (see analysis), If government subsidies for these overseas paradigms are taken into account, the proposed ticket prices for California HSR will be far too low (33% of French costs that are subsidized) and the CHSRA plan will require either higher ticket prices of 3x-4x that will cut down on ridership or increased taxes to further subsidize the pig in a poke, boondoggle, white elephant, whatever you want to call it. So stop with the low-ball blue sky cost projections.

      Kathy Hamilton at (another subsidiary of Exxon Mobile according to you) reports that buried deep in the crafty language of the CHRSA report, the devil is in the often vague details and seriously flawed data.


      According to report by the City of Burlingame, Parsons Brinckerhoff used flawed data for these calculations including 12 trains per hour, one leaving every 5 minutes in each direction with 700 people on board and 19 hours of operation per day. They proposed a maximum capacity of 116 million riders per year. The Burlingame report states, “This astounding number is completely divorced from any reality over the next 50 years, even by CHSRA forecasts.” Much of pages 1-3 of the November 2011 report is now gone.

      The real problem is with Dan Richards and Parsons Brinckerhoff and their minions and hangers on like you guys is:

      With all we know about how California is run, from Governor Brown’s bogus budget, his tax plan to raise money (not for programs) but for backfilling pensions for public workers; to CalPERS grossly inflated and negligent estimations of returns leaving taxpayers on the hook for the difference; the escalation of prices (thank you Davis Bacon); that every politically connected hack’s hand wants a piece of the action (now Berkeley wants money for a study) or a capitalist crony has a hand out waiting for riches from the California HSR gravy train.

      Now for some humor. There’s a joke about the Blue Bear. It’s one that takes forever to tell, but it goes like this: a famous hunter must have the rare Blue Bear for his trophy room. He goes off and, as one can tell it, he hunts and encounters the elusive Blue Bear 4-5 times with increasingly deadly weaponry, but is foiled each time and suffers a hunter’s worst humiliation by being approached, turned around and buggered by the bear. The punchline is, when after the final failure, the bear says to the hunter, pinching his cheek, “You’re not in it for the hunting, are you!”

      HSR in California is quickly becoming Boston’s BIG DIG, one of the biggest public works fails in recent memory.

      California HSR has now become something other than a sane plan for solving some specious green-agenda transportation policy. You guys just aren’t in it for the transportation, are you.

      But go ahead. Blame those who dare point out that the King has no clothes as mere paid operatives of Chevron (NYSE:CVX).

  2. The big question is where have the teachers’ unions been in this battle? They’ve had ample warning and time to stand up against this HSR project, but they haven’t. Why? Since 2009, they’ve been telling me directly that they don’t want to get involved, they don’t want to get political; both of which we know is a load of horse-pucky. Jerry Brown must have something good in store for them. I hope so because I will be voting against Jerry Brown’s tax hike in November. And I will be voting against my usual party of choice out of spite, which I would think might make it even more difficult for Jerry to deliver on his promises. Believe me, this is a hard choice for me – a Sophie’s choice, if you will – as I have school age kids. But there is a greater message about fiscal responsibility and listening to the voters which the legislators STILL don’t get. That message seems even more important in the short run and it needs to be sent now. I’m hopeful the sending of that message in November will prove the more valuable for our kids over the long haul.

  3. We planners build to accommodate future growth. If mobility is severely impaired, we won’t be able to move goods, especially produce, and the CA economy will tank. So have a look at these projections and let me know what you think:
    HSR projected costs: $50-100B. (probably more) mostly federal dollars.
    Adding lanes to the 3 major N/S highways (99, 5, 101) plus expanding capacity of EVERY commercial airport in the Bay Area and the LA/OC/Inland Empire area: $200B++. And this is on top of devising remedies for existing freeways and highways threatened by sea level rise (101, 80, 880, toll plaza, etc.) which could cost over $200B in the Bay Area alone.
    The highway expansion will be impossible given the cost of land and the restrictions of SB-375.
    If you’re thinking clearly, HSR should be looking like a better solution to you. If not, well, never let facts interfere with a good rant. People might start questioning your cognitive skills.

  4. Speaking of China’s high speed rail—For its first year of operation the Shanghai-Beijing high speed rail line carried over 52,000,000 passengers or about 144,000 per day. This is about 65% of the projected ridership of 220,000 per day—Typically it takes a number of years for a new high speed rail system to build up to its projected ridership.

    As for those broken down trains—Weren’t they returned to service by November?

    I should also point out that Shanghai and Beijing are 800 miles apart (almost twice as far as San Francisco and Los Angeles), and that the trains are still running at a reduced maximum speed of 186 mph rather than the projected 220 mph. I would be curious to know how big a bite this daily ridership of 144,000 took out of air travel between the 2 cities. Maybe we have an indication here, that even with the slightly slower “Blended System”, California high speed trains will take a big chunk out of air travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

  5. If California’s high-speed rail project is such a great idea, why aren’t private companies rushing to build the project? California, in fact, already has a high-speed transit system linking Northern and Southern California. That system is called Southwest Airlines.

    Richard Colman
    Orinda, CA

  6. I’m just curious to know what Mark Meuser’s vision for California’s transportation is 30 years from now? It’s easy to be a loud out-spoken critic but much harder
    to have an alternative solution. Questions for you Mark. Do we delay HSR for another 30 years when the cost will escalate and exceed 200 billion?
    Do we expand our freeways at which we spend 10s of billions of dollars a year alone just maintaining let alone the development and litigation cost.
    Do we have room for more airports? Isn’t it true that the San Francisco airport is out of space for international travel and would love to free up space from in-state flights? Wouldn’t this constitute as private sector investment? Don’t private investors usually come on board after government support is ensured?
    Isn’t this what has happened in Italy? When does transportation budgets ever convert to Education budgets? Doesn’t Acela run at a profit and isn’t the demand for Acela spurring further development into HSR? Aren’t Germans and Japanese known for world renowned transportation systems, yet does anybody refer to their HSR systems as boondoggles? Just a few questions for Mark.

    1. Germans? Japanese? So what. Didn’t your mom ever explain to you that you don’t have to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge just because the “smart growth” kids did?

      California has a great intra state transportation system, increasingly fuel efficient automobiles and Southwest Airlines. I’ve been told it would take at least 20 times the number of passengers on Amtrak per year in California to ride a 5 hr train from SF to LA.

      I believe it true that the ridership to break even will never materialize. Why can’t union jobs build opt expand airports or add a lane to Interstate 5 and repair infrastructure?

      Litigation costs for maintaining freeways? Are you kidding?

      As for private investors, the feds are offering $55B while Gerry Brown is scrounging the hinterland trying to scare up a co-signor. Either crony capitalists are waiting for the gravy boat to get richer or the smart ones know they’ll never get paid by bankrupt state already $16B in the hole.

    2. BGR, that still doesn’t answer my question, why is HSR in any other country not considered a boondoggle but only is so where oil and road interest run supreme. Also, if you take the accumulative impact of replacing HSR with highway lanes and airports the litigation will be extensive. I’ve seen 1-2 mile loop extensions cause quite the fury and precipitate significant numbers of lawsuits.

    3. The litigation issues are all part of the larger problem. New Geography has a great article on these points:

      – HSR could work in Northeast in some parts of Euorpe (but apparently not in Spain). Also I think WHEN they were built has a lot to do with base costs. Sadly, there is no HSR manufacturing in U.S.; that money will be sent overseas to Siemens and others.

      – In fact, after the legislature voted to build JUST the 125 mile track,

      It has came to light that respected French high speed rail operator SNCF had approached California officials, private funding in hand, with a preliminary offer to build the LA-SF link themselves on a better and cheaper alignment along I-5 that would cost only $38 billion. But this [offer] was rejected by the state. The Times account suggests this rejection came about due to a combination of a political preference for the inefficient Central Valley segment and the clout of Parsons Brinckerhoff, the lead contractor. Some commentators have referred to this revelation as a “bombshell.”

      So, it seems HSR in California is not really about building efficient and cost-sensible transportation, but something much very different.

    4. A lot of these points are valid. But damn, its still gonna work. I know I-5 route’s cost and travel time has been studied a couple of times and I’ve heard different numbers depending on who is dishing it out. But you must consider that the combined population centers of Fresno, Stockton, Bakersfield, Sacremento and etc are near those of the combined cities SF, Oakland and SJ. If the added cost and travel time is reasonable enough to not impede high ridership (probably higher by going through the Valley) then why not include the Valley on the line?

    5. Let’s start with what the Japanese and French suggested which is something along the lines of what TRANSDEF and the California Rail Foundation (CRF) suggested, all of whom were ignored in favor of a design driven by politics and greed (think: project manager Parsons-Brinckerhoff of Boston’s Big Dig fame):

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