“How California’s High-Speed Train Derailed”
In 2008, California voters approved the first bonds for a $33 billion San Francisco-Los Angeles high-speed train.
14 years later, The New York Times now calls the project “a case study in how ambitious public works projects can become dangerously encumbered by political compromises, unrealistic cost estimates, faulty engineering and a determination to persevere on projects that have become…too big to fail….”
Political compromises, records show, produced difficult and expensive routes through the state’s agricultural belt. They routed the train through a geologically complex mountain pass in the Bay Area. And they dictated that construction would begin in the center of the state, in the heartland of agriculture, not at either end of the city where tens of millions of potential cyclists live. The pros and cons of these routing choices have been debated for years. But it is only today that we see how costly the political choices were. Together they turned a project that could have been built more quickly and cheaply into a monster so expensive that, without a major new source of funding, there’s little chance it could ever achieve its original goal of linking California’s two largest metropolitan areas in two hours and 40 minutes….
Fourteen years later, construction is now underway on part of a 171-mile “starter” line connecting a few central California cities, which was promised for 2030. But few expect that it achieves this goal. Meanwhile, costs continued to rise. When the California High-Speed Rail Authority released its new draft 2022 business plan in February, it estimated a final cost of up to $105 billion. Less than three months later, the “final plan” raised the estimate to $113 billion. The railway authority said it has accelerated the pace of construction of the start-up system, but at the current rate of spending of $1.8 million a day, according to projections widely used by engineers and project managers, the train will not could not be completed in this century. ..
At present, there is no identified funding source for the $100 billion it will take to expand the Central Valley Rail Project to its original goals, Los Angeles and San Francisco, in part because that legislators, more convinced of the usefulness of high-speed rail viability, pushed to divert additional funding to regional rail projects….
The Times review, however, found that the political agreements created serious obstacles to the project from the start. Speaking candidly on the subject for the first time, some of the high-speed rail authority’s former executives said the project may never work.