5 Reasons the California High-Speed Rail Project Shouldn’t Get More Money

Gov. Brown asks for billions in borrowing even as train system gets slower, shorter, and more expensive.

Despite California’s budget deficit rising to $16 billion recently, Gov. Jerry Brown is asking state legislators for $6 billion in bonds to launch construction on the proposed high-speed rail system. Voters approved a $9.95 billion bond package for the “bullet train” in 2008, but just about everything about the rail system has changed since then.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority (HSRA) issued a revised business plan in April that calls for a 130-mile segment running from Bakersfield to Madera in the state’s Central Valley. If the Central Valley leg is built, the plan says the system would eventually share tracks with commuter trains in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, in what it is calling a “blended” approach. Not exactly the bullet train from San Diego to Los Angeles to the Bay Area and Sacramento that voters were sold back in 2008.

The last thing California should do right now is add billions more in bond debt. Beyond the most obvious—the state simply cannot afford it—there are at least five major reasons California shouldn’t move forward on this rail project.

1. Broken Proposition 1A Promises: The Costs Look Nothing Like What Voters Approved

The text of Proposition 1A asking California voters to approve $9.95 billion in bonds for the project in 2008 said: “The total cost to develop and construct the entire high-speed train system would be about $45 billion.”

Now the High-Speed Rail Authority says the price tag for a scaled down system will be $68.4 billion. Last year, the HSRA actually estimated the costs would be over $98 billion but to lower the sticker shock by $30 billion they’ve shifted to a “blended” plan that uses slower, existing rail tracks instead of building the exclusive tracks capable of handling high-speed trains that they originally planned on.

The official proponent's argument in the Proposition 1A ballot pamphlet also promised voters that ticket prices would be “about $50 a person.” Now, they are saying tickets would cost an average of $81 each way, with “express” tickets for the fastest trips costing $123 one-way.

The costs have changed so much from what voters were promised that funding should be halted until the HSRA fulfills its 2008 promises to voters, or until voters get to approve the changes. Several groups, including popular KFI radio talk show hosts John and Ken in Los Angeles, are starting to get the signatures needed to put a re-vote of the high-speed rail initiative on the ballot.

2. There’s Still No Legitimate Funding Plan

The California High-Speed Rail Authority says it will need $53 to $62 billion to build the Phase 1 Blended System, which would run from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Sacramento and San Diego appear to have been dropped from the plan. The state currently has the $9.95 billion in taxpayer-backed bonds originally approved by Proposition 1A plus an additional $3.5 billion in federal grants. But where is the remaining $40-$50 billion going to come from?

In April, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office wrote, “We find that HSRA has not provided sufficient detail and justification to the Legislature regarding its plan to build a high–speed train system. Specifically, funding for the project remains highly speculative and important details have not been sorted out. We recommend the Legislature not approve the Governor's various budget proposals to provide additional funding for the project.”

If the state starts building a high-speed train system somewhere between Bakersfield and Fresno it will run out of money well before the system is finished. That’s okay with many train advocates, who figure once construction begins the government will be forced to find the rest of the money to avoid having a partially built $10 billion train to nowhere sitting in the Central Valley. But the legislature can’t afford to be so fiscally reckless. It needs to demand a detailed plan showing how the full rail system will be funded before approving the bond money to start construction.

3. The Train Trip That Keeps Getting Longer

When voters approved the bonds in 2008 they were promised a train trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 2 hours and 40 minutes or less. The new business plan is surprisingly silent on travel times but an HSRA document circulated to the board of directors says the fastest “express” trip will take three hours.

Even that time is highly unlikely because it depends on trains operating at a peak speed of 220 mph, faster than any train in the world, and an average speed of 198 mph. Such average speeds are going to be next to impossible to reach because trains won’t always be running on dedicated tracks designed for high speeds and, as the plan admits, they would be forced to slow down to 100-150 mph in Los Angeles and the Bay Area for safety reasons. Hence, it’s likely that non-stop express trains will take three hours and 40 minutes.

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  • Sevo||

    In the time-honored technique of sleazy pols everywhere, Moonbeam has ganged the vote on this with local porkbarrel grabbings. Fat chance the reps are going to piss off the local power bases:
    http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/.....677809.php
    I'm sure he would have tossed funding for 'the childrunz' in there too, if he figured he needed it.

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  • DJF||

    Here is a picture that tells it all.

    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-Aavl.....lete48.jpg

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    +561

  • Doctor Whom||

    If it's on rails, it's automatically better. Everyone knows that.

  • Release||

    That tells it all only if you've never ridden on high speed rail or haven't flown in the last 10 years. I don't know if the California plan is viable but as an example if you wanted to get from London to Paris it would be almost an hour faster to take the train than fly. And it is much more comfortable and civilized too.

  • sarcasmic||

  • Canman||

  • Hugo S. Cunningham||

    In honor of California's Governor, this project can be called:
    Moonrail!

  • Whiterun Guard||

    I can't wait until the only cities left in California are Costa del Lex, Luthorville, Marina del Lex, and Otisburg.

  • Curtisls87||

    I don't care what anyone says, Hackman was brilliant in that role.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    I have a question; Is there anyplace in the country where a private company is trying to get rail commuting going without government largess? I mean, I tend to assume that all rail projects are bullsh*t, but I realized just know that I'm not sure why.

  • ChrisO||

    Private firms interested in that business are smart enough to realize that they're better off becoming government contractors and lobbying for taxpayer dollars. They don't actually have to show results if they get in on the govt. gravy train.

  • Scott S.||

    The proposed high-speed rail to Las Vegas was originally marketed as a privately funded project, but then they went begging for government loans.

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    Learn how to make money using Google. You can monetize your searching skills and earn up to $375 per hour working for this billion dollar company. You can choose your working hours. For details visit makecash25. comONLY

  • R C Dean||

    Sounds like somebody is trying to help CA come up with the cash.

  • Brutus||

    Down to their last dime, borrowed to the hilt, revenue-generating businesses fleeing to less punitive jurisdictions...what are we to do?

    Oh, yes, build a tax-sucking black hole on rails. That's the ticket.

  • Sevo||

    The SEIU really doesn't give a plug what you think, and if they don't, neither does moonbeam.

  • DEG||

    How about this for a reason:

    It's not their money to spend.

  • Raven Nation||

    Sort of true. But it is the "peoples'" money which has been stolen from the people by the evil rich. So CA is going to get it back in order to help the people.

  • Moogle||

    The whole thing is an excuse to give plush board/committee jobs to politically connected people. They've spent $500 million already with boo to show for it. They're sociopaths, each and every one of them, and Brown is their little puppet.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Simple question and no offense to Californians, but when the hell are we going to have that state governed by a board of creditors? California has a lot going for it, in receivership, they could really turn things around.

  • ChrisO||

    They haven't hit bottom yet.

  • Moogle||

    No offense taken. A lot of us here are rooting for some sort of bankruptcy, whatever form it takes.

  • Curtisls87||

    +1

  • CE||

    What a coincidence. I was just thinking the other day, wouldn't it be great if there were a bullet train from Madera to Bakersfield!

  • seattlesnow||

    Ask yourself one question. Why is it ok to subsidise highways 100% via taxes, but then to expect public transit or any other transit solution to pay for itself?

  • Curtisls87||

    Really, is this a trick question? Think about the individual costs someone pays in order to be able to use that highway in the form of their vehicle, their fuel, insurance, et cetera.

  • pinostabaum||

    not to mention the percentage of highway maintenance covered by fuel taxes. the highway system is the closest things we have to a use-tax funded government program.

  • Release||

    So we all pay for the roads to be built initially and then we pay to maintain them even if we don't use them but people who do use them end up paying more via tolls and gas taxes? Not sure how it would be different for a rail system. Everyone pays to get it started and users and non-users pay to maintain it. Same as the roads.

  • ||

    faster than any train in the world, and an average speed of 198 mph. Such average speeds are going to be next to impossible to reach because trains won’t always be running on dedicated tracks designed for high speeds and, as the plan admits, they would be http://www.ceinturesfr.com/cei.....-c-14.html forced to slow down to 100-150 mph in Los Angeles and the Bay Area for safety reasons. Hence, it’s likely that non-stop express trains will take three hours and 40 minutes.

  • Nike air max womens||

    That’s okay with many train advocates, who figure once construction begins the government will be forced to find the rest of the money to avoid having a partially built $10 billion train to nowhere sitting in the Central Valley. But the legislature can’t afford to be so fiscally reckless. It needs to demand a detailed plan showing how the full rail system will be funded before approving the bond money to start construction.

  • Public Citizzen||

    The Democrat Controlled state legislature has just voted [along party lines] to proceed with funding this Juggernaut Boondoggle.
    Picture the final scene from Thelma and Louise with a train instead of a Mustang. The relative proportions of the pictured vehicles is about right for the magnitude of the financial disaster involved here.
    All these fools can see is the bait being dangled in the form of federal funding available if construction starts by a specified date. More debt, more borrowed money, more pork for the favored few at the expense of the many.

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