Los Angeles

"If they're saying $100 billion, that means it'll be $200 billion." More Californians Feeling Low About High-Speed Rail


He's been played by Robert Downey Jr. in a movie, but Steve Lopez still dreams of being a conductor.

Celebrated Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez loses his bullet-train enthusiasm in a new column: "Should California bite the bullet on high-speed rail?"

It's not clear whether "biting the bullet" here means going ahead with the project or abandoning it. This may be the column that refutes an old journalismism about how if the headline ends in a question mark, the answer is no.

Lopez knows his readers well enough to start out by grokking the awesomeness of the wow factor that is being imagineered in the high-speed rail concept. Then the big but: 

In 2008, California voters supported — bravely, naively or perhaps both — construction of a gargantuan, 520-mile bullet train route and authorized $9 billion in state bonds to get things going. The total projected cost to lay rail for electric cars, whizzing from San Diego to San Francisco at almost 200 mph, was originally estimated at $33 billion.

Since then, the high-speed dream has become a slow-motion nightmare, and we might be better off running a zip line from Mt. Shasta to Mt. Baldy.

The projected completion date has gone from 2020 to 2033. The anticipated cost has ballooned to as high as $117 billion, and no one seems to have a clue where the bulk of the money would come from. The state auditor and the state Legislative Analyst's Office have raised serious concerns, and the rail authority's own peer review group said the project represents "an immense financial risk" to the state. And two weeks ago, the railroad authority's top executive resigned.

The columnist journeys to Union Station (railroads and buses) and what Lopez, in a gratuitous swipe at the late Bob Hope, calls simply "the Burbank airport." He lets regular Californians pipe up about the high-speed rail project until he gets quotes for, against and in the middle. 

I generally take Lopez' real-life quotes from just plain folks with a fistful of salt (Morton's or superstore equivalent salt like an average Joe, not fancypants sea salt like some fancypants), but he does identify people by full name and location. I appreciate Lopez' deft juxtaposition of some pinwheel-eyed economics from a "semi-pro soccer player, actor, model and musician" with this: 

Not Joe Bogenschutz, though. As the Burbank resident was about to board a plane Tuesday morning in Burbank, he said: "If they're saying $100 billion, that means it'll be $200 billion."

Lopez has the good fortune to answer to the newsroom rather the opinion section, where bullet-train belief still reigns as supremely as it does in Gov. Jerry Brown's rumpus room. The important thing is that one more prominent Golden State blowhard is sealing the case against the vacant and bankrupt high-speed rail project. 

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  1. Not Joe Bogenschutz, though. As the Burbank resident was about to board a plane Tuesday morning in Burbank, he said: “If they’re saying $100 billion, that means it’ll be $200 billion.”

    I’ve been saying a $200,000,000,000 price tag all along. (And that would not include the costs to the people along the line who were displaced or had their property values dimished due to 200 mph trains running 100 yard from their house.)

    1. chump change

      1. more like the cash of chumps

        1. Original Song Title: “Carolina In My Mind”
          Original Performer: James Taylor

          Parody Song Title: “California For All Time”
          Parody Written by: Immoral Liberal

          Why did I once live in California?
          Must’ve smoked some sunshine;
          Maybe I drank the moonshine.
          Some pretended to be friends of mine,
          But they were thieving slime,
          So I’ve gone from California for all time.

          I was better off there once,
          But, well, nowadays the state’s declining;
          Governor is just a dunce.
          The hand-writing is on the wall:
          That’s why I’m–really–
          Gone from California for all time.

          There ain’t no doubt in this one’s mind,
          Sure glad I didn’t hang around:
          Yeah, they would have robbed me blind.
          With tax hikes, and union strikes,
          They’re dying; glad I’m
          Gone from California for all time.

          And that’s why I’m gone from California
          They would tax the sunshine;
          They already tax the moonshine.
          Had to watch my back all the time
          Around those thieving slime,
          So I’m gone from California for all time.

          Watched an election website
          From my quiet room in flyover country;
          No soundbytes, or fights to fight.
          They elected morons, but I’m long gone, long gone!
          Been out of California a long time.

          With its hordes of unemployed voting for scoundrels,
          Don’t think they’ll dig out of their hole soon,
          ‘Cause no matter how they dig, they don’t hit bottom;
          Better them than me!
          Sure am glad I’m gone from California for all time.

          I’ll be fine; I’m gone from California.
          I’m not smoking sunshine;
          No one can sell me moonshine;
          And my corn hole’s safe from the slime
          Who’d take me from behind!
          Now I’m gone from California for all time.

          Gone from California for all time;
          I’ve been out of California a long time;
          Gone from California for all time;
          Gone–I’m gone–I’m gone…
          Staying out of that place
          ‘Cause it’s going south, fools!
          Got my goodies here safe from you,
          ‘Cause I’m gone…

      2. I suppose it would be “chump change” compared to the impact that a return to historical average interest rates on the US Government debt would have.

    2. What? You don’t believe that their “just compensation” will be just?

      I’m shocked.

    3. Come on what is a couple hundred billion Obamabucks? Daddy Bernarke will just print more.

    4. “I’ve been saying a $200,000,000,000 price tag all along.”

      Then it must be $400B.

      1. I wouldn’t rule out $400B.

        $200B is just my floor bet.

        1. Considering they’ve already spent tens of billions and not a single inch of track has ben laid, a cool trillion is not out of the question.

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      1. Yes, but do they ride trainz?

  2. Tim,

    Proper foodies use kosher salt not sea salt.

    1. Tim should try MSG; it makes everything taste better.

  3. Coyote blog made predictions about this, too.

  4. Children love trains. Why do you hate children?

    1. Anyone who has had an ice cream cone land in his lap while minding their own business would consider the answer to that question obvious.

      1. I’m a parent. I want my children to have personal wormhole transportation and to think trains went extinct after the Civil War.


          1. Maybe FTL, too. I dunno. They can play with toy trains, though. My kids all loved toy trains when they were little.

        2. Flying cars. Flying cars.

      2. Anyone who has had an ice cream cone land in his lap while minding their own business would consider the answer to that question obvious.

        Note to self: always provide ice cream cones to my daughter when we ride the high speed train.

  5. Generously for the proposal (100,000,000,000/37,000,000), how many Californians are willing or can afford to indirectly pay about $3,000 in addition to existing taxes? Not one single person will, so that cost gets shifted up and up a theoretical ladder. There is no entity that will provide that capital to the state as an “investment”.

    1. We’ll just take it from the 1%. Those greedy bastards owe us all.

      Fair share bitches!

      1. I wish I would have trademarked “fair share” long ago.

  6. “Morton’s or superstore equivalent salt like an average Joe, not fancypants sea salt like some fancypants”

    I appreciate your firm stance against fancypantsery of all types.

  7. Morton’s or superstore equivalent salt like an average Joe, not fancypants sea salt like some fancypants

    We use Costco-brand salt, which is for regular-pantsed folks.

    1. I let my wife rub only the highest grade of salt in my wounds.

  8. But she likes the big idea that a bullet train represents and how it positions California in the world order.

    So were her actual quotes about bullets for the new world order too maniacal to print, or not maniacal enough?

    I notice she’s the only one whose take he doesn’t undercut by putting it in close proximity to a “Burbank” or two.

    Is she someone he knows?




  9. We could save a lot of money on part of the construction if we could just get trains that could fly. Imagine all the savings from not having to build rails.

    1. What about zeppelins?

      1. They suffer from communication breakdowns.

        1. It’s always the same.

          1. And thus they shall be given no quarter.

          2. If another one exploded, the crowd would flee, and someone could be trampled underfoot.

      2. Not high-speed enough, and of course they would be affected by high winds and poor weather, but perhaps the thrill of flying would mitigate the downsides.

        I did a back-o-the-napkin analysis a couple of years back, and determined that we could have a more-or-less continuous train of zeppelins from Northern to Southern California, including airport “stations” and non-airport “mooring points,” for less than the then-projected cost of the HSR system. If we are willing to spend the amount of the latest cost projections, we could fill the sky with modern-design Zeppelins, and partially realize the long-held dream of many fans of the “Fringe” TV series, to visit the alternative dimension where they have the “Red Lantern” comic book, not “Green Lantern.”

        1. “where they have the ‘Red Lantern’ comic book, not ‘Green Lantern’ …”

          forgot to add “and dirigibles everywhere overhead.”

          1. That would be awesome.

    2. I thought they already had that in China. They’re so organized over there.

    3. But then we would have to build places for those “flying trains” to land with long strips of pavement for them to get up to speed before they become airborne…



  10. If we don’t have trains that are high speed and run on time, then people will get to their destinations in decentralized, difficult to control ways.

    In addition, we can’t force guide people to live in sustainably dense, planned communities which will have to be centered around government-built transit centers- as this type of transportation will be the only viable way of getting around.

    Lastly, large numbers of people packed into fixed-route transportation systems are top terrorist targets. Witness Al Qaeda’s fascination with all thing transportation. With everyone packed into terrorist-friendly targets, we can expand the TSA, the NTSA and many other government agencies (dues paying members) to help protect the people using these systems.

    There’s a method to this madness and the madness should never be driven nor limited by funding and lack of vision.

    1. Yeah!

      What we need is a government-built road network and big subsidies for automobile drivers instead.

      Then we can feel all good about hating gubmint while still getting the benefits of gubmint.

      Interstate system? That was built by GE and Colgate, right?

  11. Even Kahleefornians are catching on…

    1. Except Moonbeam.

  12. What a bunch of wingnuts two faced SOBs
    try one TRILLION for your Koch sucking oil war ..then come back with the BS that comes out of this swill tank

    1. Yeah, we two faced leftard SOB wingnuts really do owe everyone an apology for supporting the illegal Koch sucking oil war for Europe in Libya and the annual TRILLION dollar deficits our country has been running up every year since we put this Koch sucking racist bastard and his Soros sucking cronies back in office.

  13. OF course you Koch suckers will suck!!! Gobels would be proud of the Reason foundation…The Pig writing these stories sucks oil ..and will go to HELL with his “masterpigs”

  14. OF course you Koch suckers will suck!!! Gobels would be proud of the Reason foundation…The Pig writing these stories sucks oil ..and will go to HELL with his “masterpigs”

  15. That would be awesome.

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