High Speed Rail

Calif. Bullet Train Proponents Tout Moderately Skeptical GAO Report

If the project fails, maybe Rail Authority leaders can find work picking cherries


Keep begging China for money, Jerry. You'll need it.

In response to critics' worries that California's bullet train plan relies on projections of costs, revenues, and ridership that are far too optimistic, proponents are seeking refuge under a new Government Accountability Office report that – er – worries that the plan's costs, revenues and ridership projections are too optimistic.

The California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) is all smiles and sunbeams about the report though in their press release:

 "The GAO's audit report is extremely clear that the Authority's processes and methodologies in estimating its costs, revenue and ridership are sound," said Dan Richard, Chair of the Authority's Board of Directors. "The Authority appreciates the GAO's input and is already taking steps to incorporate those suggestions."

No. That's not quite right. Note the weasel words of "processes and methodologies." In actuality, the full GAO report (pdf) determined that a significant chunk of the estimations are really half-complete and takes great pains to warn that because the United States has never embarked in a high-speed rail project of this magnitude before, the Authority really, really, really needs to be careful about the quality of its projections. The GAO also repeatedly expresses concerns about how the rail project could possibly get private investment when it can't yet secure construction funding beyond the earliest stages:

Private-sector investment in the California high-speed rail project, if any, will ultimately be determined by the profitability of the system—that is, the extent to which operating revenues exceed operating costs. The Authority currently estimates an operating profit in the first and all subsequent years of operation. However, this estimate is only as reliable as the underlying operating cost and revenue forecasts. As discussed earlier, the Authority's current ridership and revenue forecasts are reasonable for planning purposes, however, further refinements will be required as the project continues to evolve. The Authority's current operating cost estimates will also need to be improved in the future. Accordingly, both cost and ridership forecasts will change before the initial operating segment is completed in 2022, making the future value of potential private funding uncertain at this time. [Emphasis added]

The Reason Foundation (the non-profit that publishes Reason.com and Reason magazine) has updated its criticism of the projections today and estimates that, in reality, the rail line will need significant annual subsidies from $124 to $373 million to operate, which puts the project at odds with the state ballot initiative that authorizes its construction. And due to changes in the rail project's plans that will see it sharing train tracks in San Francisco and Los Angeles, the Authority is misleading the public, and the GAO, on how long the trips will take:

In 2008, voters were promised a bullet train trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco in two hours and forty minutes. However, the Reason study finds the system's fastest non-stop trip is likely to take nearly four hours — 3:50, and most trips on the system would take 4:40 or longer.

Sharing tracks with freight trains in some locations, as the California High-Speed Rail Authority has opted to do in order to lower construction costs, would also reduce speeds to 100 to 150 miles per hour in those places.

The Rail Authority claims the train would make up for using blended tracks by going 220 miles per hour in other stretches. However, that simply isn't realistic—no train in the world achieves those speeds at this time. The fastest train, France's TGV, travels at 199 miles per hour.

If the California rail system fails to deliver on its promised trip times, other problems would mount. Longer travel times would make the train less appealing to people who could opt to fly or drive. Lower ridership numbers would also prompt the need for higher ticket prices. In 2008, voters were promised fares of "about $50 a person." Tickets are now expected to cost $81, which would further reduce ridership.

You can read the Reason Foundation's new report here (pdf). The Reason Foundation further deflates the Rail Authority's claims that the GAO report supports the bullet train's construction here.

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  1. C’mon! We gotta be more like Europe! I mean, it’s not fair that they’ve got really cool trains and we don’t!

  2. Think of the union jobs this will generate. Think of the minorities who can be quickly moved to multiple polling locations on election day. Obammy’s wet dream.

    1. Dude, you are fucking obsessed with minorities and gays. This article is about trains, FFS. Aching for a big black cock?

      Any newcomers: this man is a collectivist.

      1. Ignore the troll.

        1. Did we just get some new trolls? Why wasn’t there an announcement?

          Sometimes it’s hard to tell the trollers from the sarcasm.

          1. Eventually we run out of sarcasm and our true colors show. Trolls never run out of troll.

            (Okay, sarcasmic never runs out of sarcasm. He’s sarcasm all the way down, so who knows what the hell he believes…)

            1. I believe in swordfish!

    2. Think of the buttholes we could finger via the TSA!

  3. Not sure how you’re measuring fastest trains, but it seems a few (in both Europe and Asia) can go well above 200, with China’s CRH380A taking the top spot at an insance 302 MPH’s.


    1. Those are maglev trains, which are a totally different method of locomotion from what they’re proposing for California.

      1. The fastest ones, I mean.

      2. Yeah, the maglevs are used for inter-city transport. They try to keep the stops down and the speed up. The one in Cali is kind of the worst of both worlds: Lots of stops and not so high speed. (Seriously, who’s going to want a train whizzing through their town at 220 mph? No one, that’s who.)


    1. LOL libertarians watching a scifi movie that glorifies trains!

      *turns head*

      Trains are the future of transportation!!

      1. Trains are the future of transportation!!

        No, streetcars are.

  5. I like the photo but where’s the homeless guy with his shopping cart full of bottles trying to get over the track as that bears down on him?

    1. Yes, you do


    The Empire state building went up in a little over a year, the Massachusetts “Big Dig” took over a decade-so keeping with the trend this train will be up and ruining by 2045.

    Why do people in Cali who have to wait for a fucking decade to clear all the regulations to add an extension on their home, actually believe that this thing will be up and running?

    1. so keeping with the trend this train will be up and ruining by 2045 never

      We were always at war with Eastasia building a train boondoggle

    2. Having debating many High-Speed Rail advocates, I can tell you their response would be, “All the more reason to get started as soon as possible.”

      1. Exactly this. I don’t know how many of these retards that I’ve argued with, who regard the ludicrous cost of building today as an ABSOLUTE BARGAIN compared to the even-more-ludicrous cost of building tomorrow.

        1. prolly the same fuck tards who believed in “shovel ready” jobs

  7. Longer travel times would make the train less appealing to people who could opt to fly or drive. Lower ridership numbers would also prompt the need for higher ticket prices.

    IT’s Better Than Flying

    This entire project makes me sad. All things being equal, I’d much rather take a train LA to SF than drive or fly, but everything I’ve heard about this project sounds like they’ll spend too much money we don’t have and make it as terrible as humanly possible.

    1. Even if it were built, I can guarantee that the security BS would be just as onerous as for flying. The bureaucrats will want to protect their shiny toy, and you know, for the children.

      1. “I can guarantee that the security BS would be just as onerous as for flying.”

        Can you imagine the TSA giving up all those juicy jobs making sure no one flys one of these things into the White House?

    2. And self-driving cars, in a decade or less, will make me so willing to take these cute little choo-choos [with enhanced security screening and bad food]?

    1. Are you hoping to get Nicole to join the thread?

    2. I like the rubik’s cube mantis shrimp.

  8. For up to the minute Train Speed Data click on this link:

    Scroll down to to Table 1 in Part 2 “Not So Fast Trains”
    The Table includes this note:
    Note: Various trains in China operated up to 217 miles per hour until 2011 when maximum speeds were slowed to 186 miles per hour for safety, energy conservation and other reasons. This speed reduction preceded the Wenzhou crash.

    1. Another reason for the slowing of the Chinese trains was, IIRC, some unscrupulous contractors apparently used a cheaper formulation of concrete for the base of the track.

  9. Hey, it’s not got too much spam in it!

  10. I’ve wanted to run a train on some Californians for years, I don’t see why the politicians should be any different.

  11. That sounds like a very good plan dude, I like it.


  12. Every time it seems that we’ve killed high speed rail here in Florida someone, somehow, manages to revive it. Personally, I don’t see the point. Taking Amtrak from Tampa to Orlando would currently take approximately two hours and twenty minutes (including the drive from my house in southern Hillsborough Co. to Tampa and the travel time from Tampa to Orlando, excluding the time that I would be sitting around the station). I’m sure HSR would be quicker than Amtrak but I would still have the thirty-five minute drive from my house to the station, the wait around at the station and once I get to Orlando I have to figure out someway to get where I’m going. In the meantime, I could have just driven to Orlando, during which I could sing along to the radio at the top of my lungs and smoke like a chimney. So why would I ever want to ride the train?

    1. Widening I-4 to 3 lanes the whole way, that I could get behind. NO ONE would ride a train between Tampa and Orlando.

    2. I’m sure HSR would be quicker than Amtrak but I would still have the thirty-five minute drive from my house to the station, the wait around at the station and once I get to Orlando I have to figure out someway to get where I’m going.

      Ahh, the uncalculated costs of mass transit.

      Beautiful Kitsap County is just a thirty minute ferry ride from bustling downtown Seattle!

      Uhm, try two hours.

      Unless you live within five minutes of a ferry terminal, expect a 20 to 30 minute drive to get to the ferry terminal. Unless you’re on a low traffic day and schedule your drive so you arrive at the ferry terminal as it’s ready for loading, you may have to wait 30-40 minutes (or more) for the next Ferry. Then you’ve got the loading and the wait. Then the 35 minute (minimum) sailing time (unless they canceled the ferry run because someone didn’t show up for work… again), then the unload time and time to arrival at destination.

      Nothing in public transit is what public transit says it is. Nothing.

  13. When I lived in California over 20 years ago, nobody seemed to drive under 90mph on I-5 through central Calif., so you could drive from LA to SF relatively quickly.

    There are certainly very few obstacles around there, and the CHP didn’t have any presence. They had a nasty speed trap on I-5 in Northern California coming out of the Siskiyous, but I don’t remember them doing much of anything south of that, and I drove it a number of times.

    1. It’s still usually not a problem, but they have enough random enforcement that you need to be cautious, which is stupid, it’s a straight away with no towns for miles in any direction for most of it.

      1. They must have increased enforcement slightly, then, because that one speed trap just north of Redding was the only time I ever saw the CHP on the entire length of I-5 in California. I believe their budget had been gutted at the time.

        There’s certainly no reason to drive under 90mph on that stretch of I-5. Possibly the most desolate stretch of freeway in America.

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