Science & Technology

Jerry Brown's California High-Speed Rail Is So 20th Century


google car

California's Governor Jerry Brown (D) is supposed to be a visonary politician. Yet his support for wasting $68 billion (the current estimate) to build a high-speed rail link between Los Angeles and San Francisco harks back to the age of the adding machine and the slide rule. The rail line is supposed to be completed by 2029. That's right, 2029! The whole world of transportation will have been massively transformed by then.

Autonomous vehicles will provide the bulk of personal and goods transport by then. Computer-guided vehicles can be more tightly packed on roadways and travel much faster than human-guided vehicles. Gov. Brown's high speed trains are supposed to travel between LA and San Francisco in 2 hours and 40 minutes. It's very likely that speedy autonomous vehicles by 2029 will be able to make that trip in about the same amount of time traveling up Interstate 5, and do it door-to-door, rather than delivering passengers to fixed stations. 

In addition, a significant proportion of Americans will no longer own vehicles, but will summon and rent them as needed, thus reducing the total number of vehicles on our roads. All this implies that our current transporation infrastructure is way overbuilt for our future needs.

California Rail

Today's New York Times details the problems confronting the project, not the least of which is that its defenders have no idea from where all the money to fund it is going to come. According to recent polls, only 43 percent of Californians now support the boondoggle. In the Times, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) notes:

Mr. McCarthy said the governor should not bother trying to rescue the project, though he added that he understood why Mr. Brown was standing by it. "They get so invested in it, they just get blinded," he said. "That's why I think this time of year, New Year's, is the best time to step back and say: 'I tried. It won't pan out.' I think the governor would get big applause from California voters saying that."

Gov. Brown should save the money that would be spent on building a 20th century throwback project and instead spend some of it on making repairs to our current infrastructure. That would be the visonary thing to do.

For more background, see the Reason Foundation's recent report on the financial follies involved with California's high speed rail project.