High Speed Rail

California to Begin Digging Giant Ditch to Dump In Billions of Dollars


Maybe they can market it as the fastest way to get away from Fresno?

In defiance of all sense and reason, California is actually pushing forward with its absurd bullet train plan. Today is the groundbreaking for the first stretch of the estimated (completely underestimated, probably) $68 billion train. It's supposed to travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles someday, far in the future. For now, though, they're just building the start of a stretch from Fresno to Madera, in the middle of nowhere where nobody needs it, nor will anybody probably ever need it.

And that may well be it unless more money appears somehow. The state only has $12 billion on hand for the project and is planning for another $8 billion. The rest is absolutely nowhere to be found. California got $3 billion from the Obama administration as part of the stimulus package, but it's pretty safe to say they're not going to see another cent from the federal government for at least the next two years. There is no sign of any private investment coming. The California High Speed Rail Authority is taking the "If you build it, they will come" mantra as a permanent motto. Its chairman, Dan Richard, is hoping they can raise money from selling advertisement and real estate development rights along the route or that the feds will chip in again later.

By the way, they actually still don't even have all the land they need yet for just this first stretch. Here's how screwed up this whole project is, courtesy of the Los Angeles Times;

The two-year delay in the start of construction has been caused in large part by the slow pace of land acquisitions. Even as construction gets underway, the state has only acquired 101 of the needed 526 parcels for the first 29 miles. Critics say few of those parcels are contiguous, though the rail authority has so far not disclosed those details.

Experts in the construction industry say the project's delayed start means it will need to proceed at an exceptional pace to comply with a federal funding requirement that $2 billion in grants from Washington and $2 billion in state matching funds be spent by Oct. 1, 2017.

Some of that money has already been used, but the requirement means that over the next 1,000 days the state will have to spend at a rate of $3 million to $4 million every calendar day — as high or higher than any transportation project in history.

Well, I will say that I am pretty confident in California's ability to break new records in spending money very quickly.

Reason has been treating this awful project as a whipping boy for years. Check out our archive of high-speed rail-related pipe-dream-puncturing here.

And here's some Reason TV videos to help explain the awfulness of the project. First up, Reason Foundation VP of Research Adrian Moore sits down with transportation expert Wendell Cox to discuss the problems with the project:

Second, I sat down with Eric Christen, executive director of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction to discuss his group's attempt to battle the union cronyism of the train project:


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  1. Just looked at Southwest Airlines. LA to San Francisco is $77 next week. Less if you book further ahead.

    1. I am flying SAN to SFO next week, I was panicking that I had forgotten to get tickets far enough ahead of time to get a reasonable price. One way $80.

      1. So it’ll only take 850 million one-way trips on the high-speed train to pay the construction costs.

        California can take their operating expenses from vehicle funds like Texas does — a train is a vehicle, right?

    1. Forget it, it’s probably more of a Shelbyville idea.


  3. The world needs ditch diggers too.

    1. Hey, Smails! My dinghy’s bigger than your whole boat!

      1. It’s easy to grin, when your ship has come in…

        1. And you’ve got the market beat.

      2. Fifty bucks says the Smails kid picks his nose.

  4. In defiance of all sense and reason, but in perfect alignment with feelings and fantasy, California is actually pushing forward with its absurd bullet train plan.

    I like this better…

    1. Except they aren’t destroying the money, they’re just moving it from some people to others. What’s the big deal?

  5. Today is the groundbreaking for the first stretch of the estimated (completely underestimated, probably) $68 billion train.

    Assuming it ever gets completed, I am betting $200B minimum.

    1. And that’s not even counting the subsidies it will need to keep operating, because they will never turn a profit or break even from fares.

    2. Depends on what we have to pay the Chinese and Black and Irish workers. And watch out for quickstand. That can swallow a handcart right quick.

    3. With 6 riders a week.

  6. And NBC News was just bragging yesterday, regarding Pat Brown’s inauguration, that Brown at finally gotten California’s financial affairs on a sound footing. Brown will be long gone when some future historian recounts how a huge expensive ditch was dug but never used, because some Top.Men. did not accept the efficacy of air travel.

    1. And it will be the fault of those damn Republicans!

      1. You mean ‘Libertarians’ whose negative, anti-government rants magically caused the price to rise!

    2. . Brown will be long gone when some future historian recounts how a huge expensive ditch was dug but never used, because some Top.Men. did not accept the efficacy of air travel.

      I’d be ok with that sentence if and when we burn all TSA employees at the stake.

    3. some Top.Men. did not accept the efficacy of air travel.

      What I don’t understand is why people can’t grasp that when you build an airport, you’re instantly connected to every single airport within the range of aircraft your airport can handle while with a train, you have acquire land rights and build tracks between the new station and every existing station.

  7. Til I looked at the bank draft that said $9222 , I didn’t believe that my father in law woz like they say actualey bringing home money part-time on their laptop. . there best friend has been doing this 4 only about 1 year and just now repayed the morgage on there villa and bourt a brand new audi .
    Check This Out ………….. http://www.jobsfish.com

    1. I am sure they could use your help in Sacramento, anon-bot.

    2. Seems more legit than this highspeed rail project.

  8. Just when we think we’ve reached peak schadenfreude with the last budget-busting mess, we discover new depths to plumb elsewhere.

  9. If they want to be like the French, they should at least put this abomination in the wine country.

  10. http://www.salon.com/2015/01/0…..iraculous/

    Want to show the power of what government can achieve despite conservative opposition? Look at high-speed rail

    1. Now that’s a good joke.

    2. That overwhelming conservative opposition in CA was damn near impossible to bust through.

      1. Kinda hard to take California politics seriously, not gonna lie here.

      2. All it takes is one Republican in CA’s state legislature?

    3. Want to show the power of what government can achieve spend fruitless billions on despite conservative opposition reality?

      These people are immune to self-awareness. It’s all signaling and blind optimism.

      1. I have noticed that? my leftist friends blamed Eric Garner’s death on conservative law and order rather than looking at their desire to pass laws to police people for their own good.

    4. If you can stomach it, the comments are comedy gold. One commenter actually suggests that the money would be better spent on ordinary, low speed rail.

      1. My brother took Amtrak from NY to Atlanta one year for Christmas.

        His train was about 36 hours late.

        Family members of passengers on his train drove up to north Georgia and South Carolina and picked people up to drive them the rest of the way and got back before the train got to Atlanta.

    5. MONORAIL!!

    6. So unintentionally revealing, really.

  11. Haven’t they already spent billions?

    I’m wondering why they’re doing any work now; hasn’t the Great People’s Republic of California already gone through the step that requires them to pretend to work?

    1. It would be better for the environment and the state in the long run if they really did just pay everyone to pretend to work on this. At least there wouldn’t be any environmental cleanup at the end.

  12. As long as they spend CA money rather than any of my MA money I don’t care. Wait, what, the Feds gave them $3B?!? Dammit!

    1. Bet you didn’t know they were talking about digging in your ass for that money when they named it the “Big Dig.”

      1. The Feds eventually cut off the money for the “Big Dig”.

        I wonder if they’ll ever cut off the money for California’s high speed rail.

        1. When CA stops sending the Right Sort to Congress, they’ll cut off the money.

      2. I am not responsible for the fact that youse guys trusted that POS Ted Kennedy and his lies!

  13. Choo-choo goes fast.

    19th Century technology…Today!

  14. A one-way flight from LAX to SFO is about $75. For 12 billion dollars you could by 160 million fares. How many passengers per day is this thing supposed to carry? Curious how it compares to current air capacity between the two cities.

    1. My somewhat hazy memory is that the original estimate was around $100B and that it would break even operationally with 100M passengers a year. That’s 2.5 trips for everyone in the state. But worse, it’s 300K passengers a day. If each train carries 1000 passengers, that’s 300 trains a day, one every 5 minutes.

      It didn’t even come close to passing any smell test.

      Of course, my memory isn’t exact. It was such a laugh, I may have rounded in favor of the humor. But it really is a joke.

    2. If they actually build this it will kill the air routes from LA to SFO the same way Acela dominates DC to NY.

    3. I love the example that Rory Sutherland uses in one of his TED talks. You could spend a billion dollars making the train from London to Paris go a bit faster, or you could spend that money to hire supermodels to pass out free champagne on every ride. And if you go with the latter option, customers will ask for the train ride to take longer.

    4. If you’re flexible, you can fly from ONT to OAK for 56$.

  15. I just don’t understand… What a total failure of a system of government when they can so clearly violate the law, and yet it just plods along. Why does no one or no institution have the power to point to the law and say, you have to stop doing that?

    1. “How many divisions do you have?”

    2. “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!”

  16. For 70B you ought to be able to just fix the roads in LA, or at least the I-5.

    Guarantee that if this thing is ever finished it will be only marginally faster than driving from LA to SF, even with traffic.

  17. Call it $6mm/mile for serious work on a major urban highway.


    For $68bb, you could do very serious repair/upgrade work on over 11,000 miles of highway.

    CA has around 2300 miles of interstate, near as I can tell.


  18. Battling union cronyism in this train project is a bit like whining about an unfair split between bank robbers.

  19. my best friend’s mother-in-law makes $88 an hour on the laptop . She has been without a job for ten months but last month her check was $12564 just working on the laptop for a few hours. check out here………
    ????? http://www.netjob70.com

  20. Only government could produce such a public good. It will just take a few decades and hundreds of billions of dollars.

    1. The British government tried to do that in the 1920’s.

      It ended in the worst airship disaster in British history and ended dirigible development in the UK.

  21. Double plus ungood crimethink in these comments

  22. Madera to Fresno?

    By car: 27 minutes
    By bicycle: 2 hr 45 min
    By public transit: 2 hr 43 min to 2 hr 59 min (depending upon when you leave), 3.25$, 3 buses plus walking

    When your public transit solution has trouble competing with cycling, you know you’ve got a problem.

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