High Speed Rail

The Political Class Knew California High-Speed Rail Was B.S., and Supported it Anyway

New revelations are just the latest to demonstrate a point Reason has been documenting since 2008

|

Former Reason editor and current Bloomberg View columnist Virginia Postrel has a terrific new column laying out in damning detail the latest revelations in California's high-speed rail boondoggle. The Los Angeles Times, Postrel notes, published an investigative piece earlier this month showing that (in her paraphrasing), "When the Spanish construction company Ferrovial submitted its winning bid for a 22-mile segment, the proposal included a clear and inconvenient warning: 'More than likely, the California high speed rail will require large government subsidies for years to come.'" Worse yet—the state scrubbed that we're-gonna-need-a-bigger-subsidy warning from the project's website, almost certainly because the California High-Speed Rail Authority is heavily invested in the provable fiction that (in its own shouty words), "HIGH-SPEED RAIL IN CALIFORNIA WILL NOT REQUIRE OPERATING SUBSIDIES."

That thievery-level mendacity of the vested pro-rail interests within government, you can be sure, will not be the target of suggested fraud prosecutions in the Democratic Party's national platform. (Indeed, if they were being even-handed about suggesting law enforcement crackdowns against intentionally misleading forward statements, Democrats would be investigating why their own "five million green jobs" stubbornly failed to materialize.)

But California's broader political class also has blood on its hands, as this Postrel passage illustrates:

[A] closer look even back [in 2008] would have made it clear that, barring a miracle, the rail project wouldn't keep its promises. To do so, it would have to be the fastest, most popular bullet train in the world, with many more riders per mile and a much greater percentage of seats occupied than the French and Japanese systems—a highly unlikely prospect. Yet only the most determined wonk would have discovered these comparisons.

Some of those who knew better still succumbed to the glamour of the idea. "There's something undeniably alluring about a bullet train—the technology is so powerful, the speed so breathtaking, it makes quotidian trips seem exotic," opined the Times's editorial board in October 2008. Admitting that "it seems close to a lead-pipe cinch that the California High-Speed Rail Authority will ask for many billions more in the coming decades, and the Legislature will have to scrape up many millions of dollars in operating subsidies," it nonetheless concluded that "we still think voters should give in to the measure's gleaming promise."

The two hyperlinks in that excerpt are, respectively, to my current employer and my former employer. In fact, the L.A. Times editorial in question linked back to the Reason Foundation's study, and pronounced it "more persuasive" than that of rail project's backers. Here's a longer passage:

[P]roponents of Proposition 1a, which would authorize $9.95 billion in bonds for a high-speed rail line connecting Northern and Southern California, think it would be wildly successful. They predict the line could draw 117 million riders a year by 2030, compared with 3 million now taking the high-speed Amtrak train in the densely populated Boston-Washington corridor. And they say it will turn a billion-dollar profit by then even as it keeps ticket prices remarkably low.

The projections by the measure's opponents, led by the libertarian Reason Foundation in Los Angeles, are much less sanguine and more persuasive.

In other words, screw cost-benefit analysis; we like shiny trains! (And we dislike consumers making the same yucky choices as most members of the L.A. Times editorial board: "Weaning travelers from gas-powered, road-choking cars is critical to the state's health and competitiveness.")

Three years later—I kid you not—the L.A. Times reacted to the cost overruns we predicted by editorializing that "Yes, the price tag has tripled and its completion date is 13 years later. But it's still a gamble worth taking." One almost hopes they continue finding enough shovels over on Spring Street, for the pure physical challenge of it all.

I think about this mindset every time libertarians are accused of being pie-in-the-sky-dreamers who don't understand how the real world works, or conversely when the same mainstream outlets who editorialize for nearly every imaginable bond issue then turn around bemoan how state budgets have been cut to the bone.

To paraphrase Vietnam-era John Kerry, who will be the last California taxpayer to bleed for what people knew at the time was going to be a massive waste of money? And when will the people who should have known better own up to their own embarrassing intellectual mistakes? It must suck being beat to the policy punch by Season Two of True Detective.

Reason TV has been all over this sorry story, including this piece from last year:

Advertisement

NEXT: Celebrate the History of the Stonewall Riots by Following All These Rules!

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Three years later?I kid you not?the L.A. Times reacted to the cost overruns we predicted by editorializing that “Yes, the price tag has tripled and its completion date is 13 years later. But it’s still a gamble worth taking.”

    “..and that’s why we are converting our entire pension fund into HST bonds.” Right?

      1. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job Ive had. Last Monday I got a new Alfa Romeo from bringing in $7778. I started this 6 months ago and practically straight away started making more than $95 per hour.

        I work through this website____________ http://www.earnmore9.com

    1. Close…the statement is:

      “..and that’s why we are converting YOUR entire pension fund into HST bonds.”

    2. Started working at home! It is by far the best job I have ever had. I just recently purchased a Brand new BMW since getting a check for $25470 this 8-week past. I began this 6 months ago and I am now bringing home at least $95 dollar per hour.
      I work through this Website. Go here____________ http://www.earnmore9.com

    3. Started working at home! It is by far the best job I have ever had. I just recently purchased a Brand new BMW since getting a check for $25470 this 8-week past. I began this 6 months ago and I am now bringing home at least $95 dollar per hour.
      I work through this Website. Go here____________ http://www.earnmore9.com

  2. “beat to the policy punch by Season Two of True Detective”

    Is that the season with the monorail episode?

    1. “The ring came off my pudding can!”

      ~ Colin Farrell

  3. The numbers are revolting!

    1. “You are telling me. They stink on ice!”

  4. I wonder if Mr. Welch, as a former LA Times employee, qualifies as “gruntled” or “disgruntled”?

    1. I prefer “differently gruntled.”

      In fact I’m a Contributing Writer over there, so there are no hard feelings.

      1. Contributing Writers still get cocktail and Christmas party invites?

  5. boon?dog?gle
    ?bo?on?d???l,-?d???l/
    North American informal
    noun
    noun: boondoggle; plural noun: boondoggles

    1.
    work or activity that is wasteful or pointless but gives the appearance of having value.
    “writing off the cold fusion phenomenon as a boondoggle best buried in literature”
    a public project of questionable merit that typically involves political patronage and graft.
    “they each drew $600,000 in the final months of the great boondoggle”

    verb
    verb: boondoggle; 3rd person present: boondoggles; past tense: boondoggled; past participle: boondoggled; gerund or present participle: boondoggling

    1.
    waste money or time on unnecessary or questionable projects.

    Etymology

    The term arose from a 1935 New York Times report that more than $3 million had been spent on recreational activities for the jobless as part of the New Deal. Among these activities were crafts classes, where the production of “boon doggles,” described in the article as various utilitarian “gadgets” made with cloth or leather, were taught.[1]

    1. I remember crafting necklaces and other trinkets out of this plastic material being popular at some summer camps in the 70s – that was called “boondoggle” too. I thought it was supposed to be some Indian word.

      1. Forgotten tribal wisdom of the ancients.

        1. Clinton/Warren 2016: “At least our boondoggles aren’t cultural appropriation.”

  6. These things are not any more affordable on the East Coast. (I posted it already a couple of weeks ago.)

    Earlier this month the construction of the longest railway tunnel in the world was finished in Switzerland. The length of the tunnel is 35.5 miles. “[I]t is the world’s longest and deepest traffic tunnel and the first flat, low-level route through the Alps.” The cost of the project is $12 billion.

    Meanwhile in Boston the cost of the Green Line Extension of the light rail service is estimated to be $3 billion. The length of the extension is 4.3 miles. The Swiss tunnel is 8 times longer but it costs only 4 times more. The Boston project doesn’t require digging any tunnels in the Alps or anywhere. It’s above ground within the existing commuter rail right-of-way. Yes, there are already rail tracks there, probably the wrong kind, so they must be replaced.

    Anyway, how is it possible that a mile of the Green Line Extension in Boston costs twice as much as a mile of the longest tunnel in the world drilled through the heart of the Alps? And remember that Switzerland is a rich, expensive country. Swiss workers are well paid and they don’t hire cheap labor from South Asia like Qatar would do.

    1. Well how else to you propose we make this country more like “Europe”?

    2. We graft harder?

      1. Boston especially. I dunno what the dispensary situation there is like now, but one of the specialest features circa a couple years ago was the absurdly tiny number of commercial licences’ tendency to end up in the hands of cronies rather than the best qualified or most successful horticulturists (again, as of a couple years ago dispensaries could only sell what they grew themselves)

    3. Anyway, how is it possible that a mile of the Green Line Extension in Boston costs twice as much as a mile of the longest tunnel in the world drilled through the heart of the Alps?

      It’s spelled “K-I-C-K-B-A-C-K-S” or “G-R-A-F-T”.

    4. How many homes and business inside the Alps have to be compensated for removal?

      1. The project would provide Green Line service beyond a relocated Lechmere Station to College Avenue in Medford and to Union Square in Somerville using a two-branch operation, both to be operated within existing MBTA Commuter Rail rights-of-way.

        About as many as in Massachusetts.

    5. And the Swiss are going to have quite the shingdig when they officially open….a pity I won’t be there.

      1. It’s a country where every boob is covered by two shirts and a sweater.

        1. Sometimes, the joy of gift is in the unwrapping.

          1. Only the shitty gifts

    6. Here in NYC, the reconstruction of the World Trade Center complex is approaching its 15th year, and the work is still not finished; 3 World Trade Center is not scheduled to be completed until some time in 2018. The original WTC was built in only about seven years. It’s very hard to get real numbers about the cost of the reconstruction, but it appears that not only is it taking twice as long as the original, but it’s more expensive, too. Esquire had a pretty good article on why it was such a mess, three years ago.

      1. i think the “Bullshit!” episode was pretty good on the WTC fiasco as well

        1. Missed that one.

          The new PATH station is largely open now – I walk through it every day. 4 billion well spent, I say.

      2. I was just looking for figures for the “East Side Access” project – 10 billion and change to build a couple miles of tunnel hooking up the Long Island Rail Road with Grand Central. This includes a new terminal 14 stories under the existing underused platforms, because…?

      3. Which is how you know the Tappan Zee Bridge is in terrible condition, because the construction for the new one is going by quickly.

      4. The original WTC was built in only about seven years.

        The Empire State Building was built in less than 18 months.

    7. Boston is a democrat city.

  7. True Detective Season 2 was a mere shell of the show the first season was, but they certainly got the portrayal of high speed rail right.

    Meanwhile, from the shouty words PDF linked near the top:

    Around the world, private sector firms have invested in high-speed rail because of its profit generating potential. Generally, the private sector has provided up-front funding and financing to high-speed rail projects in return for the operating profits from running the systems. In 2011, a $11.3 billion (U.S.) concession contract between the state owned R?seau Ferr? de France (RFF) and LISEA, a company run by VINCI, was signed for the construction and operation of the Tours-Bourdeaux TGV high-speed rail line in France.

    And that must be why True Detective Season 2 took place in Vinci, California! Clever.

    1. Since private firms do so well on these, California should have no problem finding a private company to build their line, right?

  8. Moonbeam lies? My goodness!
    This slimebag was governor in the ’70s; a time of a big CA drought. Since then, he’s held various offices and had influence even when he wasn’t getting paid by the taxpayers.
    Since that time, CA population has doubled and moonbeam has not said one word or taken any action whatsoever to increase CA water storage provisions. Not one. This year, we got the Jesuit hair-shirt recommendations, which should be no surprise coming from a papist.
    Now, given his bleef in AGW, you’d think he’d devote some energy toward water storage. Nope; gotta be a choo-choo.

    1. Moonbeam is scum, I’m not surprised CA voted him back into power though. Even when Californians leave the state because it’s become unaffordable for them they want to vote the same idiot nonsense into reality everywhere they move to. It’s almost as if they are incapable of learning from their mistakes.

      I apologize to any sane Californians, I know you guys exist it’s just hard to locate one in the wild.

      1. This is one of the things that frustrates me the most. My family and I have been looking to move out of CA for some time now; one of the places we wanted to go was CO, but a bunch of CA transplants have started their slow demise of that state as well.

      2. Sane Californians are Ex-Californians.

  9. Various studies have been done about whether high-speed rail would make sense in the Edmonton-Red Deer-Calgary corridor in Alberta, Canada (about 180 miles/300 kilometres long). If it could work anywhere in the country, it could work there.

    Unfortunately, it just can’t. Under the most wildly-optimistic scenarios it still loses money hand over fist.

    1. “Unfortunately, it just can’t. Under the most wildly-optimistic scenarios it still loses money hand over fist.”

      Moonbeam and other leftoids have been pretending this one could at least break even with fares far below air-travel. Last numbers I saw had no line item for maintenance. As if it is built once and lasts forever. Easy to make money if you ignore major costs.
      And you know full well that maintenance will be done at hugely inflated union labor costs.

  10. trains are cool.

    1. Chooo chooo !

  11. On the plus side if we stop spending money on this we will be able to afford The Golden State Moon Base!

  12. The people in the video need to mellow out, or they will pay.

    1. +1 suede-denim secret police

      1. -1 uncool niece

  13. If this doesn’t clearly demonstrate the need for state AGs to investigate ExxonMobil for fraud, I don’t know what does.

    1. You got me, well done.

  14. Do you think if Claude Walker and his other AG buddies look at this they would think it was fraud?

  15. Stupid, evil, whatever.

  16. I can’t find my shocked face.

  17. California shows us the way. And it’s dattaway!

  18. “Trains!” “Trains!” growl the political zombies.

  19. I remember the first estimates of $98B construction costs and 90+M passengers. State population then would have required 2.5 trips a year for every single person, and 300K passengers a day … if you have 1000 passengers per train, that’s 300 trains, or one every 5 minutes. So if you have ten loading platforms, that’s loading 1000 passengers in under an hour.

    Nope.

    Then there’s the 220+ mph speed….. with the crowded, hilly peninsula south of San Francisco and the long steep Grapevine north of Los Angeles. If you restrict those two area to, say, 80 mph to keep the noise down, you’ve got to raise the average speed to well over 300 to keep the constitutionally-required trip time.

    Didn’t believe that one either.

  20. The WTC post above led to this, but I thought it fit better as a general comment.

    There was, earlier this year, a econtalk podcast on megaprojects (projects over $1B):

    10% are on budget
    10% are on time
    10% deliver the promised result

    Those 3 variables are basically independent, so the odds of getting all 3 are about 1 in 1000.

    1. That also means nearly 3/4ths (73%) hit none of the 3.

      Like the high speed rail project.

  21. Shovel Ready jobs!

  22. Well well. Obamacare on rails. Anyone see a pattern here?

  23. DEMOCRATS NEED TO SIT IN HARDER NOW! HOW MANY MORE HAVE TO DIE?

    http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/n…..-shooting/

  24. But, but, but,… the karz, think of all the karz, it will take off the roads. That makes any price worth it. It’s not real money anyway. We’re not gonna build any new powerplants either, cause we’re so green that we fart enough electricity to run all of the trains. Wait, powerplants make pollution? It’s a good thing so much of California’s power comes from Nevada and Arizona, those evil polluting bastards, damn them to hell. [/PROGRESSIVEMORONSTREAMOFPOINTLESSWORDS]

  25. Fantastic work-from-home opportunity for everyone… Works for three to eight hrs a day and start getting paid in the range of 5000-12000 dollars a month… Weekly payments…jm8

    SEE HERE====== http://www.wagemax30.com

  26. The goal is to waste the people’s money so they will poor and more easily controlled. It all makes perfect sense once you admit the truth about the mindset of the ruling class scumbags. They know exactly what they are doing.

  27. The frisky part of me hopes they go ahead with this CA HSR disaster. It will be like the Pyramids ? strange abandoned structures and vehicles out in the wilderness serving no discernible purpose ? a monument to government stupidity. It won’t even have the tourist draw of the older pyramids.

  28. Per passenger mile, passenger rail gets RIDICULOUSLY high taxpayer subsidies
    by Richard Rider

    One of the many fatuous defenses of taxpayer subsidies for HSR (and passenger rail in general) is that “taxpayers subsidize all forms of transportation.” While technically true, the MAGNITUDE of the subsidies are what’s worth considering, using the per passenger mile standard for comparison.

    To start with, gasoline taxes, airline ticket taxes and other such levies are user fees — paid only by those who use that mode of transportation. They are not “taxpayer subsidies.” While such user fees are sometimes high-jacked by politicians for unrelated spending, that’s not the travelers’ fault, nor is it thus a taxpayer subsidy for that method of travel. But over and above such user fees, taxpayers do pay significant dollars to subsidize the various modes of transportation.

    Here’s the latest federal data on such subsidies:

    Federal subsidy dollars — 2002-2009 — per passenger mile.

    Commercial air — 0.809 cents per mile (8/10 of one cent per mile)

    Automobile –0.006 (essentially nothing)

    Private sector buses — 0.050 (5/100th of one cent)

    Intercity rail (Amtrak) –25.364 cents — over 31 times more than commercial air subsidies

    Mass transit — 19.264 cents

    http://www.buses.org/assets/im…..ral/Report – Modal Subsidies – ABA.pdf
    Table 12 on page 24

  29. before I looked at the draft saying $9453 , I have faith that my mother in law woz like truley erning money part time at there computar. . there mums best friend haz done this 4 less than 14 months and just repayed the dept on their apartment and purchased a brand new Honda . read here …..

    Please click the link below
    ==========
    http://www.selfcash10.com

  30. before I looked at the draft saying $9453 , I have faith that my mother in law woz like truley erning money part time at there computar. . there mums best friend haz done this 4 less than 14 months and just repayed the dept on their apartment and purchased a brand new Honda . read here …..

    Please click the link below
    ==========
    http://www.selfcash10.com

  31. before I saw the bank draft which had said $9426 , I didnt believe that…my… brother woz like actualy earning money part-time at there labtop. . there uncles cousin has done this 4 less than fifteen months and by now repaid the dept on there place and got a great new Mini Cooper . read the full info here …

    Clik This Link inYour Browser??

    ? ? ? ? http://www.SelfCash10.com

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.