Infrastructure

High-Speed Rail Advocates Should Pay Attention to California's Costly Disaster

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg says we should be "dreaming big." But the Golden State's vaunted high-speed rail project is turning out to be a train to nowhere.

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With a Democrat in the White House and a $2.2 trillion infrastructure plan on the table, excitement about high-speed rail is on the rise again. A map by graphic designer and transit advocate Alfred Twu, featuring possible routes for bullet train lines crisscrossing the U.S., has been making the rounds on Twitter. The map was the subject of a recent Vox article that was tweeted out by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

"Gen Z is dreaming big," he wrote. "It's time we all did the same."

"I want her so fucking much," which was accompanied by a picture of Twu's map, was how one viral tweet summed up the prevailing mood back in January of 2020.

But anyone taking the promise of high-speed rail seriously should consider California's disastrous attempt to build a bullet train in recent years—the project is unfinished and over budget, and one of its key political backers has turned against it.

Building high-speed rail requires bulldozing neighborhoods and disrupting communities, and would be a drain on a state's finances if completed. In 2009, President Barack Obama proposed building 8,600 miles of high-speed rail and received $10.1 billion from Congress toward that goal. The money went to upgrading Amtrak instead.

The Cato Institute's Randal O'Toole estimates that based on the costs and setbacks of the California project, building 8,600 miles of high-speed rail would have cost "well over $1 trillion dollars."

Buttigieg's definition of "dreaming big" is applying 20th-century technology to 21st-century problems.

When funding for the initial part of the California High-Speed Rail line was voted on in 2008, it was supposed to link Los Angeles with San Francisco for about $33 billion and take about a decade to complete. As the years dragged on, the cost ballooned to $100 billion at one point and the project had to be scaled back significantly to a shorter section between Merced and Bakersfield in California's Central Valley.

Even with all the setbacks, including a lack of private investment that champions of the California rail line were always banking on, local California politicians continue to push for federal dollars.

During the 2020 presidential campaign, Joe Biden promised to make sure that America had the "cleanest, safest, and fastest rail system in the world." Buttigieg and Congress should pay more attention to California's costly disaster than a map circulating on Twitter.

 

Produced by Paul Detrick

Music: "Hall of the Mountain King" by Kevin MacLeod, Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Photos: Murray/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom, Oliver Contreras / Pool via CNP / SplashNews/Newscom, Ken Cantrell/ZUMA Press/Newscom, Gary Reyes/TNS/Newscom, Photo 98224660 © Blackzheep | Dreamstime.com, Photo 136151613 © Cougarsan | Dreamstime.com

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  1. “The Cato Institute’s Randal O’Toole estimates that based on the costs and setbacks of the California project, building 8,600 miles of high-speed rail would have cost “well over $1 trillion dollars.””

    Guess much unspent stimulus money is floating around the pork barrels?
    We can start tomorrow.

    1. Trillion is the new billion.

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      2. You got that right. Without the money to pay for it.

    2. I also caught this line. I mean, those are fuckin’ amateur numbers these days.

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    5. Plus you failed to mention the CA Merced to Bakersfield route is not high speed rail, but a glorified train. We have to stop this madness . . .

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  2. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg

    The same guy caught getting out of an SUV, getting his bike, riding half a mile, then telling everybody nobody needs a car cause they can all bike to work?

    That guy?

    1. Well, I’d rather see that than see him ride a staffer to the office.

      1. By the looks of it, staffers ride him.

    2. The seat on the bike is shaped like a dick.

      1. Indeed. I present to you an innovative new advance in exercise bike design from Mac…….

        The Asspounder 4000!

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EFp_siKDb4U

    3. Just ask the people of South Bend, In. what kind of mayor he turned out to be.

  3. Yep, they are talking rail around here again. What a waste. Now. If the trains never stopped and you accelerated cars full passengers to catch or drop off the nonstop main portion of the train, you could average 80 mph easily. Currently with start and stopping of the entire train, you end up with ~30 mph. Flying has always been less money (and time) than any train trip for my family of four on any of our vacations. This will not fix that. And I really like to ride in trains but this is just stupid.

    1. Progressives love rail – people all going the same way, the only way, together at the same time. None of that awful driving around in different directions at different times to unapproved destinations.
      We need to be like sheep, not a bunch of house cats.

      1. The also love traffic circles, which go back to the Roman Empire. 2000 year old traffic control technology.

        They haven’t had a new idea in centuries.

        1. Shall we discuss their love of windmills in this thread?

        2. Matthew is ignoring data. Not good for a person subscribed to reason.com
          Rome built and empire that has been unmatched. They weren’t stupid.
          Current traffic engineering analyses says traffic circles (roundabouts) as more efficient (faster at getting traffic thru), safer and cheaper to maintain, especially compared to 4-way stops and traffic lights. Experience tells most of us (at least those who have driven in other countries a bit.) this is likely true. And that’s why they are slowly increasing in this country as well. Bring ’em on.

          1. Rome built and empire that has been unmatched.

            The Mongols, the Arabs, the Macedonians, and the British would like to have a word with you.

            1. The Macedonian and Mongol empires shattered relatively quickly after their founder died. The Khans began bickering and separated within two generations, and Alexander’s generals took their sections of the empire and promptly tore each other apart, with only Ptolemy’s Egypt standing before long.

              The Arab Caliphate lasted a bit longer, but still had heavy problems with the succession that have lasted to this day. There was a reason that the Turks, a minority group that was initially repressed, became ascendant and were the face of Islam for nearly a millennium.

      2. Packed in like cattle…

      3. I love the idea of rail, but at what cost? Paired that with the fact that the Democrats seem to be more interested in making sure every member of their cabinet is gay, trans, a woman, whatever, instead of looking at qualifications first. I’m as gay as they come, and I couldn’t care less who is or isn’t gay. Why is who we sleep with part of who we are, and what decisions we are making on this level. Great Pete, good for you that you’re gay, but really? And yes, if the government can screw it up they will.

    2. That’s always been my impression of Amtrak, at best its the same price as flying, but takes longer. Unless the small town you are going to happens to have an Amtrak station you still have to rent a car for for a few days so other than experience of taking a train you get nothing over flying or driving. This high speed rail system is even worse, fewer destinations than flying, and probably will cost more than Amtrak

    3. Well, I’d rather see that than see him ride a staffer to the office. ipl tickets

  4. As the years dragged on, the cost ballooned to $100 billion at one point and the project had to be scaled back significantly to a shorter section between Merced and Bakersfield in California’s Central Valley

    To be clear, Merced is about 60 miles north of Fresno, Bakersfield is about 100 miles south of Fresno (which is 190 miles from SF and 220 miles from LA). This is the flattest 160-mile stretch in the state, mostly farmland. To get from Merced to SF, you cross mountains; to get from Bakersfield to LA, you cross even taller mountains.

    Was there a planned route for crossing either of these ranges when the project was approved? No.

    So the train doesn’t even connect two major cities. It connects one mid-sized Valley city with its exurbs.

    And what’s the new estimated date of operation? 2030.

    1. > to get from Bakersfield to LA, you cross even taller mountains.

      One of the more notorious hills for truckers in the country, even. Good old Grapevine. It’s not quite Cabbage, but I’ve crossed that route at 19 mph in 5th gear a couple of times.

      1. One of the more notorious hills for truckers in the country, even. Good old Grapevine.

        Yeah – I had an uncle who traversed it regularly, and I think it took several years off of his life. It’s not even feasible for trains – the existing freight lines cross at the much-more-gently-sloped Tehachapi and come down through the Mojave Desert.

        So maybe one day we’ll have high-speed rail connecting Merced with Palmdale?

        1. I would believe that. The first time I did it I was really glad I had a light load. I’ve also done it at max legal weight, which was significantly less fun.

          Also, it’s funny to think of Tehachapi as more gently sloped. I mean, it’s accurate, but that crossing on 58 is still kind of a grind.

          1. Well, “more gently sloped” than Grapevine is a pretty low bar to clear. Plus, the trains have a tunnel that saves them the last couple hundred vertical feet at Tehachapi. If you tried to do a tunnel at Grapevine, I think it would have to be 20 miles long or more.

            Fun fact – it wasn’t originally named “Grapevine” due to it’s being steep and winding, but because of the wild grapes that grow in the ravine downslope from Tejon.

            1. No, having driven them both I definitely get it, and it’s accurate. Just, still humorous. I “lucked” across an 11% grade with a 77k load a few weeks ago. That was unpleasantly slow.

              I actually knew that about the grapes! 😀

            2. 20 mile tunnel? Call Elon Musk! Put his Boring Company on the task. In fact, given the politics of creating right-of-way and impacting the environment throughout the state, California would probably build a straighter, cheaper, more level HSR quicker if it just tunneled the entire thing.

              1. It can’t be straight! That would be homophobic, and somehow racist.

          2. Reading your conversation sounds like the lyrics to one of the greatest trucking songs of all time.

            “And I’ve been from Tucson to Tucumcari
            Tehachapi to Tonopah
            Driven every kind of rig that’s ever been made
            Driven the back roads so I wouldn’t get weighed
            And if you give me; weed, whites, and wine
            And you show me a sign
            I’ll be willin’, to be movin'”

        2. more likely you might eventually connect Merced with Redding, at about a billion per mile.

    2. I haven’t bothered checking, lately, but last I saw, the electric train in Los Angeles, which is what passes for mass transit in LA, didn’t run to the airport. It stopped a few blocks short in one of the scarier parts of town. If you want to take mass transit to the airport, you need to take a cab or use a ride sharing service.

      From the Beach Cities (which are just south of LAX), it typically takes longer to get from the tram station at the airport to the airport than it does to get fly LAX to McCarren airport in Las Vegas.

      The train does the same thing in Las Vegas. The casinos don’t want to make it easy for people to get from their casino to a competing casino, so the monorail doesn’t only connects to the convention center and one company’s casinos. Meanwhile, neither the cab companies nor the ride share services want the monorail to connect the airport to the Las Vegas Strip–so it doesn’t.

      Nothing happens in Las Vegas (or Nevada) if the casinos don’t want it to happen, and if the casinos want something to happen, nothing can stop it from happening. If they connected their casinos to the airport, the casinos would be connected to each other–and customers could move freely between them without much effort. If you ever notice, it’s really easy to get into a casino from the street–with motorized sidewalks and everything. It’s a long walk in 108 degree weather to get out. That is not by accident.

      You can’t build the infrastructure necessary to put a train through the state legislature, the federal government, all those counties, and all those municipalities without having the interests of each and every one of them use the process to their advantage. They got away with building all those railroads in the 19th century by violating people’s rights left and right–including the people who were laying the track.

      1. We had similar fights trying to get BART into Oakland Airport (which it finally does).

        I was still living in Orange County when the discussions over a rail system in LA started, and I think everyone at the time assumed that whatever system ultimately got developed would go from nowhere to nowhere and no one would ride it. Long Beach seems to have done a decent job, but Long Beach has a real city center in a way that most So Cal cities don’t.

        I completely agree that all of these problems with developing our state system would be only compounded on the federal level. By the time all the interests get served, it won’t do anything, won’t go anywhere, and won’t be anyways near as cheap as $1T.

        In fact, if our HSR system is the precedent, no part of it will ever even be completed.

        1. Aww, you mean the next time I fly into OAK I won’t have to take good old AirBart?

          1. Nope. But the system they put in is odd. It’s more a “people-mover” that takes you to Colosseum Station, where you can then transfer to BART (thankfully without leaving Colosseum Station, which is in the very shittiest part of Oakland).

        2. I used to use CalTrain from the SF airport, back when the connecting bus was free. When they connected Bart they ruined it. They made it take longer and cost more.

          1. I avoid SFO like the plague. I’m coming from the East Bay where CalTrain doesn’t go, so bringing BART in was a net improvement for getting there, but once you’re there it’s so much worse than it used to be I also am not sure it was worth the tradeoff. OAK is still almost a “small” airport and relatively easy to deal with.

      2. In Chicago, for a long time, there was very poor public transit access to either airports.
        Cab companies ( should read 1 individual owned 2 cab companies that had 80% of the licenses.) and the then privately owned commuter rail put the kabosh on public transit lines. Both airports are now served by the el. However that service now brings in the homeless to camp out at the airport. It also brings about the political hiring of personnel that leads things like this https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O%27Hare_station_train_crash

      3. The graft, General. Don’t forget the graft.

    3. Man, hope we have those metal things that fly in the air by then.

      1. Canon balls?

  5. Took some slow European trains in Germany and Belgium 15 years ago.
    I rode trains on an Italian vacation 5 years ago. Made every connection and the trains awesome.
    Rode the Japanese bullet trains 20 years ago. Also awesome.
    I did ride an Amtrak/light rail last year from Los Angelos to San Diego. Slow, but nice.
    I used to depend on Amtrak being late from Atlanta to Greenville, SC so I could catch that from my flight into Atlanta.
    As much traveling as I have done, I find I go out of my way to ride a train. Europe – yes. The U.S, Nope.

    1. Thank God you don’t have a train to ride here in the U.S. I’d rather keep my money and spend it on myself. I don’t give a shit about you or how much you enjoy riding trains at my expense.

      1. “Last year, the organization lost more than $170 million. Amtrak board chair Tony Coscia said the investments “have put us on track to break even in 2020, which would be a first in Amtrak’s history.”

        https://www.businesstravelnews.com/Procurement/Amtrak-Shrinks-Operating-Loss-to-Record-Low-in-FY2019

        Amtrak lost $800 million in 2020, which means, if that statement I quoted is correct, they’ve never once broken even.

        1. And, per your tradeoff comment below, thanks to lockdowns, social distancing, and lower capacity limits, can’t possibly make up the ground in the foreseeable future.

        2. Remember that Amtrak is saddled with union labor and overhanging retirees. Indeed, Amtrak was created in order to preserve the retirement benefits of the many thousands who would have been kicked to the curb if the railroads had gone kaput back when they were abandoning long-distance passenger service.

          Though most of the retirees taken on in 1971 have since died off, Amtrak’s union contracts have perpetuated the retirement bloat that virtually guarantees that Amtrak will never show a “profit”. However, if the routes were sold off to private, non-union operators, passenger rail could turn profitable (but tax-payers would still be left holding the retirement bag for decades to come).

        3. Hunter Biden is, or at least was, on the Amtrak board. As a non practicing lawyer, and crack addict, he is clearly an expert on mass transit. Amtrak’s ongoing performance reflects this expertise.

          1. Used to be, in his own words, “Vice-Chairman of the Board.” I thought first word most ironic.

      2. I do agree with you. Figured I would ride them before they were canceled due to being uneconomical in the U.S.

        1. Yeah – I used to commute from Richmond to Davis by Amtrak and it was great – sit in the dining car, have a beer, and watch the salt marshes go by.

          But you can’t ride Amtrak regularly and wind up thinking to yourself “my, what a clearly self-sustaining system!”

        2. Oh, they basically stopped being uneconomical for passengers before any of us were born.

          But that’s what government is for;)

          Trains are fine for moving freight. Passenger rails, however, require a lot more maintenance and alignment or you’re rocked all over the place and its a really uncomfortable ride.

          The only places rail is profitable is in the really dense NE corridors. Everywhere else Amtrak loses money on passenger rail and there are basically no private companies – which should be a major clue to anyone paying attention that you can’t make money on passenger rail in the West.

          1. Another thing to consider in the split between passenger and freight when considering Europe versus the US is that for all the trucks that you are on the road here, Europe has a far higher percentage of their freight moved that way. They’ve chosen to optimize their rail for passenger service, whereas we move a lot more of our freight that way. Without the construction of a whole new network, if we tried to move passengers the way Europe does, we’d need a *lot* more trucks on the road. Ultimately, we’ve made the more environmentally sound choice here. Not that you’d ever get anyone to admit it.

    2. It takes a Mussolini to make a train run on time.

    3. I used to depend on Amtrak being late

      That’s funny – I used to do that, too. Around 2004-2005 it seems like they started making an effort to stop being so reliably late, and I actually missed a couple of trains. Haven’t commuted by train since 2005, so I don’t know whether that persisted.

      1. Amtrak’s trains still run the same reliable times. It’s the published schedules that have changed to match the reliable lateness, thus making it the new “on time”.

  6. You think they care?

  7. So, if we dump enough money into high speed rail, are we going to cut back on subsidizing EVs? Or are we going to fund both competitively, scratch our heads when they both fail, and then pledge to fund them both more ridiculously? Actually, forget I asked.

    1. Being progressive is also about not believing in trade offs, at least not in public.

      To social justice warriors, believing in trade offs is racist, homophobic, xenophobic, and misogynistic.

      1. Yup. Continue to maintain barriers against nuclear power, subsidize EVs and high-speed rail, and then wonder why there isn’t enough energy and more people don’t use EVs or high-speed rail.

    2. Depends. How much of that EV subsidy is getting kicked back to the party and its inner members?

    3. The latter.

      Especially once self-driving actually works and that makes rail obsolete anyway.

      1. I’m hoping to start a new job soon at a place working on autonomous vehicles in the commercial sector. 😀

      2. If you look at the history of annual passenger-ship miles, you’ll begin to understand why rail travel will never be obsolete, only repurposed.

        What’s needed here is not an end to rail travel but a privatization (and perhaps access to the same labor pool used on large cruise lines).

    4. No. Train ridership will never have significant market share, no matter how much money they burn on it.

  8. Three times the price for a third of the benefit. Sounds like a government project. One that Joe would love except that bill would fund none of it. It’s a gimme to payback loyalists, lobbyists, cronies, and other democrat bootlickers with inflated dollars. More of your retirement funds devalued, and your grandkids left with the bill.

    1. Three times the price for a third of the benefit.

      Weirdly, a lot of us predicted this outcome at the time. Even speculated that no train would ever actually run on those tracks.

  9. I love trains, too. I “f*****g love them. But mine is in a spare room. I will never understand why politicians expect the taxpayers to fund their childhood fantasies.

    1. You assume their childhood fantasy is to build trains rather than just having taxpayers fund your fantasies. If I were a little more morally flexible, I’d absolutely save you 90% the money being spent on high speed rail by rolling naked in the other 10% with a handful of hookers. I’d even tolerate you slandering me as a just-as-bad-as-democrats, spendthrift Republican because I’m just that magnanimous.

      1. There’s even perhaps a little more to it than just childhood fantasies.

        Worth noting that the award rules were actually changed after bids were received to make sure Feinstein’s husband’s company was involved in the contract despite their lack of experience digging tunnels (a major portion of the scope).

  10. Part of California High Speed Rail’s problem is that it is in California, which is pretty much the worst possible place to try to do any major construction, and one of the worse governments to manage a major procurement. They have spent over a billion dollars just getting permits.

    Will be interesting to watch Brightline and Texas Central: two private efforts in red states to build high speed rail. I suspect they are both doomed as ridership won’t pan out, but at least the construction cost won’t be totally unmanageable.

    1. It could work if the demand is there. Particularly if there’s a lot of short-haul air traffic along those routes and there’s ample rental car capacity at the stations (bike sharing is not an acceptable form of transportation at the destination), then it should be competitive with said air travel.

      It’s not that high speed rail is inherently bad, it’s that central planners want their choo-choos regardless of whether the circumstances justify them.

      1. > It’s not that high speed rail is inherently bad, it’s that central planners want their choo-choos regardless of whether the circumstances justify them.

        *glares balefully at the RailRunner in New Mexico*

      2. Don’t get me wrong: I am rooting for them. Air travel is miserable and entrepreneurs/investors putting their own money on the line to make it better? Heck yeah!

        However, before the pandemic shut them down, Brightline was losing tons of money and my read of their financial statements was that they would need an unrealisticly large increase in passengers to be able to pay the interest on their construction loans. I suspect there is a viable business there, especially once they connect Disney World, but it will be viable for whoever buys them out of bankruptcy, not for the starry eyed folks laying track right now.

        Texas Central is, technically, all sorts of great. Mature, fast technology. Connecting two mega cities that are reasonably close together. Only one intermediate stop, in an area with one of Texas’ flagship universities and that that could grow with better connections to two of America’s largest hub airports (and large economies in their own right). Mostly follows an existing utility corridor. I’m just not sure whether, at the end of the day that Texans are going to be willing to drive to a station, take the train, then rent a car, when they could just drive.

        1. entrepreneurs/investors putting their own money on the line to make it better?

          Yeah, well, the thing is – they’re not actually doing that. As the article points out, there’s basically no private investment in CA’s HSR. Because no one thinks you can make money running it.

          And there’s no reason to assume that a line from LA to DC would fair any better.

          1. I was talking about the private efforts by Brightline and Texas Central to build passenger rail.

            I have nothing favorable to say about CA HSR.

      3. Its isn’t there.

        The shorthaul air travel will still be price-competitive while blowing the rail travel times out of the water.

        And you’ll still need to rent a car at the end no matter which you take.

        For passenger transit, basically anything under 300 miles is car, anything over is plane with the preference shifting from one to the other as the distance increases.

        For those price sensitive but not time sensitive the sensible option is *bus*, not rail, for long-distance travel.

        There is simply no room for rail – or else there wouldn’t need to be a government program to force it. Essentially, if the demand was there then someone would already have been doing it.

      4. “It’s not that high speed rail is inherently bad….”. That depends on your definition of bad. To me something is bad if it has to be subsidized. Anything can be made good if you throw enough money at it. No high speed rail system in the world can make it on its own. They are all subsidized in some way. So yes, high speed rail is inherently bad.

        1. I wonder if HSR would need subsidies if government policies were different (allow non-union labor, use sane environmental impact reports, quash NIMBY nuisance litigation, allow capitalists to build where there’s a market instead of zig-zagging to stop in every state legislative district etc etc etc).

          Again, I like Elon Musk’s “Boring Company” for this because one long tunnel could stay straight and level while slipping under all the NIMBYs. It may seem expensive at first glance, but back when Cal first proposed HSR, I predicted that the ultimate cost would exceed the cost of simply drilling straight tunnel from SF to SJ to LA to SD with interpolated stops only where convenient.

          And I made that prediction *before* the Boring Company. It only looks better now.

    2. The bright line system is not going to be “high speed rail “.
      Parts of it are projected to run at about 100 mph.
      It’s already running from Fort Lauderdale to Miami at regular train speeds.
      There are no plans to make it go any faster on that leg.
      It’s very expensive, and they do not allow you to bring your concealed carry gun onto the train.
      It also does not go anywhere a person would like to visit as it only stops in the nowheresville of Brickell.
      It doesn’t go to Miami beach, it doesn’t go to Coconut Grove, it doesn’t go to the Dadeland Mall. So you still have to take an Uber when you get to Brickell.
      Since I want my gun with me when I get to high crime Miami, I just take my car.
      One of the main drawbacks with the bright line is that it does not plan to go directly to any hotels.
      So you will have to schlep your baggage at both ends of the train ride on to the Uber that’s going to take you from the Disney Springs station to the hotel.
      And from Uber into the hotel.
      It will be faster to drive with less loading and unloading of luggage if you take your car.

    3. The fact that it’s inherently dumb and technologically backward are the real issues.

      Being in California is a tailwind politically and California is comfortable burning other people’s money and getting little or nothing in return. It’s also a headwind because of all the California government nonsense. They partly balance each other out.

      But a 4 hour rail trip isn’t competitive with a 45 minute flight in any state.

      1. That depends on how airport security theater is running at any point in time. Also depends on exactly where airports and train stations are located. In many urban areas, the Amtrak station is walking distance from convention center and hotels. Airports are often 30+ miles from anything (try flying into Houston sometime).

    4. Another reason is that Commiefornia is filled with NIMBYs. Rich ones at that. You know, the ones who support all those socialist programs but use as many tax dodges possible, the pop stars, movie actors and actresses…… the ones who scold the rest of us for not being green/LGBTQ or whatever the next fave liberal progressive rot becomes popular.

  11. Why use trains when we already have planes that take us everywhere at minimal cost. Its clear they are getting paid off to build trains that are not needed.

    1. I’m not gonna lie, I’d love to take an airship trip some time. My understanding is that, as long as you can sacrifice the time, their energy efficiency is unmatched. More critical to the issue at hand, they literally sail over the zoning, construction, and environmental requirements to both to put in and maintain rail of any kind.

      1. they literally sail over the zoning, construction, and environmental requirements to both to put in and maintain rail of any kind.

        Airplanes already do that.

        And they’re pretty efficient. Efficient enough that the costs of fuel are a small enough percentage that airships can’t compete on price – because they’re facing the same fixed operating costs as aircraft with the only savings coming from reduced fuel usage.

        So it comes down to time-sensitivity. Do you want to spend 3-4 days of your time off to fly slowly to and from your destination or do you want to get there in a few hours?

        This would jack the prices way back up – as now you need increased staff and room and just in general shit for passengers to occupy themselves. It could certainly be a luxurious way to travel but only the super-rich (who would be really time-sensitive and so wouldn’t as there’s nothing on the airship that they can’t get better at their destination hotel) or the moderately wealthy retirees – who have nothing but time.

        It would be a curiosity to take an airship trip much like how for most people its a curiosity to take a train trip.

        1. “…This would jack the prices way back up – as now you need increased staff and room and just in general shit for passengers to occupy themselves…”

          Imagine the staff required to serve the meals, for pete’s sake, let a long the storage of the food itself.
          Prolly not gonna attract any start-up money.

      2. So does a DC-3, but it does it at greater passenger capacity than a blimp, uses no increasingly rare helium, and does it at an average speed HIGHER than high-speed rail.

      3. Seems like several people missed my point. Rail can’t match powered-flight’s speed either and if we’re building things that aren’t needed, airships are cheaper, have less impact, and (IMO) in an Elon Musk future-technology-sense are more needed than rail.

        Moreover, above lower altitudes, solar power becomes more capable and the atmosphere can’t be relied upon for lift; the distinction between powered, heavier-than-air-flight and boyant flight becomes moot. Again, getting a bit Elon Musk-y, we aren’t going to leave our solar system (or stay in it) and settle on planets like Venus, Saturn, or Jupiter without making use of boyant flight.

        And the cost issue is stupid in the background of billion-dollar railroads to nowhere and millionaires taking orbital flights to nowhere. Especially a century after thousands upon thousands of people who weren’t anywhere near wealthy by 21st century standards actually did use boyant flight to get from A to B.

  12. “Building high-speed rail requires bulldozing neighborhoods and disrupting communities, and would be a drain on a state’s finances if completed”

    So much the better.

    1. So does building freeway systems, as the infrastructure gradually becomes inadequate and needs upgrading. Driven in the SF Bay Area recently?

  13. possible routes for bullet train lines crisscrossing the U.S.

    Yes, take 3 times as long as a 737 to go NY-LAX. The plane requires 2 miles of runway at each end. The train requires 6000+ miles of track (allowing traffic in 2 directions), seized through eminent domain, held up in environmental permitting, then in labor disputes and general graft.

    Also (from CIA World Factbook):
    USA – 5,054 airports with paved runways (larger than most of the planet combined)
    China – 510.

    We’re built on aviation. And we still have more standard rail than China. By far.

    1. Democrats are working on changing that. By transferring our wealth to China, while keeping a taste for themselves.

  14. Want to know why China can build high-speed rail and we can’t?

    The Chinese don’t give two wet rat turds about environmental concerns. All they care about is getting things built. We had that mentality from the post-Civil War period all the way through the early 1960s. Now we wonder why we can’t get any major infrastructure project built without it costing a fortune and taking years to go through a vetting process.

    1. Biden should build a high speed railroad from Mexico’s southern border to the nearest welfare office in Texas.

      1. He wouldn’t have to go far, the Rio Grande Valley has some of the poorest towns in the state.

    2. All they care about is getting things built.

      And as we saw with the Three Gorges Dam, they’re fine Imminent-Domaining entire regions.

      1. Eminent domain is easy when negotiation ends in a 1-way trip to a camp in Xinjiang province.

        1. The needs of the many, comrade.

      2. Yep. Of course, Three Gorges always seems to be on the verge of collapse, too. China’s engineering projects seem to have the same useful life as their manufactured goods.

  15. Who the fuck are these people who have time to take a goddamned train across the country?

    Even a ‘bullet’ train is going to be more expensive *and take longer* than flying – and there’s all that land that will need to be tied up in railway rather than just the point-to-point infrastructure for flying.

    I remember back in the mid-1990’s I was in San Diego and would travel back to Tucson to visit my parents. The first few times I took Greyhound. 50 bucks and 13 hours one way. Then I looked at flight prices – 75 dollars and ONE HOUR. My time was not so valueless that I would consider trading 12 hours of my life for 25 dollars so I flew from then on.

    You can’t even make the ‘avoid the airport security hassle’ – TSA harasses ground travelers too nowadays.

    1. Even a ‘bullet’ train is going to be more expensive *and take longer* than flying

      Feature, not bug. Train-loving elites know that the cost means not having to share space with “those people”.

      1. Funnily – those elites won’t be taking the train. They’ll have private drivers and charter aircraft.

    2. There are several types of passengers on Amtrak. Many are retired and take the train for the same reasons that they take cruises.

      The amount of land consumed by rails is surprisingly small. So small that many states charge extra on rural RR property taxes in order to “be fair”.

    3. Who the fuck are these people who have time to take a goddamned train across the country?

      With a stable internet connection a good portion of the country is going on something like 14 mos. to get from point A to point B. Again, not defending billion-dollar government spending on unneeded rail, but if someone’s earned the time off and has the money, who are we to say they shouldn’t get to ride a train?

  16. “””Joe Biden promised to make sure that America had the “cleanest, safest, and fastest rail system in the world.” “””

    That’s so 19th century.

    1. The video of him attempting to drive the Golden Spike at the end should be fucking hilarious, though.

      1. Between Joe missing and the Secret Service holding Kamala back to keep her from sucking on it, it should be a laugh riot.

  17. Amtrak polls pretty popular due to nostalgia and relentless propaganda that the train takes traffic off the roads (thus winning the votes of commuters stalled in traffic jams.) Those afraid to fly, rail buffs, and greenies have a much bigger lobby (National Association of Railroad Passengers) than do the millions whose tax contribution to Amtrak is mere pennies.
    Someone once calculated that each long distance Amtrak train could be replaced by five or six luxury buses on the Interstate, but would free up track time for another container train that could take 200 big rigs off the Interstates. Boston to New York to D.C. might make economic and environmental sense for trains, but the rest of the system doesn’t.

    1. Boston to New York to D.C. might make economic and environmental sense for trains, but the rest of the system doesn’t.

      Its the same with light rail – the places where light rail works are extremely high density. High enough density that *heavy rail* is profitable.

      The push for light rail out here in the West is insane. And there’s no place that’s dense enough for it to make money.

      What should be the final nail in the coffin is the existence of buses. Even the original light rail systems were all abandoned as soon as buses were invented. And there’s been no tech breakthrough since that makes light rail better.

      1. “What should be the final nail in the coffin is the existence of buses.”

        Nowadays it’s the other way around . In Phoenix, for example, when light rail eats through all its subsidies, we cut back on bus service to shovel more money to the train. “See?! Bus ridership is decreasing, rail is increasing! Just like we said it would!”. So that the hipster can get downtown, while the (likely Hispanic) cleaning lady has to find another way to get to work.

        1. That’s how it works in Denver, too. To be fair, some lines have been cut back.

      2. The push for light rail out here in the West is insane. And there’s no place that’s dense enough for it to make money.

        It’s all nostalgia here, and has been for decades. Other than the rush hour periods on certain lines, light rail in Denver doesn’t come close to paying for itself, and RTD has a long-documented history of overselling and underdelivering. These lines have never met ridership projections. On the east side, they stupidly put in two lines going down I-225, which nobody uses because it’s faster to drive from Aurora to Denver than to go that route, and the people who live in Centennial are all wealthy or high upper middle class and don’t need to. It would have made more sense from a us agestandpoint to build it along Colfax or Alameda/Speer (the 15 bus route along Colfax has the highest ridership usage in the system), but the economic upheaval from the construction would have been enormous.

        What’s hilarious is that the one line which would have gotten enthusiastic ridership, the one from Boulder to Union Station, got axed and a toll lane was put in instead. If you want to get on a light rail on the northwest side, you have to go to Westminster.

    2. Before the ‘rona, I was scheduled to go to Boston from DC (pleasure not business). I thought it might be an interesting experience for the girlie and I to take the train.

      That feeling passed rapidly as soon as I saw the ticket prices and time-in-transit.

  18. “Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”

    ― Ronald Reagan

  19. If high speed rail is such a great investment the private sector would have done it already.

    Government, THIS TYPE OF SHIT ISN’T YOUR JOB.

    1. If high speed rail is such a great investment the private sector would have done it already.

      They did. And then government put them out of business by building lots and lots of roads. And airports. And subsidizing the development of airliners via huge defense contracts with the companies that built them.

      1. “…And subsidizing the development of airliners via huge defense contracts with the companies that built them…”

        Yeah, that DC3 was a government, uh….
        Fuck off, slaver.

        1. You seem nice.

          Yes, Douglas developed the DC-3 on its own (although air travel back then was subsidized by government in the form of airmail). But mass travel by air wasn’t a thing until the development of jet engines and high-speed airframes – the development of which was heavily subsidized by various governments (including the Third Reich, of course).

          1. “But mass travel by air wasn’t a thing until the development of jet engines and high-speed airframes”

            Bullshit.
            Fuck off, slaver.

  20. I am confused – this article seems to insinuate that California fucked something up. I know that can’t be true, because they do everything right at the most efficient cost, right?

    Right?

    1. No. Even the most pro-California folks believe that the first decade of this project were totally f’ed up. They just believe that now that lessons have been learned and the worst folks have been replaced that things will now go according to plan. Which, even if true, the problem is that the current plan is three times more expensive than what voters approved, and will require the state to chip in seven times as much as originally planned.

    2. The original estimate for LA to SF was 33 billion dollars, with service starting in 2020 (LOL).

      Now they’re talking about 100 billion, with service starting on the fifth of Never, sometime in the 2030s. We’ll be on Mars by then.

  21. HSR: Taking you from where your aren’t to where you don’t want to be for a lot of money!

  22. A high-speed rail network connecting major urban areas with the re-education camps is a totally doable plan. When you consider that Americans spend some $300 billion on private vehicles every year, once private vehicles are outlawed there will be plenty of money available to fund the railroads. And once people are required by law to use the trains, well the question of how many passengers will voluntarily use the railroads kinda becomes a moot point.

  23. It seems that only the Anglosphere is bad at building HSR. Japan, China, Taiwan and South Korea did just fine. As did France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland, Switzerland (kinda).

    What’s going to happen in California when the roads between SF and LA are congested all of the time and the airports are running at capacity (which they’re fairly close to doing now for large parts of each day)? The private sector is going to come to the rescue? How?

    There’s no way to do transportation infrastructure without government, because there’s no way to do it without liberal use of eminent domain and huge infusions of capital.

    1. “…What’s going to happen in California when the roads between SF and LA are congested all of the time and the airports are running at capacity (which they’re fairly close to doing now for large parts of each day)? The private sector is going to come to the rescue? How?…”

      People will leave or find other ways, all at zero cost to the taxpayer.
      Fuck off, slaver.

      1. You continue to seem nice. How does “fuck off slaver” constitute an actual argument, by the way?

        Private enterprise is going to build more airports and another 6 lanes of freeway – and without the use of eminent domain?

        1. “You continue to seem nice. How does “fuck off slaver” constitute an actual argument, by the way?”

          It’s exactly what slavers deserve when they spout bullshit.

          1. I think that’s known in the trade as an “ad hominem” argument. Automatically disqualifying. So try telling me why I’m wrong instead.

            1. You are getting exactly what you deserve.

    2. Who wants to go to L.A. when it’s full of homeless and disorder?
      Same question for San Francisco.

      1. About 3.6 people annually by air between the two; 2nd-busiest air corridor in the US.

        1. 3.6 million.

        2. It’s not really a surprise that rats have travel corridors between the nests that they shit up.

        3. because air travel is fast and cheap, unlike “high speed” rail.

    3. > What’s going to happen in California when the roads between SF and LA are congested all of the time

      Build another lane on 5?

      > the airports are running at capacity

      Regional airports with connector flights?

      1. All the potential candidate airports are already in use.

        1. Strangely, for all your bullshit, you’ve yet to offer any evidence.
          Fuck off, slaver.

      2. “high speed rail” in California would cost more per trip, and take longer, than just getting on a Southwest flight from one of a half dozen airports, with multiple flight times per day.

  24. Rail is for freight, period.

  25. Anybody who thinks HSR advocates give a shit about costs has no clue how the mind of a HSR advocate works. Why should they? They’re not paying for it.

    1. What a simplistic, not very bright, statement. “the mind of and HSR advocate works”, just like the minds of people anywhere else. They vary like all the rest of us. This lumping of all under one category is the classic way to demean others without defending your position with facts.

      1. No, it’s true. High speed rail is so egregiously expensive, and so outrageously useless, that nobody who cares about how much it costs can possibly advocate for it. Fiscal conservatives and high speed rail advocates are mutually exclusive clubs. Anybody who professes to be both is flat lying and anybody who believes such a liar is flat gullible.

        ;O)

  26. The author makes a simplistic and largely erroneous argument. HSR is not here because the Power Elite don’t want it, at least not at this time. Wake up, all you raging against the bureaucrats and politicians, left right, doesn’t matter. They are all carefully owned by the Power Elite, who get what they want when they want, almost always with the unwashed masses never having a clue as to who runs things. Read your history.

    One only needs to travel a bit in Europe to see the advantages of HSR (and efficient light rail). Been on the Paris Metro, the TGV, Eurorail, London Underground, Moscow subway lately?. The TGV will take you from downtown Geneva to downtown Paris in comfort, faster than your car by a factor of 4 and quicker than you can take the taxi to the airport, check in, get to CDG, deplane, get another taxi and finally get to your destination, and with no need to worry about a car. Same for Dusseldorf to Paris, Naples to Geneva, etc, etc.

    Read the engineering analyses. Rail moves more efficiently (cleaner), and safer than any other form of transport, at least 10x better than highways. Nothing pollutes like jet engines. Calculate the mpg of these things. Not that I don’t appreciate the speed, especially in long distance.

    Yes infrastructure ( lack of) is a major hindrance. And we can thank private industry for destroying the rail infrastructure we had in the US up to the 1920s to 1940s. At that time, the largest interurban rail system was the Pacific Electric (“Big Red Cars”), 1200 miles in the LA region. The system was dismantled mostly by private industry that profited from selling cars and tires, etc. Congressman Henry Waxman killed funding for the subway around that time as well. Lets guess who his biggest campaign contributors were.

    Europe, Japan and now China, have demonstrated for decades, that a good mix of air for long distances, HSR for interurban, cars and trucks for shorter distances and rural, and subway/metro for in-city is a good, safe, efficient mix. I find the rail system in Europe, both interurban and metro, a super, convenient, relaxing and fast way to get around. Cars take me where the trains are not, and planes take me long distances. The US suffers greatly from not anything but a worn-out remnant of that rail component of transportation. Again, rail has been demonstrated time and again to be the most energy efficient, cleanest, and safest form of travel. We suffer greatly in the US for not having any of it (Amtrak is a joke any way you look at it, so that doesn’t count). Too bad, as we had the largest rail system in the world (very out of date, but still the largest) until the past few decades.
    The California experience demonstrates the power of the economic interests who don’t want this system to be. Imagine initially putting 119 miles out in the Central Valley, connecting nowhere to nowhere and facing farmers who can’t stand the presence of it (I’m from farming background. I get it very well). In typical California style, this approach was carefully, quietly politically engineered to fail, by savvy large business interests who did not want it. It is not by chance that California elected a very marginally competent governor, along with similar elected representatives. The Power Elite does not want HSR at this time and they are in charge and you can’t even tell who they are without really digging.

    We do badly need HSR in the US. We will continue to suffer competitively until we get it built, if we ever do.

    1. Nowhere on the earth does any passenger rail system, short or long run, HSR or otherwise generate enough revenue to fund not only its operational costs but also its capital costs. Everyone of them, to greater or lesser extent, is subsidized. In the US this became apparent in the late 1920s when the railroads were ordered to stop jacking up the rates of their freight customers to keep passenger ticket prices down.

      As for CAHSR, the entire system has been managed, at every step, by HSR advocates. Budget, route, spending. All decided by HSR flag wavers.

      Everything HSR can do in the US, airlines can do. Without the 1000s of miles of expensive track to build and maintain, the inflexibility of route destination, and at 200 mph faster. Rail travel is literally 19th century technology.

    2. “We do badly need HSR in the US. We will continue to suffer competitively until we get it built, if we ever do.”

      Assertions by lefty shits =/= argument, especially when the refer to some imagined ‘competition’. What are we ‘competing’ for? The ability to throw taxpayer money down a rat hole?
      Fuck off, slaver.

      1. The competition is Southwest Airlines, cheap and fast and convenient if your plans change. Airports are a hassle thanks to federalized security, but high speed rail hubs will probably get the same treatment.

        1. “…Airports are a hassle thanks to federalized security, but high speed rail hubs will probably get the same treatment…”

          You have to ‘pass inspection’ on the SF Bay ferries.

    3. Yes infrastructure ( lack of) is a major hindrance. And we can thank private industry for destroying the rail infrastructure we had in the US up to the 1920s to 1940s.

      The reason they died out is because they were monopolies, and people were beginning settlement in the suburbs so they needed reliable transportation. Read up on the history of Denver Tramway if you want see how rail use in a major urban area collapsed. And those paved roads, especially the early highway system, were all basically built over existing path and pike systems that people had used for 100 years. I-25 in New Mexico, for example, is nothing more than the northern section of the El Camino Real.

      Congressman Henry Waxman killed funding for the subway around that time as well.

      Yeah, nothing says “genius” like building a subway in a tectonic zone.

      Amtrak is a joke any way you look at it, so that doesn’t count

      You can’t say, “rail is the bestest!” and leave out one of the worst-run, and poorly used, transportation systems in the US. Greyhound provided better long-distance transportation than Amtrak.

    4. Thanks 4 reminding people who dont get around much (aka American s)that railroads are as u described; vital, convenient n inexpensive ways to travel in Europe, Japan etc. However these are 1st world countries who dont piss their money away on the world’s most bloated military budgets and endless wars that enrich the wealthy. Instead they build n maintain their infrastructure which is something that actually benefits their citizens.

      It’s fascinating how “awful” it is that California may have wasted several billion dollars but not one whiner here complains about the massive petroleum subsidies which are why gas is “cheaper” than other fuel sources (except solar is now cheaper when u subtract the petroleum subsidies) or about Congress buying more new, overpriced,non working fighter jets than the Pentagon asked for (ndaa2021) for a military budget larger than the NEXT 10 COUNTRIES COMBINED that is unable 2 defeat one of the poorest 3rd world countries on earth’s Taliban,which was aided n abetted by the CIA until the government lied and said we had to invade Afghanistan because they caused 9/11 (no Afghanistani had anything to do with 9/11,including bin Laden).

      It’ll be 20 years this October,thousands of American s dead,hundreds of thousands wounded,billions of dollars of infrastructure destroyed,trillions of dollars of our money wasted n you’d rather make juvenile “lefty-liberals” comments like u r king sh*t.

      1. There are no subsidies to the petroleum industry that aren’t also available to every other kind of business in the US.

        Solar is not cheaper than oil/gas even with subsidies. Why? Because solar is not reliable enough to be baseload power. Every kilowatt on a solar plant’s nameplate must be matched with a plant burning fossil fuels because sometimes, even during the day, the sun doesn’t shine.

    5. The distance from Geneva to Paris is geographically equivalent to the distance from Buffalo to Detroit.

      In every other aspect they are light years apart.

      The US is a vast, mostly sparse place where the economics of passenger rail simply do not work.

      But, statist gonna statist so you be you.

  27. “With a Democrat in the White House and a $2.2 trillion infrastructure plan on the table, excitement about high-speed rail is on the rise again.”

    You got that right! Politicians in Massachusetts are licking their chops.

    https://www.masslive.com/news/2021/04/bidens-infrastructure-bill-gives-east-west-rail-its-best-chance-us-rep-richard-neal-says.html

    The so called “east west rail” they’re referring to in this article would cost between $2 billion and $25 billion, plus a subsidy of between $348 and $2,457 per trip (yes, per passenger trip, i. e., every time a passenger boards a train). The cheapest option estimates only 36 (yes, thirty six) passengers a day.

  28. Leftists love trains, for obvious reasons. Takes away autonomy for the masses, easier to ship non-believers to the gulags.

    California’s “high speed” rail project should be studied by historians as the worst public works project of all time (although Bostonians might object.) How to ruin a project a majority of Californians voted for?

    Start with the least traveled segment, from Lancaster to Merced. i.e., two hours north of LA to the middle of nowhere. Way to build enthusiasm. Then promise 200 mph but use tracks that support 60 mph. Build a bunch of overpasses in the middle of nowhere. Count on federal money that never materializes. Overpay consultants and conmen. Pretend you’re saving the environment and cutting travel time, even though you can fly from LA to San Francisco in an hour and a half for 150 bucks on Southwest.

    1. This was Gov. Moonbeam’s pet project.
      It had to work!
      “Pretending to save the environment”…..sorta like buying a Tesla, you can pretend to save the environment while looking rich.

  29. Disaster for whom? Tens of billions of dollars have gone into the pockets of someone. From their side, they made out beautifully, and it was spectacularly successful. Their side is just not the side of the people of California.

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  35. To be fair to high speed rail technology, the State of California would be hard pressed to sucessfully build a moderately complex model train on a 4×8 sheet of plywood laid over 2 sawhorses in 10 years and on a budget of only $33Billion.

    Not that the Feds are all that much more competent, but it’s a real shitshow around here.

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