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High-Speed Rail Fail

California’s proposed high speed rail system linking the north to the south is going to cost nearly $100 billion, according to a new estimate that figures the cost at three times as high as the original projection approved by California voters. The railroad also won’t be operational until 2034. The Christian Science Monitor has the story:

The new cost estimate, formally released Tuesday by the California High Speed Rail Authority, is $98.5 billion, more than twice the previous estimate of $43 billion. The finish date is 2034, 14 years later than first predicted.

The Golden State might have bitten off more than it could chew. Included in the new business plan is another depressing revision: when California voters approved the plan in 2008 they were told 55 million people would ride the rails; in 2009 that number was revised down to 41 million riders. Now it is 36.8 million.

But politicians and the rail authority expect to make a profit, eventually. They hope to open the railroad in stages, taking in revenue as well as government grants and private investment. Yet the outlook keeps getting worse. $100 billion is a huge number for the United States’ most indebted state. Revenue and ridership forecasts decrease with every new analysis of the railroad business plan.

When (or, perhaps, if) construction begins, expect the country’s biggest public works project to continue having problems.  California is spending money it doesn’t have to build a system it doesn’t need.

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  • Larry, San Francisco

    Let’s do the math on this. To keep it simple assume 40 million riders and an interest cost of 2% (currently the 10 year bond rate for California is 3.2%). This would result in a capital cost of $50 per trip even before operating costs. With a couple of weeks of advanced notice you can get a ticket from SFO to LAX for $59 on Southwest or get other tickets for about $70-$80 range. I don’t see how you can make this arithmetic work out.

  • vanderleun

    Bring it on. My new default position is to enable every single dumb and stupid idea California has in hopes of it reducing itself to an uninhabitable sewer as soon as possible. SPEND! SPEND! SPEND!

  • Kenny


  • David-2

    Their “open the railroad in stages” plan is absurd. From their own fact sheet (*) the first stage , to be opened in 2021, is either Merced San Fernando Valley for $33 BILLION dollars, or San JoseBakersfield for $31 BILLION dollars. Take a look at a map of California and decide for yourself how many riders/year that initial stage will get. My guestimate: The low 3 digits.

    The only purpose for this “stage” is so the Agency can say “You just spent more than $30 BILLION dollars for a useless railway. It will ALL be WASTED unless you spend another $30 BILLION dollar to get it to go anywhere at all and another $25 BILLION after that to get the ‘one-seat’ San Francisco to Los Angeles travel that you can already get on any airline.”


  • Kris

    Awww, is their shiny choo-choo jumping the track?

    One of the characteristics of democracy is that the electorate gets what it deserves. Good and hard.

    Schadenfreude? Moi?

  • Kris

    Kenny@3, you reminded me of the first video, which reminded me of the second:

    Both videos might provide a hint as to why I tend not to watch or read news in public.

  • John Barker

    There’s a novel or screenplay here–working title, The Great California Train Robbery. I fear that the rest of may have to assume the debt when California defaults.

  • Alan Kellogg

    Of course the price of gasoline could reach 10 dollars a gallon by the time the line is operative. That’s assuming bureaucrats stymie development of the oil shale in the Dakotas.

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