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blue boondoggle
High Speed Rail Keeps Slowing Down

After years of cost overruns, lawsuits, and construction delays, California’s utopian high-speed rail project just got another wrench thrown in its gears—this time by the Trump administration. Governing magazine reports:

Federal Transit Administration has put the brakes on a $647 million grant to help pay for electrification of a commuter train system on the San Francisco Peninsula that was considered a key part of extending California’s planned high-speed rail line to the Bay Area.

The federal agency’s move to defer a decision on the grant agreement that had been reached with the Obama administration comes weeks after Republicans in California’s congressional delegation asked U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to pull the plug on the grant.

The high-speed rail project, approved by voters in 2008, always seemed appealing in the abstract—to environmentalists who touted the benefits of mass public transit, to labor unions and developers who saw a windfall in the making, and to Democrats nostalgic for 20th century blue model governance who wanted to prove that the government could still execute iconic public works projects.

But in the intervening time, the skeptics have largely been vindicated: Our regulatory procedures and tort laws are too labyrinthian for construction projects to be completed efficiently; public sector administrators have been incapable of accurately predicting costs and time horizons of the enterprise; and, in any case, it looks more and more likely that telecommuting and new technologies like self-driving cars will diminish the benefits that flow from mass public transportation.

It’s good that the Transportation Department put the federal cash spigot on hold, but it’s a testament to California’s own failures of governance and imagination that the administration was faced with this decision in the first place.

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  • Michael McNeil

    Electrifying CalTrain on the San Francisco peninsula is a “key part” of the Supertrain? That itself seems questionable.

    • Andrew Allison

      You don’t understand. HSR is a Christmas Tree upon which all manner of other costly but useless ornaments are being hung.

    • Jim__L

      You miss the fundamental argument that most Lefties and Greens use to justify this boondoggle…

      “I like trains”.

      Yep… that’s about all they’ve got.

  • Disappeared4x

    Must be a progressive bias against busses, even those powered by natural gas. For those who can neither tele-work, nor afford self-driving cars.

  • f1b0nacc1

    Perhaps Gov. Brown might want to reconsider his ongoing war with the Feds over any number of issues….

    Or not…

    • Andrew Allison

      Preferably not — another $647 million tossed into the (almost) HSR money sink is the last thing we need. Incidentally, I read to that a $1 billion contract went to none other than the husband of Senator Diane Feinstein.

      • Jim__L

        You know, for all that I dislike the idea of HSR, I can’t help but think that at some point even people on the Right may be best off saying, “You know, what the he**, let’s let ’em try it. They’re not in our state [yeah, except that you and I live in CA], they won’t take our money, why not let them do what they like and go for it?”

        I mean, I’m going to fight like he** to keep California from wasting our money that way. But, to be honest, why should someone from New Mexico, or New York, or North Dakota, care if CA wastes *its own* money on HSR?

        At some point, this feeling of, “You know, it’s California’s own money, if they want to tilt at these windmills we should let them so long as they leave the Federal treasury out of it,” could ease a transition to, “Hey, if these rich Silicon Valley types like trains (or whatever other idea) so much, we should even encourage them to spend their own d*** money on it, good for them, and leave government money out of it.”

        I mean, there should be some level of tolerance, magnanimity even, in watching people try to do great (but maybe impossible) things… with their own d*** money.

        • Andrew Allison

          Except that it’s not their money. We’re talking about $647 million of FEDERAL funds here. The sad fact is that the national US taxpayer is going to be paying most of the money going to Sen. Feinstein’s hubby’s firm. As to the rest I think that, like the CA legislature, the rest of the country already recognizes that California is only nominally part of the USA at present. Perhaps we should propose turning the wall due north at the Colorado River [grin]

          • Jim__L

            You make a very good point, but I’m still skeptical a to whether non-Federally-funded ventures wouldn’t also take the kind of flak this one is getting.

  • Pait

    Tell that to the people who made 1.5 billion high speed rail rides in China last year.

    • Dale Fayda

      This project is already a monumental failure and only getting worse: http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-bullet-cost-overruns-20170106-story.html.

      Still think this is good idea? Please tell us why.

      • Andrew Allison

        Silly question. The left is never wrong.

    • Psalms564

      I expect the ridership between Fresno and Bakersfield to easily surpass that number within the first year. Also, does China have more people than the US and is that relevant to the point you are making? How about % of car ownership? How about the state of Chinese highway system?
      So I guess my question is that are you too stupid to ask these questions before posting or do you think others on these boards are too stupid to ask them? Asking for a friend. Of course we can exit this either/or dichotomy and embrace the healing power of AND.

      • Pait

        Well the #fact is that while you’re all busy deconstructing America for personal gain or just to spite those people, the country is falling behind China.

        • Proverbs1618

          You haven’t answered any of my questions. Why am I not surprised? Like a typical Left-winger, when asked to actually have a #fact ready, turns out there is nothing beyond a talking point.
          Let me ask you a question. In terms of density of population, where do you think it is greater, coastal China or Fresno-Bakersfield corridor? What do you think the answer is? Where is transportation by train more effective and cost-effective, in a high density are or a low density area?
          You still don’t get it. Many commenters here have advanced degrees. So take that weak shlt to Mother Jones or Daily Kos where people are not smart enough to see through your stale bullshlt.

          • Pait

            I forgot to add: while you are all busy deconstructing the United States _and_ insulting people who don’t agree with your partisan preferences, China is gaining on America.

          • Proverbs1618

            And again, you don’t answer any of the questions raised. Yet you insist to be taken seriously. You are funny.
            If you think China is gaining on America, feel free to move there. Take all the high speed train rides you want.

          • Pait

            I spend part of the year in America and I don’t like the idea of China imposing its will upon it because I rather like the democracy in America, while it lasts.

            I hadn’t realized you had made an argument in between your profanities, and honestly I don’t think they are worth looking back at.

          • Proverbs1618

            I asked you questions that were pertinent to your factoid. You spewed a meaningless piece of data as evidence of something. Believe it or not, you asserting something doesn’t make it true. I asked a series of questions regarding your factoid, trying to get more data. I was unsuccessful in my attempt. This means that you are not ready to have a serious cost/benefit discussion. Instead, your factoid had everything to do with you signaling your Leftwing virtue. There’s nothing behind the liberal, holier than thou veneer. And everybody sees that. You are not the only audience to this. Your refusal to answer questions you don’t like doesn’t go unnoticed. That does something to your credibility, believe it or not. I recall you being concerned with my credibility. Oh, how the tables have turned. Isn’t it ironic. Don’t you think?
            As for my profanity, I feel it is rather tame. What can I say, I grew up in South Brooklyn and went to a neighborhood public school for junior high. There’s a little Brooklyn in me, and not the Park Slope/Williamsburg kind. Ask Comrade FriendlyGoat, he gets it.

          • Pait

            I have no reason to think you are willing to or capable of arguing in good faith.

            I simply didn’t read in detail what you wrote earlier, in between the profanities, and won’t bother to read it at all now.

          • Proverbs1618

            Of course you won’t. You are a coward. When challenged, you run away. BTW, this is why nobody takes you seriously here. We argue, present facts, accept questions. You do none of those things. Go run away coward. Go signal your Leftwing virtue to people who give afuck.

    • Douglas Levene

      Have you ever been to China? It is so crowded it’s unbelievable. Even small county seats have over 1 million people. Rail transit works fine with huge population densities. Otherwise, no.

      • Pait

        Have you ever been to N York city, or travelled between Boston and Washington?

        Not as big as China, but roughly comparable to Tokyo-Osaka – a little longer, a little less populated, terrain easier to build, perhaps a little wealthier altogether – the only big difference is that travel times are much longer.

        • Tom

          So build high-speed rail there. Instead of doing so in California.
          Protip: spending money that will not provide a return on investment will actually decrease our power relative to China, not increase it.

          • Pait

            I don’t know California well enough, and unlike some people when I’m less familiar with a subject I don’t double up the volume of my shouting.

            I do know that while you all fight the war against America the country is falling behind and apart.

          • Tom

            There is not a single correct preposition in your last sentence.

        • Douglas Levene

          I grew up in Boston and lived in NYC for many years. The Northeast corridor is the only part of the US where rail transportation makes any sense. However, to build a true high speed rail there would cost tens or even hundreds of billions. The Shinkansen trains in Japan work so well only because they have dedicated tracks, with no other rail traffic, and no sharp curves, and no crossings – all other roads either run above or below the dedicated Shinkansen tracks. Try to imagine the cost of acquiring the land to build a train line like that in the Northeast corridor, even if you could overcome the intense local opposition at every point along the route – that would dwarf the cost of the rolling stock. I can’t quantify what the cost of a ticket would be to make a line like that profitable, but it would surely be far in excess of the cost of an airplane ticket. Sorry, trains are a 20th century solution, and if you want to stay ahead of China, we need to be thinking about 21st century solutions to transit problems.

          • Pait

            Yes, the Northeast would be the natural place to think about rail, and all the issues you mention would appear. Chinese building manners would not be applicable.

            Nevertheless, the Northeast is in many ways similar to Japan, and the economy suffers from the fact that the infrastructure is in many respects lacking.

            Your arguments are reasonable; the knee-jerk reaction of most other commenters here is irrational, and harms to the country.

          • Jim__L

            Pait… we understand the arguments that Douglas is making, and that’s why we look at trains as a boondoggle rather than a solution.

            And that’s why our reaction helps the country, to the extent that our reaction to bad ideas like this can be reflected in law.

      • Jim__L

        It doesn’t even keep working in places with high population densities, like England.

        Flanders and Swann have a (rather touching) piece about the discontinuance of rail routes that ceased to be profitable in the 20th century.

        As an added bonus, it might be followed by the “Song of patriotic prejudice”, which in these days of Brexit and Scots independence, is particularly funny. =)

        • Douglas Levene

          I dunno, high speed trains are pretty popular and in growing use in both Japan and China, I think primarily due to their very high population densities. In China, the Government is also keen to keep the numbers of privately owned cars down so it’s deeply subsidizing long-distance rail travel.

          • Jim__L

            If alternatives are limited by heavy-handed government pressure, it’s tough to say that whatever remains is “popular”.

            That’s like saying that Trabants were “popular” in East Germany, during the Cold War.

  • CaliforniaStark

    Don’t suppose that Gov. Brown will now focus on improving California’s crumbling infrastructure, such as the Oroville Dam. There was a brief moment recently that there appeared to be a possibility that Brown might have ended up commuting to his Sacramento office by kayak.

    • Andrew Allison

      Not going to happen. Governor Moonbeam and the equally spaced-out legislative majority will sink with the ship rather than admit that they are wrong.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    The Leftists have near complete control of California, and are working hard to Venezuelaize the state. Californians certainly have the right to ruin their state, but the rest of the country isn’t obligated to help them.

    • Andrew Allison

      They have complete control. And yes, Venezuela here we come, right back where we started from, i.e. Alta California.

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