Great news: $98 billion estimate for California high-speed rail is lowball

posted at 5:20 pm on November 5, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

Earlier this week, we updated our coverage of the largest proposed public-works project in American history to note that its estimated cost had almost tripled in three years, from $33 billion to $98.6 billion, as well as more than doubling in delivery time — and this before the project has even begun.  The state agency responsible for this boondoggle officially submitted their funding request to the California state legislature on Thursday, as the Los Angeles Times notes in an otherwise dull recapitulation of the news from earlier in the week.  In fact, you have to get to the bottom of the article to see where the LAT buried the lede (via Instapundit):

A bullet train business plan released Tuesday notes that the system cost of $98 billion could jump an additional $19 billion depending on the route and construction features.

Wait — what?  The California High Speed Rail Authority board has the responsibility to make the decisions on “routes and construction features.”  They can’t get any closer than 20% play in the numbers? What exactly did the CHSRA submit on Thursday … a letter to Santa Claus?

So what exactly are these variables that will add more than half as much cost as the project’s original price tag?  Shag carpeting, spoilers on the caboose, quadrophonic stereo … what?  The LAT doesn’t tell us; they just wait until the last paragraph to report that CHSRA warns that their projections require 20% play in the numbers.

Needless to say, the exploding cost has a few people pretty steamed.  If one reads the story in reverse paragraph order (which is apparently what the LAT intends), the third paragraph has one Republican state senator promising to push a bill that will allow taxpayers to reverse their earlier approval for bonding measures for the project, presumably through a referendum.  It also includes this very short-sighted criticism of the high-speed rail plan from an activist:

 Other critics asserted the project was no longer the $33-billion project presented to voters three years ago. “This is the biggest bait and switch in California history,” Charles Voltz, a member of the Community Coalition on High Speed Rail, told board members.

Oh, come now, Mr. Voltz.  You’re obviously not thinking big-picture here.   Demanding as much as $117 billion for a train track that runs along the San Andreas Fault, which will at first only connect Corcoran and Borden, and eventually provide heavily-subsidized transportation between California’s two largest metropolises in a longer time than at least a half-dozen airlines already deliver without taxpayer subsidies is not the biggest bait and switch in California history.  This is the biggest bait and switch in human history.

Update: Actually, second-biggest.  As Sharrukin says in the comments, TARP would be the biggest bait-and-switch in human history.  Remember when Congress passed the Troubled Asset Relief Program?  How many troubled assets did it actually purchase, and how much of it went into direct-cash bailouts to financial institutions and carmakers?

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It’s still going to be cheaper and faster to drive or fly. So, don’t expect much ridership.

Blake on November 5, 2011 at 5:25 PM

It’s years of union jobs, that’s what it is.

Along with graft, kickbacks, shoddy workmanship, etc., See Big Dig, Boston.

Wethal on November 5, 2011 at 5:25 PM

Just print more money.

CW on November 5, 2011 at 5:26 PM

This is the biggest bait and switch in human history.

Well… TARP and the bailouts come to mind as having a larger price tag. But heck, its all free money from anyway so lets go for it!

sharrukin on November 5, 2011 at 5:27 PM

Government + unions = fail.

fiatboomer on November 5, 2011 at 5:27 PM

Kasich almost immediately killed a “higher speed” rail project in Ohio that would run from Cincinnati to Columbus and to Cleveland. It was another boondoggle in the making. I knew once he said no that I voted for the right guy.

CW on November 5, 2011 at 5:27 PM

So do I take it this project is going forward if the state legislature approves it? Because we all know a bunch of insane libs control that body and buy into this green energy/high speed rail nonsense. God help California if they’re stuck footing a bill like that.

Doughboy on November 5, 2011 at 5:28 PM

Government + unions = fail.

fiatboomer on November 5, 2011 at 5:27 PM

Maybe for you, the American taxpayer and me but not for the union leaders, members, and the chosen businessman.

CW on November 5, 2011 at 5:28 PM

It’s still going to be cheaper and faster to drive or fly. So, don’t expect much ridership.

Blake on November 5, 2011 at 5:25 PM

To be fair, it is faster to take the train between San Diego and Los Angeles on weekday evenings.

fiatboomer on November 5, 2011 at 5:28 PM

Who could have seen this coming?

/Well aside from a deaf blind mute living in total isolation in the wilds of Borneo.

AZfederalist on November 5, 2011 at 5:30 PM

The variables are probably in the route. There is so much opposition to this from local governments and property owners that nobody knows for sure how they would have to route this thing. The proposed route has farms cut in half, churches destroyed, trains flying 200 mph right next to schools. It’s a total mess.

Mark1971 on November 5, 2011 at 5:31 PM

Heck, that’s only $2651.39 per person in CA.

esnap on November 5, 2011 at 5:32 PM

$98.6 billion

Stimulating

BobMbx on November 5, 2011 at 5:33 PM

What will they get for their $100 billion twenty year wait…?

Another huge state agency with thousands of high paid union employees with solid gold pensions?
Thousands of parcels of property stolen under eminent domain ?
Sweetheart union contracts that never seem to end ?
Cost overruns and endless construction delays ?
Prices higher than air travel ?
The almost certain environmental impact studies ?
The lawsuits and the federal injunctions ?

All for what ?
So ten thousand people a day …maybe… might use the damn thing?

They’ll spend ten billion before they even break ground.

NeoKong on November 5, 2011 at 5:34 PM

Wait — what? The California High Speed Rail Authority board has the responsibility to make the decisions on “routes and construction features.” They can’t get any closer than 20% play in the numbers?

Uhm, it means it will be 20% more if there are any rout our any construction features.

elfman on November 5, 2011 at 5:35 PM

O/T,it was 43B,now 98B!
=======================

Proposed Calif. high-speed rail project, from SF to Anaheim, to cost $98B – AP
56 Min. ago

http://www.breakingnews.com/
********************************

APNewsBreak: Calif. rail project to cost $98B
Updated: 10/31/2011 07:29:21 PM
********************************

SACRAMENTO, Calif.—The new business plan for California’s high-speed rail system shows the nation’s most ambitious state rail project could cost nearly $100 billion in inflation-adjusted funding over a 20-year construction period, far above the amount originally projected.
The plan, which was shared late Monday with The Associated Press, also shows the system would be profitable even at the lowest ridership estimates and would not require public subsidies to operate.

The report estimates the actual cost at $98.5 billion if the route between San Francisco and Anaheim is completed in 2033. It assumes private investment will account for roughly 20 percent of the final cost.

The initial estimate to build the system when voters approved bond funding for it in 2008 was $43 billion in non-adjusted dollars.

http://www.mercurynews.com/news/ci_19233576
=============================================
=============================================

We go back,to 2009!

APRIL 17, 2009
U.S. Commits $13 Billion to Aid High-Speed Rail
***********************************************

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Thursday called for spending at least $13 billion to launch a “new era” of high-speed passenger rail transportation, sparking competition among states and providing a potentially rich new market for rail equipment makers.

Besides allocating $8 billion in stimulus funds for high-speed rail, Mr. Obama said he would seek to budget $5 billion more over the next five years.
(More….)

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123989461947625407.htm

canopfor on October 31, 2011 at 11:46 PM

canopfor on November 5, 2011 at 5:38 PM

Government + unions = fail.

fiatboomer on November 5, 2011 at 5:27 PM

Maybe for you, the American taxpayer and me but not for the union leaders, members, and the chosen businessman.

CW on November 5, 2011 at 5:28 PM

You’re more right than many might realize with that statement. There are likely other ways and means to build this thing cheaper but politicians and their Union financial backers are laughing all the way to the bank with this.

Yakko77 on November 5, 2011 at 5:38 PM

LAST TRAIN TO CLARKSVILLE OBAMAVILLE (TICKETS REDUCED TO $995.00)

Rovin on November 5, 2011 at 5:42 PM

Heres the Site,for what Companies recieved Stimulus Funds,
and from what States,and weekly Updates!
=========================================

Recovery Act Recipient Data
***************************

A listing of all Recovery Act recipients and their allocations. Updated weekly.
***************

** recoveryactfunding.xls

**(click on to open)
========================

http://energy.gov/downloads/recovery-act-recipient-data

canopfor on November 5, 2011 at 5:46 PM

It’s years of union jobs, that’s what it is.

Wethal on November 5, 2011 at 5:25 PM

Pithy.

petefrt on November 5, 2011 at 5:46 PM

CW on November 5, 2011 at 5:27 PM

Rick Scott killed it in Florida, too.

Wethal on November 5, 2011 at 5:47 PM

I got your route solution. Just fill in the California Aqueduct and run the thing down the middle of I-5. That way riders can see all the abandoned wind farms too.

truth2power on November 5, 2011 at 5:47 PM

This disaster will cost $100B+ Bank on it.

Yakko77 on November 5, 2011 at 5:48 PM

California High Speed Rail Authority
*************************************

This is the online home for California’s high-speed train project. Here you’ll find all the information you need—about its planning and construction and how your voice can be heard on this landmark project for our state.
======================

http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/

canopfor on November 5, 2011 at 5:51 PM

Choo-choo to nowhere.

Southernblogger on November 5, 2011 at 5:52 PM

Look,on the brightside,its cheaper than,runways/roads!
(sarc)
——

CaHSRA Editorial:
—————–

SimonOh Which option would you go with? $98.5B for @cahsra vs. $170B for CA roads, runways? http://t.co/QJ8fTgv4 (via @SVSJbizjournal) #hsr #cahsr
—————————–

http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/

canopfor on November 5, 2011 at 5:53 PM

Does anybody really believe that we should be investing in any kind of rail??

Southernblogger on November 5, 2011 at 5:55 PM

Does anybody really believe that we should be investing in any kind of rail??

Southernblogger on November 5, 2011 at 5:55 PM

Southernblogger:Well,Hopey has cancelled the Mars Probe Missions,
so,um,I guess he has freed up,some more loot!

canopfor on November 5, 2011 at 6:00 PM

And that’s what these dopes out here voted for.

BallisticBob on November 5, 2011 at 6:11 PM

We have a HS Rail debacle on O’ahu that’s turning into a money pit. THey’s raised the GET Tax 1/2 percent to pay for it. Eventually that tax will reach the outer islands that never use the rail. This is what happens in democrat controlled governments, they fail…

Kini on November 5, 2011 at 6:11 PM

And WHY do the Democrats want ‘high-speed rail’?

Because the Chinese, Japanese and Europeans have it!

GarandFan on November 5, 2011 at 6:12 PM

I quote jobs every so often at work… The one I’m completing this coming week will be on budget and on time if it’s finished by Friday midnight.
-
I’ve been over budget before, and outta time before. My boss is understanding… to a degree… A little over budget or overtime is expected now and again. But when it comes to spending our tax dollars on fluffy stuff like this green train mess-o-lies… no over-run is too extreme to be overlooked…
-

RalphyBoy on November 5, 2011 at 6:15 PM

High speed rail Oahu?
What were they smoking?
Do they even have a road (Yet!) that will take you around the perimeter of the island?

Another Drew on November 5, 2011 at 6:23 PM

20 years to build a railroad that is about 500 miles long. The best they can do is average 25 miles per year. They built the intercontinental (channeling Obama here) Transcontinental railroad from Omaha to Oakland in 7 years. I guess this is what the regulatory state has led to.

chemman on November 5, 2011 at 6:26 PM

Speaking of trains,Breaking!
==============================

@abc7newsBayArea
No damage, no injuries reported after 3.2-magnitude earthquake – http://t.co/mR667meE
15 Min.ago
***********

@abc7newsBayArea
BART has announced a 10-minute delay throughout its system due to the 3.2-magnitude earthquake near Piedmont.
25 Min.ago
***********

http://www.breakingnews.com/

Bay Area Rapid Transit
***********************

http://www.bart.gov/

canopfor on November 5, 2011 at 6:29 PM

We have a HS Rail debacle on O’ahu that’s turning into a money pit. THey’s raised the GET Tax 1/2 percent to pay for it. Eventually that tax will reach the outer islands that never use the rail. This is what happens in democrat controlled governments, they fail…

Kini on November 5, 2011 at 6:11 PM

Kini:Aloha Kini,question?,was any Stimulus loot used!:)

canopfor on November 5, 2011 at 6:32 PM

Aloha Kini,question?,was any Stimulus loot used!:)

canopfor on November 5, 2011 at 6:32 PM

You know, that’s a great question. From what I understand, they are hedging their bets that the DOT will fund a good portion of rail; however, I don’t think that grant has been delivered yet.
http://www.honolulutransit.org/
Construction hasn’t begun yet either, because of an on going Environmental Impact Study (these studies tend to be politically motivated). Bottom line, we don’t need it, because it won’t alleviate Honolulu’s traffic problems.

Kini on November 5, 2011 at 6:38 PM

Do they even have a road (Yet!) that will take you around the perimeter of the island?

Another Drew on November 5, 2011 at 6:23 PM

Yes we do have roads… some are even paved

Kini on November 5, 2011 at 6:42 PM

So ridiculous.

Everyone knows that coaches pulled by a team of unicorns are the wave of the future.

For high speed, a coach pulled by a team of Pegasus’, err Pegasuses? Pegasi? – is the way to go.

reaganaut on November 5, 2011 at 6:44 PM

canopfor on November 5, 2011 at 6:32 PM

The city has been awarded more than $40 million in federal stimulus funds for transportation projects, including $4 million for preliminary engineering work on the initial segment of the $5.29 billion rail project.

Apparently, we did!

Kini on November 5, 2011 at 6:50 PM

Update: Actually, second-biggest. As Sharrukin says in the comments, TARP would be the biggest bait-and-switch in human history. Remember when Congress passed the Troubled Asset Relief Program? How many troubled assets did it actually purchase, and how much of it went into direct-cash bailouts to financial institutions and carmakers?

.
Then I think that the rail spur California high-speed rail project would be third largest bait-and-switch in human history. I think the Great Pyramids would qualify as the first largest, given relative costs of the …. what? WAIT….
.
I just looked at a reasonable, creditable source for a cost of the Great Pyramids, in 2006 dollars, as about $5.3 billion. I don’t know what a 25th century BC command economy storing output in granaries and paying workers in sacks of grain is worth, in terms of GDP but if the estimate of $5.3 Billion dollars to create the Great Pyramids, even over the course of many decades, then the California high-speed rail is still estimated to cost many times more than the Great Pyramids, in total, although I admit I don’t know the cost relative to Egyptian GNP in 2500 BC.
.

ExpressoBold on November 5, 2011 at 6:52 PM

Everyone knows that coaches pulled by a team of unicorns are the wave of the future.

reaganaut on November 5, 2011 at 6:44 PM

I prefer a Rickshaw powered by the Weather Girls!

Kini on November 5, 2011 at 6:53 PM

Additionally, the California high-speed rail has the Egyptian pyramid-building technology beat by many centuries but, relative to today, is last century’s technology with its attendant eminent domain problems.
.
Somebody needs to eat this, as well as their pride. It’s dumb!

ExpressoBold on November 5, 2011 at 6:55 PM

The logo for the rail authority is strangely familiar. I can’t quite place where I saw something like it before. sarc./

FOWG1 on November 5, 2011 at 6:58 PM

I prefer a Rickshaw powered by the Weather Girls!

Interesting, hadn’t seen that before.

OK, so rickshaw for intra-city travel. Uni-coach for intrastate travel, and Pega-coach for interstate.

reaganaut on November 5, 2011 at 6:59 PM

OK, so rickshaw for intra-city travel. Uni-coach for intrastate travel, and Pega-coach for interstate.

reaganaut on November 5, 2011 at 6:59 PM

We’re still trying to understand why we have interstate highways

Kini on November 5, 2011 at 7:04 PM

The HS rail really should go between Oxnard and Truckee.

Only.

profitsbeard on November 5, 2011 at 7:19 PM

canopfor on November 5, 2011 at 6:32 PM

The city has been awarded more than $40 million in federal stimulus funds for transportation projects, including $4 million for preliminary engineering work on the initial segment of the $5.29 billion rail project.
Apparently, we did!

Kini on November 5, 2011 at 6:50 PM

kini:Interesting,lets pray it all works out,and I found a
bunch,of linkys that are related!:)
========================================

Hawaii Transportation Issues
Last updated: 10/31/2011
*************************

http://www.coastalhawaii.com/Transportation.htm

canopfor on November 5, 2011 at 7:36 PM

God help California if they’re stuck footing a bill like that.

Doughboy on November 5, 2011 at 5:28 PM

I have a feeling USA taxpayers will end up with the bill.

mockmook on November 5, 2011 at 7:48 PM

Arnold Schwartenneggar was the biggest bait and switch in CA history.

eaglewingz08 on November 5, 2011 at 7:57 PM

California is going to be our Greece. At some point we may have to kick it out of the Union to save ourselves from national bankruptcy.

rockmom on November 5, 2011 at 8:19 PM

HIGH SPEED fAIL

Dandapani on November 5, 2011 at 8:27 PM

California is going to be our Greece. At some point we may have to kick it out of the Union to save ourselves from national bankruptcy.

rockmom on November 5, 2011 at 8:19 PM

Downgrade the left coast and the entire north east to territory status until those idiots that live there get the hint they’re doing it wrong.

MadDogF on November 5, 2011 at 8:30 PM

Things to do when you’re state is broke: ~install High Speed Rail to get to the poorhouse quicker?

profitsbeard on November 5, 2011 at 11:21 PM

Well, come on. It’s a historically enormous construction project through the most populated parts of California. It’s sort of taken as a given by the wise that any estimate is a lowball. The real price is, literally, infinite: full funding in cash money for as many decades as the unions, Keynesians, and environmentalists can manage.

HitNRun on November 5, 2011 at 11:44 PM

Wisconsin refused the federal funds that went into the California scam. My real concern is that there is another scam rail project between Chicago and Detroit.

JAW on November 6, 2011 at 6:14 AM

I just don’r get it.

How could a train that runs along the San Andreas Fault, makes no economic sense, and is supported by Governor Moonbeam, be in such trouble? Must be the vast right wing conspiracy again.

Why don’t they go the whole hog and extend the line to Mexico City? It’ll probably be the capital of state formerly known as California, by then anyway.

Jack Bauer on November 6, 2011 at 7:28 AM

This is B.A.R.T. writ large. A very large sinkhole for public monies. They might as well try making a tunnel to Hawaii, too. But what the hell, California has always enjoyed savaging other states resources, complaining about energy costs while squatting upon a huge treasure of gas/oil, pissing about our military having to stabilize world energy prices while their gluttony knows no bounds. Also, the rest of the states suffer “Kalifornia” regulations because of how the “golden” state has poisoned it’s own air.

Soon we’ll be asked to bail out the formerly productive state that is sinking in debt (too big to fail!).

trl on November 6, 2011 at 7:38 AM

How much did it cost to put on Man on the Moon?

Jack Bauer on November 6, 2011 at 9:31 AM

And right on cue, here’s the SF Chronicle saying that the high-speed rail plan is…“right on track.” Unreal.

rcpjr on November 6, 2011 at 9:59 AM

California is flat broke & in debt, the interstate highways are crumbling, and haven’t been substantially upgraded since they were built.

Take half this money, repair and add new dedicated trucking lanes to I-5 & CA 99, and you’ve done far more than a high-speed rail system will ever accomplish.

cane_loader on November 6, 2011 at 10:39 AM

Turn the near-empty, failed, carpool lanes into dedicated truck lanes on all highways, and the traffic nightmare will be improved immensely.

Why does anything common-sense like this ever get floated?

Oh yeah. Union jobs.

cane_loader on November 6, 2011 at 10:41 AM

How much did it cost to put on Man on the Moon?

Jack Bauer on November 6, 2011 at 9:31 AM

http://www.asi.org/adb/m/02/07/apollo-cost.html

Renee on November 6, 2011 at 12:39 PM

So what exactly are these variables that will add more than half as much cost as the project’s original price tag?

It won’t be until well until in the project that they can figure out how much they can skim from the money-bucket. That’s why it’s hard to estimate. Cut them some slack.

Squiggy on November 6, 2011 at 4:46 PM

Why not High speed ferry?

No tracks and your car can come. Just saying.

If it has to be a boondoggle, at least it’s not entirely absurd.

elowe on November 7, 2011 at 7:14 AM

Aside from all the obvious reasons as to why this is a bad idea – has anyone thought about the progress of technology in 20 years? By the time they get this monstrosity built, completely new technology will most likely make it obsolete anyway. Think back 20 years – even in railroading. Engines were still all DC. Mid-nineties is when the AC’s started showing up in force and now we’re mostly all AC traction motors. And what are they currently pushing for emissions control – natural gas engines.

Seriously, technology development has always only gotten faster, and with a 20+ year time frame for one project – they’ll get it built and there will probably be 5 better options.

Free Indeed on November 7, 2011 at 9:38 AM

I can get a roundtrip from San Diego to San Francisco on Southwest airlines for $120.00
Just for fun, try calculating how many round trips 100 Billion dollars would purchase. Using existing infrastructure. Without disrupting farms or towns or…
But of course it’s apples to oranges. The southwest flights are not paid for by tax dollars… In fact they generate net revenue.

JusDreamin on November 7, 2011 at 11:20 AM

California High Speed Rail Authority = 21st Century Railroad Barons.

juanito on November 7, 2011 at 12:42 PM