California: By the way, that bullet train isn't actually going to be as fast as we said it would be

When California first put the issue of building a high-speed bullet train between Los Angeles and San Francisco before voters, Gov. Jerry Brown made all sorts of nifty-sounding promises about how efficient, convenient, and fiscally sound a choice the rail line would be for Californians. All of those promises have more or less turned out to be a sham by now, as the train’s costs have exploded and its deadlines pushed way back, and now it appears that that less-than-three-hour ride Californians were originally promised… well, probably isn’t. Via the LA Times:


Regularly scheduled service on California’s bullet train system will not meet anticipated trip times of two hours and 40 minutes between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and are likely to take nearly a half-hour longer, a state Senate committee was told Thursday.

The faster trips were held out to voters in 2008 when they approved $9 billion in borrowing to help pay for the project. Since then, a series of political compromises and planning changes designed to keep the $68-billion line moving ahead have created slower track zones in urban areas.

But Louis Thompson, chairman of the High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group, a state-sanctioned panel of outside experts, testified that “real world engineering issues” will cause schedules for regular service to exceed the target of two hours and 40 minutes. The state might be able to demonstrate a train that could make the trip that fast, but not on scheduled service, he told lawmakers. If public demand for the service supports additional investments, travel times could be improved after the currently planned system is built, he said.

Sure, the train’s travel times could be improved “if public demand for service supports additional investments,” except that Brown’s administration doesn’t even know where they’re going to get the money for the project as-is. Sources of funding have been disappearing as the train has been exposed for the epically terrible investment that it is, and the its general unpopularity is growing — all before they’ve even started laying track.

Weirdly enough, though, Gov. Brown — who is going for reelection and a fourth term as California governor — isn’t backing away from the project in the slightest, and that… doesn’t actually seem to be hurting his chances. At all. As BuzzFeed points out:

The project faces legal troubles and opposition for mutating beyond what voters OKed. A petition for extraordinary writ was filed Friday in the Sacramento Superior Court, asking to expedite a decision on whether the California High-Speed Rail Authority is legally compliant with the six-year-old plans. Oral arguments begin May 20.

“It’s certainly my belief this project is a financial disaster in waiting, but certainly the governor doesn’t see it that way,” Dave Schonbrunn, president of Transdef, a pro-high-speed rail group opposed to the current project, told BuzzFeed.

Schonbrunn called it a “sinking ship.” Still, he doesn’t believe Brown’s support will hurt his reelection chances because, “He’s otherwise doing an OK job and the state’s not otherwise in crisis.” Brown’s approval rating hit a record high in January, with 60% of likely voters approving of the job he’s doing, a Public Policy Institute of California poll found.

Huh. I suppose it’s true that the state isn’t “otherwise in crisis” — because honestly, who really considers a mounting “wall of debt” and a slew of unfunded pension liabilities a crisis? Nobody in la-la-land, that’s for sure. Democratic supermajority, for the win.


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Ed Morrissey 4:41 PM on September 29, 2023