This is a story which has sadly turned into a very long running joke around here, and while it never gets any funnier, the punchlines keep coming. The vaunted California high-speed rail project, which has been soaking up literally tens of billions of dollars in a state where people don’t seem to understand that trains are a way to get around, has been hit with yet another budget projection. If you were betting that they’re suddenly coming in under cost and ahead of schedule you probably also put a lot of money on the Texans in tonight’s playoff game. Yes, you guessed it… the cost is going up yet again. (LA Times)
California’s bullet train could cost taxpayers 50% more than estimated — as much as $3.6 billion more. And that’s just for the first 118 miles through the Central Valley, which was supposed to be the easiest part of the route between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
A confidential Federal Railroad Administration analysis, obtained by The Times, projects that building bridges, viaducts, trenches and track from Merced to Shafter could cost $9.5 billion to $10 billion, compared with the original budget of $6.4 billion.
The federal document outlines far-reaching management problems: significant delays in environmental planning, lags in processing invoices for federal grants and continuing failures to acquire needed property.
Shortly after the news broke, Jonah Goldberg of National Review took to Twitter to describe how shocked everyone must be to hear this news.
Exactly. Everyone reading this feels like It's the end of Spartacus. "I am Captain Obvious!" "No, I am Captain Obvious!" https://t.co/tis0n6bx5Q
— Jonah Goldberg (@JonahDispatch) January 14, 2017
This saga has been dragging on for years. Ed Morrissey was writing about the situation back in 2013 and some of his predictions about the cost have turned out to be more than a little prescient. Also, as he noted at the time, there is still virtually zero demand for this project anywhere outside of legislative sessions.
[T]he fact is that the route already has service — through the airlines. At least a half-dozen airlines fly that route each day, with multiple departures and arrivals through multiple airports throughout both endpoint metropolises. The costs of those flights cost less than the full projected cost of a round-trip ticket on the 160-minute train ride, and gets there in less than half the time. There is almost literally no need for this boondoggle except to aggrandize the politicians wasting taxpayer money by laying track adjacent to and across the West’s largest earthquake fault.
The failures being noted in this report are all things which were already known so we didn’t require a Magic 8-Ball to pin them down. They’re working on a project which requires them to lay track on land which they have still not yet acquired. They’re not getting all of the projected federal grant money, not because they’re being turned down, but because those in charge of the operation aren’t filling out the required applications. And to top it all off, this is California, so any industrial activity is immediately hamstrung by a raft of environmental regulations, inspections and requirements. Of course they were going to blow the budget.
All of this is actually sad news for me. I happen to be a fan of riding the train and would like to see more of it where it’s economically viable. (We currently have to drive between two and three hours to get to the closest city with long distance rail service.) I think there are some places where people would support enhanced rail service, particularly in the northeast corridor. And given the continuing state of decay of passenger air service, with expanding prices and shrinking leg room, fewer routes available and constantly overbooked flights, there could be a serious market for it. But projects such as this California boondoggle just give the entire industry a black eye and make other areas less likely to explore these options.
Well done, California. You continue to be a beacon of progressiveness in a nation rapidly growing sick of it.