Against All Odds, the California Bullet Train Barrels Forward

Even Trump and furious farmers can’t halt the project (for now)

Transportation Comments

Guiding the nation’s largest infrastructure project to fruition is no easy feat. Just ask Jeff Morales, who recently announced his resignation as CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. Morales didn’t say why he was quitting, but did proclaim he was “very proud of the progress we have made in advancing the nation’s first high-speed rail system, against the odds and in spite of all the obstacles.”

It’s indeed impressive that the bullet train project—which should connect San Francisco to Anaheim, via L.A., by the late 2020s—has gotten several shovels in the ground. Central Valley farmers have waged litigious war on the project since voters approved it in 2008. The latest salvo was a lawsuit challenging the sale of $1.25 billion in state bonds, money that will at least partially be used for electrification of existing commuter rail track in northern California. That track will be used by the bullet train when it starts service, but opponents said this was not part of the original plan and voters are now being duped. A judge disagreed this month, saying the electrification is in line with the overall project, and allowed the bond sale to go through.

That ruling was good news for the train, which is now facing a Republican administration that’s sent mixed signals on its support. The president has previously advocated large infrastructure projects but his transportation secretary—Elaine Chao, wife of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell—froze a $637 million grant that would also help pay for NorCal electrification. The move was pushed by Republican congressmen from California who want federal grants stopped, at least until more funding details are released. There’s a possibility the grant will be freed up when Trump’s budget passes, but nothing is clear with this president.

The rail authority downplayed Chao’s decision, especially as it looks more and more likely that federal government will not be a big source of income for the $64 billion project. “I would not characterize it as a big blow whatsoever,” rail authority spokeswoman Lisa Marie Alley told L.A. Weekly.

The new rail CEO will indeed have to start finding ways to plug that funding hole, likely through private investors. In the interim, construction on viaducts and bridges continues in Fresno and planning begins in earnest on the connection from L.A.’s Union Station to Anaheim.

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  • ProphetForProfit

    We’re perhaps a decade and a half from a nation of self driving electric cars, yet this near $100,000,000,000 boondoggle of enhanced 1820’s transportation merrilly “chugs along.”

    Good grief.

    • I guess $64bn is nearer to $100bn than $0, but the project certainly isn’t costing over 50% of the present price. Also, self-driving cars don’t solve the fundamental issues of cars, namely that they take up so much space. And I doubt they’ll ever advance to the ability to travel at 200+ MPH on a regular basis. Besides, trains can also be self-driving.

      • zoom314

        Though even $64 Bn is just mere speculation, why? Simple, no contracts for construction have been put out for bid beyond CP1, CP2-3, and CP4, and without interest charges the estimated cost is about $54 Bn, the CP’s are all at or around $1 Bn, plus there are areas in LA/Orange Counties where HSR is supposed to go that got HSR Bond money, and yet, no one objected or jumped up and down like a bunch of mad chimps.

        Yet HSR attempts to spend some HSR Bond money in the Caltrain Corridor($600 Mn), and some people lose their minds, oh and the amount for Caltrain from the FRA/DOT is not $637 Mn, it’s $647 Mn, at least one online trade paper said it was $647 Mn, like at ‘Railway Age’ or at ‘International Railway Journal’, or at ‘Railway Gazette International’, or even at the ‘CA HSR blog'(not affiliated with HSR or funded by HSR money, it’s just a fan blog).

        And yes self driving autos are still experimental, and a distraction away from HSR, a decoy, and none are in production.

      • flyr

        Have you looked at the average cost overrun on simple projects contracted to Tudor Perini (formerly Tudor Saliba)

        LA Police Headquarters (Just a simple office building )

        Approved budget $150 million

        Cost at start of construction $215 million

        Cost at Finish $437 million

        Contractor Tudor Saliba ( now Tutor Perini )

        You can also research Tudor Saliba Metrorail lawsuit, parking garage lawsuit, airport runway lawsuit, SFO airport lawsuit

    • Richard Campbell

      Automated cars that can safely travel at highway speeds are further away. Plus they still need roads and may never approach the speed of the trains. If anything, automated vehicles will increase demand for high speed rail by efficiently getting people to and from the stations. Plus, it is much easier to automate trains (many already in operation) lowering the cost of and improving the safety of the high speed rail. And roads are 2000 year old technology. Rail is much newer. So by your “logic”, we are much better off investing in rail rather than roads.

      • flyr

        Do you have any idea of how people get to Union Station in LA at rush hours ( 0430-1900) From the San Fernando Valley it’s faster to drive to Bakersfield and meet the train there. Fixed rail works where you have very high population density and very narrow transportation corridors. The Bay Area is held as the mecca for fixed rail BART however more passengers come across the Bay Bridge on busses than take BART across to and from the east bay.

      • Richard

        Self driving cars are actually much better on highways than in dense urban environments. We will see autonomous trucks plying I-5 in the central valley 10-20 years before we have autonomous taxis dropping and picking up people in West Hollywood.

        Still wont make your drive from LA to SF any faster or much more pleasant.

  • The latest salvo was a lawsuit challenging the sale of $1.25 billion in state bonds, money that will at least partially be used for electrification of existing commuter rail track in northern California.

    For the record, none of those funds are for the electrification of Caltrain. Those bonds are to meet the matching requirement for the Federal grants that are being used to build the Central Valley segments now under construction. The State hasn’t sold any bonds for electrification because they were waiting to see the outcome of the ruling.

  • fdmtts

    Boys and girls we have not even gotten to the mountains and how we get a train through the mountains at 220 mph through the San Gabriel Mountains. Let’s talk decades and the project ballooning over 100 billion from things we haven’t anticipated. This makes Trumps wall look a bargain. Let’s the citizens of California vote again using the remaining bond money on improving and expanding mass transit where it have an immediate positive impact on the California taxpayer.

    • stirfry

      No.

  • flyr

    Ladies and Gentlemen , may I have your attention. We pause here for a slight correction to the headline of this article……….. The Bullet Train is NOT moving forward, what is moving forward is the transfer of tens of billions of dollars of hard earned taxpayer money into the pockets of the politically connected, including the contractor rated unqualified to perform the work but who has deep ties to corrupt public officials and an unblemished record of immense cost overruns on public projects. The taxpayers were duped into approving bond funds , the use of which were conditioned upon the project sponsors demonstrating performance of the train BEFORE spending any money. The bond funds were to have been held in trust until that occurred.

    However, in the proud tradition of Pat Brown, the Burton Brothers , Willie Brown ( perhaps the problem is last names beginning with the letter B) and our senators…. the trust fund is to be looted while the project lacks a route from Bakersfield to LA , a route from San Jose to San Francisco, any hope of meeting the performance criteria and less hope of meeting the budget criteria.

    Brown and the other democratic politicians know that of every billiion spent on the project perhaps 5% or more will end up in the pockets of the politicians.

    California is already suffocating under State and local government debt, VAST unrecognized obligations of CALPERS ( also looted by dirtbag politicians) underfunded infrastructure maintenance and the tens of billions spent on illegals

  • gotmyjd

    As somene who’s made the SF/LA trip at least 150 times, my two cents is that this train is an idea of epic stupidity because virtually no one will use it regularly, which makes the cost unjustifiable.

    Sure, people might ride it once for the novelty, but it’s pointless after that. I can drive it in 5 1/2 hours for about $30 in gas. I can fly door-to-door in about 4 hours for about $120-150. I could do it by bus in 8 hours for as little as $2 (my personal lowest r/t was $4.50).

    With those options, why pay an estimated $100 for a 4 hour door-to-door train ride?

    Just a taxpayer-funded wealth transfer to a select group of landowners, developers, contractors and unions.

    • Gabe Castor

      That does seem like a lot. Car would be the best way.

    • George Turner

      It will be over 100 billion if ever completed.