Plans for a California Bullet Train Are Derailed By Inflated Costs

But since the project’s approval, the high-speed rail has been awash with criticism to  the expected costs and toll on communities, not to mention derailed from its original completion date of 2020 by 14 years, with a new expected completion date of 2034. So, in an attempt to start fresh, the California High-Speed Rail Authority released a revised version of its business plan on Nov. 1, addressing some criticisms and confirming others.

Let’s start with the good. The revised plan will adopt a “blended approach” to construction in Silicon Valley, using existing rail lines to bring riders to the train’s San Jose starting point, rather than building a new rail that might ruin homes, farms and businesses essential to the livelihood of the local communities.

But here’s the bad: After completing rigorous analysis of ridership and long-term costs, the price tag of the rail — the largest infrastructure project in the nation — has doubled due to projected higher project costs and inflation. What was once anticipated by the rail authority in 2006 to be a $45-billion project has now increased to $98.1 billion — and that doesn’t include promised links to San Diego and Sacramento, nor a connection to San Francisco.

It would then be impossible for a UCSD student to ride home to San Francisco for Thanksgiving — that is, without riding up to LA first and taking other public transit from San Jose into San Francisco at the end of the line. So without several major cities included in the rail system — including our own — there are virtually no benefits of the train to a large portion of the state’s population. Plus, based on past cost estimates, including San Diego and Sacramento would bring the total cost to $115 billion or more. Therein lies the tricky part: Where the hell the High-Speed Rail Authority is going to come up with that money.

According to the plan, the High-Speed Rail Authority hopes about half the funding for the Los Angeles to San Jose portion would come from a bill now before Congress that would expand an existing tax-credit program, while the other half would come from private investments.

Basically, the High-Speed Rail Authority requires a giant federal subsidy to even put a dent in the project, and considering the Obama administration and congressional leadership in both parties are committed to cutting down on federal spending in the coming years, the help seems unlikely.

But for those itching to travel up and down Central Valley (no one), there’s almost enough money. By combining some of the $9.95 billion in bond seed money provided by the passage of Proposition 1A in 2008 and already-promised federal grants, the rail authority is $2.7 billion shy of funding the 130-mile Central Valley segment. If they made up for the difference in more bond sales, the interest would rise to $300,000 a year — three times the amount of the state’s park budget.

And with no money to continue after the middle segment is completed and a cost two times greater than initially proposed, it’s doubtful voters will be as supportive as they were when they voted three years ago, especially when other programs — like education — are receiving cut after cut.