High Speed Rail in California — More Problems

We had occasion to comment on recent revelations that the actual, as opposed to projected, cost of the proposed high-speed, Los Angeles to San Francosco rail line appears to be higher than its planners’ estimates.  See http://gideonstrumpet.info/?p=371  Now there is more on that subject. To quote the lead paragraph in an article in today’s Los Angeles Times (Rich Connell and Dan Weikel, Some Fear California’s High-Speed Rail Won’t Deliver on Early Promises, February 28, 2010):

“Despite a new $2.5 billion infusion of federal economic stimulus funding, there are intensifying concerns — even among some high speed rail supporters — that California’s proposed bullet train may not deliver on the financial and ridership promises made to win voter backing in 2008.”

Surprise, surprise. Don’t that beat all?

“New inflation-adjusted construction figures show that outlays needed to build the first 520-mile phase of the system have climbed more than 25%, from $33.6 billion to $$42.6 billion.”

State Senator Alan Lowenthal, a supporter of high-speed rail and chairman of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee, is quoted as saying with remarkable understatement, “This just smells funny.” Yes indeed, Senator, it sure does, because whatever else may be true, we have not had a 25% rate of inflation since 2008 — though at the rate things are going, that level of inflation may yet come to pass in the future.

Also, the federal Government Accountability Office has published a study indicating that rail cost and and patronage projections around the world, including on some high-speed lines, have tended to be overly optimistic. And so it is here. So to maintain a semblance of credibility, the high speed rail mavens are now suggesting that the cost of tickets for a Los Angeles to San Francisco trip will have to be doubled, with a predictably negative impact on ridership figures, because at those prices rail fares will be up there in the same bracket as air fares.

And so it goes. There is nothing new about all that. We are reminded that way back in the 1950s a California Highway Commissioner wrote that the actual cost of highway right-of-way acquisition ran consistently some 30% higher than the highway planners’ optimistic projections. That much, it would appear, has not changed, though this time around, it may be more than 30%. The cost of the high-speed-rail link between Los Angeles and Anaheim has nearly doubled. Why? Because as the Times also reports, shoehorning the high-speed rail route into the existing rail corridor — a necessity in populated areas traversed by the high-speed train route — is going to pose serious engineering problems.

Of course, a realistic estimate of the actual cost of such projects only becomes known after the right-of-way acquisition begins and real appraisals have to be made in contemplation of the coming eminent domain cases where the rubber meets the road, as a tire commercial used to put it a while back. So stay tuned, folks. There’s more to come on this subject. Much more.

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