It has been a while since we had anything to say about the progress (or the lack thereof, as the case may be) of the planned California high-speed train that — the Lord willin’ — will some day connect Los Angeles and San Francisco, but for now will be started in the middle of the Central Valley, which is to say in the middle of nowhere, if you’ll pardon the redundancy. If you haven’t been following this controversy, here is a capsule summary.
Governor Jerry Brown wants to have one of those schmaltzy high-speed trains (like in Europe and Japan) that will allow Californians to go betewen LA and San Francisco in a couple of hours, thereby taking a load off north-south freeways which, so goes the plan, will also save energy, reduce emissions and sharply reduce highway traffic. Make no mistake we are all for such a happy state of affairs, but there are big problems involved here that by our lights have not been properly considered. Like whence cometh the electrical power to run all those trains — estimated to require about a quarter of the output of Hoover Dam. Then there is the question of whether actual ridership figures will be sufficiently high to make this scheme work out economically. California is broke and her prospective sugar daddy (Uncle Sam) is even broker ($16 trillion in debt and counting), which raises the question of where all those billions are going to come from and whether, given the prevailing economic conditions, this is the best time to start a project of that magnitude.
California voters, many of whom are now wondering if they were snookered, approved a $9 billion bond issue to finance this high-speed railroad, about a half-dozen years ago. What is wrong with that, you ask? For openers, estimates have been running to — not $9, but $68 billion. Moreover, instead of routing the new railroad through populated parts of the state where the prospective riders are, the line is being laid out on the east side of the Central Valley, an agricultural area that has lots of fruits and veggies, but few people, and offers prospects of meager ridership figures.
Then there are the usual problems with timing. Indeed, that’s what this post is about. The California High Speed Rail Authority has just revealed “that it was adding 12 months to the construction schedule for 130 miles of track in the Central Valley,” the first segment going in between Madera and Bakersfield. And bear in mind that so far these folks haven’t yet turned over a single spadeful of dirt. But not to worry. We are assured that the railroad builders will make it up with lower overtime figures, though they still plan to be spending $3.5 million per day (we have no doubt they can do that part with one arm tied behind their back).
So keep your eye on the progress of this project, and mark December 2017 on your calendars, for that is the time when that first segment of the California high-speed train is supposed to be completed.
You can read up on all that in Ralph Vartabedian, Bulet Train Leg to Finish Later, L.A. Times, Nov. 16, 2012, at p. AA1.
Follow up. In the meantime, a trial court in Sacramento denied a preliminary injuction that would have stopped work on the railroad until completion of a full review of the environmental impact report – click here. The lawsuit challenging the EIR was brought by a gr oup of Central Valley farmers.