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Issues & Insights

California High-Speed Rail Takes On a Load of Added Costs

California’s high-speed rail has been called many things. The little train that couldn’t. The train to nowhere. A modern Stonehenge, for it might end up, says scholar Victor Davis Hanson, an unfinished and enigmatic monument that will puzzle future generations. All apply. But more than any of those, it is, with no apologies to the Clash, a train in vain.

Voters were conned in 2008 when they were told the project would cost $33 billion. Consequently, nearly 53 percent voted for it.

But estimated costs soon rose. And rose again. From that $33 billion, it hit $43 billion a little more than a year later. Within three years, officials settled on a price range — $98.5 billion on the low end, $117 billion on the high side. Projections later settled at $77 billion.

No more. Reports this week say the first section of rail, in the sparsely populated Central Valley, will cost $1.8 billion more than planned, taking the cost of that 119-mile stretch to $12.4 billion. And this is the portion that was supposed to be the easiest, least costly to build.

While costs have increased, so have estimated fares and travel times.

Slower Than a Speeding Bullet

Supposedly the “bullet train” would shoot between Los Angeles and San Francisco in 2:40, hitting speeds of 220 mph. A Reason Foundation study said the trip would actually take at least 3:50 and maybe as long as 4:40.

And the slower it travels, the more expensive the ticket, because ridership, which needs to be high to meet revenue needs, will not reach projected levels if the train operates at the speed of a blowgun rather than a bullet.

About a year ago, a poll found only 31 percent of Californians want the project to continue. Policymakers should follow the political winds on this occasion. Drop the project, and count the spent dollars, about $3 billion, as lost. Do it now before taxpayers are bound like a damsel tied to a railroad track.


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J. Frank Bullitt

J. Frank Bullitt has been writing professionally since 1986. After covering local news for years, and putting in some time in Washington, D.C., he began writing opinions in 1998, covering a wide variety of domestic and international topics from a limited-government point of view.

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