"I was totally naïve when I took the job. I spent my time and didn’t succeed. I realized the system didn’t work. I just wasn’t smart enough. I don’t know how they can build it now."
Said Michael Tennenbaum, "a former Wall Street investment banker who was the first chairman of the rail authority 20 years ago," quoted in "How California’s Bullet Train Went Off the Rails America’s first experiment with high-speed rail has become a multi-billion-dollar nightmare. Political compromises created a project so expensive that almost no one knows how it can be built as originally envisioned" (NYT).
The idea of beginning construction not on either end, but in the middle — in the Central Valley, a place few in Los Angeles would want to go — was a political deal from the start.
Proponents of running the rail through the booming cities of Bakersfield, Fresno and Merced cited a lot of arguments: The Central Valley needed jobs. It would be an ideal location to test equipment. It would be the easiest place to build, because it was mostly open farmland.
But the entire concept depended on yet another costly diversion. Instead of following Interstate 5 through the uninhabited west end of the valley, the train would travel through the cities on the east side — more passengers, but also more delays, more complications over acquiring land, more environmental problems....
State senators were under pressure to endorse the Central Valley plan, not only from Gov. Jerry Brown but also from President Barack Obama’s transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, who came to the state Capitol to lobby the vote.
The Central Valley quickly became a quagmire. The need for land has quadrupled to more than 2,000 parcels, the largest land take in modern state history, and is still not complete. In many cases, the seizures have involved bitter litigation against well-resourced farmers, whose fields were being split diagonally.
Federal grants of $3.5 billion for what was supposed to be a shovel-ready project pushed the state to prematurely issue the first construction contracts when it lacked any land to build on....
When Californians voted for the project in 2008, the projected cost was $33 billion and the completion date was 2020. The current projected cost is $113 billion, and the completion date is... never. It costs $1.8 million a day but it isn't possible to complete it "in this century."Here's a post of mine from December 5, 2010, "The high-speed rail boondoggle at its worst — in California." Excerpt:
Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, we just elected a new governor whose central election promise was to say no to $810 million connect Madison and Milwaukee by high-speed rail:
Scott Walker has made no secret of his aversion to high-speed trains, but before he goes any further with his plans to derail the planned Milwaukee-Madison line, Walker might consider some earlier chapters in Wisconsin's transportation history. They indicate that the governor-elect could be putting his state in reverse..
As long as there has been a Wisconsin, residents have labored mightily to establish connections with each other and with the world beyond the state's borders. Although disputes often arose in working out the details, the general trend was unmistakable....
Connections! We're all about relationships among people.
The idea seems oddly nostalgic at first - why build passenger trains in the 21st century? - but it actually fits an emerging settlement pattern. Not in my lifetime but perhaps in my grandchildren's, and for better or worse, an interconnected megalopolis will sprawl from Benton Harbor, Mich., to Minneapolis-St. Paul. As the empty spaces fill in, there will be a demand for some form of transport that's faster than cars but has more frequent stops (and fewer exasperating waits) than airplanes.
The columnist — John Gurda in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — is imagining a megalopolis in the future and telling us what people then will want. But people don't even want trains now. We drive cars. Or we take planes. There's also the bus. True, a bus doesn't go at a speed in between the speed of a car and a plane, but come on. Pick one. Road or air.
I'm so glad we elected Scott Walker and avoided the train fiasco. I was a one-issue voter in 2010, and I look back on that choice with satisfaction.
I've never understood what was so important about efficiently shuttling people between Madison and Milwaukee — or L.A. and San Francisco. Pick a city, you Madison/Milwaukee and L.A./San Francisco wafflers. What on earth is so important about your 2-city ambivalence? It's especially obvious now that there's so much remote work being done easily through technology. Use Zoom or Metaverse or something. The clunky, repeated transportation of your physical body not a worthy demand on public money. And the lies about the amount of money it would take are ongoing and horrifying.