Obama, High Speed Rail, and the State Of California


High speed rail is big business in other countries like China. America has been trying to get a high speed rail program in action for years with California being at the forefront of the planning. Now, it seems that lawsuits might be shutting down the California project for good, or at least delay the project until the funding evaporates.

The Senate Appropriations Committee, a Democrat controlled committee, amended spending legislation to direct $100 million to President Barack Obama’s high speed rail program next year. Oddly, the same appropriations committee recently approved a bill that did not include money for President’s Obama’s initiative. The amended legislation reallocates $100 million that had been earmarked for highway and other transit projects

Of the $10.1 billion (yes BILLION) that Congress has directed to President Barack Obama’s high speed rail program since 2009, $7.59 billion has been distributed. The state of California is counting on the federal funding as the state attempts to build a $43 billion rail system to run trains up to 220 miles per hour between the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The funding is indeed currently available but the California high speed rail project still has been filled with problems. To say that it was easy to untangle all of the issues and negative implementations that have plagued the California high speed rail project would be in jest. To start, the California high speed rail project is going to cut through the middle of the one of the nation’s most populous areas. This means not everyone is going to want a train track in their backyards and these folks have voiced their opinions.

Opinions do matter; especially when publicly elected officials want to keep their jobs come the new election cycle. This leads to political pandering and legislative hang ups in the realm of local and state politics. Add to this engineering issues, environmental concerns, poor ridership estimates, racial issues, and the desire to use existing Caltrain cars and lines and one is left with a real mess that has halted the California high speed rail project.

Now there are lawsuits. Starting in the Bay Area, local Bay Area cities and a number of nonprofits are suing over the issues of the train route and also over a number of negative environmental studies. Moving to Southern California, the City of Palmdale has gone to court over concerns that rail officials will abandon a planned Antelope Valley line through the city and reroute the tracks up Interstate 5 instead. Off to the Central Valley, Kings County officials and residents are doing everything in their power to stop a 100 mile stretch of track from ruining thousands of acres of farmland located between Fresno and Bakersfield.

All the while the clock is slowly ticking – a federal stipulation on the almost $3.5 billion in stimulus cash that was given given for the project says that construction must begin in the valley. If rail officials cannot get this battle with Kings County sorted and the money distributed by September 2017, the government could divert the billions in funds to other projects.

If California is supposed to be leading the way for high speed rail in America the state certainly could be doing a better job. The idea of having a high speed rail line in California is great, but it is also expensive and given the economic hardship in the U.S. wasteful spending or money allocated to projects that are not moving is not smiled upon; especially when that money had been previously earmarked for existing highway projects.

Additionally, the world famous China high speed rail systems (the supposed model of high speed rail) has had its share of recent technical problems surrounding safety, ticket price gouging, and corruption—leaving a black eye on the face of the entire high speed rail industry.

Overall, it seems that if California does not get its act together, and quickly, the idea of having a large and functional high speed rail system in America may never come to fruition.

Source: infrastructurist.com

Andrew Meggison was born in the state of Maine and educated in Massachusetts. Andrew earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Government and International Relations from Clark University and a Master’s Degree in Political Science from Northeastern University. Being an Eagle Scout, Andrew has a passion for all things environmental. In his free time Andrew enjoys writing, exploring the great outdoors, a good film, and a creative cocktail.

About the Author

Andrew Meggison was born in the state of Maine and educated in Massachusetts. Andrew earned a Bachelor's Degree in Government and International Relations from Clark University and a Master's Degree in Political Science from Northeastern University. In his free time Andrew enjoys writing, exploring the great outdoors, a good film, and a creative cocktail. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMeggison
  • Sorry, but the author needs to do more homework.

    Current estimates for the project, phase 1 are mot $43 billion but $65 billion. The whole 800 mile project now estimated to be well over $100 billion.

    The funding is not available. Only about $3 billion from the Federal FRA plus $3 billion from the State is currently available. The project will require about 3.5 to 4 billion each year for at least 10 years, from the Federal government to be successful.

    The congress cut off all FY 2012 funding; the 100 million was added at the last minute, is for the whole country, and has yet to be approved.

    Construction must start by Fall 2012 or the Federal grant will be lost.

    A large number of lawsuits are about to be filed. Farmers in the Central Valley are up in arms.

    It is a true boondoggle and should be stopped now.

  • The California high-speed train is never going to see the light of day. First California is completely broke, so unless the federal government is willing to foot 100% of the bill, California can’t afford it. Also, the estimates to lay the track is grossly underestimated, and projected money from riders isn’t even enough to cover the current estimates. High speed rail in the US would be nice, but in reality it’s just a joke, unless it’s heavily subsidized.

    • Agreed. Until it’s as heavily subsidized as the US auto industry and oil companies, rail’s got no chance.

  • Actually Joseph the Stanford report is saying more like 116 Billion. One has to wonder what hole their sinking all this money into in a project that may never get off the ground.

  • DF

    Mother Jones – the ultra liberal, leftist, greenist, periodical in the World said on 8/11/2011 in an article titled “California’s HSR Boondoggle – Now More Boondoggly” that the California High Speed boondoggle should be ended, now, for several reasons, mostly that construction costs have already ballooned, likely to exceed $100,000,000,000,000.00 ($100 billion) in 2011-year dollars. Mother Jones said: “Look, I’m sorry HSR lovers. I love me some HSR too, but this project is just a fantastic boondoggle. It didn’t even make sense with the original cost estimates, and it’s now plain that it’s going to cost three or four times more than that. What’s more, the ridership estimates are still fantasies and it won’t be able to compete with air travel without large, permanent subsidies. This is just too much money to spend on something this dumb. It’s the kind of thing that could set back HSR for decades. Sacramento needs to pull the plug on this, and they need to pull it now. We have way better uses for this dough.” Article here: http://motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2011/08/californias-hsr-boondoggle-now-even-more-boondoggly

  • DF

    California Treasurer Bill Lockyer, the California politician responsible for selling these CAHSR bonds, said on March 14, 2011 to an LA news reporter that no one is interested in buying CA HSR bonds because the CAHSR is more interested in issuing bad PR, rather than coming up with a sound business plan. Until there is a sound business plan, or even a half-baked one, then no one will invest in this stinker of a project. Interviewer asks: “so are investors saying we’re interested, but it doesn’t look like you guys [CAHSR Authority] know what you’re doing” & Lockyer responds: “that’s what they’re saying”; Interviewer: “what do you think?” & Lockyer responds: “well, I think the same thing.” Lockyer also says “we don’t have a [business] plan that makes sense” and “I don’t think the State of California can sell these bonds”, and even though voters authorized the bonds, the bonds don’t need to be sold and the project can be cancelled in 2011 or 2012 – see interview here:

  • High speed rail looks expensive until you compare it with the even greater amounts spent on freeways and airports. And that’s without even factoring in the costs of lost productivity, medical care, pollution, and sprawling infrastructure resulting from continuing the auto & air oriented transportation policies.

    • @ William

      High Speed Rail doesn’t just look expensive…it IS expensive, especially when you are talking about starting a whole new line from scratch.

      I really think at this point, California needs to go back to the drawing board and start over. The money they’ve gotten, and are not using, would go to much better use supporting and improving train service in the Northeast…where people ACTUALLY RIDE TRAINS ON A DAILY BASIS. Sorry Cali.

  • To put all this money into context. Californians as a whole spend $12 billion in fuel tax every year. That comes from a combine federal and state tax of 64.5 cents/gal on gasoline and 68.9 cents/gal on diesel fuel. Loosely speaking, you can think of this as the yearly cost needed to maintain the roads, highways, and the rest of the infrastructure associated driving in CA (don’t forget some of that money goes back to the oil companies in the for of subsides).