A train bound for nowhere

According to a new poll, about two-thirds of Californians now oppose the high-speed rail project that was authorized by voters in 2008. Normally I’d say I’ve never seen a train I didn’t like, but in this case I’m inclined to agree with the majority. It’s hideously expensive, for one thing, and isn’t projected to be complete until 2026. And given that this is a government project, it’s a sure bet that it will take much longer and cost much more than projected.

When privately owned railroads are built, the first segment to be constructed is nearly always chosen with an eye toward generating revenue as soon as possible. Given the chosen route of the California high-speed rail line, either Los Angeles to San Diego or maybe San Francisco to San Jose should be built first. Instead, the plan is to begin constructing the line between Fresno and Bakersfield. This already is enough to show that it’s being built by morons.

Another major problem is that, due to federal safety regulations, high-speed trains in the United States have to be massively heavier than their European or Japanese counterparts. (A good summary of the problem can be found here.) This makes them slower and more expensive, as well as more polluting. Those regulations are a significant part of the reason the Acela Express only averages about 70 mph over the length of its route.

Currently, no passenger train is allowed to exceed 150 mph (the Acela’s maximum) except under special conditions, which won’t exist on the California high-speed route. The average speed end to end will, obviously, be significantly lower. What that ultimately means, is that the rail line is unlikely to be fast enough to compete with airlines. It will just be a huge money pit.

(Don’t even get me started on the Desert Xpress. Las Vegas to Victorville! Are you freakin’ kidding me?)

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