January 17, 2018

The problem Scott Walker spared Wisconsin.

The L.A. Times reports:
The estimated cost of building 119 miles of bullet train track in [California's] Central Valley has jumped to $10.6 billion, an increase of $2.8 billion from the current budget and up from about $6 billion originally.

The new calculation takes into account a number of intractable problems encountered by the state rail agency. It raises profoundly difficult questions about how the state will complete what is considered the nation’s largest infrastructure project with the existing funding sources....

The sobering news about the cost increases was long forewarned, though rail authority Chairman Dan Richard has consistently rejected those warnings. About a year ago, the Federal Railroad Administration issued a secret risk analysis that said costs were rising sharply and could hit $9.5 to $10 billion. When The Times disclosed the warning, Richard downplayed the analysis....

119 comments:

exhelodrvr1 said...

And that's just for the first portion. In a state whose road networks need a lot of maintenance.

dreams said...

Liberals, they can talk good but talk doesn't get the job done. Trump is having to clean up Obama's mess and he's getting the job done. MAGA!

dreams said...

Read Victor David Hanson who is a six generation Californian about the missed opportunity to build reservoirs the last few years that would have captioned all the rain water from last year, instead that water wound up in the ocean. The problem is the adults have all died and we're stick with the spoiled baby boomers.

The Godfather said...

There’s a lesson here: Don’t ever build high speed rail in the US. It will always cost more than they say to build and (if it’s ever built) to operate. And it’s not needed. Cars are better for medium length trips, and planes are better for long trips.

Gahrie said...

Our roads are going to shit in California as our idiot politicians divert money to this stupid train from nowhere to nowhere and bike trails.

Curious George said...

The headline should read "One of the problems Scott Walker spared Wisconsin."

He killed the train. Why? Because he does what he says; not just a big fancy talker.

dreams said...

California's leaders are just a bunch of sorry-ass spoiled baby boomers.

"Yet a single 1 million acre-foot reservoir can usually be built as cheaply as a desalinization plant. It requires a fraction of desalinization’s daily energy use, leaves a much smaller carbon footprint, and provides almost 20 times as much water. California could have built perhaps 40–50 such subsidiary reservoirs for the projected $68 billion cost of the proposed high-speed rail project. No one knows the exact figures on how many million acre-feet of water have been sent to the ocean since the beginning of the drought. California’s dams and reservoirs were originally intended to meet four objectives: flood control, agricultural irrigation, recreation, and hydroelectric generation. The inevitable results of sustaining a large population and vibrant economy were dry summer rivers in the lowlands and far less water reaching the San Francisco Bay and delta regions.

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/417685/why-californias-drought-was-completely-preventable-victor-davis-hanson

Terry Vance said...

Thank you, Prof Althouse. Many amusing sentences in this article and a funny word -- "principle" -- paired with 'interest'. Financial experts everywhere in this story.

I was going to build a house but now I am going to get the land first!

Rae said...

It was only ever a "money sink" to justify increasing budgets and taxes. There are a lot of programs like that, but this is the most obvious one I've seen.

DrMaturin said...

10.6 billion dollars to build 119 miles comes to almost 90 million a mile. The people responsible for this catastrophe should go to prison.

FleetUSA said...

Scott, the wise, making Wisconsin great again.

Ann Althouse said...

"Because he does what he says; not just a big fancy talker..."

Yes, we're still dancing to that tune here at Meadehouse.

I was a single-issue voter in 2010, and the issue was the boondoggle train.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Save us Donald Trump, save us!!

What will be the consequences for Chairman Dan Richard? C'mon, let's laugh a little--"consequences."

dreams said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ann Althouse said...

We keep thinking about moving to another state. We could live anywhere, and there are many reasons why California would be beautiful, but I don't want to be a California taxpayer.

Rae said...

We joke a lot about it in Michigan, but at least the People Mover actually works.

EDH said...

"The problem Scott Walker spared Wisconsin" ...taxpayers and pensioners.

"The sobering news about the cost increases was long forewarned, though rail authority Chairman Dan Richard has consistently rejected those warnings. "

Swampy McSwamp Swamp: Dan Richard, Chair

Fernandistein said...

secret risk analysis

Taxpayers loves them a secret!

Sebastian said...

Wait, a greenish public works project will cost double what was "expected"? God forbid, they might find out that ridership will be less than half what was projected. Surprise!

The real cost of progressivism is the culture of dishonesty it produces. They want to make us buy the lie. Once we do that, we will be fundamentally complicit. That was the most insidious form of social control in communist countries.

We aren't there yet. The railroad to nowhere may help prevent us from getting there.

Curious George said...

"Ann Althouse said...
We keep thinking about moving to another state. We could live anywhere, and there are many reasons why California would be beautiful, but I don't want to be a California taxpayer."

Well, it's not boondoggle trains that run taxes up. Not in comparison to state worker wages, benefits, and pensions. That's Walker's legacy. And California's too sadly.

Birches said...

I think it's time Jerry Brown concedes that whatever they've already spent is a sunk cost and end this. Yes, the union will be pissed but Jerry is an old man. He doesn't need another election. No one will take this up again though there will be a lot of talk.

PackerBronco said...

"“The worst-case scenario has happened,” Hill bluntly told the rail authority’s board at its regular monthly meeting."
============

In other words, Trump got elected and we can't count on that federal bailout we were hoping for.

Sebastian said...

"the boondoggle train." Are there any non-boondoggle passenger trains in the U.S.? (Honest question.)

james james said...

"About a year ago, the Federal Railroad Administration issued a secret risk analysis that said costs were rising sharply and could hit $9.5 to $10 billion."

Why exactly was this "secret"?

It seems like more and more of what government does -- with our tax dollars, with our privacy, with our expectations of transparency -- is now a secret to be kept from us.

Of course, there is money to be had in saving ourselves from ourselves.

-jj

Ann Althouse said...

How much more money do you throw into this hole before you stop? They know it won't work! How will the train ever connect San Francisco and L.A.? That's never going to happen. They must know.

dreams said...

It's just taxpayer dollars, sorry about that.

Gahrie said...

"Yet a single 1 million acre-foot reservoir can usually be built as cheaply as a desalinization plant.

You can also install turbines in the dams and produce electricity. It doesn't matter, the watermelons are opposed to dams and reservoirs. They actually work to tear dams down.

Greg Hlatky said...


There is no limit to what we must spend to imitate the Europeans.

Gahrie said...

How much more money do you throw into this hole before you stop?

Apparently as much as you can.

Dickin'Bimbos@Home said...

Leftwing democrats are economic illiterates. Take it to the bank.

California is the shining example of a one-party state economic disaster. As one example: If you've ever flown thru LAX, the old terminals look like a time-warped shithole. They never finished the 1990's re-model. Now, they are re-modeling the unfinished re-model.
The state of terminals 7 & 8 are laughable. It's progressive shithole paradise. I was on a short lay-over last year. This is the land of wealth - meryl Streep George Clooney Harvey Weinstein Stephen colbert. I do think CA needs a celebrity tax.

The problem is all the money goes to pay government employees with lavish early retirement and juicy pensions - the likes the rest of us will never see.

PackerBronco said...

"Richard said he thought the new estimate had some good news and bad news in it. The good: the agency identified some of the problems beforehand. The bad: it did not accurately estimate the costs of those problems."
========================

So the overall good news is that were only "mostly" incompetent. There's a big difference between mostly incompetent and completely incompetent. Mostly incompetent, well, you can still get elected in California. And completely incompetent? Well, with completely incompetent ... uh ... you can still get elected in California.

dreams said...

They could have spent that money on reservoirs that would have provided California with water.

Greg Hlatky said...

The US already has an extensive, heavily-used, profitable rail system. It is used for freight.

PackerBronco said...

I think they should just relabel the project the "Trains Gender Movement Line".

Todd said...

Ann Althouse said...
How much more money do you throw into this hole before you stop? They know it won't work! How will the train ever connect San Francisco and L.A.? That's never going to happen. They must know.

1/17/18, 8:27 AM


As with most modern "public works" projects, they are not primarily driven by any need to work. They are a "works" project for the right unions and/or companies with the politicians involved getting their share of the grease. If it actually ever gets done, that is a plus. Also, it is never actually expected to ever pay for its self. That is the icing on the cake, never ending returns to the public trough to get more funds for operations, up-keep, expansion, etc. All the while, the politicians continue to take their cut.

That is the true nature of these "efforts".

glenn said...

But, But, just think of the kickbacks .... sorry ... campaign contributions.

Big Mike said...

I see the article blames Dan Richard, but surely he’s just doing and saying what Governor Brown wants.

Roughcoat said...

We keep thinking about moving to another state.

Where to? I'm interested. We (Mr. & Mrs. Roughcoat) are thinking along similar lines, moving out of Illinois. We're open to suggestions.

Although part of me doesn't ever want to leave the Midwest. I love the Midwest and Midwestern culture. I love people from the Midwest.

John Lynch said...

"Intractable problems." Nice turn of phrase.

Mike said...

Lord, what insanity has infected my state? It isn't even a track that can be accurately called "high speed" now, because of changes to the original plan. So we are wasting all this money on 19th century tech. How fucking cutting edge. Oh, and it runs from Shithole South to Shithole North -- just where everybody in Cali really needs to go!

Where's my Scott Walker when I need him?

The Cracker Emcee Activist said...

So predictable it defies comment. Did anyone anywhere expect California Democrats to be competent stewards of the people’s purse? The very notion is absurd.

But let’s do it anyway.

gilbar said...

"10.6 billion dollars to build 119 miles comes to almost 90 million a mile"
that's Totally the wrong way to think of it, just think of it this way:
less than $1406 an inch!
why, for the price of a tesla model 3, you could pay for nearly three feet of railroad! (assuming that the rail doesn't go over-budget(

james james said...

The train plans will all make sense when they convert I-5 in California to all bike lanes.

--jj

rehajm said...

How much more money do you throw into this hole before you stop

Sunk cost fallacy

Massachusetts residents still sting from The Big Dig. It's the reason Boston isn't hosting The Olympics...

As others have noted these works projects are gifts to the trade unions. There's another reason places like California need them: they use the appropriated funds and the accompanying accounts receivable to prop up their rickety balance sheets. Record the receivables as an asset then move the payables off balance sheet and voila- fiscal health!

rehajm said...

Remember that cost guesstimate we gave you to get the project going? Well, we were waaaaay off!

Greg Hlatky said...

Passenger rail: yesterday's technology at tomorrow's cost. Next up, high-speed zeppelin service.

Balfegor said...

Look, if they build it I will definitely use it. Although I'll let it operate a couple of times first to make sure it doesn't derail the first time they use it.

But this high speed rail line was a stupid, stupid decision based on a cargo-cult theory of development.

Henry said...

Massachusetts residents still sting from The Big Dig. It's the reason Boston isn't hosting The Olympics...

That's a lose - win.

At least the big dig improved Boston's highway system and dramatically improved the cityscape.

Paco Wové said...

How much more money do you throw into this hole before you stop?

As rehajm pointed out, if they don't waste more money, then all of the money they've already wasted will go to waste.

Ray said...

A friend moved / retired from Orange County, California to the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. Convenient access to California, with Nevada taxes.

Paco Wové said...

"[Dan] Richard began his career at National Aeronautics and Space Administration, where he was assistant to the deputy associate administrator..."

Sounds like a job title right out of Yes, Minister.

Todd said...

Paco Wové said...
"[Dan] Richard began his career at National Aeronautics and Space Administration, where he was assistant to the deputy associate administrator..."

Sounds like a job title right out of Yes, Minister.

1/17/18, 9:12 AM


A far, far better position than "The Under Secretary for the Deputy Assistant to the Assistant of the Deputy Associate Administrator..."

The Drill SGT said...

Gahrie said...
Our roads are going to shit in California as our idiot politicians divert money to this stupid train from nowhere to nowhere and bike trails.


But, but you got $3B in free Fed money

LOL

- Born in Chico

Unknown said...

"Federal Railroad Administration issued a secret risk analysis..."

Secret? Why would a risk analysis of a project funded with public funds be done in secret?

-sw

Ray said...

There is an article talking about how California has the highest poverty rate:
https://www.city-journal.org/html/california-poverty-capital-15659.html

My family has been in California over 100 year, 3rd or 5th generation Californian depending how you count.

California is deep blue. The redistricting that was supposed to be unbiased, got slanted to the Democrats. Amazing how it was done!

Unions rule. If your an elected official, you don't mess with the unions. Arnold learned that. The most powerful is the Teacher's Union. Prison and Nurses have honorable mention.

Government unions fund Democrats, that then vote more stuff for the unions. That then elect more union friendly democrats. Amazing cycle.

And a lot of small business owners and the middle class leave California, those more likely to vote Republican, and import those more likely to vote Democrat, and it leaves you a one party state.

The rail to no where is Gov. Brown's legacy. If the stock market tanks, this is going to hurt CA tax revenues a huge amount. The pension time bomb (thanks Gray Davis for upping the pensions to reward the unions) when the tax revenue goes down. And since only a small percentage of the population pays the majority of the taxes, and these are in Silicon Valley...

And the minimum wage is going up to $15 by 2022. Rules were changed in agriculture for overtime, so you are going to see massive changes in that area. My guess is massive automation.

And the water issue, where water is being released to keep possibly non-native fish (bait fish) alive, that would have died in droughts in the past anyway, is hurting agriculture in the Central Valley.

Victor Davis Hanson is a great person to read to understand the central valley. I am in the LA County area.

Caligula said...


"How much more money do you throw into this hole before you stop? They know it won't work! How will the train ever connect San Francisco and L.A.? That's never going to happen. They must know."

Well, you could ask an economist about the wisdom of chasing sunk costs (and how much grief did Gov. Walker get about the money Wisconsin still had to pay Talgo?), but what do economists know anyway?

Building high-speed rail into any dense urban area is going to be costly, but the geology of Southern California seems to insure that it will be particularly so. IF it's even possible.

In any case, the inability to build new rail lines of any sort is a subset of the more general problem, which is that it's become impossible to build big infrastructure anywhere in the USA at anything close to a reasonable price (let alone to original schedule and cost budgets). At best we're lucky if the money spent eventually produces something that's both usable and useful.

An few example: New York City's Second Avenue Subway. New York really could use this subway, yet it's taking far longer and costing far more than the inflation-adjusted cost of the original IRT system that was built in 1900-1904, despite radically improved building technologies.

The original system was far larger and included the need to build the electric power plant and distribution system to power it. Whereas today we can't even afford a four-track system (separate tracks for express and local trains): an inferior extension for an insane amount of money is about the best possible now.

Or the new Oakland-Bay bridge: $12 billion, and it may not even solve the problem it was built to solve (i.e., earthquake resistance).

Or the Tappan Zee bridge, which crosses the Hudson about 25 miles north of New York City. Or the exploding budgets to improve and expand the infrastructure used by New York's commuter rail (where many of the tunnels and other structures are over a century old now, and either is beginning to show its age or is no longer adequate).

Does anyone think it would still be possible to build the Hoover Dam? Or replicate the Apollo moon program in eight years, instead of 80 (or never)?

Perhaps it's just time to admit that, really, we've become like medieval peasants staring at Roman aqueducts with wonder that it was once possible to build such things.

PeterK said...

Texas is flirting with the construction of a private high-speed rail from Dallas to Houston. Supporters assert that no government funds will be needed. HA! say the skeptics.

you can fly to either city on SWA in about an hours time. The SWA planes fly every hour more frequently during the early mornings and the afternoons as people commute back and forth. Each plane holds up to 180 passengers. I don't think High speed rail consists hold that many people, nor could they run with that high of a frequency

and if you don't want to fly you can drive the Dallas/Houston route on I45 in about 4.5 hours and along the way you cans stop at Bucees

Bay Area Guy said...

Darn, I wish we had Governor Walker out here!

The Dem Left is driving good ole Sunny California into an unrecognizable - few wealthy homeowners, high prices, and many struggling diverse folks in the middle.

Fabi said...

A: $1406 an inch!

Q: How much do the best hookers charge?

buwaya said...

Part of my long term pessimism is that California is the future and always has been. Its politico-economic sclerosis, its complete corruption, its extreme GINI coefficient, its lack of liberty, and the (relative) poverty of its people, all show the way. It is much further along to being Argentina than the rest of the US.

And worse. One thing that mitigates its current problems is that the rest of the country is NOT California and still has the disposable income to pay for what California sells, and the political will to resist Californian policies. But when the other states break, then there will be no stopping or resisting the degeneration in California.

Ultimately this comes out of its politics, and its politics is fundamentally ethnic. I've been hoping for a while that something like Mexico's PAN (the relative conservatives), however corrupt, would arise, to oppose California's excellent copy of the Mexican PRI, but it shows no sign of emerging.

buwaya said...

If California gets a Scott Walker he will be Chicano, or part Chicano. Something like Vicente Fox. No sign of that though.

Carol said...

How will the train ever connect San Francisco and L.A.?

Connecting to Stockton and environs in the Central Valley would be could for SF's servant class. Rather like the A train from Harlem, or the LA transit buses from Watts to downtown.

Carol said...

would be GOOD for...

buwaya said...

Part of the reason for that is one subset of "the long march through the institutions", one that began in the 1960's.

People misunderstand La Raza. Its actually a college-based mutual aid society. They took over the social life of Chicano kids in the California State College system, tying them together in a frat-like arrangement. They helped each other get good jobs and advance. These mostly went on to public employment careers, and therefore became politically significant as the only leadership class for the Chicano population.

Unknown said...

Connecting to Stockton and environs in the Central Valley would be could for SF's servant class. Rather like the A train from Harlem, or the LA transit buses from Watts to downtown.

The La transit buses from Watts to downtown need a catchy song..

Bruce Hayden said...

“As with most modern "public works" projects, they are not primarily driven by any need to work. They are a "works" project for the right unions and/or companies with the politicians involved getting their share of the grease. If it actually ever gets done, that is a plus. Also, it is never actually expected to ever pay for its self. That is the icing on the cake, never ending returns to the public trough to get more funds for operations, up-keep, expansion, etc. All the while, the politicians continue to take their cut.”

I think that is really what drives these projects- the graft and corruption. The top politicians, and their cronies, are at the front of the line at the pig trough. Wasn’t it Feinstein’s husband who was the prime contractor for this rail line?

buwaya said...

It would be much easier (by far) to connect the SF Bay Area to Stockton than to get a train from Bakersfield to Los Angeles.

Comanche Voter said...

Jerry Brown's choo choo to nowhere was sold to the California public with visions of high speed rail from downtown San Francisco to downtown Los Angeles. It will never happen.

Right now the current construction--way over budget, way past time due is only 119 miles in the "middle of nowhere" so to speak. And that's all it will ever be.

Governor Moonbeam's daddy got the California Aqueduct built. Moonbeam simply built a joke.

Carol said...

the valley is the only halfway affordable place, so...

Owen said...

What everybody upthread said. Especially what buwaya and Caligula said. And extra specially whatever Victor Davis Hanson ever says. The sunk cost problem is pernicious because it is sunk deep in our psyches to delay the reckoning, to dodge the blow, to hide the humiliation, just one more day, and then just one more. This is however not a linear process. Hiding the rot and the lies just accelerates and compounds the problem. The Ponzification proceeds in ever more extravagant form until it all comes down.

Another point, to which Caligula points, is the hostage effect. Other parties observe how big an investment you make and they move to block your progress unless you buy them out. The last guy on the block to sell to the developer of a parcel requiring the whole block, gets a very good price. (Not always: sometimes things get ugly, or an expensive work-around is done). So the costs increase exponentially in a project like this where --by their own public admission!-- they don't have the right of way secured.

Pass the very, very expensive popcorn.

Begonia said...

The project that Scott Walker killed was very different from the California project. One difference is that in Wisconsin, no new track was to be built with the "medium-speed train": it was going to all be using existing track, which needed upgrades to carry trains faster, safely.

Moreover, the problem I felt with the project in Wisconsin was that it was billed as a "Madison to Milwaukee" train. In fact, the final scope of the project was to be a Chicago-Twin Cities train with a stops in/around Madison, Milwaukee, and Johnson Creek. I think Milwaukeeans and Madisonians would love the alternative of taking the train to the Minneapolis/St Paul, if it were competitive with driving.

Lucien said...

Ann said: "We keep thinking about moving to another state. We could live anywhere, and there are many reasons why California would be beautiful, but I don't want to be a California taxpayer."

That's why we're leaving California to go back to Lopez Island in the San Juans. Yes, Washington is a blue state (west of the Cascades) but it has no state income tax and less of an unfunded public pension problem.

The thing about the rail projects is that once we have more self-driving cars (and trucks), and they can talk to each other, the cars will be able to coordinate and move like schools of fish, rather than the chaotic lane-changing behavior we have now that slows traffic. Combined with GPS navigation that can get cars into the proper exit lanes at the proper times, a smoother flow of traffic will effectively increae the capacity of freeways.

Jersey Fled said...

Wasn't the 3 billion that the Feds kicked in part of the stimulus package. For supposedly "shovel ready" projects. Eight years after the recession is over.

buwaya said...

Sacramento and the North State (Chico, Redding, Auburn) are not inaccessible to the Bay Area. I regularly ride the Capitol Corridor train from Richmond to Sacramento, and the San Joaquin to places in the valley, as far as Bakersfield.

We have also taken "the scenic route" Oakland - LA "Coast Starlight".

The only problem with these is that they are no faster (a bit slower) than driving. Except for the Coast Starlight. That can take 12 hours+ because of frequent stops to permit freight trains to pass. The cheapest way to get SF-LA is to expand the coastal route on the same right of way. Its never going to be a bullet train but its at least doable.

Chris N said...

here’s a partial list:

-Moonbeam
-Loafpinchers 101
-Spoils based activism and coalitional identity politics (eco warriors especially)
-Assorted fruits, nuts and flakes too busy rebelling against the man to allow anyone to maintain a budget.
-the Prop System
-A progressive leaning elite class and culture.

The train is the only thing they all belong too, and the train may not pass through reality.

BillyTalley said...

Take any architectural or engineering project, the first cost estimate will be difficult, almost too costly to accept, right at the upper range near to untenable. The final, actual cost will be in the neighborhood of double the original estimate. This is a rule that I’ve seen enforced over and over again. Clients always want the impossible for very little money. Phase for phase, they pressure builders and architects to keep their bubble safe from puncture by reality even long after the point that they are far too deep to back out of the project. In this example, the first projection was 6 billion, the final will be 12. Probably more.

Fred Drinkwater said...

Why "secret"?
It's the way they think, and have for decades.
Back in the 70s my father, for the benefit of his neighborhood association, did some research on the budget history of Santa Clara County. On his first call to the County office, asking for historical budget records, he was initially told "I'm sorry, sir, those are classified."
It's instinctive.

Professional lady said...

I think it was last year that the people of SE Michigan rejected a transit plan that included high speed rail. There was a lot of moaning and groaning about it from the transit authority etc, but it seems to me there are cheaper and more flexible options. Now bike lanes are the thing. Lanes were put in a main street near me. In three years, I've seen two people use the lanes (I drive this street 6 times a week).

buwaya said...

A very good point above, by Caligula, re the impossibility of major public works. A consequence, always missed, about the sclerosis of regulation and increasing complexity of governance (Schumpeters prediction) is that it doesn't just affect the private sector.

Almost as important it makes public works, and even organizational change, in the public sector extremely expensive. An obvious place to look is military procurement. People like to complain about the inefficiency of the Pentagon, but in truth the ongoing deterioration is everywhere.

Greg Hlatky said...

The one thing you don't see in bike lanes are bikes. To accommodate said lanes the car lanes are narrowed. Now you can be banging door panels with the car next to you while any bikes ride on the sidewalk.

buwaya said...

I note all the stories about the Chinese making wasteful investments in "ghost cities" and the like, including advanced train systems. Maybe they are indeed misconceived and wasteful. But more important, to me, is the fact that the Chinese can still make these public works and are not bogged down by the friction of their own degenerate systems. Their systems are not, yet, as sclerotic as the American.

Achilles said...

Within 10 years a self driving ride share system is going to make any rail transportation obsolete. Spending any money on projects like this is abject stupidity.

Todd said...

buwaya said...

But more important, to me, is the fact that the Chinese can still make these public works and are not bogged down by the friction of their own degenerate systems.

1/17/18, 10:32 AM


It is easy to do BIG projects when you don't have to worry about environmental impact studies, right-of-ways, easements, land owners, etc. getting in the way. Your acquisition costs are so much smaller when you can tell a town "move" and they will cause the alternative is dead in a hole. Life (and projects) are always easier when you are the King.

That is NOT to say we could use some systemic streamlining of our process. Too often the environmental groups or other "special interests" use law-fare to get want they want when the ballad box failed them. In part, that is why the left is importing a new citizenry. The current one is not sufficiently under heel.

Think said...

Self-driving cars will make the train mostly useless by the time it is built.

Original Mike said...

" I think Milwaukeeans and Madisonians would love the alternative of taking the train to the Minneapolis/St Paul, if it were competitive with driving."

I don't. We used to travel to St. Paul annually (back when the Badgers played in the WCHA) and the drive is not bad. And when we got there, WE HAD A CAR.

Balfegor said...

Re: Todd:

It is easy to do BIG projects when you don't have to worry about environmental impact studies, right-of-ways, easements, land owners, etc. getting in the way. Your acquisition costs are so much smaller when you can tell a town "move" and they will cause the alternative is dead in a hole. Life (and projects) are always easier when you are the King.

That's all true, but the most dispiriting thing about large US transit projects, today, is that although we spend insane amounts of money on them, they all seem to be built and operated so shoddily even when they should still be new and shiny. The Washington Amtrak line that derailed on, literally, its first run, for example. Or the DC Silver Line, which opened to great fanfare, except that every one of the escalators was already broken. Or the new Penn Station Concourse, which just opened, with a floor already full of cracks.

People here, when they are making excuses for how crappy our new transit projects are ("Them durn Republicans won't spend the money!" is a perennial favourite) sometimes argue that, well, sure other countries present a smooth and flashy appearance, and sure their trains run on time and boarding is nice and orderly and customer service is nice, but our stuff is built better and safer! And maybe in some theoretical world, our standards are more stringent, but come on -- here in DC, WMATA had to fire or suspend half its maintenance staff last year because they were falsifying their safety checks. We're just bad at this stuff nowadays, in a way Americans weren't fifty years ago.

Balfegor said...

Re: PeterK:

you can fly to either city on SWA in about an hours time. The SWA planes fly every hour more frequently during the early mornings and the afternoons as people commute back and forth. Each plane holds up to 180 passengers. I don't think High speed rail consists hold that many people, nor could they run with that high of a frequency

The Tokaido Shinkansen seats over 1,000 passengers. There's a train departing Tokyo for Osaka roughly every 5 minutes (although some of these are slightly slower trains that stop are more intermediate stations). There is no way a plane could compare with the carrying capacity of HSR. Annual ridership of the Tokaido Shinkansen is like 5 billion rides. Annual air-ridership in the entire US is on the order of 800 million. There's simply no comparison.

That said, the Tokaido Shinkansen is profitable(!), well-run, and has been operating since the 1960s, so they have its operation down to an exact science. The chances of an American HSR line being anything remotely like the Shinkansen are negligible. Among other things, the Shinkansen looks like it's extremely vulnerable to terrorism, so you probably couldn't ever build an HSR line in the US like that.

Yancey Ward said...

I hesitate to point out, since it wasn't in that excerpt, that this 119 mile segment that is now up to 11 billion dollars is the easiest and least expensive part of the line to build. I predicted years ago that the project would never be finished, and if it was finished, it would end up costing $250 billion dollars in 2010 dollars. I am becoming convinced I underestimated the cost.

Balfegor said...

OH, sorry, that 5 billion is cumulative since its inception!! Tokaido Shinkansen annual ridership is way lower: only about 160 million as of 2015.

Todd said...

Balfegor said...
Re: Todd:

1/17/18, 11:37 AM


Oh, no arguments there! You are right on all counts. Between the unions, politicians, environmentalists, race hustlers, cronies, lawyers, etc. it is a wonder ANYTHING gets done anymore. Everything needs an impact study, a legal review, extra insurance, permits, inspections, and what money is left is spend on the cheapest materials/supplies that can be found because the budget is already blown before the first rivet is purchased. There is PLENTY of blame to go around and instead of looking at the totality of the situation and trying to address how hard things are to make happen and attempt some institutional fixes, governments (that are a big cause of the problems to start with) drive on ahead because they don't have to worry about profits and losses.

They are trying the same thing in central Florida with wanting to put in a high-speed train. Don't have the rights of way to expand I-4 but think that the will get the land to put in a high-speed train from Orlando to Tampa except, in order to get that rights of way, they will need local city/town help so that will mean putting in a stop and that will mean that the "high speed" train won't be because of all of the stops it will need to make. Meaning that it will be quicker and cheaper to drive your car. So ridership will be too low and the train will need state money to continue to operate while having to raise ticket prices, further reducing ridership, and around it goes. Meanwhile how many families and businesses will be displaced to make way for this boondoggle?

If these things were/are so great and so self-sufficient, let private business fund and run the entire project. That the municipalities won't/don't is always the tell.

Martin said...

Back in the 1980s and 1990s I ran the capital finance department of a major public transit authority, and one of my people analyzed 2 decades of data and determined that, on average, the cost of projects expanded by 2.8X from the first cost estimate the engineers made public, until close-out. The schedule also expanded by about the same proportion.

Similar numbers have been found in Federal New Start rail transit projects.

So, I would expect that $6Bn to wind up in the $15-20Bn range if that stretch ever gets built, and then a handful of people can go from Fresno to Merced, or whatever, in style.

I see where the consultant from WSP says that the $10Bn figure is the "worst case" coming true. That is ridiculous, $10Bn would still be a heck of an achievement if they can pull it off. Though, really smart people would just dump the whole project because it no longer meets any reasonable cost-effectiveness criterion.

PackerBronco said...

" I think Milwaukeeans and Madisonians would love the alternative of taking the train to the Minneapolis/St Paul, if it were competitive with driving."

I think Milwaukeeans and Madisonians would love to fill up their gas tanks with unicorn farts if such a thing existed.

Michael said...

Ah, those were great days on the Althouse blog!! The choochooers versus the realists or anti-choochooers. The stupidity of the proposal could not have been overstated.

dda6ga dda6ga said...

Re: Tokaido Shinkansen not built by the lowest bidder to the lowest possible standards (paying off local, state, and fed politicians on the way), not operated and maintained by a work force composed of fifty per cent affirmative actions hires, not plagued by law suits...

Michael said...

" I think Milwaukeeans and Madisonians would love the alternative of taking the train to the Minneapolis/St Paul, if it were competitive with driving."

Oh, of course you would. Nothing like driving to the train station, parking, waiting for the train, riding the train then getting off and renting a car to go where you would like to go then doing the whole thing in reverse. The train won't be dropping you at your daughter's house, btw.

Luke Lea said...

You can fly much cheaper than you can drive over distance and it is seven times as fast (500 mph). How can a high speed train possibly compete with that? Will there be stops along the way? What will be the maximum number of passengers per hour? Seems absurd on the face of it, which raises the question: why is it seriously being considered in the first place? I don't get it.

Gahrie said...

why is it seriously being considered in the first place? I don't get it.

Graft, corruption and payoffs to the unions.

Michael said...

Todd

The Florida fantasy would have you drive to the station in downtown Tampa where you do not live to take the train to downtown Orlando where you are not going. So, ignoring those inconveniences, the fact that the train would make a half dozen stops between the cities, and ignoring also the probability of having to rent a car on one end or uber on both, it is a splendid idea for the 22nd century.

Balfegor said...

Re: dda6ga dda6ga:

Re: Tokaido Shinkansen not built by the lowest bidder to the lowest possible standards (paying off local, state, and fed politicians on the way), not operated and maintained by a work force composed of fifty per cent affirmative actions hires, not plagued by law suits...

Ironically, it is kind of plagued by lawsuits related to labour, only not really because it's massively profitable and I think the operating company (JR Central) was successfully insulated from the liabilities. Originally, much of the country's rail network was under Japan National Railways. In 1987 (after the construction of the original Shinkansen lines), JNR was losing money American-style (per wikipedia: $1 of revenue for every $1.47 in expenses), so they broke it up into a bunch of regional companies and privatised it -- JR Central is the one that got the Tokaido Shinkansen, although the eastern terminus is in JR East's territory. Longstanding debts were dumped into a different corporation and remained on the government's books. In connection with privatisation, a bunch of union employees were laid off. They sued, but ultimately settled for about $200 million.

Balfegor said...

Re: Michael:

The Florida fantasy would have you drive to the station in downtown Tampa where you do not live to take the train to downtown Orlando where you are not going. So, ignoring those inconveniences, the fact that the train would make a half dozen stops between the cities, and ignoring also the probability of having to rent a car on one end or uber on both, it is a splendid idea for the 22nd century.

Honestly, Uber is kind of the missing link that makes some of these plans viable in a way they weren't back when we were all using cabs. I mean, they're still going to be built and operated by Americans and overseen by American bureaucrats, so they'll probably be crap, but still -- the "you're going to have to rent a car anyway" problem is overcome.

That said, I've been negative, so let me give a positive anecdote! Sometimes I use the Metrolink + Flyaway bus to get to LAX. The last time I did this (December), the Metrolink was exactly on schedule, and did not derail, and the ticket was directly integrated with the Flyaway. I did a bit of work on the train, and participated in a conference call. In past years, the location of the bus pickup at LA Union Station was inconvenient, but they've moved it, so it was really quite easy to get there. It was very smooth, and I didn't make someone waste 3 hours of his/her life ferrying me to the airport and then driving back through holiday traffic.

Also, because it was early and still dark, I didn't have to watch the tent cities and shanty-towns go by on the last stretch as we entered Los Angeles, so I wasn't depressed by how awful California is. Out of sight, out of mind. Oblivious, like a true child of Californian privilege!

Oh, there I go, being all negative again.

Rusty said...

Blogger Ann Althouse said...
"How much more money do you throw into this hole before you stop? They know it won't work! How will the train ever connect San Francisco and L.A.? That's never going to happen. They must know."

Oh. Ann, Ann, Ann. You really are naïve. The train is incidental to the huge amounts of graft this will generate. It's the graft that's important. Not the train. Political families will bask in riches for generations over this.

Sam L. said...

The hubris and stupid is STRONG in California.

Big Mike said...

How much more money do you throw into this hole before you stop? They know it won't work!

There's a certain kind of poker player who has a strong inkling that he has the second-best (or third-best!) hand at the table but who thinks about how much he already put into the pot and so he grits his teeth and calls the bet.

Now we know what this type of poker player does after he loses all his money. He turns into a Democrat politician and loses other people's money!

traditionalguy said...

The train is a myth. There will never be a train. There will be billions of dollars of slush funds for kickbacks 100% directed into hands of Dem political groups by their figurehead politicians.

The first half is spent for engineer and architect studies with no bids and 90% of that is stolen and kicked back overcharges.

The second half never gets spent , but who cares. That is why the costs always mysteriously Double.

Fred Rawlings said...

On moving to another state. If you are buying a car, you should always rent the same model for a weekend.

I posit that a way to find a suitable place to retire is to rent an apartment in places you are interested in for six months. Do that in your proposed locations.

Voila. No buyers remorse. And you may not want to move.

My wife and i grew up in Florida. She sold insurance and tons of snowbirds came in her office regretting that they were stuck in air conditioned trailers without family or old friends. Especially after one of the couple died.

cubanbob said...

Yet again why muni bonds should be stripped of their tax exempt status, Davis-Bacon repealed and no federal funding for states and localities that have their equivalent and a national right to work act.

Michael said...

Balfegor

The push back against Uber at the airports is not only to protect the cab industry but it is to keep the parking lots full. Follow the money. Always.

Carter Wood said...

Newly inaugurated Governor Phil Henry of New Jersey seeks to model his state on California. From The Washington Post: “How do you make sure millennials find the communities they want to live in and use public transportation? How do you make sure the public schools remain some of the best in the country? We’re the most diverse state in the nation — that’s a huge leg up in that economy.”

He praised California and Minnesota, two states that got through the recession by raising taxes instead of cutting services, as his models.

“We are America’s number one turnaround story; that’s how I think about this,” Murphy said. “Eight years ago, that story was California. A state is below par, and new leadership is coming in to turn that around.”

Rabel said...

"California's leaders are just a bunch of sorry-ass spoiled baby boomers."

Jerry brown is not a Baby Boomer.
Gavin Newsom (Lt. Governor) is not a Baby Boomer.
Anthony Rendon (Speaker of the Ass.) is not a Baby Boomer.
Nancy Pelosi is not a Baby Boomer.
Dianne Feinstein is not a Baby Boomer.

Please Ddn't blame us Baby boomers for all the world's ills.

Gabriel said...

@Lucien:That's why we're leaving California to go back to Lopez Island in the San Juans.

Why did you ever leave Slowpez? Has it been a while though? San Juan County is pretty well out of my price range, and is the #2 county in per capita income.

Simon Kenton said...

"We keep thinking about moving to another state. We could live anywhere, and there are many reasons why California would be beautiful, but I don't want to be a California taxpayer."

Ah, God, Ms Althouse, this is truer than you may know. The California Franchise Tax Board is nightmarish. Our experience - repeated - is that you pay the taxes based on their own directions. Hell, you even use an Enrolled Agent with professional software to pay the taxes correctly. A year later, you get a bill for 2X. If you dispute, or even just ask for an explanation, they add more. None of this is explicable. Anyone that you can reach in the agency is 1) uncomprehending of why the charges are what they are, and 2) arrogant beyond compass. You'll pay, or we'll increase it some more. There is no law or regulation behind it, and California immunizes by statute even intentionally tortious conduct by its employees. CPAs, accountants will all tell you, "Just send the money. Now." CFTB assert a perpetual claim to any money earned in CA, to the extent of trying to garnish you in other states. The starting point for one of your type (You! a [former] law professor!) is Franchise Tax Board of California v Hyatt.

I have encountered some seeming-attractive CA investments, but I will never live there, spend there, or invest there. The CFTB is intolerable. And a state's economic collapse has a way of ensnaring not just the graspingly corrupt, but the fiscally prudent and virtuous. Do not touch it.

johns said...

California is undertaking the purest experiment in blue government that we have seen in many a decade. Texas and other red states provide great benchmarks for the experiment. I have lived in the LA area for thirty years. The state used to have real political competition, but no more. So it makes no sense to complain or try to convert people to a more conservative position. Nowadays it's best to just treat California politics as entertainment. Jerry Brown wants to lie and cheat his way to funding for the train to nowhere? Follow the drama in the court cases. Arnold wants to brag about his cap and trade global warming tax program? The tax is regressive, but at least more tax revenue will be collected from those who don't otherwise pay taxes. The new 12-cent addition to gas taxes is hilariously regressive; sorry for those with lower income, but they are voting for the Dems who dominate the legislature.
My favorite California "issue" is the insane cost of housing caused by progressive policies, which then create an "affordable housing crisis" which is addressed by putting more burdens and taxes on existing housing.
I can't leave, so I just have to enjoy the show.

MadisonMan said...

We used to travel to St. Paul annually (back when the Badgers played in the WCHA) and the drive is not bad. And when we got there, WE HAD A CAR.

True. MSP/St Paul does have a light rail that you can use to get around, but it might not (probably doesn't) go everywhere you want to go. So there is that. (I haven't been up there for several years now. Going up in a couple weeks, it'll be interesting to see. I'm driving ;) )

I don't like the drive Madison to the Twin Cities, FWIW. The weather always seems to be lousy in Black River Falls.

Matthew Sablan said...

"The sobering news about the cost increases was long forewarned, though rail authority Chairman Dan Richard has consistently rejected those warnings. "

-- Funny how warnings are always laughed at right up until they come true.

Stephen Karlson said...

(Let's try again, get the links to work!) What Begonia said, earlier today. Apples and pears.

The Milwaukee to Madison was an incremental extension of an existing, and growing, regional service between Chicago and Milwaukee, and something like 28 city and town pairs would be connected with that extension (including a fair number of Wisconsin collegians from the northern suburbs of Chicago who could board in Chicago or Glenview.) Unfortunately the Milwaukee radio talkers got away with characterizing the service as new and not connected to anything else (particularly amusing with both Jeff Wagner and Charlie Sykes professing to like the Hiawatha) and local Passenger Rail advocates didn't do a good enough job in rebuttal.

Meanwhile, the California is a high-visibility project in the wrong place. The most logical place for new construction would be between Bakersfield and Glenview, yes, to German or Japanese fast train standards. But you don't run it as such to start. You provide through diesel trains between Los Angeles and the Bay Area, to get passengers used to the idea, and as ridership increases, which it will, add coaches, add frequencies, upgrade the signalling, upgrade the tracks in more open country, and ultimately you'll be running at Japanese speeds.

buwaya said...

"You provide through diesel trains between Los Angeles and the Bay Area, to get passengers used to the idea,"

These exist. Its the Amtrak Coast Starlight service.
You catch it at Oaklands Jack London Square station.
My daughter just rode up on it from LA last month.
Its been there in one form or another for over a century.

You will never run that at Japanese speeds because it goes pretty straight (though circuitously) south through rugged country (its a 'scenic' train) as the whole coast is mountainous. Pretty, but rough.

The valley route is much more roundabout, though mostly flat - at least until you need to go past Bakersfield. Then the mountains get serious.

gadfly said...

This - from The Antiplanner:

When the California High-Speed Rail Authority put the 2008 measure on the ballot for the state to build the line from Los Angeles to San Francisco, they claimed that the line would earn more than a billion dollars a year in operating profits, and that private investors would gladly invest around $7 billion in the project in order to get a share of those profits.

As recently as two months ago, when asked at a legislative hearing if other high-speed rail operations earned “a substantial profit,” rail authority chair Dan Richard replied, “all of them, virtually all of them, make operating profit.” But Richard had to know that was a lie.

A year ago, when the authority was seeking contractors to build the line, a Spanish company named Ferrovial submitted a bid but added a warning that, of 111 known high-speed rail lines in the world, only three earned an operating profit. (Two of those lines are in Japan and the third is probably in France.) So, to the High-Speed Rail Authority, “virtually all of them” means “2.7 percent of them.” Not surprisingly, no private investors have contributed a cent, much less $7 billion, to the project.

Even more incriminating, when the Authority posted the bids on its web site, it deleted Ferrovial’s warning from the company’s proposal.

Gahrie said...

"California's leaders are just a bunch of sorry-ass spoiled baby boomers."

Jerry brown is not a Baby Boomer.
Gavin Newsom (Lt. Governor) is not a Baby Boomer.
Anthony Rendon (Speaker of the Ass.) is not a Baby Boomer.
Nancy Pelosi is not a Baby Boomer.
Dianne Feinstein is not a Baby Boomer.


The baby boom was 1946 - 1964. He's right..they're all either too old or too young to be baby boomers.

Steven said...

Richard began his career at National Aeronautics and Space Administration, where he was assistant to the deputy associate administrator..."

Aw, you left off the best part. "from 1972 to 1978." That is, during the period where NASA deliberately destroyed our ability to send people beyond low Earth orbit (including two functional, newly-built Saturn V spacecraft) and replaced it with a vastly over-budget system that missed its deadlines, never met the promised specs, and which had defects responsible for 77.7% of all deaths in spaceflight in history.

----

People have compared our infrastructure building troubles to China's ease, but, really, that's not a great comparison. The great comparisons are to the other industrialized countries, which have costs vastly lower than ours.