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The New York Times Finally Notices California’s Bullet Train is a Bust

The New York Times Finally Notices California’s Bullet Train is a Bust

Another item for the “Legal Insurrection Was Right” files.

For years, I have chronicled the California high-speed train project’s fraud, waste, and abuse.

The last time I covered it was in mid-2019 after the Trump administration nixed continued funding of this boondoggle.

Earlier this year, we reported that the US Department of Transportation (DOT) cancelled millions in grants for the high speed rail project that California Governor Gavin Newsom has substantially scaled back.

Newsom has tried fighting this move, arguing that California needed these funds to complete a more limited-scale project than the Los Angeles to San Francisco route originally planned. However, the Trump administration did not buy the argument, so it has officially ended the Obama-era agreement.

The New York Times has finally decided to cover California’s quest to construct the nation’s first high-speed rail system. Their findings will surprise nobody who is a regular reader of Legal Insurrection, an independent conservative or has an ounce of understanding of human behavior.

…[T] the tortured effort to build the country’s first high-speed rail system is a case study in how ambitious public works projects can become perilously encumbered by political compromise, unrealistic cost estimates, flawed engineering and a determination to persist on projects that have become, like the crippled financial institutions of 2008, too big to fail.

A review of hundreds of pages of documents, engineering reports, meeting transcripts and interviews with dozens of key political leaders show that the detour through the Mojave Desert was part of a string of decisions that, in hindsight, have seriously impeded the state’s ability to deliver on its promise to create a new way of transporting people in an era of climate change.

Political compromises, the records show, produced difficult and costly routes through the state’s farm belt. They routed the train across a geologically complex mountain pass in the Bay Area. And they dictated that construction would begin in the center of the state, in the agricultural heartland, not at either of the urban ends where tens of millions of potential riders live.

The paper notes that there is currently no identified funding source for the $100 billion it will take to extend the rail project from the Central Valley to its original goals, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The publication is likely starting to bail out the Democratic lawmakers and politicians who foisted this project on its citizens with fantasies about speed, jobs, and energy savings.

In fact, Democrats in the California legislature are begging for an end to the $105 billion project, of which about $10 billion has been spent.

“There is no confidence in the project,” said Speaker Anthony Rendon, a Los Angeles Democrat. “We had an end date of 2020 and now we don’t have an end date.”

In his negotiations with the Legislature, Newsom has offered several billion dollars of sweeteners to the urban centers to get the $4.2 billion. So far, the Assembly has not bitten.

Newsom’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Against this backdrop, Rendon and a majority of Democrats in the Assembly want to essentially detonate Newsom’s plan for the rail.

Asked in a recent interview what he could not accept, Rendon said, “I think this strict adherence to the current project is not really what we’re interested in.”

I suspect the project will be terminated entirely when the Democrats can find a way to blame this epic failure on Republicans. Given how few GOP members there are with any political power in this state, Trump will somehow end up with the blame.

Meanwhile, there are some real gems in this piece. For example, a French company tried to come to California’s aid in the early 2000s. It left for the less politically dysfunctional country of Morocco.

The state was warned repeatedly that its plans were too complex. SNCF, the French national railroad, was among bullet train operators from Europe and Japan that came to California in the early 2000s with hopes of getting a contract to help develop the system.

The company’s recommendations for a direct route out of Los Angeles and a focus on moving people between Los Angeles and San Francisco were cast aside, said Dan McNamara, a career project manager for SNCF.

The company pulled out in 2011.

“There were so many things that went wrong,” Mr. McNamara said. “SNCF was very angry. They told the state they were leaving for North Africa, which was less politically dysfunctional. They went to Morocco and helped them build a rail system.”

Let’s place this story under the ever-expanding list of “Legal Insurrection was right” files.


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Isn’t there a war against ‘noticing’?

    BierceAmbrose in reply to Whitewall. | October 10, 2022 at 4:50 pm

    Things get noticed when it’s politically safe. When noticing might sway the outcome of some part of the program, it gets buried until it’s irrelevant.

    See The First CokeHead’s laptop, for example. Covid jab efffectiveness calibrations. Energy policy. Warterway management and maintenance. water allocation & distribution, again in Cali.

The problem with high-speed rail is that the track tolerances must be exact. You cannot hit a bump at 300 MPH without catastrophic consequences. So, you have to build expensive track with very low tolerances. And, every day the rail warps with usage and temperature. So, every day every single foot has to be inspected and adjusted.

    Peabody in reply to MattMusson. | October 10, 2022 at 4:50 pm

    “And, every day the rail warps with usage and temperature.”

    I don’t think they’re ever going to have to worry about usage.

    Publius_2020 in reply to MattMusson. | October 10, 2022 at 7:14 pm

    “every day the rail warps with usage and temperature”

    You left out the part that California averages more than five earthquakes of magnitude 2.0 or greater per day. Per day. Two 3.0s and a 3.5 in the last week. That’s the normal state of affairs.

    There’s no possibility that they obtain top speeds on that rail given the tolerance issues.

    ChrisPeters in reply to MattMusson. | October 10, 2022 at 7:18 pm

    They won’t have “high speed rail”, but I could see California pushing for “high, speed rail”, a train system to ferry around users of cannabis, amphetamines, and other drugs.

High speed trains are cool but I’d rather hold out for the hyperloop. Developed and built not by government

    Evil Otto in reply to broomhandle. | October 11, 2022 at 5:55 am

    Hyperloop is a deathtrap, even worse than high speed rail. It’s not developed or built by government, but travelling at near the speed of sound in a vacuum tube is a great way to get turned into chunky salsa the moment a tunnel is breached.

California has been using high speed money to fund their high speed rail. So far the money has far out paced the train.

What, no sunk cost fallacy?

BierceAmbrose | October 10, 2022 at 4:57 pm

“Because climate change” without demonstrating, net, net that the rail system intended is in any way better for climate, carbon emission, environmental impact, watersheds, biodiversity, or… this list is endless.

It’s electric cars redux. The only unequivocal benefit of this program is the “users” having fewer choices with less autonomy, while the overlords more control over the proles. You can only take a train where the train goes; when it goes. And it goes whether there’s people on it or not. What a lovely order, imposed on the chaotic livestock. May not be good for much, but it is easier to track.

BUT even before the construction rake-offs, gaggles of “consultants” got paid to do “studies” producing landfills full of paper, from dead trees. And the program advocates got to claim they cared about All The Things. So, two wins there if none for the carbon system.

    JohnSmith100 in reply to BierceAmbrose. | October 10, 2022 at 5:50 pm

    Locomotives are all electric nowdays. They have a huge diesel engine 16-20 cylinders and generator. Actual drive are large electric traction motors.

      Yep, they’re Hybrids.

      BierceAmbrose in reply to JohnSmith100. | October 11, 2022 at 5:29 pm

      Electric drive works nicely in locos. The energy storage, and conversion is chemical — diesel, not electric. They are electric drive, not electric vehicles as that’s usually meant.

      The applications are different, changing the other impacts, too. No grid impact, for one.

It was a bust from the start and hardly anything about it to be noticed except that there’s a lot of money to be made.

If only the NYT expanded its investigation into California government as a whole but that would be ideologically impossible.

BierceAmbrose | October 10, 2022 at 5:10 pm

Hey, at least they bought up a bunch of land that was productive, and interrupted travel and water corridors with the construction they did manage.


High speed rail is faster. Both in how quick you get there and how much quicker you lose money.

    BierceAmbrose in reply to Whitewall. | October 11, 2022 at 5:31 pm

    The travel time calculations I’ve seen compare time in motion on rail, vs. end to end in aircraft.

    Even current actual rail end to end doesn’t apply — no TSA screening. The first bombing, they’ll have lines, delays, papers and scanners like air travel.

They started in the middle of the run instead of at either end to save the extra $80B it would have cost for everybody involved to figure out how to make the tracks meet correctly in the middle.

Had it been finished, it would have been just like the commuter rail and bus systems. A rolling hotel for homeless bums who are allowed to ride free.

One party rule in CA means there is no one else to blame.

Someone at the NYT must be a useful creature of a fellow prog rival of Newsom.

Subotai Bahadur | October 10, 2022 at 8:02 pm

The scheme transferred billions of taxpayer dollars directly into the pockets of corrupt Leftist [OK, there is a redundancy there] politicians while not producing anything productive or useful at all, and while degrading the state. Whatever else could a Democrat want other than possibly sexual contact with two or more minors?

Subotai Bahadur

    BierceAmbrose in reply to Subotai Bahadur. | October 11, 2022 at 9:58 pm

    Which leaves one to wonder, which was the motivation?

    Taking taxpayer dollars, enriching particular corrupt leftists, the net loss of capital from producing nothing, or degrading the state.

    Embrace the liberating power of “and” I suppose.

Capsaicin_Addict | October 10, 2022 at 8:19 pm

“SNCF was very angry. They told the state they were leaving for North Africa, which was less politically dysfunctional. They went to Morocco and helped them build a rail system.”

Now THAT is an indictment of the entire California state. Imagine being such a basketcase that people would rather work in North Africa than deal with you.

E Howard Hunt | October 10, 2022 at 8:37 pm

I have been railing against this for years.

nordic prince | October 10, 2022 at 9:34 pm

I don’t think they ever intended to complete it. They just wanted to fart around with it long enough to share some grift with their cronies.

This is probably to help Newsom in 24. Get it out now when no one is paying attention. Later it will be an “old story.”

Did anyone read the replies to the tweet?
They were all 100% supportive of completing the train.
A lot of talk about an intersection with a future planned train to Las Vegas as the reason for the inland diversion.
A lot of snark the the Central Valley rout is not exactly the Mojave dessert.
A lot of comments that prejudice against Morocco is wrong.

Most of us in the Central Valley were opposed to this stupid project. We were out voted by the big urban cities because the voters in those areas do not understand the complexities of geography or the destruction of the very farmland that feeds them. After all they dump millions of gallons of fresh water into the sea for a tiny baitfish. I do hope they kill it. It was never going to be a true “bullet” train with all the stops it has to make. I also hope when they kill it, they take down the portions already built. I’m dreaming tho.

the classic land speculation scheme–whether it was built or not, the flippers made millions and the punters got screwed

similar to the “airport” scheme floated in austin in the 80’s and early 90’s–the airport was never going to be in pflugerville–just about everyone but the punters knew it wasn’t going to happen–the flippers fleeced a lot of people (including bankrupting a couple of local s&ls) in the process–austin even tried to float a bond issue for high-speed rail downtown–if remember correctly, was to cost in excess of $100m to construct less than TEN miles of track–a boondoggle of epic proportions / grift

      BierceAmbrose in reply to henrybowman. | October 11, 2022 at 5:38 pm

      Oh, do not get me started.

      The guy who ran Boston’s Big Dig quit in a huff over the dysfunction around the Seattle Monorail: multiple referendas, multiple approvals of the spending, bond issues, zoning and approvals, advocacy from residents, tourism, merchants n business, blah, blah, blah. All grass-roots, from the ground up, with the administrations and overlords fighting back every step.

      Meanwhile, the combined light-rail and “Bus Tunnel” went through. Plus a street grade trolley in the neighborhood being developed by Paul Allen’s co, where Bezos built his in the event temporary headquarters.

      Lots of land changing hands along the light rail route headed South, and terminal locations North. If you owned land in Ravenna, you made a killing.

Reminds one of the second season of True Detective.

The vile Dumb-o-crats are so manifestly stupid. Always begrudgingly and tardily dragged — kicking and screaming, naturally — into the light of truth, where rational and sane minds were present, decades ago.

The underlying issue is the glaring lack of fiscal viability inherent in Dumb-o-crats’ high-speed choo-choo train fantasies. With airplanes providing faster competition (and, flexible route shifting, when needed), long-distance passenger rail can never be a profitable venture in the U.S. Even Amtrak’s high population density “Northeast Corridor” between Boston and Washington, D.C. still struggles to break even.


That’s the sound of Nailing It, Ms. Eastman!

The Anti-Planner explained it well almost two years ago.

“10 Reasons Not to Build High-speed Rail in the United States”: