Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How to Play Boondoggle


The California State Legislature has settled it: the overpriced political solution to actual high speed rail has been approved for funding, at the moment. It's the kind of design that only a deranged political process can produce. No engineer in their right mind would develop this kind of a project. To begin with, the local regional transit at each end - Bay Area and LA area - must be developed in order to feed the big high speed rail system with the ridership it needs to work. This was sketched out in my earlier 2009 post.

Secondly, the high speed rail route has to go along the Interstate 5 route and zip through without any stops at all in the central valley. That route is the same distance as Paris to Lyon, in two hours. High speed rail also requires straight tracks; anything else is a farce, especially when you consider the impact of high temperatures in the valley which would expand the steel rails into curves and derail the trains. Again, this is an issue I've covered before in 2010.

This project hurtles along relentlessly in spite of extreme budgetary overruns before it's even started, and has lost support among many in the global transportation industry. The Los Angeles Times has even gotten a direct quote from a transportation civil engineer:

"It's like California is trying to design and build a Boeing 747 instead of going out and buying one," said Dan McNamara, a civil engineer who worked for SNCF's U.S. affiliate. "There are lots of questions about the Parsons Brinckerhoff plan. The capital costs are way too high, and the route has been politically gerrymandered."

The biggest mind-blowing fact of the adopted design is SHARED TRACKS with Caltrain, which completely destroys any possibility of true high-speed rail. The requirements for high-speed are NOT compatible with any other kind of rail system, and can't be "shared". This is a complete misrepresentation of what the project will deliver. It's also unsafe. The HSR rails in Europe require nightly robotic inspections on the rails themselves because of the critical nature of maintaining clean, straight sets of rail that are not used by any other system.

While the legislature fiddles in the flames of the boondoggle, residents and businesses in California will be ripped off in taxes to pay for the bonds for decades for this project, particularly since the envisioned private sector participation is not materializing. For very good reason. The only hope now is that other issues facing this thing will bring about its demise. And, it turns out there's a good reason for "crazy".

Update 1/16/17:  California's bullet train is hurtling toward a multibillion-dollar overrun, a confidential federal report warns

Update 9/23/17: Optimism isn't warranted, and it adds significant pollution instead of reducing it.

Update 9/26/17: Progress. Way over budget, far behind schedule, mired in lawsuits

Update 9/30/17: Way over budget on just one segment