Brown’s rail project an expensive “boondoggle”

Not Len Brown this time, but Jerry Brown, the Governor of California and his ill-fated rail project.

The similarities are astonishing though.

As California breaks ground this week on its new high-speed rail line, it is clear what the $68 billion dollar project amounted to: though the project will surely make unions, construction workers, and bond salesmen happy, it is little more than money the state doesn’t have for a train that its residents don’t need and probably won’t use. TheWashington Post reports on the project’s continued financial troubles, and it’s not pretty:

Voters approved a $9.95 billion bond aimed at funding the initial construction of the rail project in 2008, by a slim five-point margin. The Obama administration added another $3.2 billion in federal grants, and the legislature agreed in 2014 to provide funding through cap-and-trade taxes on greenhouse gases, which will add another $250 million to $1 billion per year.

That means the rail authority will have about $26 billion at best, less than half the estimated total costs. California High-Speed Rail Authority officials have said they expect advertising, real estate developments and private investors to fund up to a third of the total costs.  

And as with most major infrastructure projects, costs are likely to rise as new hurdles emerge. Last year, the rail authority boosted its cost estimate for one key segment in the Central Valley by 15 percent, or about $1 billion. Some opponents believe the costs could skyrocket to about $250 billion or more.

IF the internet doesn’t change the way people work, reducing both commuting and the demand for business travel, IF the giant project doesn’t mimic almost all similar projects and develop gigantic cost overruns that make a mockery of the initial cost elements, IF resourceful NIMBY groups and their lawyers don’t find too many endangered species in its path or otherwise tie it up in endless litigation, IF self driving cars don’t make rail travel obsolete, IF the fares aren’t so high even with subsidies that passengers shun it, and IF unlike almost all other passenger rail service in the U.S. it doesn’t lose buckets of money, this project could look like a smart move.

I can’t wait until Len Brown has to come forward and explain why Auckland Transport along with Kiwirail and Veolia think the rail loop will actually grind the city to a stand still.

Apparently it has something to do with the plethora of level crossings and the increased rail traffic will have key suburban roads closed for over 30 minutes per hour blocking the surrounding roads and creating snarl ups.

When alerted to this little problem Len’s response was reportedly to tell the person who raised it to shut up, that he was focussed on getting the trains come hell or high water.

We’ll see where it ends up, but I suspect that the cost for Len’s own rail boondoggle is set to explode in order to fix all those level crossings with either underpasses or bridges…the cost will be enormous.


– American Interest


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  • taurangaruru

    Brown’s trainset is following the path of most other publicly funded pipe dreams, starts off as a wonderful solution to a problem but with no funding, followed by a whole lot of voodoo economic posturing on how the taxpayer will not have to provide one cent before the realisation that it will be taxpayer funded in it’s entirety, followed shortly afterwards with the drip drip of the increased costings with most of these projects eventuating in 2 -3 times the original budget before topping out with the eventual conclusion of an unaffordable, unworkable, underutilised white elephant. Cannot wait for Brown to cut the ribbon (if the project can still afford it) at the opening ceremony, should be a wonderful occasion. BTW that last bit is sarcasm….just in case anyone thought otherwise.

    • murrayirwin

      It’s a wonderful solution, just not to any problem.

  • Not Clinically Insane

    The level crossing problem will happen long before the link, as AT will be rolling-out a high-frequency ‘Metro’ style operation. And yes they have pushed for it despite the known complications on everyone else

    • Bryan

      in Germany they just build over bridges for every road as part of the rail expansion and often sink the rail levels lower than the roads so the road actually is flat and the rail runs at a lower level like they have done in melbourne simply they work together to make it happen

      • Not Clinically Insane

        Exactly. Even look back 50 years here when the line was developed through the Hutt Valley (the original line to the Wairarapa ran where SH2 does as far a Manor Park) there was a deliberate decision to overbridge most of the road/rail intersections.

        One issue is the lack of foresight and planning these things in NZTA’s head office

  • OneTrack

    Only 68 billion? Len will beat that.

  • xennex

    There’s a lot more too it that the article mentions.
    It’s not Brown’s ‘train set’ – it was created well before he was in office, but he does support it. Part of the reason it is going ahead is that California voters approved funding for it in 2008, and to cancel that would require another referendum. Part of the reason is that federal funding is available and will expire if not used.
    However it already looks like a train wreck.
    The route is 520 miles, when I can drive it in 380 miles.
    The proposed time of 2 hour 40 minutes is optimistic beyond all dreams (3:40 is the current best estimate).
    The route goes through all the teapot towns in the 99, which no one wishes to vist unless buying crack or selling stolen goods.
    Every teapot town wants the train to stop in their town, so the train will spend most of the time speeding up and slowing down.
    The proposed speed (215 mph) would gave very high maintenance costs on the rails compared to normal high speed 185 mph.
    The ridership numbers (30-40 million trips/year) are higher than any sensible estimate.
    The best part is that there already is a station built ( which is not connected to anything, and now they’re building track where there are no stations.