California High-Speed Passenger Train Boondoggle is Failing

For many years the state of California has been planning and funding the construction of a “high speed” passenger train line between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The project still is in its early phases of construction.

Unfortunately this train route does not go directly between the cities as the crow flies, which is 350 air miles while the highway distance is 382 miles. No, this train’s planned route is 520 miles so as to serve out-of-the-way cities in central California. Here is the map.

The train has been promoted by environmentalists as some type of efficient ‘green’ energy saver but the question is: How do you save energy by traveling 520 miles instead of 350 miles or 382 miles?

Answer: You don’t. You waste lots of energy. This train is about as ‘green’ as the night sky.

Airlines have been flying passengers between LA and San Francisco for decades with no state and federal subsidies, and there are freeways, buses, cars and even a direct Amtrak route connecting the cities. So why offer yet another much more roundabout route? And spend huge amounts of taxpayer money on it?

It sounds like a good question, but the answer is easy. This train is not intended to move people; it is yet another gigantic public-spending boondoggle advocated by California Democrats that is intended to create another colossal government project and its accompanying bureaucracy.

This is intended to enrich California labor unions and unionized California state bureaucrats who would build, operate, maintain and manage this system and who would then kick back big campaign contributions to the Democrats from their overblown paychecks. This would all happen at the expense of California and even federal taxpayers who are financing this boondoggle.

The train is also being portrayed as a “bullet train” that will travel 200 miles per hour and thus would cover the distance in just over 2.5 hours. Wow!

That is total unadulterated baloney. This train could hypothetically go 200 miles per hour on some short stretches of straight track in California’s flat Central Valley. Otherwise it must go much slower, for instance to climb and descend two mountain passes (Beaumont and Tehachapi); to slow down and stop regularly at cities on the way; and to navigate other terrain where the track is neither flat nor straight.

It then would probably enter San Francisco and Los Angeles on up to 100 miles of existing tracks at much lower speeds just as virtually all European ‘high speed’ intercity trains use existing low-speed tracks to enter established terminals in European cities, cutting their average speed significantly.

Nikitas3.com has studied railroads for decades and I estimate that this California train’s actual “high speed” travel time would be 9 hours or more. For comparison the current Amtrak travel time between Albany, NY and Cleveland, Ohio (483 miles) is more than 11 hours on a totally flat route.

Meanwhile the flying time between LA and San Francisco is less than one hour; gate-to-gate time is one hour and 20 minutes and those flights do not cost the taxpayer a penny.

Once California travelers realized the truth about the real travel time of their “high speed” train, ridership would plummet except for the train nuts who will spend any amount of money to ride a train. Fortunately this train will probably never be built.

At the same time you should never believe the phony numbers for “projected ridership” that are published to sell these projects. In Massachusetts one group predicted that a proposed train to New York City would carry 2 million passengers per year but Nikitas3.com estimates that it would only carry 35,000 riders based on a mathematical analysis of potential riders based on the number of existing riders on a nearby route.

Here is Fox News reporting recently:

It’s billions of dollars over budget and seven years behind schedule, and appears to have no plausible way of living up to its goal of getting riders across the state in three hours or less.

Welcome to what’s arguably the nation’s largest infrastructure project and California’s biggest boondoggle.

The highly hyped bullet train has been a challenge from the start. No one thought it would be technically, financially and politically easy, but the way the project has been mishandled has some Californians fed up and demanding answers.

Just this week, the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the organization charged with overseeing construction, reported that the cost of the first segment had dramatically risen – again.

“The worst-case scenario has happened,” admitted Roy Hill, lead consultant on the project.

Since its start, this hot-mess express of a project has been plagued by delays and has blown through every single budget estimate imaginable. And it’ll likely cost the state and taxpayers more in the coming months and years.

Much more. “The so-called bullet train is a solution in search of a problem that is plagued by billions of dollars in cost overruns and fiscal mismanagement,” San Diego City Councilman Mark Kersey told Fox News. “The billions being wasted on this boondoggle could have been invested in our current infrastructure needs, such as water storage, flood control, highways and bridges.”

This week’s updated cost estimate — to complete just the first phase – a 119-mile segment in the Central Valley – has ballooned to $10.6 billion. That’s a jaw-dropping 77 percent increase from initial estimates, 36 percent higher than forecasts from a year ago.

OK, we know the drill. While the train’s top cost estimate so far has been $67 billion Nikitas3.com believes that the final price tag could run as high as $300 billion once all of the union corruption, inflation, political payoffs, inefficiencies, bribes, environmental obstacles, delays and cost overruns kicked in. California Republicans have fought the project from the start but it now is collapsing of its own weight. Good.

All over the US modern train systems are being built with taxpayer money at enormous cost. A ‘light rail’ commuter system in Baltimore is being built for $125 million per mile yet the cost of laying track is generally estimated at $2 million to $4 million per mile. One subway line in New York City cost $4.4 billion… for one single mile.

Washington state spent a whopping $200 million in federal dollars to upgrade one 14-mile stretch of track for its Seattle-Portland Amtrak train just to save 10 minutes on the trip. That’s the track on which the train derailed in December on the highway overpass.

‘Green’ pamphlets claim ad nauseum that passenger trains are the most efficient way to move people. This is rubbish. Passenger trains are a 19th century technology and are in general the least efficient way to move people. Airlines can move passengers at 11 times the average speed of trains and with just a fraction of the fuel consumption per passenger as trains.

There is a reason for this: Jetliners are very light in weight and trains are very heavy. Trains need heavy locomotives to power them and rail passenger car undercarriages, wheels and frames are all heavy steel.

One single Amtrak Genesis locomotive and one single Amtrak Superliner passenger car (without any passengers) together weigh more than an empty Boeing 747 (200 tons), one of the world’s largest passenger airliners. Yet the 747 can carry eight times as many riders as the Superliner car at 11 times the average speed. One Amtrak Genesis locomotive alone weighs almost four times as much (133 tons) as an empty Boeing 737 airplane (35 tons) that can carry 190 passengers.

Thus the weight ratio of trains to passengers is very high, leading to sky-high fuel consumption for trains. Passenger trains often include multiple locomotives, café cars, bar cars, baggage cars and observation cars that push up the weight of the train significantly. Crew costs for trains are also very high since trains need much more time to cover the same distance as airplanes do, 10 times or longer, i.e., ten times the crew costs.

This, friends, is why airlines make money and passenger trains don’t. And since Amtrak trains often run with notoriously low passenger loads the economics get vastly worse. Airplanes, on the other hand, have generally high passenger loads, often flying full, as American fliers know well.

Then remember that the construction of this boondoggle would consume vast amounts of energy and resources, which is bad for the environment to begin with.

Did you know that a Boeing 747 is twice as fuel efficient as a Toyota Prius? The mathematical explanation is given at the end of this essay.

Even European passenger trains are extremely inefficient but have been portrayed for decades as environmentally friendly. European rail routes were laid out in the 19th century. They worked well before roads and air travel but Euro dependency on rail travel today is only a tiny fraction of what it once was even after accounting for its big taxpayer subsidies.

Nikitas3.com has watched dozens of videos from the cabs of Euro passenger trains. All major intercity routes are double-track – which is very expensive – yet one common feature of the videos is that no trains come from the opposite direction for long periods of time, even up to an hour, on the second track, i.e., passenger trains are not used in Europe at anywhere near the levels that we are told. Meanwhile major Euro highways are jammed, as are European airports.

At the same time Europe has huge problems with truck congestion on its highways since its railroads are devoted mostly to passengers. America is almost 100% freight. US travelers use efficient airlines and cars to get around, and efficient buses too, which carry more passengers per year than Amtrak at vastly lower fuel consumption but not one word of media coverage, and no subsidy.

Europeans are flocking by the billions annually to their highways and to their private-sector airlines to cross the Continent efficiently and quickly. European car travel is fairly close to the level in the US contrary to the myth that Euros don’t use their cars for intercity travels. European intercity bus travel is much cheaper, more energy efficient and more flexible than trains.

But oh boy, American tourists sure do love those European passenger trains.

Even European “high speed” trains like the French TGV run at top speed only for part of their trips. These trains all over Europe are hardly the ‘green’ dream that train lovers claim. First and foremost, brand new dedicated corridors have been blasted through the land for these trains, disrupting the peaceful countryside and hundreds of rural communities. This is a massive blight on the environment. In fact environmentalists have protested TGV construction and other high-speed passenger rail lines in Europe.

These trains are extremely expensive to build, operate and maintain. TGV trains are very noisy and make a high-pitched screeching sound at top speed (noise is a form of pollution). The high speed of the trains wears out tracks much faster than lower-speed trains. These trains use large amounts of energy when they go fast. Even worse they often have low passenger loads, leading to further inefficiency and energy waste. Nikitas3.com has seen these low passenger loads, and even totally empty passenger cars, in videos of high-speed Euro trains.

In Japan the subsidized Shinkansen ‘bullet trains’ drained so much money out of taxpayers that they were put under private management in 1987 after just 24 years of operation.

This all does not sound very ‘green’ to Nikitas3.com. Meanwhile European motorists pay sky-high gasoline taxes, some of which goes to subsidize these passenger trains. Airline ticket taxes also support trains. What a racket…

By the way the top speed of these “high speed” Euro trains is only 200 miles per hour, and that is the limit of safety. Meanwhile an airliner cruises at 550 miles per hour without breaking a sweat.

If you want to see passenger train myths debunked, read this Nikitas3.com commentary from April 2016 called Myths About US, European Passenger Trains Exposed. You will be amazed at the actual facts and figures about how massively inefficient passenger trains are, including Amtrak which should be shut down and its one important route between Boston, New York and Washington, DC sold off to private investors and managers.

Then compare the California passenger train boondoggle to the Colton Flyover project in which the two major private-sector freight railroads BNSF and Union Pacific completed a “flyover” (bridge) crossing in 2013 at Colton, California (Los Angeles) for $93 million versus its $202 million estimated cost. The project was also completed eight months ahead of schedule.

Here is the analysis of the Boeing 747 fuel efficiency from a website called science.howstuffworks.com:

A plane like a Boeing 747 uses approximately 1 gallon of fuel (about 4 liters) every second. Over the course of a 10-hour flight, it might burn 36,000 gallons (150,000 liters). According to Boeing’s Web site, the 747 burns approximately 5 gallons of fuel per mile (12 liters per kilometer).

This sounds like a tremendously poor miles-per-gallon rating! But consider that a 747 can carry as many as 568 people. Let’s call it 500 people to take into account the fact that not all seats on most flights are occupied. A 747 is transporting 500 people 1 mile using 5 gallons of fuel. That means the plane is burning 0.01 gallons per person per mile. In other words, the plane is getting 100 miles per gallon per person! The typical car gets about 25 miles per gallon, so the 747 is much better than a car carrying one person, and compares favorably even if there are four people in the car. Not bad when you consider that the 747 is flying at 550 miles per hour…

And if the 747 is fully loaded its efficiency increases by 14%. These are the types of facts that environmentalists are desperate to keep from us so that they themselves appear to have all of the answers. Meanwhile the Toyota Prius needs a big taxpayer subsidy while getting 50 miles per gallon at 45 miles per hour with a go-kart engine and the world’s worst handling. Big deal. Try driving your Prius from New York to London.

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