Thursday, June 30, 2016

High Speed Rail in California Stuck At The Station

Subtitle: Lack of Funds Makes HSR Fizzle

High speed rail in California has hit yet another snag, this one likely to be fatal.  The almost-$100 billion project to connect San Diego with both Sacramento and a branch to San Francisco is too short of funding and is likely to die, as it should.   The article by Bloomberg (see link) "California Hits The Brakes on High Speed Rail Fiasco" has the realistic portrayal of the proposed project: too expensive, too slow to attract customers, and too few customers likely to ride, resulting in perpetual subsidies to cover the losses.  
Artist rendition of California HSR.  

The fatal snag is the almost zero funding resulting from a recent auction of climate-change securities, proceeds from which the rail would be built.  

As with UK's nuclear plant proposed for Hinkley Point C, with funding woes of its own, the California HSR has "no investors . . . lining up to fill the $43 billion construction-budget gap," per the Bloomberg article. 

The article goes on to list four of the reasons the HSR project is doomed to failure: "the rail project wouldn’t keep its promises. To do so, it would have to be the fastest, most popular bullet train in the world, with many more riders per mile and a much greater percentage of seats occupied than the French and Japanese systems -- a highly unlikely prospect."

The problems are legion with the California HSR proposal.   First, it is more of a milk-run rail than a high-speed rail.  As I wrote several years ago for a very-highly placed client, actually a member at that time of the HSR board, having a HSR route stop multiple times between terminus stations (San Diego and Sacramento) defeats the entire purpose.  The rail is trying to compete with the time required, cost, and inconvenience of air travel.   

For the typical businessman, it is quite easy to board a plane in San Diego and be in Sacramento approximately 90 minutes later.  With arrival at the San Diego airport for security check-in requiring a half hour to one hour, the entire trip is two to two-and-one-half hours.   Starting the trip in Los Angeles instead of San Diego cuts only 15 minutes off of the trip.   

Also, an air trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco requires 75 minutes in the air, and with check-in approximately two hours and 15 minutes.   The HSR is to run from Los Angeles to San Francisco in two hours 45 minutes.  With time for boarding, that is easily three hours or a bit more.   That is the promise.  What is the likely reality?   Rail boarding will become just as time-consuming as today at airports, once the inevitable terror attacks occur at a few train stations in the US.   The travel time will then be extended by at least an hour. 

The train would start at Union Station in Los Angeles, then make several stops on the way to the high desert where the speed finally picks up.  There are then more stops in the Central Valley, and slower speed as the train reaches the Bay Area and makes yet more stops.   

The practical route is also the least popular, politically.  A bit of history with rail systems shows that a city with a train passing through it has economic success.   Cities off the rail line wither.   For that reason, the current routing for HSR has multiple stops in the Los Angeles basin, and multiple more stops in the Bay Area.    The smart thing to do (but politically disastrous) would be to route the train from San Diego to Palmdale, with Los Angeles Area travelers taking a shuttle train (or cars) to Palmdale to board the HSR.  Bypassing Los Angeles entirely was simply not an option, according to my source on the Board.   However, it is equally certain that Los Angeles' future is not dependent on anything as trivial as a HSR stop, not at this point in history.  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

copyright (c) 2016 by Roger Sowell - all rights reserved

No comments: