California Further Proves that Public High-Speed Rail Projects Are Stupid
Reality has a sense of timing in asserting itself, it seems, and it has chosen to mercilessly mock the radical leftist proponents of the newly proposed Green New Deal.
California governor Gavin Newsom has now abandoned the high-speed railway that would have linked Los Angeles and San Francisco. The ballot measure was proposed in 2008, then estimated to cost $33 billion, with an expected completion date of 2020. Before being scrapped, the expected cost to complete the railway was $77 billion, and the timeline for completion stretched to 2033.
"Let's be real," Newsom told his audience. "The current project, as planned, would cost too much and, respectfully, take too long. There's been too little oversight and not enough transparency."
California committed to a bloated government program that lacks oversight and transparency? You don't say.
This particular project involved one high-speed railway connecting two cities less than 400 miles apart. Construction of this railway began in 2013, and we have to imagine that, given what we've seen, a completion date of 2033 and a price tag of $77 billion is a wildly generous expectation.
And yet, such public high-speed rail projects will undoubtedly continue to be the magic beans of the Green New Deal.
"It's here! Green New Deal calls for national high-speed rail!" says the elated Daily Kos, brandishing a picture of an elaborate network of railways, consisting of thousands upon thousands of miles of track connecting major American cities.
There's a delicious irony in the Daily Kos publishing this diary touting the "concrete, real, and achievable" goal of a "National HSR Network" on the exact same day that California, the state most representative of big-government progressivism that leftists desire, declared that its own little high-speed rail project of just a few hundred miles cost too much, took too long to build, and was plagued by "too little oversight" and "not enough transparency."
Sure, we can expect that the revelation won't make a dent with them. Remember when leftists held up Venezuela as the sterling standard of socialism a few short years ago, only to now claim that it actually didn't do socialism right, and that's why it collapsed? Expect the same thing here. California just didn't do high-speed rail right. What we need to do is spend trillions more, build an even bigger network of railways with thousands of miles of track, and have the whole program managed by an even bigger bloated bureaucracy.
We needed high-speed rail yesterday, they argue, and it doesn't matter how much it costs. After all, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says Millennials are "like, the world is going to end in 12 years, and your biggest problem is how we're going to pay for it?"
So let's play along and listen to their pitch for high-speed rail.
Well, firstly, the trains will all run on good ol'-fashioned electricity. That's okay, because we've got wind and solar power now, which is increasingly accounting for a greater share of electricity generation, says the Daily Kos. Except...
Fossil fuels alone accounted for 78% of all American energy production in 2016. When it comes to electricity, specifically, fossil fuels and nuclear power generate 83% of it, with hydropower creating the largest share of the remainder. Solar and wind combined represent just 7.6% of electrical power in America.
So the logical question a person might ask is this: wouldn't this massive network of thousands of trains, running 24/7 over thousands of miles, require substantially more electricity, which will require substantially more fossil fuels to power, in a practical sense?
They have an answer for that: "Increase solar and wind subsidies!" The problem is, it's not for the government's lack of having tried for it to be otherwise that fossil fuels dominate energy production — non-fossil fuels happen to already enjoy 93% of these already massive government subsidies to prop up their negligible impact in the energy marketplace.
You know the solution to that, don't you? We need to spend more money that our government doesn't have to subsidize wind and solar at an even greater level.
The stupidity of this stuff doesn't stop there.
It's the open aim of high-speed rail proponents that these trains would reduce the need for air travel. They're not nearly as worried about cars, because "electrification is coming for cars, trucks, and buses," but "no battery or fuel cell is going to fly anyone across the Pacific anytime soon." Of course, every car, truck, and bus running on electricity would require their addressing the problem I described above, but no need to revisit that.
Let's consider instead how well high-speed rail would do as an alternative to air travel.
Think of the logistics. Every day, the FAA directs over 2.5 million air travelers, on 43,000 flights, "covering 29 million miles of airspace." Expecting that high-speed rail could transport that many travelers to as many destinations, let alone as efficiently, is nothing short of a fantasy.
Airplanes and passengers are not limited to the physical limitations of the railway infrastructure as to where they can go. Where you can build a suitable landing strip and an airport, a plane and its passengers can typically go, whereas a train can only go to and through those places where you happen to have built all that expensive track.
Coordination of air traffic three-dimensionally in our vast airspace is also much simpler than coordinating traffic on railways, which, again, are subject to the directional and functional limitations of the infrastructure required to move them.
Then there's the more general efficiency of air travel.
First, let's state the obvious. The fastest high-speed trains in the world travel at speeds of 200 to 250 mph. The average cruising speed of a commercial jet is 540 mph. That alone would make my trip from Los Angeles to New York twice as long, but you'd have to account for the fact that my train ride would also be riddled with stops along the way to shuffle people on and off at numerous waypoints.
And God forbid you miss your train. Your options would be limited to waiting for the next train, because there is only one path to reach your destination.
Compare that to missing a flight. You would have ample options available. You could wait, maybe several hours or overnight, for the next plane, or, more likely, the airline would fly you to any number of logical waypoints to reach your destination more quickly. You could fly to Chicago or Denver or Houston — whichever had the shortest layover.
In short, there is nothing about high-speed rail that makes it a suitable alternative to air travel.
Railways are, and will continue to be, in use where it is practical to use them. The problem with this radical leftist proposal to spend trillions of dollars on an expansive network of high-speed rail is that there's nothing practical about it.
In truth, high-speed rail is a just a stupid pipe dream, and enviro-socialists are demanding that you pay for the privilege of having it rammed down your throat. If California's experiment is any measure, it will cost you substantially more than the initially proposed price, and it will benefit very few. If it's ever even built, that is.