California half-fast ‘hi speed rail’ plan now pondering old fashioned diesel trains to salvage something from failed project

Nobody with any authority over it can admit that Jerry Brown’s pet project, a high-speed rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles, is a multi-billion dollar fiasco and pull the plug to avoid squandering additional billions of dollars from taxpayers. Governor Gavin Newsom has “temporarily” downsized the project, promising to build only the 165 mile segment from Merced to Bakersfield in the flat Central Valley, a trip that few people would ever make at the sort of fares necessary to sustain high speed rail service, a premium-priced commodity everywhere in the world with high speed rail. (The barely high-speed Acela trains between DC and Boston charge fares comparable to airlines.) Very few executives need to travel from Merced to Bakersfield quickly.

But saving the taxpayers’ hard-earned money would require leaving partially-finished bridges and roadbeds in the Central Valley that would quickly become symbols of “Brown’s folly” as it inevitably would be known, and an embarrassment to the Democrats who championed the project. So, in order to save face, they want something – anything – that could claim to be at least marginally useful.

But with the federal government cancelling almost a billion dollars in further finding and threatening to claw back $2.6 billion in federal funds given to California on the condition that the entire line be built, there probably won’t be money to spend anytime soon on electrification and electric-powered  train sets, which are very expensive. The CalTrain commuter line between San Francisco and San Jose currently is being electrified at an estimated cost of two billion dollars for 51 miles of track.

The San Francisco Chronicle now reports:

A new report by the California High-Speed Rail Authority details how the state will build and pay for high-speed service between Bakersfield and Merced, now estimated to cost $20.4 billion. (snip)

If the line is built before the high-speed trains are ready to go, passenger trains that now serve the Central Valley could be shifted there from tracks they share with freight trains, the report said. The move would speed up existing service and bring in additional revenue for high speed-rail. (snip)

The rail authority expects it will need time to test the new fast trains before committing them to the line in 2028, and the line might be ready before then.

So, there would be existing Amtrak diesel trains running on brand new tracks at a few miles per hour faster than the existing conventional trains between the Bay Area and Bakersfield. If, as is likely, the costs of full electrification exceed the funds available, that would be the net benefit from all the billions already spent, plus the further billions to be sent on the new trackage.


Photo credit

Not nearly as sexy as this:

Photo credit

Those Amtrak trains already lose money of course. And now their diesel engines could run a little faster.

But at least there would not be abandoned bridges as monuments to Brown’s folly, and that is reason enough for the democrats who run to California to send billions more.

If you experience technical problems, please write to