Fast Train to Nowhere: 5 reasons why high-speed rail is the next Obamacare

Updated Nov 25, 2013

California High-Speed RailCalifornia is chugging along in it’s crusade to build a high-speed rail system linking Los Angeles and San Francisco. How many ways is this wrong? Let us count:

1. California already has a high-speed transportation network.

Its called the airlines. They’re not going to build a train that can outrun a Boeing 737. Some 16,000 people fly between Los Angeles and San Francisco every day. How many trains would it take to put a dent in that total?

2. California is broke.

The once prosperous state has more bankrupt cities than any other. And the price for this rail system keeps going up, the goalposts keep moving. Voters approved a $9.95 billion bond package for the train in 2008 based on the projections of a final cost of about $45 billion.  But last year the agency in charge of organizing the project put the tab at $98 billion. Reshuffling the routes helped shave $30 billion off the tab (and slow down the train considerably) but does anybody think a project like this is going to come in on or under budget. Boston’s Big Dig was sold to the voters as a $2.6 billion project. Final tally was more like $14.6 billion.

3. Tickets are too expensive.

Proponents at first bragged of one-way tickets costing $50. Now it’s looking more like $120+. Southwest Airlines has nine flights a day covering that route; $59 one way.

4. The trains keep getting slower.

California voters were originally promised a train trip that would be 2 hours and 40 minutes or less. As the political mud wrestling moves along that travel time has been extended to 3 hours, 40 minutes–and that’s only on the express train. Add the typical 40 to 60 minute commute it requires to get anywhere in LA or San Francisco, and high speed rail passengers will save at best an hour over the six-hour driving time.

5. It’s not all that green.

In terms of greenhouse gas emissions high speed trains are about on par with airplanes.  Cars are more polluting but add a passenger and you cut the emissions per passenger mile in half. Add the whole Griswold family for a vacation and you’re practically an honorary member of Greenpeace.


So California’s over-promised high-speed rail is already under-delivered before construction starts. It is a liberal pipe dream that duplicates less-expensive alternatives and sold under the sham pretext of being the greener alternative. Sounds like Obamacare to me—which was overpromised and catastrophically under-delivered, reproducing at often higher costs medical plans that were already available, and sold under so many sham pretenses that a full count has not yet been tallied.

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As impossible as it sounds, California’s high-speed rail ambitions are in one way actually worse than Obamacare. At least Obamacare tried to solve a problem everybody recognizes in the high cost of medical care in the United States.

California’s high speed rail is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.