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Transportation Government

California's $68 Billion Bullet Train Project Faces Major Hurdles (latimes.com) 342

New submitter willworkforbeer writes: The proposed US$68B high speed rail project in California faces extraordinary hurdles, both in terms of budget and timeframe. Even Einstein (no, not that one; Herbert Einstein, an MIT civil engineer and top tunneling expert) says the schedule is probably not possible. "Having looked at a number of these long tunnels, [the California] plan is aggressive," said Einstein, who has consulted on a 35-mile-long tunnel under the Swiss Alps. "From a civil engineering perspective it is very, very ambitious — to put it mildly."

New York's 11-mile East Side Access tunnel project is 14 years late and about 2.5x its original budget. If California's 72 miles of tunnels (twin tunnels of 36 miles) go like New York's, that would be over US$160B spent, with an opening date sometime in the 2030s. The article goes through a number of complicating factors for the tunnels, from the major faults they must cross to the melange of rock types they must drill through.

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California's $68 Billion Bullet Train Project Faces Major Hurdles

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 25, 2015 @03:51PM (#50798589)

    Anyone who didn't know this was a giant fucking scam before it even got off the ground has to be a fucking idiot.

  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Sunday October 25, 2015 @03:51PM (#50798593)
    who's this for? By the sound of it It's going to be so expensive that if I could afford to take it I'd just take a plane instead. Maybe if we didn't all have cars, but again if you can afford to ride this you can afford a car, and you're probably going to prefer that. If it's just pork I'm surprised it made it though.
    • I also wonder how much housing could be built for disabled & poor folks. So many things $68 billion could buy besides a penis mobile.
      • by Bartles ( 1198017 ) on Sunday October 25, 2015 @04:18PM (#50798729)
        When progressive socialist dreams collide, it's a beautiful sight.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 25, 2015 @04:30PM (#50798803)

        The point of HSR is to make valuable real estate less concentrated. Build the 'home' stations in areas where land will appreciate and the 'work' stations in areas with high-paying jobs. The commuters using HSR daily/weekly will be the people who work in the expensive cities and who have the money to buy housing close to their home station.

        My thinking is it is because California property taxes are capped to a fixed percentage, so they either need property values to grow faster than inflation or to scale-out the building of properties of the same value since they can't all be in SF.

        This is the way it was done in Japan. This is the way it was done in Taiwan. I don't know if the other HSR projects around the world were done with the same land-value development in mind.

        • by tomhath ( 637240 )

          The point of HSR is to make valuable real estate less concentrated.

          That's not what this pork project will do. It is not a commuter railway. And besides, what you describe only moves the valuable real estate to some other location (near the train stops), it doesn't solve any problems.

      • by Kohath ( 38547 )

        Just curious: Where do you think disabled and poor folks live now? Why do you think they need a huge amount of new housing?

    • Yes, it will be hideously expensive, but the wealthy people who buy tickets to get to their important jobs will buy tickets that are massively subsidized by people who will never ride the train. So don't worry about the actual passengers, worry about the state of California.
    • by Hadlock ( 143607 ) on Sunday October 25, 2015 @04:23PM (#50798761) Homepage Journal

      It's for the people who come after us, for the next couple hundred years, either until Earth becomes uninhabitable or we build a better more comfortable transport technology. I know it's hard to think more than 15 years in to the future, but the first rail lines from the 1850s are still in continuous use 170 years later, NOW, and I don't hear anyone talking about the death knell of rail. We gave highways a whirl and while they're super convenient, it's obvious that they don't scale nearly as well as we had imagined they would. And also we realized that most people are too dumb for flying cars, so we're back to rail. Unless you come up with something else, a long term transportation solution needs to be put in place. Right now it's looking like high speed electric rail between population centers, and then self driving uber/google/apple cars between the high speed rail and your final destination. But first we need that high speed rail. It works pretty fantastically over in Europe, you should try it some time.

      • by tomhath ( 637240 )

        It's for the people who come after us

        The people who come after us (and those with a clue today) realize that video conferencing makes most business travel unnecessary. So now you're left with vacationers going from SF to LA - no need for this train to service that crowd.

        • by Hadlock ( 143607 ) on Sunday October 25, 2015 @05:29PM (#50799161) Homepage Journal

          This may shock you, but most people aren't robots, and you still can't replace human interaction with video conferencing. Most people would frown at the idea of eating thanksgiving dinner around a table surrounded by glowing screens. Video conferencing only exists as a bandaid that fixes the problem that existing transportation methods suck. Fix the root issue and the need for video conferencing goes away. Your argument still doesn't solve the problem that college students will want to go home on some weekends, holidays will not evaporate, and not all problems can be fixed remotely.

      • by fnj ( 64210 )

        We gave highways a whirl and while they're super convenient, it's obvious that they don't scale nearly as well as we had imagined they would.

        Highways have problems scaling to very high traffic densities. Railways don't scale to very low traffic densities, or allow servicing geographical tree distributions. They are for hubs.

        The two are complementary.

    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Sunday October 25, 2015 @04:33PM (#50798817)

      By the sound of it It's going to be so expensive that if I could afford to take it I'd just take a plane instead.

      This project will take decades to complete. By then there will be self-driving battery powered buses on I-5, for 1/3 the price of a ticket on this train. If you divide the likely cost of this train by the number of seats, it will cost about $500,000 PER SEAT. That is just the construction and capital cost. The operating cost will add even more. Nobody will be able to afford it without big on-going subsidies. Meanwhile, for the cost of a single train seat, you could buy several buses with over a hundred seats in total.

      The solution is obvious: We need to ban the buses.

      • If you divide the likely cost of this train by the number of seats, it will cost about $500,000 PER SEAT.

        Just how much is the capital cost per seat of the planes that are the real competition for this train?

        • If you divide the likely cost of this train by the number of seats, it will cost about $500,000 PER SEAT.

          Just how much is the capital cost per seat of the planes that are the real competition for this train?

          Irrelevant. Those are either sunk costs (airports) or paid for by the private sector (planes). If it isn't going to be paid for with my future taxes, I don't care what it costs.

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            It's worse still. At $50/ticket you need 274k daily riders.

            If you assume a modest 5% maintenance cost, and $100b price tag. You need revenue of $5b/year to operate and maintain this abomination.
            So, 5,000,000,000 / 365 = $13.7m/day in revenue required
            at even $50/ticket that's 274k riders per day.

            And this is i'm confident way below what the actual costs will be. tax payers will subsidizing this thing forever.

            population LA : 3.9m
            population SF: 837k

          • Irrelevant. Those are either sunk costs (airports) or paid for by the private sector (planes). If it isn't going to be paid for with my future taxes,

            It's quite relevant because it is an indication of whether the high-speed rail is economically viable.

      • by Impy the Impiuos Imp ( 442658 ) on Sunday October 25, 2015 @05:15PM (#50799069) Journal

        It is common for government to tax the hell out of things that compete effectively with their overpriced, boobdoggle, unionized government employee-loaded Peoples' Great Works.

        So watch out for that. Detroit Metro airport built a giant parking structure and long-term parking lot that could not compete with private lots miles away that had to shuttle people in, so they slapped a 30% surcharge on those lots.

        They also made it illegal for local hotels to let customers leave their cars in their hotel lots. Lots of outstate people would drive in and spend the night before flying out the next morning, and free parking was a service the hotels gladly provided. Now that is illegal.

        The People's hatred and fear of government is well-earned.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      In Japan the rail company builds large shopping centres around each station. The rent it gets subsidises the fares.

      • In Japan the rail company builds large shopping centres around each station. The rent it gets subsidises the fares.

        In America, we build huge parking lots around the train stations. The assumption is that everyone will drive to and from the train station at each end of their journey.

    • by g01d4 ( 888748 )

      who's this for?

      The current governor's father [wikipedia.org] was also governor and is favorably known for his efforts in building the state's infrastructure. You can figure it from there. The special interests and Brown's reputation as a 'moderate' (in a heavily Democratic state) trump common sense diluted by the state's other issues.

    • This is for the Silicon Valley and Hollywood elites to go back and forth between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It's currently a 5+ hour car ride in moderate traffic and taking a plane, even a private jet back and forth would take just as long due to traffic and air clearance. I think the project is a huge waste of money as our roads and bridges are backlogged with $21 billion dollars in repairs and maintenance but, the 1% doesn't care what anyone else thinks.

      • Elites? SF LA is the 2nd busiest domestic air route in the US with roughly 10,000 passengers/day.

        Emissions per capita of taking planes out of the sky and cars off the road?

        As for your backlog of maintenance, that's surely simply a matter of neglect for a wealthy state with a GDP greater than Canada...

    • by guruevi ( 827432 )

      Does it matter? It puts people at work and it adds value to the state, it is basically money that prints itself. The problem sits obviously in the corporations levying their taxes on it. But it is a better investment than 'defense'.

  • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Sunday October 25, 2015 @04:08PM (#50798677) Homepage

    New York's 11-mile East Side Access tunnel project is 14 years late and about 2.5x its original budget. If California's 72 miles of tunnels (twin tunnels of 36 miles) go like New York's, that would be over US$160B spent,

    This is absurd (and not an argument presented in the article, because the author isn't a moron). You can't just act like all tunnel building costs are the same per mile, they vary by orders of magnitude. The East Side Access project is to go through some of the most valuable, infrastructure-heavy, densely populated real estate in the US and to merge into Grand Central Terminal.

    • by Rei ( 128717 )

      Then again, maybe I'm misunderstanding. Perhaps they're multiply 68*2,5 and getting $170B and rounding that to $160B? But the cost of the tunnels isn't $68B, that's the cost of the entire project - even things like building the trains are included in that figure. Yet they're acting like purely tunnels are to blame.

    • New York's 11-mile East Side Access tunnel project is 14 years late and about 2.5x its original budget. If California's 72 miles of tunnels (twin tunnels of 36 miles) go like New York's, that would be over US$160B spent,

      This is absurd (and not an argument presented in the article, because the author isn't a moron). You can't just act like all tunnel building costs are the same per mile, they vary by orders of magnitude. The East Side Access project is to go through some of the most valuable, infrastructure-heavy, densely populated real estate in the US and to merge into Grand Central Terminal.

      OP here. And that's a fairish comment. But I balanced the density issues in the Northeast with the 7X longer California tunnel requirement and the crazy engineering through multiple seismic fault zones noted prominently in the article, then I added "IF".

      I am kind of a moron though. I was just glad it did not start out with, "Noted Karma Whore and Unemployable Comic willworkforbeer writes:"

    • by Bartles ( 1198017 ) on Sunday October 25, 2015 @04:16PM (#50798717)
      Show me a tunnel project that finished ahead of schedule and under budget. For that matter show me a tunnel project that finished on time, and met it's budget. It's absurd to think this tunnel will be different than every tunnel ever built in human history.
    • This is absurd

      Nope. Three times over budget is typical for public works projects. It is how the game is played. The numbers are intentionally lowballed to get the project approved. The politicians play along because these boondoggles are always popular in the beginning. Once the schedules start to slip, costs start to mount, and public opinion starts to sour, it is too late. There is too much sunk cost to abandon the project, and the politicians that approved it are either no longer in office, or nobody remembers w

      • by sphealey ( 2855 )

        = = = A solution for this is to fund these big projects with private investments. Then the government will buy the services that they provide, such as, say, a guaranteed $100 subsidy for each passenger that takes the train from downtown SF to downtown LA. Since this train is projected to cost $500,000 PER SEAT, that would mean a payback after 5000 trips. If no private investors can be found, that should be an obvious indicator that the project cannot be built at the projected cost.= = =

        The history of the

    • There are several overall points that all agree upon. A straight lane is still the shortest cheapest transportation path. Moving freight appears to be the biggest user. In California there are several transportation hubs. Yes, there active fault lines, and active fracking. My first thoughts were of a national freight grid orientation, all underground, including holding and maintenance yards. It is possible to have more than one tunneling machine running at the same time. There exists robotic drones for mini
  • by Hadlock ( 143607 ) on Sunday October 25, 2015 @04:09PM (#50798679) Homepage Journal

    Fucking build it. We excel at building giant projects. This is an infrastructure project that will pay off in spades over the next 200 years. It's not like the zombie apocalypse is going to come through and wipe out 2/3rds the population of California every 25 years. Long term this is absolutely needed. Just cough up the dough and move forward with it. Dig those tunnels, lay that track.
     
    Big projects need big vision, and if we don't have that kind of vision in America anymore, I don't want to live here anymore, we're just any other country.
     
    P.S. Even Morocco has high speed rail now. Let's try and keep up with Northern Africa perhaps? "Oh it's such a big project we can't handle that". Well fucking fire that guy let's put someone in place that actually believes they can do their own damn job. You don't hire a guy who's afraid of heights to do your balancing wire act at the circus.

    • by CQDX ( 2720013 ) on Sunday October 25, 2015 @04:42PM (#50798849)

      If they wanted to have a chance for this to work, and to have some reasonable number of passengers, they should have built it along the coast along the Coast Sub route connecting LA, Simi Valley, Oxnard, Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, up to Monterrey and into San Jose. There is splits to SF and Sacramento. There are already tracks there that used to be the main passenger route when trains were king. Today there is little freight or passenger traffic north of Santa Barbara. There are fewer and shorter tunnels so the work is probably orders of magnitude easier.

      Additionally CA should be upgrading the Hwy 5 corridor in the SJ valley. It's two lanes each way but with the amount of commercial traffic it should be 4.

      Finally, spending money on expanding the reservoir system should be the top priority. Often times we get a decent amount of rain but it just runs off into the ocean. Are main reserve is the snow pack in the Sierras but if global warming is true, there is going to be less and less each year.

    • Shoot, if I had known about this I wouldn't have spent my last mod point elsewhere. I like the "dream big" gumption. Although seemingly in contradiction, I also like the fact that it's not really a dream anymore. High-speed rail is an existing technology deployed elsewhere to great success (i.e. at this point, "just good ol' ordinary plain old high speed rail"), and not some idea pulled out of Elon Musk's ass like the Hyperloop, which really is still a dream. Hyperloop could still happen mind you, but hig

      • by CQDX ( 2720013 )

        HSR won't get rid of the car problem because once you get to your terminus you'll still need a car to get around. San Francisco and Los Angeles metropolises are very large and destinations within each can take well over an hour to reach by car without traffic. Public transit is even worse with non-direct routes and frequent stops. BTW, commercial jets fly at 30,000 feet because that is where they are most fuel efficient even accounting for the extra burn to get at altitude.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 25, 2015 @04:11PM (#50798689)

    ... I can state two things:
    - it's buying the land that shifts the schedule. Definitely true, to the extent the south-east is not covered by our 'bullet-trains' 20 years after going operational elsewhere (TGV is for 'hi-speed-train' in french, over 300Km/h)
    - when the rails are done, then, it's over for train/airplane competition. Definitely. 90% of the air traffic switches to rail.
    Even when the rail stations are not close to cities.
    When adding every delay, car/parking/x-ray/plane and the same at the other hand, generally the bullet train is at least as fast, and way less of a bother (no X-ray, you can take metallic objects, load your computer, walk and get decent coffee in a decent train bar...)
    So, to me it's a matter of patience but the switch is unavoidable. The only thing is, for people in their fifties like me, one has to be aware this in some places is just an investment for our children, not for us.

  • Time to declassify those nuclear-powered tunnel-boring machines?

  • On the other hand (Score:5, Informative)

    by melonman ( 608440 ) on Sunday October 25, 2015 @04:51PM (#50798911) Journal

    The article sounds remarkably like the articles written when the Anglo-French Channel Tunnel project was proposed. Various aspects of the project were allegedly impossible when digging began, including concerns about the nature of the rock under the Channel and that the air in the tunnels would overheat because of the absence of ventilation tunnels under the sea. The project did run over-budget, but it worked, and is still working, and has transformed the way people and freight travel along that route.

    • "Did run over-budget" is a bit of an understatement, it almost doubled its construction cost estimates (80% over budget). It had to be "restructured" in 1998 to avoid going bankrupt. For most of its history it has ran at a loss and as such has payed off little of its construction costs, unless you count their "debt-for-equity" swap that made them look in better shape on paper without really doing anything to actually "pay" their debts.

  • by McGruber ( 1417641 ) on Sunday October 25, 2015 @05:11PM (#50799041)

    Here in Atlanta, we are spending $1.1 Billion on widening just one highway interchange: Contractors vying to build $1.1 billion Ga. 400/I-285 interchange [ajc.com]

    IMHO, that makes the $68 billion California is spending seem like a bargain since they'll be getting 36 miles of tunnels, plus "300 miles of track, dozens of bridges or viaducts, high-voltage electrical systems, a maintenance plant and as many as six stations".

  • by Applehu Akbar ( 2968043 ) on Sunday October 25, 2015 @05:15PM (#50799065)

    Years ago, BART in San Francisco was able to tunnel through the same tectonic plate boundary - underwater. A century ago, Switzerland built high tunnels through the Alps like the ones being contemplated here to connect Germany, France and Italy. But because those tunnels required trains to spiral up into the mountains to reach one end and then spiral down from from the other end of the tunnel, It is now driving a series of straight "base tunnels" underneath the entire range. These will allow bullet trains to rip through as though the Alps didn't exist.

    • by CQDX ( 2720013 )

      If you are talking about the BART tunnels that span the Bay, they aren't underground. They are tubes that lay on the sea floor. If you seach Google you can see pictures of the tube sections being assembled at the water's edge.

      • It's still a tunnel at the bottom of a bay crossing a tectonic boundary. That takes the kind of engineering chutzpah that Californians - even Democrats - used to be capable of.

  • Only the beginning (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dereck1701 ( 1922824 ) on Sunday October 25, 2015 @05:40PM (#50799231)

    The cost overruns they're noting here are almost certainly just the tip of the iceberg. It was originally only said to cost around $34 Billion, they've barely gotten started and its already ballooned to at least in the neighborhood of $70 Billion but even the Authority admits it "may" go up to almost $120 Billion suggesting it will probably hit that and quite possibly go even higher. Even at the ~$70 billion number it is almost double the cost per KM as similar European systems. At the same time the anticipated ticket prices will be below that of world counterparts (20%), specifically set to try to attract airline passengers. And even at that rate its not expected to compete very well with car/truck transportation costs.

    • It would be cheaper just to setup a few new dedicated "local" airports and provide free flights to anyone who wanted one than it will be to build this train system.

  • We can't do things any more.
  • ...for a train that no one will ever ride in numbers significant enough to justify it at 1/100 the cost.

  • According to wiki the entire Interstate system [wikipedia.org] (in 2006 dollars).

    If you vote me for governor, I promise to defund the rail, subject to any necessary propositions and/or legislative action. Furthermore, I will use the funds currently set aside for high speed rail to do two things:

    1. Eliminate grade crossings at existing rail lines, starting with Caltrain from San Francisco to San Jose, or alternatively starting with those crossings that have killed the most people if the aforementioned route isn't actually

  • Elon Musk's Hyperloop is a far better idea for so many reasons, and far cheaper.

    Scrap this train and build that instead.
  • If the voters voted to spend a certain amount of money for the bullet train, and if the actual cost is way more, and if the trains will be slower than a bullet train, then does CA have the legal authority to go ahead with the project?

    The voters voted for X, and the state is doing Y. Seems to me that the state wouldn't have the authority to do Y, only to do X.

Unix soit qui mal y pense [Unix to him who evil thinks?]

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