More on California's Big Dig

The Anti-Planner has more on the California high speed rail proposal I wrote about earlier.  My guess was that the first $9 billion bond issue, on the ballot this fall, would not get the train out of the LA metro area.  Well, I was right and wrong.  The smart money thinks the line will start at the other end, in San Francisco.  But the betting is that for $9 billion the line won't even get out of the San Francisco metro area, making it perhaps as far as San Jose. 

But we have a second data point -- there is a proposal on the table to extend BART from Fremont to Santa Clara for $4.7 billion, a distance (as shown on the map below) about a third of that from San Francisco to San Jose.

I am not sure what high-speed rail technology that they are considering, but a true high-speed line requires special alignments, track, and signaling that should make it FAR more expensive per mile than a BART line (just as an example, a true high-speed line could take miles to make a 90 degree turn, eating up land and reducing alignment flexibility in a very congested and hilly area).  And remember, the BART cost estimate is probably low.

No way these guys get to San Jose for $9 billion, much less to LA for $40 billion.  Just what Californians need with their massive budget deficit:  a brand new white elephant.


  1. Chris Byrne:

    They've been trying to do the BART extension for 20+ years; and the homeowners in the region simply will not let them. They watched what happened to Hayward and Newark, and don't want the Bart through their towns.

    I used to live half a mile from the Fremont BART station. Convenient, but the scumbag population around the station was was certainly high.

  2. Divinar:

    Just a note - 3 of the 4 billion is for a TUNNEL under San Jose - less than a third of the total length.

    And stations that go down 40' below the surface to get to the trains.

  3. GU:

    But the train will save the environment and make California more like Europe and everyone will feel great!!!!!!!!!!!!

    (I'm being facetious)

  4. happyjuggler0:

    but a true high-speed line requires special alignments[...]

    I'm no engineer, but I'm thinking that earthquake prone California is virtually the worst place on Earth to put a true high speed train line.

    Not that they really make economic sense anywhere in my opinion....

  5. K:

    but a true high-speed line requires special alignments[...]

    Well, that would be so if you wanted to operate the line. Backers just want it built.

    Operation isn't intended. Spending as much as possible for the construction is the intent. Tens of thousands of new public and semi-public employees. Millions for underwriters.

    The politicians involved will attend openings and have their pictures in the evening news. They will be called leaders. They find all this quite nice. Why be petty and deny them such tiny pleasures?

  6. Phil in Sonoma:

    The proponents so much as admit they haven't figured out how to get the thing out of the San Joaquin Valley and over the Tehachapis --- 55 miles traversing some of the tallest, steepest mountains in the state --- and into Los Angeles. Yeah, let's give this project a blank check... for the next forty years. Sheer insanity.

  7. AJ:

    If you look at what LA has spent on its non-high speed light rail, it works out to around $1 billion/mile. Land costs will obviously be cheaper once you get out of LA, but this is an obvious sham number. Just like Obama is going to provide public healthcare for the nation for only $50 billion. Never mind the fact we spend 6x that just on medicare/medicade.

  8. rxc:

    Interestingly enough, here in France they are in the final stages of determining who will build the new TGV line from Tours to Bordeaux, about 300km (180 miles), and the cost estimates are around 6 billion euros. The work is supposed to be done by a private company, which will have a stake in the line, and gain future revenue from traffic on it, the same way that the autoroutes here have been built. There is strong support for the line here, because these TGV lines really help the economy around them. There are some places, such as in Provence and the Bordeaux-Toulouse line, where there is some resistance, but in general, the locals are in favor.

    I would imagine that in a litigious place like the US, the locals will tie up the project in knots over environmental issues for years. In the Washington DC area, they could not figure out how to build a Metro extension down the middle of the Dulles Access road, and the inter-county connector in Maryland has been on-off again for over 20 years, so building a high-speed line thru the middles of some of the highest-price real-estate in the country is sure to be a "challenge".

  9. George Weinberg:

    BART uses a wide rail gauge that makes it more expensive than standard gauge. I don't know how much difference that makes, probably not much.

  10. MJ:

    The Antiplanner article further noted that some of the project's consultants, most notably Parsons Brinckerhoff, have recently (and quietly) admitted that the true cost of the full, 800-mile system might actually be somewhere upward of $60 to $80 billion. I'd believe this sooner than I believe the $33 billion figure that was thrown around in the EIS.