California’s High-Speed Rail Project Still Under Construction As Delays And Costs Pile Up

California’s bullet train has become a nearly forgotten source of trouble, eclipsed in the public eye by Covid-19, a gubernatorial recall, and out-migration from the Golden State. But it’s still out there, sucking up time and money, and as empty as it ever was.

The California High Speed Rail, its formal name, was a hobby-ego project for former governor Jerry Brown that was supposed to move passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco at 220 mph by 2020. Instead, the project is moving at the speed of the museum piece it sometimes appears destined to be. Not a single train has run, with train testing still six to seven years away, amid seemingly never-ending delays.

The news regarding the project is, as usual, dismal. As the Los Angeles Times reported in January, Ghassan Ariqat, vice president of operations at bullet-train contractor Tutor Perini, sent a “scorching” letter to California officials criticizing persistent construction delays, “contradicting state claims that the line’s construction pace is on target,” and warning that the project could miss “a key 2022 federal deadline.” “It is beyond comprehension that as of this day, more than two thousand and six hundred calendar days after [official approval to start construction], the authority has not obtained all of the right of way,” Ariqat wrote. Because of the sluggish construction pace, he added, his company “will have to lay off a significant number of its field workers in the very near future” after already letting 73 walk.

Ariqat has good reason to be agitated. If there’s been a more poorly run public works project in California history, nobody can remember it. Two years ago, a senior fellow at the Eno Center for Transportation, a nonpartisan think tank, called California’s high-speed rail an outright “failure” that has “suffered from at least seven identifiable ‘worst practices,’” causing it “to be indefinitely delayed.”

Confidence in the original timeline was once high, but setbacks have mounted. One high-speed rail blogger wondered in 2009 if the state itself should make a bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics, since California was “on track” for “fast, high-capacity public transportation” that would allow events and venues easily to be “spread out over a much wider area.” Twelve years later, as the Los Angeles Times has noted, the project “may run out of money” before the “171-mile starter system between Bakersfield and Merced” can be completed. And this month, rising costs forced the High Speed Rail Authority to reduce the planned pair of tracks between Bakersfield and Merced to a single track, saving $1.1 billion but likely coming at the expense of train speeds.

The project, which has gone through at least a half-dozen business plans, is the definition of a money pit. When voters approved it via 2008’s Proposition 1A, they were told it would cost $33 billion. The Los Angeles Times editorialized that the cost was “not too much to wager on a visionary leap that would cement California’s place as the nation’s most forward-thinking state.” Several other newspapers favored the train, but a few came out against it, with the Orange County Register warning that Prop 1A was “a fast track to bankruptcy” and a “boondoggle.”

The original projection has proved far too optimistic. Cost estimates have bounced around since 2008, landing at various times at $64 billion, $77 billion, $98 billion, and $117 billion before settling, for now, at $100 billion for a scaled-back version that links Los Angeles and San Francisco. That’s $20 billion more than the price tag of a year ago when Governor Gavin Newsom, in one of the political understatements of the year, said that “the current project, as planned, would cost too much and take too long.”

Yet even Newsom’s revised plan has hit snags. At roughly the same time that the governor acknowledged the obvious, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) reviewed the 2020 business plan, finding that its near- and long-term schedules “appear ambitious” and identifying “some near- and long-term funding challenges confronting the project.” The train’s ridership is now predicted to be so light that operating subsidies will be needed “to cover its day-to-day financial losses.” As the LAO pointed out, the train’s need for subsidies “does not appear to be consistent with the spirit of” Proposition 1A. Initially, passengers, “rather than the general public,” were expected to “pay for the full cost of its ongoing operations and maintenance.”

Like so much else about the California bullet train, that, too, has changed.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

This article was originally published by City Journal Online.


  1. And yet, another reason to recall the pomaded doofus, Pretty Boy Nusance.
    You can do this at

  2. The train to no where is a complete boondoggle, wasting taxpayer dollars and destroying people’s lives taking their property.

  3. This is the West Coast’s “Big Dig”!
    A real, honest to goodness waste of tax payers resources by an incompetent governor and legislature.
    They ran out of money a long time ago, but they keep the unions, those who bought Newsom, keep working. On our dime and we can expect a return on our money . . . . .NEVER! Probably stealing money from other important infrastructure funds, like forest management, roads, bridges, and paying down the debt. And, oh, what about some dams to make better use of our water and even generate some electricity for this useless train that nobody will be able to afford to ride on?

    To go 200MPH they will need unlimited electric power, which California doesn’t have. Remember the brown-outs last year? So, Amtrak will probably jump over to these “new” tracks and run the Federal government subsidized line (they can’t pay their own way, tax payers have to pick up the slack!)
    Incompetence on display, right here in sunny California, all thanks to a Democrat government elected by moron voters.

  4. The complacency and ignorance of the California voters has killed this once beautiful and vibrant state.

  5. We have been fighting for nearly 13 years to have this Project stopped and thoroughly investigated! Now, we have lost millions during Covid and this project continues to suck massive amounts of money from California taxpayers. We need to fix the transportation issues in our major population areas in the Bay Area and in the LA Basin. These are the regions that have the highest population and need to get to work.. Stop the bleeding and let this Project go back to the voters!

  6. The operative word for the communist democrat is failure, by any means necessary.

    • But yet they just keep digging. I have come to the conclusion that the people in Government think that they are all Gods and that they know everything. Everyone can see this is a BIG WASTE OF MONEY but it doesn’t stop them from just keep going. There really is no hope for us I’m afraid. Yes I did sign the recall petition. Let’s watch when we vote how they steal this recall election too!!

  7. But yet they just keep digging. I have come to the conclusion that the people in Government think that they are all Gods and that they know everything. Everyone can see this is a BIG WASTE OF MONEY but it doesn’t stop them from just keep going. There really is no hope for us I’m afraid. Yes I did sign the recall petition. Let’s watch when we vote how they steal this recall election too!!

  8. The bottom line … Newsom lied. He stated this was a dead project. He then gave it $2 Billion to continue. It was a union buy off.

    Newsom lied about the $.06 cent gas tax and took $6 Billion earmark for bike paths people are not using and hate.

    That was the beginning of his tenure. Recall Slick because he is a liar, and mislead both the Left and Right.

  9. For less money, we could have an 10 lane super highway the full length of California without a single pot hole. But no our idiot ruling class persists in getting us out of our cars.
    Ain’t gonna happen.

  10. Cars Are Basic, Inc. was started to represent people who wish to have the “choice” of transportation that includes “private” ownership and operation of vehicles.

    The actions by Gov. Newsom have been deceptive at a minimum. The Governors statements when running for office and just after being elected clearly states the HSR plan is terminally flawed. Continuing with transportation dollars for what he has stated is bad, is wrong.

    CAB was ignored when it sounded an alarm regarding his actions. The recall has exposed on a state wide basis what he did.

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