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Let’s Face It, California’s Los Angeles to San Francisco Bullet Train Will Never Happen


A segment of the high speed rail line under construction in Fresno, California.

A segment of the high-speed rail line under construction in Fresno, California.
Image: Rich Pedroncelli (AP)

California’s dreams of having a bullet train system that links the state’s Northern and Southern regions looks less and less realistic every year. Now 15 years after voters originally approved the initial bond for the train, a new report from Palm Springs outlet The Desert Sun shows a single segment of the bullet train is massively over budget. Like $10 billion over budget.

Back in 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom unveiled a plan for the state’s bullet train system. Construction would be broken up into segments, starting with a 171-mile segment through the state’s Central Valley. With a date set to begin operations in 2030, the cost came out to about $22.8 billion. California may have a lot of money living in its borders, but even the state had pause with that bill. And that was in 2019.

So, when a new report/update released this month by the California High Speed Rail Authority showed the startling reality that the 171-mile segment’s cost will now cost a hefty $35 billion — $10 billion over the project’s budget — the state again, was hesitant. What’s worse is that this single segment, about a third of the entire planned distance, now costs more than the original estimate for the entire 500-mile system. In 2008 when voters approved the bond measure for the train, the cost to connect the 500-mile span would be around $33 billion.

Today, the whole 500-mile system would cost a grand total of $128 billion. That price tag has left state officials scratching their heads to bridge that $100 billion funding gap. This all gets better as that price tag doesn’t include two other system segments that haven’t been calculated yet. There are planned segments that would link Orange County, specifically Anaheim to Palmdale. But the cost for that portion won’t be known until the rail authority does an environmental assessment.

There are other factors contributing to the project that put it in jeopardy. House Speaker and Bakersfield native Kevin McCarthy has been against the project for years. “In no way, shape, or form should the federal government allocate another dollar to California’s inept high speed rail”, he said in a statement to Cal Matters. Engineering experts say that there are also engineering risks that haven’t been considered, like mountain tunnels. There’s also the issue of relocating underground utilities along the route (for a total of over 2,800 smaller projects to complete) that would need to be completed before the route can be built.

The new operational date is slated for 2033, but even that continues to get pushed as California struggles with finding financial backing, planning progress and its painful post-pandemic population decline, that has yet to slow down. With fewer reasons and ways to justify the system, maybe California just needs to accept that this project was never meant to happen.


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