March 12, 2018 2:37PM

California High‐​Speed Rail Cost May Triple

The Los Angeles Times reports on the latest setbacks to California’s high-speed passenger rail project. The project is far over budget and way behind schedule. Is anyone surprised?

Randal O’Toole describes the plague of cost overruns in government rail systems here, and he explains why high-speed passenger rail makes little sense here. I discuss the epidemic of cost overruns on government infrastructure projects here.

The LAT says:

The price of the California bullet train project jumped sharply Friday when the state rail authority announced that the cost of connecting Los Angeles to San Francisco would be $77.3 billion and could rise as high as $98.1 billion — an uptick of at least $13 billion from estimates two years ago.

The rail authority also said the earliest trains could operate on a partial system between San Francisco and Bakersfield would be 2029 — four years later than the previous projection. The full system would not begin operating until 2033.

… The new estimates will force California’s leadership to double down on its political and financial commitments if it wants to see the system completed, against a backdrop of rising costs, years of delays, strident litigation and backlashes in communities where homes, businesses, farms and environmental preserves will have to give up land to the rail’s right-of-way.

… The new business plan is based on a wide range of uncertainties, Kelly said. Among the most challenging is the cost of about 36 miles of tunnels through mountainous Southern California, which could range anywhere from $26 billion to $45 billion, according to the report.

… A spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown, who since the 1980s has championed high-speed rail, said the disclosures do not change the strong support he expressed in his recent State of the State address, when he said: “I make no bones about it. I like trains and I like high-speed trains even better.”

… The disclosure about the higher costs comes nearly a decade after voters approved a $9-billion bond to build a bullet train system. The original idea was that the federal government would pay about a third of what was then an estimated $33-billion project, with private investors covering another third.

When project supporters are admitting that the cost “could be as high as” $98 billion, it obviously will be at least that high in the end. That would be triple the original promised cost, and ten times the amount that voters directly approved.

But Jerry likes trains, so full steam ahead!