High Speed Rail – Built To Fail

What happens when California’s High Speed Rail, HSR, is completed in 2029 or so and at the same time becomes outdated and obsolete technology due to the rise inCalifornia hsr Maglev use around the world?  The current cost to build HSR in California is $64 billion down from $68 billion however this estimate can change at the whim of more delays, legal costs and investor’s desires not to mention the consequences of every increasing inflation over longer construction times.

The current electrified technology will transport riders from Los Angeles to San Francisco, a distance of 380 miles, at speeds up to 220 miles per hour.  This trip will take approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes one way.

Maglev 3Japan is leading the way when it comes to Maglev trains having set a world record speed of 374 mph in its development and construction of a new Maglev rail system from Tokyo to Nagoya covering a distance of 200 miles.  Top speed will be limited to 310 miles per hour resulting in a travel time of 40 minutes.

Japan has offered to help fund a Maglev train in the U.S. to promote it’s technology.  At a cost total cost of  $8 billion the train and rail line would connect Baltimore to Washington, D.C, a distance of 37 miles yet cut commute time down from an hour to 15 minutes! Maglev 2

If Japan partnered with California to build a Maglev train it would cost a little more than the current version of HSR however the jump in speed from 220 mph up to 310 mph would cut the travel time from L.A. to S.F. by at least a third based upon the time reduction of the Tokyo to Nagoya line and perhaps as much as fifty percent bringing travel time down from 2 hours and 40 minutes to 1 hour and 20 minutes!

Why bring this up given that Governor Jerry Brown’s electric train has already left the station?  I bring this up because the citizens in 2040 who will be saddled with the debt of HSR and its failure to deliver the intended goals will be questioning present day leaders’ decisions.  Martin Wachs, professor emeritus at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs is quoted as saying, “Nobody’s putting up money. Why wouldn’t they? Because the private sector is risk averse,” he said. “The unknowns are more than the knowns.”

The closed minded approach of the California High Speed Rail Authority, HSRA, and Gov. Brown reveal that they are unwilling to evaluate better alternatives to the current version of HSR.

The current version of HSR possesses much of the same inherent flaws that plagued the Space Shuttle program.  No I am not saying that there are design flaws that will result in catastrophic failures of the train; what I am saying is that the current HSR will not be an economically viable system in 2040/50 just as the Space Shuttle program became non-viable exposing the true the reason why Governor Brown and the HSRA are unable to secure the investment money necessary to complete the current version of HSR.

The Columbia Accident Investigative Board stated in 2003,  “The increased complexity of the Shuttle, designed to be all things to all people created inherently greater risks than if more realistic technical goals had been set at the start.”  The board continued, “Designing a reusable spacecraft  that is cost-effective is a daunting engineering challenge; doing so on a tightly constrained budget is even more difficult.”

One thing is abundantly clear, HSR and Brown are trying to build an expensive piece of transportation infrastructure on a budget.  A budget that is incapable of meeting the quality requirements of the system nor achieve the economic viability required of such a business plan.

They sold the people of California on the idea that HSR could be built for $40 Billion knowing full well that the true cost would be much more.  If they lied about that then surely they are lying about the capabilities and costs today.

“They have failed to disclose huge cost overruns and after they boasted private firms were interested in funding this project, we now know these firms are unwilling to put up any private money,” State Assemblyman Jim Patterson said. “What’s worse, we have learned that the [rail authority] ordered its own experts to keep their findings secret from the public.”

They are trying to build a machine and implement a business model by cutting corners in order to get it up and running for they mistakenly believe that a flawed system is better than no system at all.  The same kind of misguided egos that launched a failed shuttle system created with inherent flaws are now pushing for HSR because they don’t want to admit they are wrong.  If you are going to do something do it right or don’t do it at all.

The question is not what the older generation would ask the leaders to do today regarding HSR, the question that the leaders at the HSRA and the state need to ask themselves is what would the people, those people who will be 20 years to 50 years old in 2040 ask them to do today?

I bet the people in 2040 who are -5 to 25 years old today would say to build an economically viable Maglev train, the trains of the 21st century or don’t build one at all for building an $80 billion dollar money pit is a waste of their money and an impediment to future progress of implementing up to date technology.   Everyone in Sacramento knows this to be the truth, because everyone who is currently 20 to 50 years old today knows that BART should have been built around the entire San Francisco Bay back in the 1960s and 70s, yet the leaders chose not to and the result is a failed commuter system.  Every day on every highway at rush hour that failure is self evident.

Had BART been built around the bay back in the late 60s and early 70s the cost would have been significantly less than what it costs today to do the same and thus the benefits to the people today would far exceed the relative costs associated with its construction in the 60s and 70s.  This same practicality should be employed to HSR now.

Is there anyone at the HSRA who has the intestinal fortitude and integrity to put a stop to HSR and build something that will truly benefit the people of California?

Rather than selling the people on getting something for nothing and producing a shoddy product with a losing business concept why not build something that venture capitalists would want to be a part of funding, something that would truly transform travel and transport in the state?

Presently HSR is built to fail, but it doesn’t have to be that way.  Build Maglev and if not Maglev build a scaled down version of Maglev at a fraction of the cost that could remove 5 times the cars from the roadways that HSR can, Skytran.

A Link to differences in costs between conventional HSR and Maglev.

Time is money.  HSRA should incorporate freight trains on its rail line for if it did then it could possibly acquire investment money from companies like: ups, FedEx, USPS, amazon, etc…  If not investment money, HSRA will no doubt be able to rent space on its trains to transport parcels and other products and thereby generate more revenue to recoup startup costs as will as to turn a profit sooner rather than later.