The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

California’s 110-Billion-Dollar “Train to Nowhere”

Dec 5, 2022

Fourteen years ago, California voters approved a bond measure to raise about 10 billion dollars for a fast train that would carry passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco in less than three hours. The California politicians who put the bond measure on the ballot advertised this project as the nation’s biggest transportation project, to be finished by 2020, at a total cost of 33 billion dollars.

It’s now two years past that deadline, and more than 10 billion dollars have been spent—but not one mile of track has been laid yet! No one even knows when it will be finished. And the latest projected cost, 113 billion dollars, is already more than three times the estimate presented to voters in 2008.

It’s not even certain if this train will ever go to Los Angeles and San Francisco. The part being built now, a 23-billion-dollar, 171-mile stretch (about one third of the initially planned 520-mile L.A.–S.F. line), is not even expected to be completed until 2030. And this line would connect only four mid-size cities in California’s agricultural Central Valley, which does not have a large population.

On top of that, this train will not be a “fast train” either, because at least one portion of it will be single-track, where trains in opposite directions will have to wait for each other—and, a 19-mile portion of it will be travelled by bus!

In short, this whole thing is a monumental fiasco, completely earning its nickname, “Train to Nowhere.” In fact, from the very beginning, this big state project was nothing but a big money grab for the big companies that lined up to contract parts of the project and the big landowners whose land was to be bought by the state to build the tracks on.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA), the agency in charge of building the train, had only 180 staffers in 2019, at the same time that it was paying contractors, on average, 427,000 dollars a year per engineer, more than three times its own in-house cost of 131,000 dollars per engineer!

All work on the project, and its management, have been contracted out to private companies, with essentially no oversight by the CHSRA itself. The contractor companies themselves have hired subcontractors, and the subcontractors have hired sub-subcontractors, etc., to the point that there are five different layers of contracted work, which means usually no one knows what’s going on with the project.

Deadlines keep being pushed back, and cost overruns keep piling up, again and again. The CHSRA has not even bought all the land the rail is supposed to be built on.

High-speed rail, commonly referred to as “bullet train,” is nothing new. Such fast trains have been operating for almost 60 years, and in many countries around the world. During the past 26 years since the CHSRA was established, many countries have built entire rail systems. And yet California, which claims to be the fourth-largest economy in the world by itself, can’t even build one line.

No, California officials would rather hand out big, overblown contracts to private companies out of the tax money they collect and continue to drag this cash cow along!