Bullet-train route change doesn’t win over many

california_high_speed_rail_bullet_trainTrying to build fresh momentum in Southern California, the California High-Speed Rail Authority last week unveiled major changes in the proposed bullet-train route meant to limit disruption to poor communities in the San Fernando Valley. But the reaction wasn’t as enthusiastic as authority officials hoped.

Under previous plans, the route linking the Los Angeles area to the Central Valley, Silicon Valley and San Francisco would either have bisected the heavily populated parts of the San Fernando Valley, cutting through Sylmar, Pacoima, Santa Clarita and San Fernando, or gone through a more rural part of the San Fernando Valley, affecting thousands of acres of equestrian lands and estates.

Now the rail authority proposes to instead mostly tunnel under valley communities. Two of its proposed new routes would see the bullet train go underground south of Pacoima and come out north of Santa Clarita. A third, more conventional route would still go above-ground through Lakeview Terrace, Shadow Hills and Sun Valley.

The change initially drew an ecstatic response from one local official. San Fernando Mayor Joel Fajardo called the revisions “absolutely phenomenal” in an interview with the Los Angeles Daily News just after learning of the changes.

But as more information came out, others were far more skeptical. At a San Fernando Valley Council of Governments meeting on Thursday, critics offered many objections. The new route would still have what were deemed unacceptable impacts on Shadow Hills and Sun Valley. A Santa Clarita official said that while the new plan was a big improvement, his city’s position remained that the bullet train should be underground the entire 40 miles-plus from Palmdale to Burbank, not just the approximately 22 to 24 miles from north of Santa Clarita to south of Pacoima. Environmentalists also said the new routes would likely harm two endangered species in the Angeles National Forest.

Underground tunneling: $1 billion a mile?

Rail authority officials provided no detailed information on another aspect of the proposed change: how it would affect the cost of the $64 billion project. Under previous routes, there would have been the need to have about 20 miles of the bullet train go underground. The new plan would only add a few more miles underground. But since it would require going under heavily populated areas — in addition to still having to go through mountains — that would likely add to the complexity of what the Los Angeles Times has described as “the most ambitious tunneling project in the nation’s history.”

By some accounts, underground systems cost about nine times as much as above-ground rail per mile. Details matter with individual projects — cost of land, difficulty of engineering, how many changes must be made to limit effects on the public, etc. A 2013 survey found underground railroad construction costs ranged from $357 million per mile in Sao Paulo, Brazil, to $960 million per mile in Singapore.

The Southern California tunnel seems likely to have a price tag on the high end. If it were to match the price in Singapore, that means at least $21 billion would have to be spent to go from north of Santa Clarita to south of Pacoima — about a third of the tab for the entire project. If the entire Palmdale-to-Burbank route were underground, that would mean at least $38 billion would be needed.

The rail authority is now preparing for construction of the first segment of the bullet train from the Central Valley to Silicon Valley. Plans for the first link to go from the Central Valley to San Fernando Valley were dropped by the state in February, mostly because the new plan is cheaper and would likely face less local criticism.

The state is still struggling to identify how it will come up with funds to build a statewide project; private investors want revenue guarantees that are illegal under state law. Lawsuits also question the project’s legality. The state Legislative Analyst’s Office also recently weighed in with a report saying it was difficult to gauge bullet-train progress because the rail authority keeps making major changes in its plans.


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  1. SDVeteran
    SDVeteran 21 March, 2016, 12:54

    Waste of money… waste of resources… will NEVER be profitable. waste, waste, waste. Please, please derail this thing before we waste any more money.

    Reply this comment
  2. Terry
    Terry 21 March, 2016, 12:56

    When are the people of Ca going to stand up and stop this outrageous boondoggle?
    We need water and water storage. Not a fairy tale train. As usual, we need someone to follow the money. Who is going to get their pockets lined for this boondoggle?
    Where are the media investigative reporters?

    Reply this comment
  3. Dude
    Dude 21 March, 2016, 12:58

    “Underground tunneling: $1 billion a mile?”!!!!!!!

    Our freeways and city streets are falling apart. We are paying for millions of illegal alien’s food, rent, and education while they take American jobs. And the Dimocrats in Sacramento think we should be spending this kind of money on Governor Phallic Head’s wet dream???

    Reply this comment
  4. PeaceKeeper
    PeaceKeeper 21 March, 2016, 13:03

    First, let me say, California does not need a “Bullet Train”. Secondly, one billion dollars a mile for an under ground tunnel? Totally insane! Lastly, The projected fare for a trip Los Angeles to San Francisco is $86 and 2 hrs 40 min ride. Airfare is about $115 and 1 hr 15 mins. Gee, I wonder what else the one billion dollars a mile would buy? The people of California need to get their priorities in order because our state representative are taking us for the ride!

    Reply this comment
  5. Kris Hunt
    Kris Hunt 21 March, 2016, 13:03

    Can anybody read this with a straight face? It sounds like a government planning session as it would be portrayed on Saturday Night Live (or in the olden days, Monty Python.) When will somebody just say no?

    Reply this comment
  6. Ms. Right
    Ms. Right 21 March, 2016, 14:00

    By the time this crazy train is built, there will be new technology where it’s not needed (yellow phone boxes along the side of the roads while cell phones were getting popular). Someone is just getting rich off of the taxpayers. It seems like buying airfare for people who want to go north/south would be cheaper than this train.

    Reply this comment
  7. Richard Rider
    Richard Rider 21 March, 2016, 14:59

    If it cost almost a billion dollars per tunnel mile in Singapore, it will cost AT LEAST $2 billion a mile in California. Probably significantly more.

    Fortunately money DOES grow on trees in Sacramento. At least I’ve been assured that such is the case.

    And the CA money trees catch scurvy, we can always rely on Congress to dole out billions and billions of dollars to the oh-so-lovable Golden State.

    We’ve got a plan!

    Reply this comment
    • fletch92131
      fletch92131 28 March, 2016, 07:24

      You’re entirely correct, when is the state going to realize that we’ve had mid-range transportation measures available for almost half-century, and it’s called air travel. Just get your nearest airport and travel all over the state at your leisure. No long-term bonds required, no tunneling, no additional tracks required.

      Reply this comment
      • Dude
        Dude 28 March, 2016, 10:53

        @ fletch92131
        But Fletch, this project isn’t based on cost effectiveness, or if it would be a benefit to Californians, or if there are already more logical and less expensive transportation methods available. It’s all about the insidious relationship between the for-sale state government officials and the public employee unions; In this case, CalTrans. If the union promised pre/post election bribes to Gov. Phallic Head he would give them our money to build ice heaters in the Mojave Desert.

        Reply this comment
  8. David Wiltsee
    David Wiltsee 21 March, 2016, 15:49

    It’s time to start pressing legislative candidates to put a stop to this folly. There is no way HSR will survive after Gov Brown leaves office in 2019. The only question is how much money will be spent to enrich contractors and HSR board members in the meantime.

    Reply this comment
  9. Dawn Urbanek
    Dawn Urbanek 21 March, 2016, 21:44

    I am a bit confused- all the people of California want according to our Constitution is a great Public Education System- but while every tax measure ever put on the ballot says ,,, “its for the kids” if you look at where the money actually goes it is never to the kids. Know one really understands that Jerry Brown specifically designed the State’s new LCFF (education funding law) to fund K-12 public education at 2007-08 levels by 2021. In 2007-08 the State had revenues of $103 billion – today there is over $125 billion. CA is 48th in the nation in per pupil funding because Jerry Brown intentionally underfunds wealth suburban school districts so that he can use those revenues to fund new programs and entitlements that are not constitutionally mandated and do not benefit a single legal resident- stupid things like a train, Really? Has anyone seen the test data which shows that our wealthy suburban school district kids are testing on the same proficiency levels as people who have just walked across the boarder from other countries? It is not that we have closed the academic gap in a good way- we have denied our kids the ability to reach their own academic potential. How sad for CA and how sad for the United States since CA educates 1 in 8 students in our nation. Way to go CA!!!

    Reply this comment
  10. Dawn Urbanek
    Dawn Urbanek 21 March, 2016, 21:52

    TRAIN or BRAIN? Train wins every time. I am voting for Donald Trump because no one is representing what is in the best interest of my child. We have whole schools that get no art or music or science because their parents cannot afford to fundraise. And if you complain that that is not “fair” or “equal” the CDE now says that alignment with minimum State Content Standards and Curriculum Frameworks are no longer required- just recommended. Subject content and instructional time are left to the discretion of the individual classroom teacher- OMG has CA lost its collective mind?

    Reply this comment
    • eck
      eck 23 March, 2016, 18:59

      Your kid gets no science?? What planet are you on? OK, art and music (why don’t you provide some of these – after all they’re YOUR kids, not mine), but there’s plenty of science if you want it.

      Reply this comment
  11. Queeg
    Queeg 21 March, 2016, 21:57


    Always more….more….more.

    Utopia ain’t cheap doomers……

    Reply this comment
  12. desmond
    desmond 23 March, 2016, 18:27

    Isn’t it obvious the plan is to bring Cal. public education to the level of a mud schoolhouse in Juarez)”with dirt floors, two holes in a corner to crap in, (next to lunch storage), one textbook in a language no one recognizes for every five kids? Meanwhile, save for college(alot), while Mario gets a free ride majoring in “Revenge tactics against kids of Eastern European Heritage.”
    Tell Stash to prepare for a challenging life defending the right to eat Kielbasa.

    Reply this comment
  13. Queeg
    Queeg 24 March, 2016, 20:07


    Jerry wants to build a wall around California. Tons of border patrol jobs, possibly, to keep residents in our State.

    Reply this comment

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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