The California High-Speed Rail debacle is an opportunity for America to put its transportation and infrastructure planning on the right track.
The California High-Speed Rail project embodies that is wrong with American transportation. Essentially, the state has been working on the project for 11 years and spent tens of billions. However, the state has failed to put one train on the tracks.
Disturbingly, the High-Speed trains will go nowhere near any of California’s largest cities. Yet the project in California’s central valley will cost $77 billion, Reuters reports.
Instead, the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) is building a 119-mile (191-kilometer) long line that will connect Bakersfield with the small city of Merced. The line will connect one large city Bakersfield (population 380,874) and Merced (population 83,071).
Therefore, there will probably not be enough passenger traffic to pay for the rail line. In addition, there is little possibility of freight which is the most profitable segment of rail travel. Hence, California tax payers will cover the cost of the high-speed rail’s operation.
California High-Speed Rail is not dead
Unfortunately, the reports of the California high-speed rail’s demise are exaggerated. Governor Gavin Newsom (D-San Francisco) did not kill the project as some reports claim.
Instead, Newsom put plans for high-speed rail lines to San Francisco, San Jose, and Los Angeles on hold. Incredibly, environmental reviews for those rail lines will continue, The Los Angeles Times reports. Even though Newsom admits there is no plan to construct those lines.
Under these circumstances, California High-Speed Rail is very much alive. However, it is no closer to completion and the existing plan is an embarrassment.
Is America Capable of Building Infrastructure?
The California High-Speed Rail debacle raises the disturbing question is America capable of building infrastructure.
The Golden State’s high-speed rail plan is neither complex nor ambitious. Yet America’s richest and most populous state could not complete it. To explain, the original plan was a 520-mile (826.8) kilometer line connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Constructing such a project with proven technology; high-speed rail has been around for nearly 60 years, should be easy. Yet it was beyond the state of California’s capability.
Compared to past US transportation accomplishments like the transcontinental railroads and the interstate highway system, California High-Speed Rail is small-time. 21st Century Americans; with all our technology, cannot complete what our ancestors accomplished with picks and shovels.
Why America Cannot Build Infrastructure
We can attribute much of the failure of California’s High-Speed Rail to lack of planning. A state audit found the CHSRA was incapable of basic administrative tasks like decision making, budget and contract management.
Rail haters should not rejoice over the California High-Speed Rail debacle because it bodes ill for their favorite modes of transportation. A country that cannot build a simple high-speed rail line cannot build highways. Nor will such a country be able to build or operate a modern air-transport system.
Building high-speed rail is hardly rocket science, countries like Spain and China have built impressive high-speed rail systems. Yet America is incapable of building one.
Consequently, I think a plan to build a new interstate highway from Sacramento to Barstow would be as big a fiasco as the high-speed rail debacle. The same lack of planning and leadership that is killing speed rail will hobble such a highway.
The Hyperloop Opportunity from California High-Speed Rail
The great opportunity presented by California’s high-speed rail debacle is to scrap the plan and go back to the drawing board.
Notably, Elon Musk did just that with his plans for the Hyperloop. In fact, Musk’s original Hyperloop began as a reaction to the original CHSRA high-speed rail plans. To explain, Musk was angry because the proposed High-Speed Rail was slower than other systems so he had his engineers create an alternative.
Logically California officials should abandon high-speed rail and build a Hyperloop. Notably, three of the companies developing the technology; Virgin Hyperloop One, HyperloopTT or HTT, and Musk’s SpaceX, are based in Los Angeles.
California Should Scrap High-Speed Rail and Build a Hyperloop
Why not turn the $77 billion the Merced to Bakersfield line would cost over to HTT or Virgin Hyperloop One and see if they could do better. It will make more sense than shoveling more money into the failed CHSRA bureaucracy.
Theoretically, a Hyperloop could be faster than high-speed rail, require less energy and maintenance, and move many more people. Notably, HyperloopTT claims its system could operate at speeds of up to 1,223 kilometers (759.9 miles) per hour. In contrast, the California High Speed rail will move at speeds of 225 miles an hour.
In fact, Hyperloop TT boasts that its system could move 164,000 people a day. Thus a Hyperloop could move people between LA and San Francisco in less than half an hour.
Can Hyperloop Solve California’s problems
Moreover, Hyperloop could move those passengers without using a single drop of oil because it runs on electricity. To be fair burning natural gas or coal could produce the electricity for Hyperloop, but it will be more efficient than using jet airliners.
To add icing to the cake HTT claims its system will be silent and emission-free Hyperloop achieves these capabilities because it uses magnetic levitation to move through a closed friction-less tube. Unfortunately, there is no proof for these claims, but portions of the Hyperloop technology are being tested.
Moreover, a Hyperloop could pay for itself by moving large numbers of passengers and vast amounts of freight. Finally, a working Hyperloop will give a massive boost to California’s economy.
California High-Speed Rail’s Failure is an opportunity for Hyperloop
The sorry truth is the California High-Speed Rail debacle demonstrates America is incapable of building a modern infrastructure. Therefore, it is time to investigate radical alternatives and new technologies.
Hence, the failure of California High-Speed Rail could be an opportunity for America to rebuild its transportation system. California’s leaders can scrap high-speed rail and adopt a better technology: Hyperloop.
Hopefully, California’s leaders will learn from the failure of the High-Speed Rail and get it right next time. Unfortunately, recent history shows California’s leaders are incapable of building a working transportation system.