California Bullet Train Takes a Hit, Episode 59


Here’s the depressingly familiar latest news on California’s bullet train:

The California bullet train authority has told its design engineers that the future system would have shorter trains and smaller station platforms, reducing the capacity of individual trains by roughly 50% and potentially the capacity of the entire Los Angeles-to-San Francisco route.

….The switch to shorter trains was disclosed in a Sept. 7 memo that outlined reductions in the size of future passenger platforms, based on a decision that the high-speed rail system would operate trains of only 10 cars. The previous plan was to operate a “double” train set, which could have up to 20 cars.

I’m too lazy to look this up, but my recollection is that the original financial projections were based on trains running every 15 minutes at 90 percent capacity for 19 hours per day. This was always kind of laughable, but if they cut the size of the trains in half then there’s really no controversy anymore. The financial projections have to be cut in half too. Or so you’d think. But the Rail Authority says there’s no problem: from LA to San Jose, they’ll just run trains every five minutes.

This is ridiculous. If they could really do this, they would have done it from the start since it’s a lot cheaper than building gigantic train stations to handle trains 1,400 feet long. So either they’re guilty of gross financial negligence in the original plan, or else they’re blowing smoke now. Who knows? Maybe it’s both.

One other note: I love how these massive changes in the plan get slipped into bland memos that the Rail Authority hopes no one will ever read. In this case, it took the LA Times six weeks to track down the decision, which was made on August 29. I wonder who tipped them off?

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.