In Shocking Surprise, Cost of California Bullet Train Goes Up Again

California High-Speed Rail Authority

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You all know that the ballooning cost of the LA-San Francisco bullet train is one of my hobbyhorses. Well, it’s ballooned again:

The cost of constructing the Southern California section of the state bullet train could jump by as much as $11 billion over estimates released earlier this year…Over the three sections, the potential costs amount to a 50% surge from the business plan estimates released in February….The project has undergone a series of cost increases over the last decade from an original estimate of $33 billion to the current $77 billion.

….Civil engineering experts said they were astounded by the differences in the estimates, which they said they had never seen in other projects. “I can’t understand why they have cost estimates that are so different,” said William Ibbs, a UC Berkeley civil engineering professor who has consulted on high speed rail projects around the world….James Moore, director of USC’s transportation engineering program, was similarly skeptical about the rationale for the differences. “We are talking about the same project,” Moore said. “The differences should not be that large. It is an attempt to normalize the numbers and get them into the public discourse.

That’s an $11 billion increase since February. The rail authority folks have a bunch of excuses for this. My favorite is that this isn’t so much a higher estimate as merely a different estimate.

I’m curious. Have any bullet train supporters dropped their support as costs have skyrocketed over the past few years? Nobody comes to mind. I guess they just don’t care. The train is a good idea, full stop, no matter how much it costs. And I hardly need to tell you that $77 billion is hardly the last overrun we’ll get. After all, we’ve barely even begun building the thing.

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In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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