Back to top

Key Facts

California's High-Speed Dream Derailed

What were the promises made by supporters of California’s high-speed rail?

Proponents of California’s high-speed rail promised that it would be fast, cheap, and mostly financed from sources other than California taxpayers.

The original promise was to get riders from Los Angeles to the Bay Area in two hours and forty minutes. That promise assumed that new track would be built for the whole route, allowing the trains to reach high speeds. When cost overruns began to loom large, the plan changed to repurpose existing rail. However, running on existing rail would mean traveling at slower speeds.

California voters approved a $9 billion bond measure in 2008 to begin funding the project. Of the $33 billion cost, the rest was to paid for by the federal government and the private sector. No allowances were made for operating at a loss when fully functional, as is mostly common in the United States for large-scale government-run transportation infrastructure.

While the project was billed as costing $33 billion, estimates quickly increased to between $68 billion and $98 billion to complete.

Will the project be completed, and how much track will be built?

After significant cost overruns, the first phase of California’s high-speed rail has had to settle for a short, 110-mile track between Bakersfield and Merced. This corridor is in the central agrarian valley, far from the urban districts of Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area that were supposed to be connected by the high-speed rail.

Were all cost estimates so optimistic when the high-speed rail was approved in 2008?

The most optimistic cost projections of the California high-speed rail came from its supporters. However, many of the project’s skeptics predicted higher costs and construction delays based on previous large-scale infrastructure projects in the United States. Politicians in general overlooked significant warnings, and it ultimately cost California taxpayers billions of dollars.