Do Newer Technologies Threaten High Speed Rail?

So many lies were told to convince voters to approve the High Speed Rail project six years ago, that most Californians have soured on it. They are appalled that the estimated cost to build, the time to build, the time between destinations and the price of a ticket have all nearly doubled since voters approved a $10 billion bond to kick start the project.

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Add to this that the private investment that backers promised would limit taxpayers’ liability is nowhere to be seen and it is little wonder that even the former Chairman of the High Speed Rail Authority, respected independent Quentin Kopp, has excoriated the project as it has morphed into something wholly unrecognizable from what the voters approved.

It is somewhat ironic that Governor Brown, who fancies himself as a futurist (as Governor in the 1970s he thought California should have its own satellite) wants to commit Californians to spending billions of dollars on what is increasingly apparent to be an aging technology. Today’s futurists and tech savvy interests are suggesting that investing in High Speed Rail might be tantamount to buying stock in a chain of blacksmith shops in 1910 just as the automobile began replacing the horse as the dominant form of personal transportation.

The first successful powered railroad trip is said to have taken place in the United Kingdom in 1804. More than two centuries later, the train remains the best way to move large quantities of heavy goods. But for moving people, is the huge amount of capital investment in equipment and track that impedes the crossing of vehicles and pedestrians, destroys neighborhoods and farmland, and degrades wildlife habitat, really essential?

Elon Musk, who heads successful high-tech companies Tesla Motors and SpaceX, believes there is a better way to move people. Musk favors the Hyperloop, or something similar, that would whisk travelers between San Francisco and Los Angeles in as little as 35 minutes. Compare this with a drive time of six hours, a bullet train time of about four hours, and an hour by air.

The Hyperloop is a hovering capsule inside a low-pressurized tube, supported by pylons, which can reach speeds of up to 760 mph. According to Hyperloop CEO Dirk Ahlborn, within about 10 years and with about $16 billion, Hyperloop could become a reality. He believes it would it would be easy to put together, the challenge is to come up with a good business model.

As with High Speed Rail, there are many unanswered questions and hurdles with Hyperloop. However, it does appear to be cheaper, faster and able to be completed more quickly than the bullet train and would be less environmentally intrusive.

Moreover, for taxpayers, it doesn’t appear that public dollars are being spent on the design of this project. Unlike High Speed Rail, the Bay Bridge and the Twin Tunnels projects, keeping this project in the private sector – at least in the concept and design stage – is resulting in some fairly notable progress in a short period of time.

In addition to the Hyperloop concept, rapid advances have been made with driverless cars. Fuel efficient personal vehicles directed by computers show great promise and the technology is no longer theoretical. Google has already built a prototype. And best of all, they can operate on an existing infrastructure project which we call roads.

High Speed Rail’s cost dwarfs all other public infrastructure projects by many factors.  Before we commit more money to this project – whose funding is very much in doubt – shouldn’t we be sure there isn’t a better and cheaper alternative?

This article was originally published on

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.


  1. Once again that buffoon, confused Jerry, should be building desal plants along the coast with the money that could be idled when we are deluged with snow or activated when it is dry. But no, the fool is in bed with the eco fascists from the git-go.

  2. Jerry Brown is reconsidering HSR in favor of Stage Coach Wagons. It would just as fast as his HSR project, the SCW will be good for the environment and provide employment for blacksmiths too!
    Jerry Brown – the VISIONARY of YESTERYEAR!

  3. Elon Musk’s idea is definitely the way to go. Hi speed rail will never work in Ca because both ends,LA & SF require lo speed and getting thru mountains and tons of expensive rt of way. Musk’s would be more like a pipeline that is clean.

  4. At this point in his ego driven existence, Brown is determined to write a chapter in the California history books.
    As history looks back on his leadership of California for 4 terms, his legacy will NOT be the type that he is desperately seeking.
    Rather than being remembered as a visionary, he will only be thought of as the fool on parade, much like his alter ego, Barrack Obama.

  5. If you think HSR is expensive, wait until Musk dips into your purse – the man is a money-magnet, and not in a good way.

  6. John Wirts says

    Well this is old but apparently MOONBEAM didn’t get the message!
    Will the Hyperloop Outrace the Bullet Train?

    August 13, 2013 By Joel Fox

    Let’s admit right up top that an intriguing proposal is difficult to stack up against a plan that is already in place, but yesterday’s news must have churned some stomachs at California’s High Speed Rail Authority. One report stated that the bullet train is facing new delays before it gets started and that those delays very likely could add to the rail’s cost. Another report talked about a futuristic competitor to high speed rail that would transport passengers between San Francisco and Los Angeles in one-fifth the time and at one-tenth the cost of the high speed rail.
    As the Bloomberg Businessweek news report asserted, the proposed Hyperloop transport made up of aluminum pods enclosed in steel tubes “immediately poses a challenge to the status quo—in this case, California’s $70 billion high-speed train.”
    The idea is from Elon Musk, chief executive of both Tesla Motors and its electric cars and the Space X satellite company. The idea is to transport people in pods through the tubes along the I-5 between San Francisco and Los Angeles in 30 minutes.
    Hyperloop or Hyperbole?
    The report indicates the science is sound. The pods will travel through low pressure tubes similar to vacuum tubes often used in large businesses and manufacturing plants to send documents around. Or as Musk put it, the experience would be “like getting a ride on Space Mountain at Disneyland.”
    Besides the time difference in travel – the bullet train is supposed to run the SF to LA route in 2.5 hours, although critics dispute that time frame – Musk projects the cost to build the transport system would be between $6-$10 billion. Not only is that about one-tenth the current projected cost for the high speed rail, but that amount could be covered by the already approved state bond for the HSR. No need to search for those pesky outside investors who haven’t appeared yet to fund the rail system.
    Another benefit of the tube transport is that the tube can be built above the existing interstate. No need to buy land from disaffected farmers and landowners.
    Of course, since there is no real plan, it is difficult to know what the cost would be for the Hyerloop. Musk says he’s not going to work on the project because he’s too busy with other endeavors. He offers his proposal for others to consider and improve.
    The problem for the high speed rail is that the discussion about the Hyperloop comes at a time when the high speed rail seems to be going off track. As the Los Angeles Times reported, construction of the HSR was scheduled for 2012, moved back to spring 2013, adjusted again to July 2013 and now officials are saying the groundbreaking won’t happen until 2014.
    With the delays, construction experts warn, costs could go up. Recall how the cost of the rail has bounced around so often in the past.
    Of course, keeping a low first estimate on a big project is part of the game plan according to former Assembly Speaker and San Francisco mayor, Willie Brown. In July, he wrote in his San Francisco Chronicle column: “In the world of civic projects, the first budget is really just a down payment. If people knew the real cost from the start, nothing would ever be approved. The idea is to get going. Start digging a hole and make it so big, there’s no alternative to coming up with the money to fill it in.”
    Well, there’s an alternative to the bullet train now.
    The idea of tube travel is not new as of yesterday. In fact, I referenced a similar plan in a piece I wrote on this site over a year ago. At that time I wrote, “the HSR technology could be outmoded before the state sees a train make its first run.
    Musk’s announcement further challenges the HSR as cutting edge technology.
    Whether the Hyperloop is feasible is a question for engineers. But the economic challenge it presents against a system that could be outdated before it is built should give the legislators and you pause.

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