California High Speed Rail: They Don’t Even have a Qualifying Train Design

California High Speed Rail: They Don’t Even have a Qualifying Train Design

The Project California voters will be asked to approve a nearly $10 billion bond issue in the November election as the beginning of funding for the a high-speed rail system intended to serve San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, Fresno, Riverside-San Bernardino and points between. Promoters claim that the remaining necessary funding (from $45 billion to $71 billion, depending upon who you believe) would come from the federal government and private investors. There is no federal program to provide such massive funding and private investment seems highly unlikely given the overwhelming prospects for financial failure.

The Issue No existing HSR trains capable of meeting the speed and capacity goals of the CHSRA system can legally be used in the United States. The CHSRA’s intention to share tracks with commuter and freight trains complicates designing a train to meet Federal Railroad Administration safety standards that are considered the toughest in the world. Currently, no European or Asian HSR train meets U.S. crashworthiness standards. The necessary regulatory approvals of an overseas train are unlikely to be achieved without substantial changes in design and weight.

The CHSRA has yet to decide on basic design specifications for a train and has based studies on inconsistent seating capacities of 450-500, 650, 1,175, 1,200 and 1,600 per train. Also, a train redesigned for the U.S. will become much heavier and is thus unlikely to reach promised speeds. In short, the Authority does not have a usable train design and the eventually required modifications could substantially impair operating performance. Lower performance would negate the CHSRA’s assumptions on which it has based travel times, ridership projections, revenue forecasts and profits.

While builder specifications for the CHSRA’s train do not exist, because of the above circumstance it is fair to state that the CHSRA’s design may become the world’s longest and heaviest HSR train—yet be expected to operate at the highest speed current technology permits. It is likely that a series of designs, tests, prototypes and safety reviews never before achieved anywhere in the world must succeed for the CHSRA’s train to become a reality.

Adapted from The California High Speed Rail Proposal: A Due Diligence Report By Wendell Cox & Joseph Vranich

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