Does California Need High Speed Rail?

Comments to Steve Sailer:

* Besides the staggering building costs, the problem here is density. California lacks it. We are not Japan.

Therefore, high speed rain in California is a nice idea only; since once you reach your destination (unless it’s SF or downtown LA) you still need a ‘personal transport vehicle’ (car) to get around.

Even in the crowded northeast (between NY and Washington) Amtrak (rail service) loses millions each and every year. Personal vehicles are essential in vast, spread-out, non-urban areas; which describes most of California.

Then there’s price of completing this green project. Each leg of this Democrat jobs program will consume tens of billions of dollars just to build. Maintenance costs are extra. These immense costs will never be recovered via paying customers.

Why not simply add dozens of (subsidized) buses (providing a real cost incentive) to all our major highways so that people can roll along in collective comfort while they play with their smart phones and computers? With fracking and emerging hybrid technologies on the rise, fossil fuel-powered vehicles could remain a affordable transportation option for decades to come.

Ramped-up (and super-cheap cheap) bus service (using the ‘car pool lane’ in existing highways) could save California one hundred billion dollars going forward. With that in mind, let’s put high speed rail back on the shelf where it belongs–at least for now.

* If you don’t support High Speed Rail, you’re a racist and hate gays.

* We are not maximizing wealth creation when a venture capitalist is sitting in traffic congestion next to a maid.

We should charge a congestion fee on every road, and raise the fee in real time until the road is not congested.

Therefore, no road would ever be congested.

High-income people would always be able to drive fast, even at rush hour.

Low-income people could cluster into buses.

* In truth, there is no plan to build what was presented to the voters. It is all another big lie of Jerry Brown and the Democrat legislature. It will never be completed within 200% of its proposed budget and, if completed at all, will take decades. Even then, it will not be close to reaching it promoted goal of time to distance. What it is is a another financial boondoggle, a way for the politicians to repay their donor class. And nothing more.

It is faster, door to door, to drive from LA to SFO than to fly or to take this dumb train plus you have a car to use when at your destination, leave on your schedule and just chuck stuff into your car.

Hurry up Donald! And encourage some acolyte to run in California. There are no Republicans here anyway.

* As Stuff White People Like pointed out, white people see buses as socially tainted compared to rail. But there’s a way to combat that: marketing.

Spend a half-billion dollars on marketing a luxury bus service between, say, the San Jose and Burbank airports as what all the cool people are taking.

* As the Silicon Valley workforce ages into the family years, there could be a lot of pressure on living costs near the tech firms. High speed rail might allow for the development of commuter suburbs far out into the Central Valley, even if the rail itself never makes it into SF or LA per se.

I suspect that the benefits will never cover the costs, but given our negative interest rate environment there are a lot less worthwhile things the govt could be doing.

* The AMTRAK NE Corridor breaks even. The rest of the routes lose money.

If Amtrak were run more like a commuter rail system rather than an airline for business types, it would do even better.

The new trendier Mega and Bolt intercity busses have hurt the intercity rails in the NE (young college types seem to like them, and they don’t have the stigma of Greyhound or Trailways), but they may be paving the way for a revival of rail.

* I’m not all that familiar with California demographics; but isn’t Bakersfield to San Jose a train ride from one place where White folks don’t want to be to another place where White folks don’t want to be?

* Actually, it’s a ride from a place the wrong sort of White folks like (wary of Diversity because of its proximity) to a place that the correct sort of White folks like (limpwristed SWPLs sheltered from Diversity). The White demographic overlap of Bakersfield and San Jose is zilch.

* I don’t think the problem is “status” or socially tainted, the problem is that Greyhound buses really, really suck.

Uncomfortable, ugly, smelly, always delayed, only minorities or broke students take them.

AMTRAK and Via Rail (in Canada) are OK, a relatively comfortable trip, but slow. The AMTRAK train service from NY to Montreal is nice, but only during the day and takes 10-12 hours (!). Couldn’t they improve on that?

As for me, I’d love to see a renaissance of the giant airships/zeppelins cruising the skies between LA and SF at, er, 85 mph? Not much speed, but think of the view.

* Ann Coulter says that she’s not an immigrant but a settler. I heard this kind of argument before, but only from one guy, Samuel p Huntingdon. That’s the first time I’ve ever head someone make this argument in the mainstream. Apparently no one at the view could respond to her.

* There are luxury bus and van lines in the northeast:

Prices range from $50 to $90. The regular buses, which are perfectly comfortable coach buses, are from $20 to $30. Note that these luxury lines are cheaper than what Greyhound was charging when it had its near monopoly into the early 2000s. I took Greyhound a few times back then between cities in the northeast, and it was terrible, with bad service and seedy terminals filled with ghetto types and crack and meth heads. It was so bad that I would spend extra to take Amtrak. Then the Chinatown buses came in and crashed the intercity ticket price to $20. And then the corporate bus lines offering comparably low prices with better and more professional service like MegaBus came in, and now we have cheap, high quality intercity bus transport in the northeast.

* The big problem with new rail projects in the US is actually buried in Steve’s post, in an off hand comment about well heeled people potentially objecting to trains running at 220 MPH through their suburbs.

People keep thinking that the US is not particularly densely populated or even underpopulated, which probably also drives the enthusiasm for more and more immigration. Yes, if you take the 320 or so million people in the US (which I suspect is an undercount to hide the amount of illegal immigration) and divide it by the total number of square miles, you get a lower person to square mile ratio than in Europe, China, and India. But these three places are the most densely populated places on Earth. And the US is the third or fourth largest country by land area.

But a good part of the area of the US are places where either people don’t want to live or where it would be absurdly expensive to maintain (and bring water to) dense populations, either mountains or deserts or featureless plains with really bad weather. The vast majority of people live in metropolitan areas, generally the suburban parts. The whole advantage of intercity passenger rail is that it can get you from downtown to downtown, no need to make the trek to/ from the airport way out in the burbs. But the only way to do that is to put tracks through the suburbs where people don’t want it. And enough rail tracks were removed when people thought that everyone would drive everywhere, no problems with traffic (with rails to trails being a particularly egregious bit of stupidity that this is a real problem).

I’m familiar enough with these projects to know that the San Jose to Bakersfield link is being done first just to get something built, hopefully in time for the politicians currently in office to open it, to show people some tangible result for their tax dollars quickly. Then people will pony up to get the line through the coast mountains to LA. I actually doubt the line will reach downtown San Francisco, given that Amtrak’s normal trains don’t go there, but there are at least CalTrains and eventually BART links to SF.

I also agree with the earlier commentator that the focus of any passenger rail development in the US should be on commuter rail. High speed intercity rail is a huge distraction that at best should be at the bottom of the list of planned improvements in the area. It you really have to build high speed passenger rail, LA-SF is probably the second place where it should be implemented after NY-DC, though there is a case for prioritizing connecting Chicago with any northeast corridor line instead.

* China has never been able to produce cars beyond low quality copies of out-of-date Western and Japanese design. The high rate of corner cutting just does not work for something as complex as the design and production of new automobiles.

Part of the reason is also that in this respect China is more capitalistic than the major automakers’ home country. Korea, Japan, the USA, Canada and Western Europe all provide very big subsidies to their local auto industry, making it impossible for China to break into the market despite trying for decades. And it is open to Chinese cars if they were any good. Look how fast Korean companies grew. But that was with the support of the Korean government every step of the way.

There are some specific auto parts where China has a decent market share. This is typically by cutting corners to underprice the OEM parts by 50% or more, and western non-OEM by 25% or more. Now not all of these parts are bad, but it is scary to think of a whole car made from them.

* Most of Amtrak’s routes between the coasts are little more than subsidized nostalgia. That is vastly preferable to subsidized dispossession, but let’s be honest about it and put it where such things belong: the National Park Service.

* Buses are a good idea. The roads are already there so they don’t have to build rights of way for new railroads.

Bus routes can easily be changed if demand shifts, whether it’s different times of day or weekend routes, not to mention future demand changes years down the road. A rail line is of course stuck where it is.

Imagine LA freeways if say 30% of the cars were taken off the road and those people were on a bus. The problem with freeways is rush hour traffic that causes bottlenecks. Buses would eliminate that, while still allowing people who drive for various reasons to drive on less crowded roads. Of course, non-freeways would also have less traffic.

Car congestion is bad for buses because the bus gets stuck in traffic. Remove a lot of the cars from the road and buses can really be efficient and versatile.

Buses can be very comfortable too. Google has private buses that take workers from San Francisco to the Google complex.

There have even been protests of the private buses.

Even non- private buses can be comfortable and pleasant to ride in. I’ve ridden in coaches in England and Switzerland and they are very nice.

In England coaches go from town to town and buses operate in the town. I took a inter-city coach into London and it was very fast and comfortable, The problem came when we got into London and the car traffic slowed the bus down . Get rid of those cars and it would be super efficient. Or have certain roads that are bus only that the city.

* As Stuff White People Like pointed out, white people see buses as socially tainted compared to rail.

Paul Weyrich, a rare right-wing rail advocate, made this point explicitly at times. I’m sure he embarrassed the more conventional transit-boosting crowd.

I once heard a veteran urban planner from Savannah give a talk to our local preservation society. He said bluntly, if only in passing, that keeping up your handsome buildings and residences keeps and attracts white people.

You can get away with a line like that once in a talk, especially if it comes across as a joke. But people take notes.

* The primary, which is to say only, advantage to light rail is that people know where the rail line is located because they see it all the time, so everyone has it drilled into their memory where they can go on it. That’s cool, but we now live in an era where even the poorest among us carry around a device that makes it quite easy to know what time it is, and to find a bus route that can take us from A to B, which effectively kills even that advantage.

So we have technologies – smart phones and airplanes – that make it possible to pretty much abolish some insanely expensive, dedicated infrastructure needed for one form of public transit, and yet we still want to blow hundreds of billions on said infrastructure.


* The California High Speed Rail Plan is rather infuriating. The traffic bottleneck in California is not the highway from the Tejon Pass to San Jose. In fact, this is the one stretch of road where the freeways basically work as a high speed means of transit.

What Southern California really needs is high speed rail from San Bernardino to Downtown LA, Mid-City Wilshire, Century City and Santa Monica. There needs to be a corresponding high speed rail connecting Newport Beach, Orange, Anaheim and Long Beach to Downtown LA. There should also be a high speed network in the San Fernando Valley up through Palmdale. A means of daily commuting from far flung suburbs to the centralized job centers is what is critical for the long term economic future of Los Angeles. Due to the decentralized nature of LA, the Google Smart Cars should not be for connecting Bakersfield to San Jose, but for the daily commuter from San Bernardino to get to her job in Beverly Hills from the high speed rail station in Century City.

* People have been talking for years about a Los Angeles-Las Vegas train so that Vegas visitors could start getting drunk on the train instead of driving. The mountain pass between Los Angeles and Las Vegas is less severe than the mountain pass between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay. And Las Vegas is incredibly concentrated for visitors, while the San Francisco Bay area is highly diffuse due to having a bay in the middle of it, which makes having a car much more useful.

But nothing has happened regarding a Vegas train.

* Chinese marketing: “Real cheap! You buy now!”

* Commuter rail in Chicago is a very nice amenity. I can remember taking the train to the north shore and thinking that this is much more civilized than either driving the Kennedy expressway or taking the El. (On the other hand, commuting down Lake Shore Drive isn’t bad either.) You can estimate how valuable commuter rail is by looking at the price premium for homes close to commuter rail stations.

But it’s real hard to retrofit commuter rail into a city. Los Angeles, for example, is full of missed opportunities that could have been done a century ago for a reasonable price if anybody had anticipated how valuable the real estate would someday be. But the market didn’t anticipate that so it didn’t seem worth doing.

* Every politician in the legislature will want the train to stop in his town, or some big, unneeded infrastructure payoff. This will cost far more than anyone will admit. I really had thought that Gov. Jerry Brown had more sense than this. A high speed train to nowhere.

* Brooks and company have to tell us how good things are because it sure isn’t evident from our personal experience.

Another trick here is to not use federal incarceration data; since most illegal aliens get shunted into the federal system, that allows a lot of illegal immigrants to not be included in the data. Something like 25% of federal incarcerations are of illegal immigrants.

From my anecdotal experience, the data here doesn’t capture the increase in petty property crime that drags down civic life: think Victor Davis Hanson’s chain saw getting stolen. When our area loaded up with gardeners from Mexico, the low level thefts that fell under the radar of prosecution went way up. Sure, the newcomers aren’t going to kill you, but they’ll help themselves to anything not tied down that they can get away with. Thus an increase in locks and fences; and the aggravated residents needing to be told by Brooks et al that they should just lie back and enjoy a massive increase in GDP.

* I spent a week in Miami, then went back to visit a girlfriend for 3 weeks.

During the first week, I used buses until a drunk black guy got on one and just vomited onto the floor in front of himself casually like you or I would cough. Everyone acted like it was normal. When I went back later to visit my girlfriend, I didn’t use buses.

* I just drove LA to LV a couple months ago. Leaving LA on a Friday night, it took me about 3 hours bumper-to-bumper stop-and-go traffic just to get out of LA. We reached LV way late strung out on coffee. The whole interstate between LA and LV on Friday night was packed. I was amazed.

If I lived in LA and there were a train to LV, I would go maybe once every 3-4 months I think. I’ve heard some people go more like once every 2 weeks.

* When SF’s Leap bus service debuted, I remember it was promoted on SWPL websites.

I took a luxury bus in Burma from Rangoon to Mandalay. A new, straight, smooth highway was built to shuttle the elites from Rangoon to their new super-secret capital, and all the buses to Mandalay used it (or mine did). Since I was relatively rich, I took the highest-cost VIP liner. I was shocked. It had airline service with stewardesses and food carts, huge reclining seats with headphones, etc. Fantastic. I slept and woke up totally refreshed. There’s no reason for people not to take buses like this.

On the other hand, Japan’s rail services have not really resulted in an improvement in quality of life as far as I can tell. If you compare a single rail line to a single highway, the rail line is much more invasive for the landscape. The promise of rail travel is not that it’s better than highways, but that it will replace/prevent highways, but that doesn’t really seem to be the case here. As long as construction is make-work government hand-outs, rails and highways are just built on top of each other.

Speaking as someone who just a couple months ago drove SF to LA on US 1 and who lives in Japan, I would hate to see the California landscape despoiled by all the overhead lines, raised concrete platforms, crossing signs, new separate stations (yes!), and numerous paraphernalia needed to maintain Japan’s shinkansen.

Furthermore, last year, flying from Osaka to Tokyo was cheaper as well as slightly faster than taking the shinkansen, so there were a lot of people switching over to the flights. Who actually commutes from LA to SF and can’t afford to fly?

* I used to take Greyhound to travel in university. Greyhound is horrible. I used to huddle up next to Amish people to avoid wretched-smelling bag ladies. Recently a relative died, and my mother had to take a Greyhound cross-country. She got off to use the bathroom at one stop, and the driver (guess what gender and color!) left her there. She lost all her luggage and only avoided walking for miles because the state police picked her up. She’s in her late 60s.

Amtrak on the other hand, you have to love. The key is, when traveling in NY, to buy the ticket to Montreal, which gets you onto the special car with extra-large seats. Amtrak has wi-fi now and craft beers, too, which means you can work on your laptop and look out the window at the Hudson or Adirondack mountains while drinking Dogfish Head 90-minute IPA. What’s not to love?

Also, for anyone who’s got the time, I advise doing this

I haven’t been able to yet, but I took a sleeper from London to Fort William when I was younger and loved it. I remember waking up, opening my curtains, and seeing a stone wall extending out into the distance. Whether I actually woke up to see the Antonine Wall out my window, I’m not sure, but I will always remember the thrill of thinking so.

* Germans speak English in the presence of 1 non-German-speaker because they are today the kind of people who will let a flood of Syrians into their country… and because the non-German-speaker cannot speak German…

Gays got a lot of power in this country not just because they wouldn’t shut up, but because the nice Christians didn’t torture, beat, and murder them when they wouldn’t shut up… and because if they did get beaten, they were living in big cities around other gays whose shoulder they could cry on.

In converse, iSteve is full of intolerant readers, but we aren’t having much impact, are we? I live in Japan and all the expats I know think Trump is Hitler. If I let out that they’re crazy, I have nowhere to go…

So it’s more complicated than intolerant minorities.

* A White America that is never coming back. Hmmm …

Didn’t various Albanian nationalists and Muslim triumphalists say the same thing around 1989 in Yugoslavia? How did that one work out again?

Diversity status signaling among upper class Whites has diminishing returns. Brooks may be secure, but places like Github are purging White males (and females):

In February 2015, Sanchez wrote an article for USA Today entitled “More white women does not equal tech diversity,” and during a diversity training talk Sanchez even stated that technology was “not work for white folks to lead” and that “some of the biggest barriers to progress are white women.”

“Don’t think we’ll succeed teaching white, male middle managers empathy and compassion anytime soon. So let’s limit their scope of damage,” wrote Campos in one tweet.


A cynic, OK me, would say that Github believes they have reached a monopoly, all competitors seen off, and wishes to milk the company as a cash cow with no investments, thus dumping high cost White male engineers who know what they are doing and replacing them with low skill H1-Bs at a fraction of the cost to maintain an aging, never updated again codebase.

This is the reason behind the driving force of adoption of Diversity for Corporate entities.

Dumping high cost White men for low cost H1-Bs, and wrapping it up in the religious dogma of Diversity.

ABC has just appointed a Black female head of programming. The first such (Black and Female) ever appointed. The ratings are down 13%. As cord cutting accelerates due to spiraling costs of cable/satellite — ratings are going to be even more important as carriage fees from just being carried on say Direct TV go down as fewer people subscribe.

Worse, Advertisers love Diversity. In commercials. But they don’t want an audience made up Moesha and Home Boys in Outer Space fans. The Pew Hispanic Trust estimated that media household net assets in 2010 was 135K, 5K, and 6K for White, Black, and Hispanic households respectively. MEDIAN. That means half are below that number. Big Ticket items won’t be bought by Black households in any appreciable numbers, given that Blacks are 12.5% of the population and half have less per household than 6K in net assets, let alone liquid free cash/income.

The religious assumptions of diversity have been riding on the free margin of built up White wealth from the post War era, including but not limited to Ike’s interstate freeway system, the military derived satellite communications system, etc.

That margin is being eroded rapidly due not only to burning up wealth by religious idiotic assumptions, but by foreign (Chinese) competition.

Brooks is reliably wrong — Trump’s message is likely even heard among the SWPL fired for being White so some incompetent Latino/Latina can be Upper Middle Management and some incompetent H1-B is hired to do the actual work.

I’ve never heard it explained how Whites don’t rebel, in various nasty ways, when they are shut out of nearly all opportunities save those connected and already powerful.

* Here is something that a lot of people miss: no form of public transportation pays its own way. Not buses, not airplanes, not trains. All involve some degree of public subsidy whether it’s highways, public airports, or Amtrak. Back when private railroads ran their own trains, they were paying high union wages, maintaining their own infrastructure and paying property taxes on it, and were told by regulatory agencies what they could charge for fares. A typical overnight train required a crew of 20 or more to run it (engineer, fireman, conductor, brakeman, car attendants, dining car staff). It was basically a hotel on wheels. What surprises me is that they did not lose more money offering that service.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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