California Bullet Train Becomes Slightly Less Bullet-Like

This is an artist's conception. It will be a very long time before California has anything more than that.California High-Speed Rail Authority

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

Every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in:

The California bullet train will have another slow segment of track as part of a new cost-savings measure, state rail authority documents reveal….The system would operate between San Jose and Gilroy at 110 mph on ground-level tracks on or adjacent to an existing right of way owned by Union Pacific. The route would make 32 highway crossings, requiring sophisticated barrier gates and sharing a corridor that carries freight and commuter rail.

The ballot measure that approved the bullet train mandated that it make the run from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 2 hours and 40 minutes. This requires an average speed of about 160 mph. The train’s top speed is allegedly 220 mph, but when you add in stops and slowdowns the average goes down. So are we still planning on a 2:40 trip time?

The decision is the third compromise the rail authority has made for money or politics that would create slower sections of track, each incrementally adding travel time to an alternative form of transportation promised to link Los Angeles and San Francisco in less than three hours….In total, there are about 91 miles of rail above ground that involve shared track or right of way that will restrict speeds to about 110 mph. Even that speed is questionable.

….Outside rail experts say it is improbable that the rail would ever meet the 2 hour 40 minute trip time in actual operations. In the business plan’s supporting documents, the rail authority lists a timetable “example” that shows the fastest full-length trip would be 3 hours and 30 minutes. Trains with more stops would take 4 hours and 5 minutes.

The problem here is obvious: the door-to-door travel time by plane from LA to the Bay Area is about 3-4 hours. If the bullet train can’t beat that, it loses a huge draw—and that in turn means the ridership estimates are even more of a fantasy than they already are. This is why lots of liberal transit experts—the kind of people who are generally huge fans of high-speed rail—opposed the bullet train in the first place.

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate