California Bullet Train Takes a Hit, Episode 59

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Here’s the depressingly familiar latest news on California’s bullet train:

The California bullet train authority has told its design engineers that the future system would have shorter trains and smaller station platforms, reducing the capacity of individual trains by roughly 50% and potentially the capacity of the entire Los Angeles-to-San Francisco route.

….The switch to shorter trains was disclosed in a Sept. 7 memo that outlined reductions in the size of future passenger platforms, based on a decision that the high-speed rail system would operate trains of only 10 cars. The previous plan was to operate a “double” train set, which could have up to 20 cars.

I’m too lazy to look this up, but my recollection is that the original financial projections were based on trains running every 15 minutes at 90 percent capacity for 19 hours per day. This was always kind of laughable, but if they cut the size of the trains in half then there’s really no controversy anymore. The financial projections have to be cut in half too. Or so you’d think. But the Rail Authority says there’s no problem: from LA to San Jose, they’ll just run trains every five minutes.

This is ridiculous. If they could really do this, they would have done it from the start since it’s a lot cheaper than building gigantic train stations to handle trains 1,400 feet long. So either they’re guilty of gross financial negligence in the original plan, or else they’re blowing smoke now. Who knows? Maybe it’s both.

One other note: I love how these massive changes in the plan get slipped into bland memos that the Rail Authority hopes no one will ever read. In this case, it took the LA Times six weeks to track down the decision, which was made on August 29. I wonder who tipped them off?

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