California is still building its high-speed train partially funded during the Obama and the Biden administrations, which is tens of billions of dollars over original cost estimates, but President Biden wants to repeat the folly. President Joe Biden is seeking to revive interest in a plan to build the first high-speed rail in the United States using Japanese bullet trains, which he is likely to discuss with Japan’s prime minister during his visit to Washington. The project, which would connect Dallas and Houston, the U.S.’s fourth and fifth biggest metropolitan areas by population, is estimated to cost between $25 billion and $30 billion. The 240-mile-long rail link, which will be built and operated by Texas Central Partners and Amtrak, is expected to cut travel times between the cities to about 90 minutes, from 3-1/2 hours by car.

Such a project has been discussed since the 1980s, but previous efforts were stymied by the objections of private landowners along its route. Landowners are still likely to oppose the project as they would have to contend with disruption from construction, noise in residential areas from passing high-speed trains, as well as nearby protected species’ habitats being impacted, according to an assessment by the Federal Railroad Administration. The project would also face other hurdles in Texas and the U.S. Congress.

Biden signed a $1-trillion infrastructure bill in 2021 that includes $66 billion for rail projects, which would likely support this project. Japanese state lenders, including the Japan Bank for International Corporation, have provided loans to help develop the project, which is procuring Shinkansen bullet train technology from Central Japan Railways Company.

Bullet trains can operate up to a speed of 200 miles per hour, and can therefore shorten the time it takes to travel between cities. As the United States spans vast distances, public transport has largely been localized and intercity travel dominated by cars. This high-speed rail link, if it were successful, would aid Biden’s energy transition to replace gas cars with rail, mass transit and electric vehicles.

The plan also faces regulatory constraints. The Department of Transportation spent three years devising safety standards for railways with trains traveling in excess of 150 miles. American railways have suffered derailments. And, many railroads run level with the ground and cross roads where accidents have occurred. In 2022, the Brightline connecting West Palm Beach and Orlando in Florida suffered a number of deaths after pedestrians got onto the tracks. But investigations showed that none of the deaths were a result of faulty equipment or employee error.

Other Train Projects Have Seen Huge Cost Increases

California’s High-Speed Rail project was originally sold as a bullet train to connect San Francisco and Los Angeles in less than three hours. California voters authorized a $10 billion bond issue for the train in 2008 for a project whose construction costs were estimated at $33 billion. The cost has now increased to at least $100 billion despite the state scaling back the plan. In 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared that the train would initially cover a 171-mile segment between Merced (a 130-mile drive from San Francisco) and Bakersfield (110 miles from Los Angeles). That service is now expected to begin by 2030. The next links are to be into the San Francisco Bay Area to be completed by 2033 and later into Los Angeles and Anaheim with no date for completion of the entire line. Service between San Francisco and Los Angeles was originally set to be completed by 2020.  Among other funds, the Biden administration most recently awarded California $6.1 billion from the $1 trillion federally funded infrastructure bill for high-speed train projects–$3.1 billion for the central California project and another $3 billion for a train project from Southern California to Las Vegas.

Cost issues have also hampered high-speed rail links globally, such as the High Speed 2 (HS2) project linking London to Birmingham in the U.K., which has seen costs spiral due to revisions and delays in construction. In October, the British government cut back the proposed route to save money, cancelling the northern section connecting Birmingham and Manchester. HS2 will cut the time for the London to Birmingham route to 49 minutes, making it 30 minutes faster than now. The first trains are expected to start during the 2029 to 2033 period. Its budget has ballooned over the years with a 2020 estimate reaching $128.5 billion.

Some Rail Projects Have Worked Without Government Funding

Florida recently opened a new rail system between Orlando and Miami, (a 170-mile $6 billion project) with all private financing, and an extension to Tampa is in the works. Brightline, the only provider of higher-speed rail service in America, runs 32 trains daily with 16 daily departures from Miami and Orlando. Unlike California, Florida has a state budget surplus.


Apparently, President Biden does not realize that governments rarely choose winners where technology is concerned. He now wants more rail projects and is seeking to build the first high-speed rail in the United States using Japanese bullet trains. The project is estimated to cost between $25 billion and $30 billion for a 240-mile-long rail link. This sounds similar to the California high-speed rail link proposed from San Francisco to California that has ballooned from $33 billion to over $100 billion with no date set for the entire project’s completion—a project that has been in the works since 2008.

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