“Amtrak Joe” Tries to Resuscitate California’s Zombie Bullet Train

President Joe Biden is well known for having a choo choo fetish. It’s little surprise he wants to expand the already heavily subsidized Amtrak passenger rail service. If he’s successful, today’s toddlers will come to know why their grandparents came to reject the inconvenience of commuting between cities by rail.

Aside from the unique combination of extremely high infrastructure costs, extremely high operating costs, and extremely low demand by commuters that make passenger rail unattractive as an investment, today’s passenger trains are also slow. Joe Biden knows this, so he is promoting faster passenger rail service.

What we’re really doing is raising the bar on what we can imagine. Imagine a world where you and your family can travel coast to coast without a single tank of gas on a high-speed train close to as fast as you can go across the country in a plane.

Lessons from California’s Bullet Train Boondoggle

The biggest, most well-developed high-speed passenger rail project in the country is in California. Construction on California’s high-speed rail lines began in 2015, with the plan to connect the state’s two most populated cities, Los Angeles and San Francisco. It soon became the largest public works project in America.

Just as soon, it proved too expensive and too difficult to build as envisioned. In February 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom admitted the original project would cost too much and take too long to build. He trimmed it back to connect the cities of Merced and Bakersfield, with a stop at Fresno in between. Not because that makes sense, but because he was counting on the federal government to keep giving California money to build it. Altogether, California’s bullet train project ballooned to a cost of $100 billion before it was scaled down.

President Trump had other ideas and stopped payment of a $929 million federal grant to fund the project in May 2019. But rather than pulling the plug and stopping the state’s fiscal bleeding, Newsom let California’s bullet train infrastructure project keep limping along in zombie mode.

“Amtrak Joe” to the Rescue?

President Biden has decided to give California the $929 million grant as part of his vision for American transportation. Reason produced a video to explain what the President should have learned from California’s bullet train boondoggle, but clearly never did.

Thanks to “Amtrak Joe”, California’s zombie bullet train project can now creep along at a faster cash burn rate.

You might think that’s harsh, but can you think of a more fitting metaphor for the Biden administration?

Craig Eyermann is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute.
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