Officials with California's high-speed rail boondoggle recently released a revised business plan. Anyone hoping that the new plan might offer some sort of flirtation with reality were sorely disappointed.
In fact, the wildly unrealitic cost estimates to build and operate the system of so-called bullet trains from San Francisco to Los Angeles actually became just a touch more unrealitic.
To be precise, the cost estimate fell from $68.4 billion in the previous business plan to $67.6 billion now, mainly because of lower inflation.
Not much of a change. Which is the story of this fresh snapshot of where the California High-Speed Rail Authority thinks it stands: Some numbers are up, others down, but nothing here makes the proposal any less wasteful and speculative than it has appeared since voters discovered the truth about what they foolishly set in motion.
The business plan's forecasts contain some sort-of-good news: Those construction costs are down a bit ($800 million is a bit when seen next to $67.6 billion). More riders are expected, and fares are estimated to be lower than in the 2012 plan.
And it includes some sort-of-bad news: Although there might be more riders, they'd be taking shorter trips than once thought, not the 200-mph express trips from L.A. to the Bay Area that gave the idea its futuristic charm. More riders will mean more trains and higher overall operating costs, up about 14 percent in the period from 2022 to 2060. And lower fares would mean the system would generate about 10 percent less revenue in 2040.
Operating costs up, revenue down. Yet the High-Speed Rail Authority still claims the bullet train will sustain itself and even become such an attractive financial proposition that private investors -- a critical and yet unrealized operational compenent -- will clamber aboard.
Don't forget how much these plans have changed since California voters passed Proposition 1A in 2008. Notwithstanding last week's adjustments, the price tag is higher and the construction timeline longer even though the route is shorter, the ticket prices are higher and ridership projection is lower, and the legal and environmental obstacles are towering.
Forget private investors down the line if Brown and the rail authority can't nail down the financing now. The failure to do so has put bond money and federal help in jeopardy.
The new business plan notes the bullet train "is facing -- and will continue to face -- many challenges." Another thing that hasn't changed much.
The revised plan is up for public comment for 60 days before going to the Legislature. We urge the public to go to hsr.ca.gov and tell them the plans still don't add up.