Don’t scrap California’s bullet train for the Hyperloop -- yet


California’s bullet train is taking heat from all sides.

Last week, Republican Rep. Jeff Denham of Turlock introduced legislation to suspend federal funding for the high-speed rail line, amid concern that the project may not get the state and private money needed to match federal grants.

Republican Assemblyman Jeff Gorell of Camarillo has submitted paperwork to put an initiative on the November ballot to block the sale of $9 billion in voter-approved bonds for the project.

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And now there’s another potential ballot measure to stop the bullet train. Entrepreneur Nicholas Garzilli has submitted language to the state attorney general for an initiative that would block the issuance of bonds and construction of the high-speed rail project beyond the first leg to allow time to build a pilot project with competing technology. He also wants the California Public Utilities Commission to find or acquire right-of-way where a Hyperloop-like technology could be tested and compared against the first phase of the bullet train.

Hyperloop, you may recall, is the idea of sending capsules of people from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 30 minutes via pod and pneumatic tube. It’s the brainchild of Elon Musk, who also developed PayPal, electric vehicle maker Tesla and rocket maker SpaceX. Garzilli’s company, Evacuated Tube Transport Technologies (ET3), has a similar idea.

Garzilli’s proposed Transportation Innovation Act says: “While California wastes billions of taxpayer funds on old transportation technology, new technologies are being developed and employed in other cities, states and countries.” And the billions of dollars being spent to build high-speed rail are “creating economic disincentive for competition and innovation.”

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Some might argue that high-speed rail is innovation. At least in California and the United States, where it doesn’t currently exist.

Look, California’s bullet train project has its problems. The cost has doubled since voters approved spending nearly $10 billion on the project in 2008, and it’s likely to take at least a decade longer to build. If it gets built. The High-Speed Rail Authority has yet to spell out how it intends to fund the first phase of the line from Merced to the San Fernando Valley.


But stopping one ambitious project for a new, more ambitious project doesn’t make sense, particularly when the new idea is half-baked. As neat as Hyperloop and ET3’s idea may be, they are just concepts. We don’t know the cost, safety or time needed to build these projects. They may not even be possible.

So why stop the bullet train in order to let the Hyperloop and its kin catch up?


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