California has received its fair share of criticism for the trajectory of its high-speed rail project. When voters first approved the $10 billion dollar bond issue for the project in 2008, it was projected to be completed by 2020 at a cost of $33 billion. Instead, its costs have
High-speed rail is a niche product that is not viable in most countries. For the product to work there must be ample distance between stations - what is the point of accelerating a train to 200mph if it needs to stop in 15 minutes at another station? However, the further stations are separated, the more inconvenient it is to access the train. And how does one access the train? If one has a car then it very quickly becomes more convenient to drive to ones destination than to drive to a rail station to take a train to another rail station and then figure out how to get to where one actually needs to go. And once destinations are more than several hundred miles apart flying becomes the competitive option.
In the US not only is driving more convenient but taking the bus or shuttles between cities is more convenient than taking a train. One of the bizarre biases for trains is that buses and shuttles are discredited by the professional class. Along the I-95 corridor between DC and Boston this is especially odd since the train is no faster than the bus and taking the bus can be far less expensive!
At a certain level it is understandable how Americans romanticize trains and discredit highways. What is inexplicable is the ignoring of air travel as a good solution for fast, convenient, medium distance travel. Seems one reason we don't have "flying cars" is the experts and policymakers are too busy trying to make fast trains work where they will never be useful.
The last time I took a train was in 1974, from SF to Portland, OR. It took 22 hours. I can drive it in 11 hours. The biggest problem trains have competing with air travel is construction and maintenance costs. Trains require track for every inch of the route; aircraft need a couple of miles of runway at each end of the flight, and in between they move on air, with is free and self-repairing after each plane's passage. That said, the US could have built high-speed rail networks spanning the entire continent for the $6 trillion we blew over the last two decades on Middle East wars, and the 5,000 service personnel who died there would still be alive if they had been construction workers instead. I guess the Military-Industrial Complex lobby is more persuasive than the high-speed rail lobby.
IIRC Transcontinental passenger rail was basically never profitable just on ticket prices alone. Passenger trains only made profit because of mail contracts, and they still depended on the profits from freight trains running on the same tracks.
Hyperloops looked promising until it came out that in order have safe distances between sleds at 600 mph you couldn't run many at the same time in the tube. Turned out it would be a very expensive travel option for the wealthy.
I commend your proficiency at simultaneously writing in great detail and providing a general historical overview, especially given that an entire series could be written on the auto industry’s role in the decline of rail transportation in America.
It might be out of scope for this series, but one thing I quibble with is using profitability as a measure of success. For one, it's not clear people are always comparing apples to apples when profit is invoked: that is, are operating profits being compared to other industries operating profits, etc. Secondly, transportation systems, especially when taken in isolation, don't pay for themselves; they usually require some subsidy and support from the government.