- A French state-owned rail operator wanted to help California with its high-speed rail project.
- The company withdrew after the state refused to listen to its recommendations, the New York Times reported.
- “SNCF was very angry,” Dan McNamara, project manager for SNCF, told the Times.
The Société nationale des chemins de fer français (SNCF), a French state-owned railroad company, came to California in hopes of helping the state build a high-speed rail system from Los Angeles to San Francisco, but left for North Africa in 2011 because the region was “less politically dysfunctional” than the Golden State.
Within 7 years, they built a functioning high-speed rail system in Morocco, the New York Times reported.
California sought to get the nation’s first high-speed rail system, but a new report from The Times showed that political disagreement over the train’s route nearly slowed the ambitious project — and increased construction costs by billions.
The bullet train system, first proposed in the 1980s, would transport passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco in 2 hours and 40 minutes. The project, approved by a vote in 2008, was to cost $33 billion and be completed by 2020.
Cut to 2022, and the California Rail Speed Authority now estimates the cost will be $113 billion, the Times reported.
Dan McNamara, project manager for SNCF, told the Times after the company’s recommendations were ignored by the state that the company decided to pull out.
“There were so many things that went wrong,” McNamara told the Times. “The SNCF was very angry. They told the state they were leaving for North Africa, which was less politically dysfunctional.”
Many of the issues surrounding the project are linked to different political figures who want the rail route to pass through their cities and regions, the Times reported. The original plans were intended to have a direct route through the San Gabriel Mountains, but politicians wanted to divert the rail line into the Mojave Desert and parts of Central California.
Politicians in desert cities such as Palmdale and Lancaster argued that diversions would provide more riders and help their local economies, the Times reported. Modifications to the proposed route were made at the cost of a fast build.
Former President Donald Trump also pulled $1 billion in funding for the project in 2019 after the Federal Railroad Administration said the state had failed to make progress on the project. However, President Joe Biden restored much of that funding last year.
California High Speed Rail Authority continues to build: The first section of the railroad is under construction in Central California. The authority hopes to start testing the section in 2025.
Some rail operators told The Times that the entire project could potentially fail.
“I don’t think it’s an existing project,” Quentin Kopp, the railroad’s former chairman, told the Times. “He’s a loser.”