Brik McDill 2

Imagine: You are standing on a futuristic platform with the christening committee and future governor three decades hence. You’re there to dedicate and open California’s high-speed rail.

Before you stands a now super-slick but embarrassingly antiquated relic of a train that was a modern marvel of rail-speed 30 years ago, but is now a quaint monument to forgetting that transportation technology back then was changing at light speed. Combined with just plain bad foresight and just as plain bad planning and expensive design changes.

The evolution of such commuter and freight movement technology should have been foreseen and factored into things. After all, the nearest thing to what we’re building now was built between England and France back in 1988, completed and opened in 1994. Many generations of technology improvement have rendered the Chunnel somewhat of an obsolete slow-poke compared now to Asian hover-trains that float anti-gravitationally above the track and move at nearly thrice Chunnel speed.

People and freight moving have come a long way between the time construction began and the date of completion 30 years hence. Human driven vehicles are now illegal to operate anywhere. Planes, trains and automobiles are now digitally controlled, flying and driving themselves. Elon Musk’s vacuum tunnel-tube, after several dead-ends were resolved, is now operational and moving people-pods regionally at near the speed of sound. For safety reasons, drivers, pilots and rail engineers have been removed from the controls. Computer technology has now been proven safer operators than humans.

Small regional airlines back east are experimenting now with electric planes that fly commuters between cities at rock bottom prices. New York to Boston: $29. Cheaper than the gas to drive it. Their successes will spread the practice to larger states and reach westward in competition with rail-commuting. Airfares will be lower than rail fares, killing the market for HSR commuting. Driverless cars will be able to be digitally programmed to go safely from here to there via improved pinpoint GPS with the simple entry of the destination address.

And once on an interstate highway, these self-driving cars will move at speeds matching the HSR. Urban commuting traffic congestion will be reduced markedly by digital control and the packing of high-speed self-driving cars in long strings close together. Like peas in a digitally controlled pod moving among digitally choreographed other pods. Not needing a car-length for every 10 miles per hour of speed between cars, the cars will need only one-half car length — if that – at speeds approaching HSR.

Movement into and out of pods and onto and off of high-speed corridors will be digitally controlled and eliminate commuter-time traffic tie-ups and back-ups. As we have seen with self-braking and self-parking cars, those that alert drivers to lane-drifting, those with sensor side view mirrors that warn of blind-spot vehicles, and those with reverse drive cameras, technology is racing forward. And gaining speed. Think Moore’s Law — digital power doubles every 18 months.

And where will California’s HSR be in that coming era? Parked next to the antique trains on display in Griffith Park. A testimony to the foolishness of what’s happening now. It may even be that the HSR will never be completed given the delays and technical, geographic, economic and legal and other hurdles it cannot even now overcome. The 30-years-hence opening dream may be little more than a budget-busting pipedream. Let us not forget that there is not a single HSR system operating anywhere on the planet that is self-supporting, but are serious drains upon public treasuries everywhere. That’s why no public or private, individual or institutional investor anywhere has ever stepped forward to ante into the game. It’s an economic loser. A financial black hole.

A money pit. Any C-note sliding into the hole’s event-horizon will never be seen again.

A seasoned yachtsman once asked by a novice what it’s like to sail responded that it’s like walking to the end of a pier with a suitcase full of $100 bills and throwing them one by one into the ocean. Keep that in mind regarding HSR, only changing the suitcase of C-notes into a countless cargo holds of K-notes. That’s where we’re heading.

Dr. Brik McDill is a retired psychologist.