California is not the only place that is having second thoughts about expending large amounts of public money to build HSR systems. Take a look at what is happening in the UK:
It is fair to say that HSR has become fashionable and all sorts of arguments are brought forward to justify any investment in it (however half-hearted or, better, half-baked it may be), most of which have nothing to do with the actual merits of the transport mode itself: in particular internal politics, national pride [“the French did it, why can’t we”], EU directives and funding etc. With the likely result, on those bases, that we, the taxpayer, will end up paying the bill in any case, as slider rightly says. There is a history of that here in the UK (far from being the only country in this) of political motivations ahead of any social or economic benefit - Channel tunnel, Millennium Dome, 2012 Olympics etc.
It is difficult to justify the kind of expenditure envisaged – 30-plus billion pounds to begin with, which most likely will double in due course – just to shorten the travel time to Birmingham or Manchester when one can already get there in 1h24min and 2h08min, respectively. One argument brought in favour, which deviates from what should be the main benefit of an HSR line (speed, hence less travel time), is the need to increase “capacity”, which one would think doesn’t necessarily require to build an HSR line as such. It’s like to say that there is the need for more student public transport in Woking, so let’s buy an x-number of McLarens road cars and build dedicated lanes to increase the capacity by increasing the frequency, because they are quicker than anything else on the road.
One can see some argument on a London-Glasgow link, but numbers (volume) would need to be carefully checked to sustain the argument. For example, in the last year I have been a number of times for a one-day meeting in Birmingham, left Euston at 7:30, arriving in New Street by 9:00 and comfortably back in the day. I had to do the same for Glasgow, but to make it all in one day I have always flown.
Another key issue in countries like the UK is the lack of available land. France, Spain, Australia or California have the main cities located at such distances that a quick link could be viable and have ample room (sort of, it’s never that easy in reality) for the corridors required.
Quite the same UK arguments – short relative distances, overpopulated country - applies to Italy, where one can already get in reasonable time from Rome to Florence, Bologna or Naples which hardly would require new expensive, top end lines, rather than improving the existing, for example the one that goes from Naples to Sicily which is a national shame of huge proportions [about which nobody really cares, but obviously we need instead an HSR between two far away cities like Turin and Milan, 143km densely populated…]. Similar to the London-Glasgow, there is the Rome-Milan which could maybe make sense, seen the air travel volume between the two cities. But then one has to argue that probably it would need a dedicate line with no intermediate stops, steering clear altogether of Florence and Bologna and that frankly will never
happen. Which government or political party will forsake the votes of major urban areas like those for the sake of economic reason of the whole nation? That would be akin to science fiction!
I work in the business, I like HSR as technology and professional technical challenge. Can see the argument in favour where rail lines do not exist or are obsolete and there are sufficient relative distances between major cities as well as a culture of land-based public transport use. But on shorter distances with efficient rail lines already present it is difficult to see where reason ends and mumbo-jumbo takes hold.