Rail plan should please penny pinchers

Penny pinchers rejoice: the price tag for California’s high speed rail project has plummeted to $68.4 billion, a reduction of $30 billion dollars from the last estimate. If you can’t do the math on that, it’s a big deal.

The high speed rail plan was approved by voters in 2008 — with a cost estimate of $43 billion — but has since faced growing opposition as costs ballooned.

The previous revision, with a price tag of $98 billion, was criticized as a waste of money, in part because it didn’t even include connections to San Diego or the state capital. In fact, a referendum drive and opposition by Republican lawmakers has threatened to axe the entire project.

The updated plan might assuage some nay-sayers. In addition to the difference in price, the plan would extend another 130 miles for a Madera-to-Bakersfield section. This version would also halt the proposed rail lines just outside of Los Angeles and the Bay Area, and then wait for improvements in local service to connect with the new lines.

Planners expect to save money by accelerating construction time. If they break ground this year, the state will receive $3.5 billion in federal money.

Supporters of the plan say that fares could be low enough to compete with airfares, a wonderful option if it’s true for people who hate being groped by airport security and eating crappy airline food. Maybe competition could even — gasp — force improvements to airline service.