Friday, March 18, 2011

A Verbatim copy of Mark Powell's most excellent blog: AGAINST CALIFORNIA HIGH SPEED RAIL

If you don't live in California, but are concerned about high-speed rail, the best way to learn what may happen in your neighborhood, community, or state, is to watch what's happening elsewhere. 

Mark is a first rate observer of the California High-Speed Rail project and it's so-called progress.  Exposing it for what it really is has become a civic duty.

You should also read Mark's other blog entries on his site.

If you are asking why I am doing this, the answer is that my purpose is to get as much information from as many sources as I can.  I want to share what I am learning with as many people as I can.  This is not about me, or you, or Mark.  It's about the potential dangers of high-speed rail in California and in the United States.





HSR Environmental and Financing Schedules Experience Massive Slippage

“Slippage” is a word California’s High Speed Rail Authority Chairman, Curt Pringle, does not like used in reference to the his project’s schedule.  At least that is what he told Board Member Lynn Schenk when she used this word at the March Board Meeting to describe the updated planned completion date for environmental work on the Los Angeles to San Diego high speed rail segment.  

Mr. Pringle’s preference is to instead say “we were very aggressive expediting those ARRA segments” [Note 1], namely the Merced to Fresno and Fresno to Bakersfield segments.  He seems to imply some segments only appear to slip by comparison because others are moving ahead of schedule.  Sadly, Mr. Pringle’s spin is not even correct as environmental schedules are also experiencing “slippage” for the segments he references.  

In fact, since the last Environmental Milestones Schedule was issued in July of 2010 and made public on September 1, 2010 [Note 2] every segment of the project has suffered “slippage” [Note 3].  Many of the segments have slipped faster than time has elapsed.  In other words, they are further from completion now than they were in September of last year.   A schedule of “slippage” is shown below.

                                   Environmental Milestones Schedule                                            
(Construction Can Begin on a Segment Only After Completing  Environmental Work)
Segment         Old Completion Date      New Completion Date     
Francisco to San Jose        Sept 2011       June 2013                  
San Jose to Merced            April 2012        Nov 2012                                       
Merced to Fresno               Sept 2011       Feb   2012
Fresno to Bakersfield         Sept 2011        Feb   2012                   
Bakersfield to Palmdale      Mar 2013         Apr 2013   
Palmdale to Los Angeles    Dec  2011         Jan   2013                   
Los Angeles to Anaheim    Sept 2011         Sept  2013                  
Los Angeles to San Diego  Dec  2013         2015-2016*                
Merced to Sacramento       Aug 2013         unknown**                         
 Altamont Corridor             May 2013         unknown**                   
*   Not shown on March Progress Report, but provided verbally to Board at March Board Meeting.
** Not shown on March Progress Report.
One cannot help notice that the most egregious examples of “slippage” occur in the four largely urban segments.  The residents living along these proposed segments are largely hostile to the project.  Everyone living in these areas seems to want high speed rail built below ground or in a tunnel if it must pass through their neighborhoods.  

This would be expensive and so these segments are ones where the Authority will proceed with its “phased implementation approach”.  This is code for intentionally delaying environmental work for years while they build their Train to Nowhere in the Central Valley.

At least as damning as the slippage in environmental work is the Authority’s slippage in hiring a financial consultant to help prepare their updated Business Plan and their Financial (“Funding”) Plan.   At their July 2010 Board Meeting  the Authority authorized its staff to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) and hire a financial consultant.  

The target date for bringing a consultant on board was September 15, 2010 because “by the end of January 2011, a fully supported and robust financial plan must be available for the Authority to supply to the California Legislature”[Note 4].  Clearly this task went unmet as from July to the present the Authority’s staff has been unable to find any consultants willing to accept the job as defined in the RFP. 

Now the Authority has authorized its CEO, Roelof Van Ark, to modify the RFP so that it will be more palatable to likely bidders and get on with the process of hiring a financial consultant on an expedited basis so that more deadlines do not go unmet.  Specifically, both the Business Plan and Funding Plan need to be completed by October 14, 2011.  

The Business Plan in draft form needs to be made public 60 days before approval by the Authority and this approved plan needs to be submitted to the State Legislature the first week in January 2012.  The Funding Plan, mandated by Proposition 1A, must be submitted to the Department of State Finance 90 days before a budget is submitted to the Legislature, typically mid-January [Note 5]. 

Why with $2.5 million at its disposal can’t the Authority hire a financial consultant?  The answers may be  buried  in the RFP outlining the tasks of this consultant [Note 6].  The more onerous tasks include “Performing financial analysis and securing funding  for specific segments of the high speed train system” and “Investigating and securing public and private sector funding sources at the local (county and city) level” (emphasis added).  

With no entities stepping forward to invest in this project, why would any consultant take on the task of “securing funding”?   Or perhaps the answer is less complicated.  Simply put,  no reputable firm wants their name tarnished by associating itself with a project that ought not be funded in the first place.

Engineering studies, detailed cost estimates, and Environmental Impact Reports should be done to determine if a project is indeed a worthwhile project.  These reports are being completed and they show California’s High Speed Rail to be a costly boondoggle.  

Write to your legislators in Sacramento [Note 7] and Washington [Note 8]and tell them the results are in.  California HSR is a bad idea.  It needs to be de-funded and all work stopped.  Don’t forget to include Paul Ryan (R-WI) [Note 9], chairman of the House Budget Committee in your correspondence.

Facts stated in this article are documented in footnotes shown below. 

Note 1  Audio of March 3 CHSRA Board Meeting at 2hr 44min 5 sec
Lynn Schenk comment on “slippage” followed by Curt Pringle criticism of the word “slippage”

Note 2  Program Management Team Monthly Progress Report – July 2010,
              Environmental Milestones Schedule – July 2010

Note 3 Program Management Team Quarterly Progress Report – March 2011
 Environmental Milestones Schedule – March 2011

Note 4 Draft Request for Proposal Notice – Financial Consulting Services (unanimously approved)
 Section IV Scope of Work, page 5

Note 5 Audio of March 2 CHSRA Finance Committee Meeting at 19min 43sec
             Van Ark addressing a question raised by Board Member Kopp

Note 6 Draft Request for Proposal Notice – Financial Consulting Services (unanimously approved)
 Section IV Scope of Work, page 5
Note 7   Website to contact California Legislative Representatives
Note 8   Website to contact Congressional Representatives
Note 9    Website to contact Representative Paul Ryan, Chairman of House Budget Committee