Saturday, July 9, 2011

What happens when a High-Speed Rail Project runs out of money? They don't know.

ABC, Channel 7 News.
Friday, July 8, 2011.

Let's review.  The rail authority doesn't actually know how much their project is going to cost, and if they do know, they certainly aren't telling.  Instead, they keep feeding us low-ball numbers.

The rail authority has about $6 billion to play with, but that's all.  That won't cover the costs of more than laying around 100 miles of track in the Central Valley.   There are those politicians like Galgiani mostly, who are desperate for dollars to be spent in her district.  That's what all her efforts are about. Not the train, mind you, the money. Their agenda is to look good to their constituencies by bringing federal pork into their districts.

Then, there are all the others; farmers, cattle raisers, businesses, who are going to be hit hard by this project disrupting their land and their productivity and their livelihood.

Now, they're going to lay track, but not electrify it.  Nor will they be buying rolling stock. So, let's put the "we need it for test runs of HSR" to rest.  There won't be any test runs.  There won't be any high-speed rail on those tracks. There won't be any electrification, signalling systems, or anything related to high-speed rail. It "could" be used by Amtrak, which doesn't need it.

And, now we come to this article, below, which tells us that there is no Plan B.  That means, the rail authority doesn't have a clue about what to do if there isn't any more federal funding.  And, it really looks like the Republican House will see to it that there isn't any more HSR money.  

Right now, the rail guys are bluffing.  They talk about "value engineering" and "phased implementation," all of which is marketing-speak for stretching out as long as possible whatever construction they will undertake.  The idea, for the rail authority, is to get started, get those federal dollars in hand, and spend them, all the while lobbying and praying for more. But. . . . 

there is no Plan B.  What if there is no more funding for another Presidential term? What happens to the tracks in the Central Valley?  Will those six billion dollars have been wasted? 

So, now we all should be asking -- and yes, that includes all you Democrats so eager for those federal billions -- should this project even be allowed to start? We now know that it's not going to deliver on any of the promises that snookered the voters into supporting it in 2008.  And, it won't bolster the California economy or create all those promised jobs.  That's all more marketing hype.

We've been persistently lied to.  We are seeing mis-management on a grand scale.  We've seen hanky-panky with the book-keeping and the consultants.  Did you know they have over 600 consultant contracts?  They still aren't staffed up to manage one tenth of that.

The papers keep quoting the same blather that is handed on from one CHSRA Board member to the next; Quentin Kopp being a good example.  One of their favorite rationalizations is that if they don't build this train, we'll need zillions of more miles of highway and runways.  What a bunch of nonsense.  You would think that this train, when operating, will carry millions and millions of riders who no longer drive or fly.  Have you been reading about the nearly empty trains in China and in Spain?

A lot of people still can't get it into their heads how bad this project really is.  They prefer to believe the lies, I suppose.  As Dave Barry used to say, "I'm not making this up."  

The reports that come from all those government agencies, like the recent peer review committee memorandum from the State Inspector General, the State Auditor, the State Legislative Analysts' Office, and the State Senate Committee on Transportation, is more than enough to justify the termination of this project.

But the most important reason to stop it now is that it can't be, and it will not be -- ever -- finished.  We are talking about a $100 billion project.  Where, in God's name, is anything like that amount of money going to come from?  Do we need or want that 100 miles of track in the Central Valley?  I don't think so. 

What will it take for our Representatives on both sides of the aisle to stand up and display the kind of cojones necessary to say, enough; terminate this project now?

Experts warn 'no plan B' for bullet train
Friday, July 08, 2011
by Lance Williams for California Watch

A panel of rail experts has urged state lawmakers to seize their "last available opportunity" to straighten out California's bullet train project before construction begins next year.

In a July 1 letter, the experts warned that the multibillion-dollar project is proceeding despite outdated cost and revenue estimates and big uncertainties about federal funding.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority, the agency in charge of the project, has pegged the cost of building the 800-mile link between Northern and Southern California at $45 billion. But those estimates are more than two years old, wrote the experts, who are members of an advisory panel called the California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group.

"The actual cost of the project is still unknown with any degree of confidence, but the cost is 'trending upward' (and) an update is urgently needed," the group wrote.

Construction is set to begin on a $4.47 billion segment in the Central Valley next year, financed by federal stimulus money and proceeds from the sale of state rail bonds.

But the billions in federal aid needed to complete the project "may well not exist in the foreseeable future," the experts wrote.

As a result, California faces "the clear risk that whatever is started will not be finished and whatever is finished may have only limited utility," they wrote. The letter was signed by the group's chairman, former Caltrans Director Will Kempton. It was addressed to state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on High-Speed Rail.

In May, Lowenthal asked the experts to review a controversial report by the state Legislative Analyst's Office that expressed grave concerns about the bullet train's management and finances.

In their letter, the experts endorsed many of the legislative analyst's criticisms. They urged lawmakers to hold the rail authority to an October deadline for producing a business plan that addresses in detail how the state actually would pay to build and operate the system.

The rail authority "should not initiate any obligations for construction" until the Legislature and governor review the business plan and decide what to do, the experts said. That's the last opportunity lawmakers will have "to assess and influence the overall plans for the project," the group wrote.

In a downbeat passage, the experts noted that "there are no risk-free mega-projects." Then they ticked off a series of "manifest risks" inherent in the bullet train plan:
"Final route selection is incomplete and local opposition emerges when any route approaches finalization; construction costs and schedules are uncertain and subject to upward pressure; demand estimates are in dispute and subject to a significant range of uncertainty that could produce outcomes ranging from financial profit to economic pain. ...
In plain language, there are significant gaps and problems with Plan A, and there is no Plan B."

Proponents say the bullet train is the cheapest and most environmentally friendly way to provide for California's future transportation needs. Former lawmaker and rail authority President Quentin Kopp says it would cost twice as much to build more freeways and airports to serve the state's burgeoning population, which some demographers say will exceed 50 million in 25 years.

But as California Watch and the Orange County Register have reported, the project is proceeding despite repeated warnings that it may be tens of billions of dollars short of the money needed to build and run the system.

Recently, state Treasurer Bill Lockyer said it was important for the governor and Legislature to address the project's "unanswered questions" before the planned sale of $9.95 billion in state rail bonds begins next year.
Story courtesy of our media partners at California Watch (A Project of the Center for Investigative Reporting)

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