Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Our blogger friend "Drunk Engineer" tells us about the CHSRA Board members recently arrived on the job

Let's begin with some basic facts. Dan Richard, along with Michael Rossi, were recently appointed to the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board by Governor Jerry Brown.  They apparently pushed a lot of people around to get out the most recent iteration of the business plan, which all the rail supporters are jumping up and down over. They rave about how honest and transparent it is. Uh,huh!

This is the plan that came out with the most recent cost forecast of $98 billion, nearly triple the prior cost forecast.  And, it describes the construction agenda in the Central Valley over which there is a pending lawsuit pointing out that this construction plan, with an illegal Initial Construction Section, violates the authorizing legislation defining the HSR project.

I assume we have Dan Richard and Michael Rossi to thank for that clever scheme. Here's our friend, the "Drunk Engineer," who on his blog "Systemic Failure" points out the many charms of Mr. Richard and his contribution to the HSR Board.

His [Dan Richard's] prior experience with BART is highlighted by his dazzling success in building the BART-SFO connector which, as the article points out, was 100% over cost projections and carries only a tiny fraction of the number of people projected.

Former CHSRA Board member, Quentin Kopp -- thank God he's finally off the Board -- was also extensively involved with this BART-SFO connector, and the construction companies that raked in a fortune working on it.  Kopp here is quoted as saying it's the "most successful part of the entire BART system." The technical term for such a remark like that is Chutzpah. Judge Kopp, please acknowledge that you are the sole survivor of all those who don't know that this BART extension is a disaster. 

So, now we are confronting a $100 billion rail project that has been managed by the guys who made the BART-SFO connector such a dazzling success.  By the way, Rod Diridon is no longer on the CHSRA Board either, but he was, and for a long time.  He's been responsible for the San Jose light rail which -- surprise -- also came in millions above cost projections, and carries a fraction of the projected ridership. Sound familiar?

The expenditure of an unnecessary, wasteful, useless, over-priced high-speed train managed into existence and promoted by back-room politicians with a pathetic track record and no substantive knowledge of railroading. That's what we have here!

Is this some kind of a joke?  And our Governor, Jerry Brown, continues to promote it?

Anyhow, Drunk Engineer asks the perfect question at the end of this brief blog entry:  “Hey, is it a good idea to put these guys in charge of a $100 billion project?”

The answer to that question is obvious.

Systemic Failure
Dan Richard: High-Speed Rail “Expert”
November 26, 2011 by Drunk Engineer

Like a lot of news stories, the LA Weekly describes CHSRA Board Member Dan Richard as the smartest guy in the room:

In August, Gov. Jerry Brown set out to inject some honesty into the debate over the cost and business plan for the vast public works project — for which taxpayers are on the hook. He appointed two nonpoliticos, who also are free of longtime insider ties to big labor: rail expert Dan Richard and financial guru/banker Michael Rossi.

Richard’s “expertise” stems from his tenure on the BART Board (an elected position, making him anything but a “non-politico”). His main accomplishment during that time was the BART extension to the SFO airport. In fact, his bio on CHSRA web page boasts about this project.

As most readers know, the BART-SFO project went 100% over cost projections. And the ridership has been so dismal, it blew a huge fiscal hole in SamTrans finances. In any other circumstance, that project would have disqualified Richard from serving on a transit agency board. In assbackwards California, the opposite is true: failure is rewarded with responsibility over even larger mega-projects.

Speaking of BART-SFO, Quentin Kopp was recently interviewed on KQED public radio and had this to say:
Real high-speed rail, you get on in one place, you get off in another. Making people transfer from one train to another in my opinion is a sure recipe for discouraging ridership. That’s why I fought to have BART into SFO, not a mile and a half away, and that’s proved to be the most successful part of the entire BART system.

And when you read this quote, you have to wonder why nobody at KQED (or any other media outlet) ever looks up the BART-SFO numbers and asks, “Hey, is it a good idea to put these guys in charge of a $100 billion project?”

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