Saturday, December 31, 2011

High-Speed Rail in California: Have they been cooking the books?

The Press Enterprise is a San Bernadino online paper.  That's Southern California, inland from Los Angeles.  This is an editorial.  They oppose the high-speed rail project.  I have not kept count of the number of papers that have taken this same editorial position; that is, total opposition to the California high-speed rail project. There should be no doubt that it's a large number and getting larger.

This editorial states that they do not agree that another audit, this time from the Federal General Accounting Office, is necessary; that we already know enough to shut the project down.  Perhaps.  

However, politics being what it is, and the Democrats so adamant in perpetuating this project against all the facts and evidence that it is totally unworthy of further support, we need to keep accumulating as much information as possible, based on empirical investigations into the CHSRA records, to let all Democrats know exactly what it is that they are so insistent about.

Furthermore, I strongly suspect that we don't begin to know all the underlying facts about what the rail authority has done with the half billion that they have already spent in preparation for next year's construction start.  I welcome a really thorough independent audit, digging into all the rail authority's files, as well as those of the CHSRA Board members and their contracts, to bring all their book-keeping to the light of day.  I believe we will be horrified.

STATE: Rail wreckage
Published: 30 December 2011 05:16 PM

California does not need another independent study before passing judgment on the state’s high-speed rail plans. The flaws in this project are already painfully clear — to voters, if not politicians. Legislators should simply halt this train before it rolls over taxpayers.

A dozen GOP congressmen this month asked the Government Accountability Office to study California’s high-speed rail plans. The congressmen want the GAO to assess the accuracy of ridership projections, determine the amount of public funding necessary to complete and operate the train and answer other questions about the project’s viability. The request came after a contentious mid-month hearing on the bullet train proposal before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Taxpayers hardly need to pay for another independent review of this pipe-dream project, however. There is already ample evidence, including reports from the state’s impartial legislative analyst, about the dubious financing and substantial public risks behind this plan. Nor would the bullet train address the state’s biggest transportation priorities: urban traffic congestion and cargo movement.

The California High Speed Rail Authority envisions a train line that would whisk passengers from Southern California to the Bay Area at speeds of up to 220 mph. The agency plans to start construction next year on the first segment of track from Bakersfield to Merced.

But financial questions alone should derail this proposal. The projected cost of the system has more than doubled in the past two years, to $98.5 billion. The source of that money remains disturbingly vague, if not flatly improbable. The rail agency has $6 billion available from state bond money and federal funding to build the first stretch of track. High-speed travel, however, would not begin until the agency extended the initial line to either San Jose or the San Fernando Valley — a step which depends on an additional $20 billion or more in federal funding that does not now exist.

The legislative analyst calls the rail agency’s fiscal plans “highly speculative.” The analyst says the increasingly likely prospect is that the Bakersfield-Merced stretch will be the only part of the line built — at a cost that could not possibly justify any potential benefit.

Nor are the agency’s job creation claims much more trustworthy. The rail authority says that constructing the entire Los Angeles to San Francisco system would result in more than 1 million jobs. But the San Jose Mercury News reported last week that the actual figure was closer to 20,000 to 60,000 jobs during a typical year. The agency counted each year worked by an employee as a separate job, so one person working 10 years would count as 10 jobs.

No wonder a Field Poll in early December found that California voters, by a 2-1 margin, favored putting the rail project to another vote — and would reject it this time.

A project built on imaginary finances and flimsy promises does not need additional study, but a quick end. California has enough public financial disasters without adding a fiscal train wreck, too.

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