Patterico's Pontifications


More Aggravating News from the California High-Speed Rail Authority

Filed under: General — JVW @ 7:02 pm

[guest post by JVW]

Well, it’s been almost a year (fifty weeks to be exact) since I last updated everyone on the epic failure that is California’s High-Speed Rail Authority’s project to build a rail line between San Diego and Sacramento — er, make that Anaheim to San Francisco — er, make that Bakersfield to Merced. And to save everyone the suspense, I am not going to be delivering positive news. Two weeks ago a contractor on the project wrote a blistering 36-page letter to the HSRA’s head of contracting, pointing out that HSRA still has yet to provide right-of-way documents on over 500 parcels of privately-held land in the Fresno area which are needed for the route, and the contractor, the Tutor Perini Corporation of Sylmar, cannot continue its work until they are provided. As a consequence it appears highly unlikely that HSRA will meet a key 2022 deadline necessary to unlock further federal funds. The contractor also pointed out that turnover in the HSRA and ongoing negotiations with utility companies and freight railroad carriers will inevitably slow down progress on the line.

This naturally was too much for Brian Kelly, the CEO and Head Cheerleader of HSRA, who sniffed that the folks at Tutor Perini were simply trying to blame others for their own delays. But the accusation that HSRA has failed to clear rights on the entire proposed train route didn’t just emerge in recent weeks; we were covering this ongoing failure fifteen months ago. Mr. Kelly (total compensation for 2019: $542,199.27) and members of his staff concocted a rather lame defense which they managed to get some small news outlets, desperate for content, to run:

The California High-Speed Rail Authority’s yearly economic impact analysis underscores the growing value of California’s investment in high-speed rail amid the economic uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since 2006, the Authority has created between 54,300 and 60,400 job years of employment throughout California and invested more than $7.2 billion in planning and construction of the nation’s first high-speed rail system. Approximately 97% of the expenditures are to contractors, consultants and small businesses in California.

“The economic impact of high-speed rail in the Central Valley cannot be overstated,” said Authority Chief Executive Officer Brian Kelly. “Our progress on the construction and planning of clean, fast, reliable electrified high-speed rail continues to provide work and opportunities, despite the pandemic-related challenges of the last 10 months.”

Contra Mr. Kelly, HSRA was not sold to us as a jobs programs for the manufacturing and construction industries (but, like all progressive initiatives, it was a given that the project would entail lots and lots of nicely-paid state bureaucratic positions), it was actually supposed to build a super-fast choo-choo train that would be accessible to about 90% of the population of the Golden State. Since that goal now appears more and more to be a pipe dream, the final few remaining advocates of the project have only the taxpayer-funded employment opportunities to hang their hats on. Of course that same financial sum pissed away by HSRA could have gone to a whole lot of other initiatives which might have even produced something tangible, or perhaps it could have even been left in the pocket of the taxpayers who would have surely put it to far more efficient use. The Los Angeles News Group editorial board gets this, once again calling for the project’s termination:

Now that the Legislature is back in session and the governor’s budget proposal has been unveiled, it’s a good time to ask why the state of California is still proceeding with the doomed boondoggle known as high-speed rail.

[. . .]

The bullet train project is providing generous salaries to bureaucrats, big contracts to consultants and construction companies, and jobs for some construction workers. The one thing it’s in no danger of providing is transportation.

Meanwhile, the money is running out. Federal grants are in jeopardy because of the project’s continuing delays. It’s possible that the incoming Biden administration will be more patient with California than the outgoing Trump administration has been. Trump terminated a $929-million grant and threatened to claw back funds already spent. The federal funds are the subject of a legal dispute.

[. . .]

Voters agreed to the project on the promise that it would be a high-speed train between Los Angeles and San Francisco, built without a tax increase and run without a public subsidy. What they got instead was a high-cost jobs program that specializes in self-congratulation.

It’s time to end this spectacle of wasteful government spending. Cancel the bullet train.

Alas, the LANG editorial board is probably correct that the Biden Administration will be much more forgiving. They could push back the 2022 deadline that looms over the project and they could even reinstate the $929 million grant that the Trump Administration cancelled. One reason the Democrat-dominated state legislature and privileged progressive governor haven’t yet slammed shut the lid on the coffin is undoubtedly because they are wondering if Uncle Sucker might throw them a gold-plated lifeline. There is no shortage of gullible Democrats in Washington who just love these sort of projects, including those in the White House. So, like so many grand initiatives in California, from building a centralized data system to the unproductive stem-cell boondoggle that is the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to the woeful results of taxpayer-sponsored public housing programs, the HSRA is likely to chug along — wait, that’s exactly the wrong metaphor to use — stand in place for several more years, barring a Congress that comes to its senses and puts an end to this ridiculous project. Given the dysfunction in Washington these days, I’m sure Mr. Kelly’s nice sinecure is secure for some time to come.


14 Responses to “More Aggravating News from the California High-Speed Rail Authority”

  1. Preview of my January 30, 2022 post on this topic:

    Governor Gavin Newsom today announced an agreement with the Harris Administration that will secure federal funding for the controversial California High Speed Rail Authority bullet train project. The government will use part of the $3 trillion “Rebuild America” Act funding which President Kamala Harris enacted through an Executive Order after the Supreme Court ruled 9-6 that the order was legal in what has come to be known as the “Constitution? What Constitution?” case.

    Newsom announced at a news conference at the state capitol building this afternoon that the Bakersfield to Merced line would be operative by 2039 with the full San Diego to Sacramento line being completed no later than 2076, coinciding with the nation’s tricentennial which the Harris Administration has suggested should be “a solemn event, focusing on the codification of white privilege and white supremacy borne on the backs of indigenous peoples and captured slaves. . . .”

    JVW (ee64e4)

  2. “A historic and unprecedented feature of the railway is that the rails will be made entirely from melted-down firearms. ‘Who uses plowshares anymore in California?’ President Harris quipped.”

    nk (1d9030)

  3. Excellent addition, nk. And also, they’ll announce that the bullet train will run entirely on renewal energy. But of course by the time they get around to completing the train, we’ll probably have small fusion reactors powering the whole shebang.

    JVW (ee64e4)

  4. By the time this is done it will have been cheaper to bore a tunnel under I5 and put it there.

    Nic (896fdf)

  5. California has that big, dangling carrot in the form of a beautiful coastline and a pleasant climate. The state and local governments have been able to stick it to people for a long time precisely because of that carrot.

    What happens when Bugs Bunny decides to hop the border to another state? Oh, that’s right. Tax him for the next ten years.

    norcal (b4d7b1)

  6. It’s not a Big Lie when Democrats do it.

    BillPasadena (5b0401)

  7. Joe Biden and Jerry Brown both like trains. Probably because the technology is about their age
    My feeling is that Gavin would rather spend the money on other useless things.
    Like changing all of the state of CA fleet to EV’s despite being told by Elon Musk and CEO of Toyota ummm Toyoda that the states electric grid isn’t up to the task and that the cars are emission free but the manufacturing and powering up produce a lot of carbons

    I’d like to see money invested checking out Thorium Molten Salt Reactors so we can get rid of those ugly wind and solar panel farms.
    I’d love to see those get miniaturized enough to bury one the size of 1/2 a shipping container up on the ranch

    steveg (43b7a5)

  8. When the bullet train was on the ballot back in 2008, its backers promised that the entire system would be in service by 2020. And here it is 2021 and there’s not even a token segment open in the Central Valley, the part of the state where construction should be easiest.

    Maybe it’s time for a Make California Great Again movement — not at all in the Trumpian sense, but instead to bring back the state that was able to build the Golden Gate Bridge, numerous water projects without which the vast population centers in the Bay Area and southern California could not exist, and a formerly really good highway network. If high speed rail technology had existed in 1960, Gov. Pat Brown could have built the entire LA (or is it San Diego) to SF system in a fraction of the time that the current rail authority has spent in accomplishing almost nothing. Imagine, 12 years in and they don’t even have all the rights of way yet. Makes you wonder if actually building a rail system was ever the real objective.

    RL formerly in Glendale (fda61c)

  9. Trains are great if you are in a place where they are practical and can get them built in a practical way. Mostly that means that you need a lot of people in a pretty compact area or a lot of people going back and forth between populated areas. Practically speaking, in the US that mean the east coast S. Maine to Richmond VA and in other parts of the country, only within extended metro-areas or between two close extended metro areas. In and of itself, LA to SF isn’t a bad idea, but there is no way to do it at reasonable cost. For the best route, you’d have to go basically down the ridgeline of the coastals, which would create a LOT of bridging and tunneling issues plus land-use problems.

    If the trains were fast enough, it could theoretically be practical to do a national system was basically an East-West coast to coast spine across the middle of the country with interchange points every 500 or so miles where you could change over to North-South lines, but the technology isn’t there yet and airlines would hate it. Besides, it would really need to be nationwide and interconnected all from the go and we don’t do ambitions, nation wide projects like that any more.

    Nic (896fdf)

  10. Nic (896fdf) — 1/30/2021 @ 12:18 pm

    we don’t do ambitions, nation wide projects like that any more.

    We’re busy pumping trillions into “the economy” and honestly it’s hard to justify these building projects. Is there anyone anywhere who doesn’t expect fraud and waste to eat these projects alive?

    frosty (f27e97)

  11. Los Angeles chokes on the fumes of cars going nowhere and money that could have bought 100 miles of subway or 500 miles of light rail continues to be shoved into a pit near Fresno.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  12. Those job-years they talk about are actually consultant-years. Great time to know someone in Sacramento.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  13. @10 I mean, the last time was the interstate highway system. We’ve been artificially propping up parts of our industry for decades.

    @Kevin@11 absolutely.

    Nic (896fdf)

  14. Of course, jobs are used as a justification by many different kinds of people. It’s become the chief complaint about President Biden cancelling the permit for the Keystone pipeline.

    Government should not count jobs retail.

    Sammy Finkelman (5b302e)

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