Bullet train deceit: Here we go again

October 28, 2015

The weekend Los Angeles Times report that the California High Speed Rail Authority refused to disclose a 2013 analysis from its main project contractor predicting a $9 billion cost overrun on the state bullet-train project’s initial 300-mile segment was a jaw-dropper. So was the claim of the rail authority’s chief executive, Jeff Morales, that he was unaware of the Parsons Brinckerhoff report. Morales’ previous job? Senior vice president of Parsons Brinckerhoff.Website Insert Our Name Tells Our Story copy

But to anyone who’s been paying attention to the authority since 2008 — when California voters approved Proposition 1A, providing $9.95 billion in bond seed money for a statewide high-speed rail system — the report was no surprise at all. For years, the $68 billion project has been propped up with deceit, spin and a refusal to acknowledge crucial facts. Examples:

The project can’t legally attract any outside investment with ridership or revenue guarantees. But the project can’t be built without such investment, given Congress’ disinterest in building a bullet train for one lucky state. Such guarantees are prohibited under Proposition 1A because they amount to a promise of an illegal subsidy if guarantees aren’t met.

The project doesn’t have a legal business plan because it hasn’t identified legitimate, realistic sources of funding for the initial 300-mile segment, which the rail authority says will cost $31 billion and Parsons Brinckerhoff says will cost at least $40 billion. When Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny made this finding in 2013 and blocked initial construction, Attorney General Kamala Harris didn’t challenge Kenny’s conclusion; instead, her ultimately successful appeal argued that it was premature for a trial judge to block the project.

The project isn’t remotely what voters were promised in 2008. It is written into state law that the bullet train has to go from downtown Los Angeles to downtown San Francisco in two hours and 40 minutes or less. Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2012 decision to shave $30 billion off the project’s cost by having a “blended” system in which high-speed rail would only go from Fresno to the northern reaches of Los Angeles makes this impossible. Promises made to voters in 2008 about the cost of tickets, the number of jobs the project would create and the environmental benefits it would yield also all look like extreme fiction from a 2015 vantage point.

Read the full opinion article from The Editorial Board of The San Diego Union-Tribune by clicking here.

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