California High-Speed Rail Authority Blames You for Its Four-Year Delay

On May 16, 2016, the Federal Railroad Administration and the California High-Speed Rail Authority revised their agreement for $2.6 billion in federal funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) for the High-Speed Passenger Train for the 21st Century.

California High-Speed Train Program ARRA Grant

The revised agreement can be found here: FRA Grant/Cooperative Agreement for ARRA Funding (Amendment, FR-HSR-0009-10-01-06)

In a California High-Speed Rail Authority press release dated May 18, 2016, the Authority CEO claimed that “High-speed rail construction is underway in California and this agreement is consistent with our efforts to connect Silicon Valley and the Central Valley by 2024, and then move forward with connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles.” Those “efforts” were just adopted by the Authority board on April 21, 2016 as the California High-Speed Rail Authority 2016 Business Plan.

This revised plan anticipates high-speed passenger trains running on electrified track between the Central Valley and San Jose by 2025. The 2014 Business Plan had anticipated high-speed passenger trains running on electrified track running between the Central Valley and the San Fernando Valley by 2022.

A May 18, 2016 article in Politico quoted the CEO as saying “Early on, there was a vision, but no clear sense of how to implement that vision…We have that now, and we’re moving ahead aggressively.” Central Valley residents are surprised to learn there had not been clarity in how to implement a vision, considering that the Authority has tried for several years via negotiations and eminent domain to acquire private property for the supposed implementation of a vision.

Proposition 1A was approved in November 2008. The federal grants were awarded in 2010. As of today (June 2, 2016), the Authority has not even issued a Request for Qualifications for track between Madera and Shafter (Construction Package #5) and there is no schedule yet for bidding on electrication or a heavy maintenance facility coveted by local governments in the San Joaquin Valley. Construction has been limited to a viaduct, the demolition of structures and a street bridge in the City of Fresno, and some token archeological investigation.

Who’s to blame for the delay? The Obama Administration and the California High-Speed Rail Authority have designated a villian, and it is YOU. The May 18, 2016 article in Politico reports the contention of the Authority that your quest for public accountability is to blame:

Federal Railroad Administration officials assigned much of the blame for the lags to the project’s vociferous critics, who have tied it up with a tangle of lawsuits, administrative challenges, and other red tape. They complained that the opponents, especially Central Valley farmers and other not-in-my-back-yard landowners, have gotten far more traction against the railway than they would have against a highway, reflecting a cultural and political bias in favor of traditional asphalt infrastructure. But while they described today’s agreement as a routine bureaucratic clarification, they said they expect an explosive reaction from opponents looking to score political points in Sacramento and Washington.

There will always be politicians and special interest groups who will blame any California High-Speed Rail failures on ordinary citizens who exercise their rights to bring public accountability to this boondoggle. Advocates of the high-speed rail often express resentment about being subjected to checks and balances inherent in the United States Constitution and the California Constitution.

But the truth is that the legislative branch and the executive branch have generally ignored opponents, and the judicial branch has mostly rejected legal arguments from opponents. The real cause of the delays is the flawed language in Proposition 1A approved by 53% of California voters in November 2008. That ballot measure made promises to voters that it could not possibly keep.

Since then, the California High-Speed Rail Authority and Governor Jerry Brown have used every trick in the book to keep the taxpayer money flowing and their patrons happy. (The funding comes from the annual state budget, particularly through cap-and-trade taxes.) Meanwhile, the self-declared author of Proposition 1A continues to receive awards and acclaim for putting out the bait while the switch goes on in Sacramento.

SOURCES

Federal Railroad Administration Cooperative Agreement with California High-Speed Rail Authority – California High-Speed Train Program ARRA Grant – Amendment No. 6 – May 16, 2016

High-Speed Rail Gets a Four-Year Delay: The California Bullet Train Megaproject Was Even Less Shovel-Ready Than AdvertisedPolitico – May 18, 2016

California High-Speed Rail Authority 2016 Business Plan

High-Speed Rail and Federal Partners Realign Grant to Reflect Updated Business Plan – California High-Speed Rail Authority Press Release – May 18, 2016

One comment

  • Robert S. Allen

    2008 Prop 1A was entitled: “SAFE, RELIABLE HIGH-SPEED PASSENGER TRAIN BOND ACT”.

    Blended rail – HSR on Caltrain tracks between San Jose and San Francisco – would be neither safe nor reliable due to grade crossings and unscreened platforms.

    Trains on 79 mph track (Caltrain’s current maximum) are vulnerable to accident, suicide, vandalism, and worse. Amtrak’s City of New Orleans on 79 mph track showed what will happen when a train at that speed hits an obstruction – in this case a truckload of steel at a Bourbonnais, Illinois, grade crossing: two locomotives and 11 of 13 cars derailed.

    HSR must be grade separated and securely fenced. CHSRA’s 2016 Business Plan, like its predecessors, contemplates HSR trains on Caltrain tracks despite their dozens of grade crossings and open station platforms. They talk of even higher train speeds in this segment, making no mention of CPUC’s safety oversight responsibility and its long history of rigorous enforcement.

    Must safety trump the one-seat ride for San Francisco passengers? CHSRA and the state need to face the issue.

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