Confidential Report Says First Construction Segment of California High-Speed Rail May Cost 50% More Than Expected
Somehow, Los Angeles Times reporter Ralph Vartabedian was able to get a document “for internal use only” that top Federal Railroad Administration officials reportedly gave to top California High-Speed Rail officials at a December 1, 2016 meeting in Washington, D.C. He reported on this “confidential” document today (January 13, 2017): California’s Bullet Train Is Hurtling Toward a Multibillion-Dollar Overrun, a Confidential Federal Report Warns.
This report claims that the Initial Construction Segment of California High-Speed Rail (apparently identified as Merced to Shafter rather than Madera to Shafter) would cost $9.5 billion to $10 billion instead of the assumed $6.4 billion. It also will not be completed until 2024 instead of the planned 2018.
Finally, the report concludes that the California High-Speed Rail Authority may not be able to achieve the conditions required to qualify for federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus grants awarded in 2009 and 2010. This means California taxpayers would be alone in paying for it.
Presumably this report only refers to the laying of track in the San Joaquin Valley and does not include electrification. At this time the California High-Speed Rail Authority had not even begun the bidding process toward Construction Package 5 – laying track on the Initial Construction Segment. Contractors for “Construction Package 1” are now working on demolition and civil engineering, including a viaduct near Madera.
Aaron Fukuda, co-chairman of Citizens for California High Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA) was a guest on the Ray Appleton Show (with substitute hosts Blake Taylor and Michael Reed) on KMJ News/Talk 580AM/105.9 FM in Fresno on January 13 to talk about the boondoggle. Also calling in to decry the insufficiency of state oversight on the project was California State Senator Andy Vidak. And a statement from California Congressman Jeff Denham criticizing the project was referenced during the show.
This cost overrun and delay is not surprising to Citizens for California High Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA). Nor is it surprising that the California High-Speed Rail Authority is downplaying the report. That state agency continues its quest to take land from San Joaquin Valley farmers, homeowners, commercial and industrial businesses, places of worship, non-profit groups, and even homeless shelters. It wants to lock up the land for a time when state tax increases provide enough funding to pay for completion of the San Joaquin Valley track.
What Californians may end up getting for their $10 billion is a winding dedicated track for Amtrak diesel engines to cart passengers between Madera to Shafter. Is this what 53% of California voters envisioned when they voted for Proposition 1A in November 2008?
KMJ Podcast: 2:04:36 Blake Taylor & Michael Reed fill in for Ray Appleton – January 13, 2017
Congressman Jeff Denham: Denham Statement on Latest Report of California High-Speed Rail Overruns – January 13, 2017
State Senator Andy Vidak: Now Governor, Will You Finally Support an Audit of High-Speed Rail? – January 13, 2017
Congressman Kevin McCarthy: Statement on reports that California’s high-speed rail would cost taxpayers 50% more than estimated, or an extra $3.6 billion – January 13, 2017
The Hunt for Dollars to Build the $64-Billion Bullet Train – Los Angeles Times – December 24, 2016
California State Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins claimed in a November 3, 2015 letter that the Assembly would be “undertaking a broader range of oversight activities in 2016” related to California High-Speed Rail. She wrote that “oversight mechanisms have already been put in place” and “that oversight will continue in January through the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Resources and Transportation.”
That promised committee oversight hearing about California High-Speed Rail referenced by Speaker Atkins happened on January 27, 2016. (See agenda and staff report here.) Representatives of Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA) were at this hearing of the California State Assembly Budget Subcommittee No. 3 on Resources and Transportation. (See the list of committee members here.)
As expected, the alleged “oversight” of the validity of the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s estimates of project costs and schedule was inadequate and deceptive. Citizens and state legislators concerned about the project were given minimal opportunity to challenge the “high levels of confidence” that California High-Speed Rail Authority officials claimed to have about the project.
No one from Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA) or any other organization critical of the project was invited to be a panelist, of course. Invited panelists were Dan Richard, Chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board of Directors, Jeff Morales, Chief Executive Officer of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, and Louis Thompson, Chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group.
Similar to past oversight committee meetings, the chairperson of the committee (Assemblyman Richard Bloom) limited the time of the hearing to 90 minutes and the allotted time given to public comment to one minute. Assemblyman Jay Obernolte (R-Hesperia) asked questions. After questioning various claims about the project and receiving empty answers, Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) futilely requested the committee chairman to allow additional time for discussion of the most expensive construction project in human history.
A chief focus of the hearing was rebutting an October 24, 2015 Los Angeles Times article ($68-Billion California Bullet Train Project Likely to Overshoot Budget and Deadline Targets). It was also emphasized that the California High-Speed Rail Authority would soon issue a new 2016 Business Plan that would essentially make the past irrelevant.
Brief public comment critical of project oversight came from Assemblywoman Patty Lopez (D-San Fernando), representatives of two train rider organizations, a representative of several communities in Los Angeles County affected by the proposed route, and five residents of the San Joaquin Valley, including multiple representatives of Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability. Valley resident Shauna Green simply declared that based on her past experience with the California High-Speed Rail Authority and the testimony at the hearing, people should know that “they’re liars.”
A few professional lobbyists defended the California High-Speed Rail Authority during public comment. Prominent among them was a representative of the California Labor Federation and a representative of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, who praised the agency’s transparency and eagerness for oversight.
Video of the Hearing (courtesy of Derail HSR)
Papers Submitted to Committee
Letters Regarding California High-Speed Rail Oversight
Assembly Speaker Must Strengthen High-Speed Rail Oversight – Background from Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA) – November 11, 2015
Request to Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins for Legislative Subpoenas to Obtain Internal California High-Speed Rail Authority Documents – Assembly Minority Leader Kristen Olsen – October 28, 2015
Denial of Request for Legislative Subpoenas to Obtain Internal California High-Speed Rail Authority Documents – Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins – November 3, 2015
Letter to Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins Regarding Inadequate Legislative Oversight of California High-Speed Rail – Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA) – November 10, 2015
Bullet Train Chairman Projects Lower Cost, Longer Timeline – Associated Press (in San Francisco Chronicle) – January 27, 2016
Bullet Train May Take Longer to Build But Cost Less Than Originally Estimated, Official Says – Los Angeles Times – January 28, 2016
High-Speed Rail Officials Seek to Reassure Lawmakers – KQED – January 27, 2016
Lawmakers Demand Answers from High-Speed Rail Leaders – KCRA (Channel 3) Sacramento – January 27, 2016
High-Speed Rail Opponents Allege Conflict of Interest, Lack of Oversight – San Fernando Sun – January 28, 2016
High Speed Rail Hides from Oversight – commentary by Morris Brown – Fox & Hounds – February 1, 2016
Assemblyman Patterson Questions Rail Officials on Major Shift in Project Plans – California State Assemblyman Jim Patterson – February 2, 2016
Vidak Calls Assembly Hearing on High-Speed Rail “Another Pitiful Whitewash” – California State Senator Andy Vidak – January 27, 2016
“We Will Not Delay Consideration” – California High-Speed Rail Authority Proceeds with Fresno-Bakersfield Final Environmental Impact Report
Get ready for the California High-Speed Rail Authority board meeting in Fresno on May 6 and 7, 2014 for public comment and a vote on the Final Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (FEIR/FEIS) for the Fresno to Bakersfield Project Segment of the California High-Speed Train Program. This report is required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and federal National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).
Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability (CCHSRA) sent a letter dated April 23, 2014 to the California High-Speed Rail Authority asking the agency to delay a May 7, 2014 scheduled vote of the board on the Fresno to Bakersfield Project Segment. CCHSRA argued that 17 days was too short of a time for interested parties to review and analyze the Authority’s 4,800 pages of responses.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority responded promptly with a letter dated April 28, 2014 to CCHSRA declaring that the process for environmental review has been ongoing for five years. With other arguments, it concluded that “we will not delay consideration of the Final EIR/EIS.”
As reported in the article “Bullet Train Opponents Want More Time to Review EIR” in the April 28, 2014 Central Valley Business Times, Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) and State Senator Andy Vidak (R-Hanford) also requested the Authority to delay the vote.