There are lies, damn lies, and California High Speed Rail.
Last month the Los Angeles Times obtained a letter from one of the construction firms on the project lamenting how slow right-of-way acquisition is delaying the project and running up costs.
Given the definition of news, this is not news.
The high speed rail has proven so far to be one big lie after another with cost overruns and pushback of completion dates that is destined to turn what Jerry Brown viewed as his legacy as the biggest public works disappointment of the millennium.
Remember the original lie told 13 years ago that the Anaheim to San Francisco segment would be built for $33.6 billion and up and running by 2030? All voters had to do was approve a $9.95 billion bond issue and private sector investors would be tripping over each other in a rush to dump money into the system.
Everything is now pointing to the first segment of 65 miles running through Madera being completed by 2025 and not 2023. The segment will be used to test equipment. It will take building additional track to make the 117-mile connection from Bakersfield to Merced.
The most recent target date for that was 2030. But with the expectation what is now being built will be delayed two years the odds are so will the other high-speed segments to reach Bakersfield and Merced.
It will cost somewhere between $21 billion and $23 billion to complete the 117-mile line described by critics as “the train to nowhere.”
It is clear that the $33.6 billion voters were told it would cost to connect San Francisco with Los Angeles is a fairy tale of epic proportions. So was the 2030 completion date for the system between LA and San Francisco.
The folks at high speed rail that make Pinocchio seem like the purveyor of truth are now saying the LA to SF section will cost $80 billion. Experts that aren’t on the high speed rail payroll or lusting to be able to scoop up mountains of money by landing a contract contend $99.5 billion is more realistic.
Meanwhile in Kings County where the first 65-mile segment is now under construction the authority still needs to buy 264 more parcels. As of January only nine of those parcels had been acquired. That prompted the LA Times to estimate it’ll take the authority another 2½ years to compete land purchases needed for the first 65 miles
Keep in mind that all of this is based on a business plan to build in the San Joaquin Valley because it would be the least expensive and the least problematic section to build. That is compared to future sections needed to get high speed rail to the Trans Bay Station in downtown San Francisco and the Anaheim Station.
The project is now on target to have a 300 percent cost overrun based on the bill of goods voters were sold in 2008.
Killing off a government boondoggle once it is given life is about as easy as eradicating cockroaches from the face of the earth. By boondoggle standards California High Speed Rail has become Godzilla on steroids.
That is why the approach that any sane lawmakers left in Sacramento need to take to stop the runaway train of cost overruns is to rethink the system and have it become a muscular traditional rail system, accept lower speeds than promised, and go with hybrid powered trains until such time battery technology can power trains without the extensive expense of electrifying the system.
This is not a much as throwing in the towel as it is to avoid several other obvious pitfalls given the same people who estimated the cost and timetable of getting the system in place also came up with ridership projections and estimated operating costs.
It is clear the state could have gotten more reliable numbers using an Ouija board than the figures dreamed up by consultants hired by politicians with an agenda of getting a high speed rail system in place come hell or high water.
Nothing is worse than a $100 billion boondoggle ending up getting less use than cross country skis in Death Valley in July with operating and maintenance costs that will take on red ink daily by the oil tanker load.
Of course, we are told high speed rail works and that it’s cost effective in other countries. But that argument has one fatal flaw. Other countries are not governed by Sacramento.
The ironic thing is that the logical conclusion of building the 171-mile San Joaquin Valley segment assuming they can snare the funding to do so is that the promised high speed rail system will never be built. Instead it will rely on a jerry-rigged fashion to reach LA and San Francisco.
On this end it will likely take on the form of switching to ACE trains in Merced that will take you on an express service bypassing ACE stations in Turlock, Ceres, Modesto, Ripon, and Manteca to connect you with the Valley Link-ACE Station planned at Sharpe Depot in Lathrop.
From there it would be ACE to San Jose, Valley Link to Pleasanton/Dublin and then BART into San Francisco as well as ACE to Sacramento.
And if they do decide to name the engines they plan to test run in the first 65 miles now being built while tracks are extended to Merced and Bakersfield, they might want to name the first one that rolls down the line “Pinocchio”.
It would be appropriate on that maiden run for the high speed rail authority to contract with the Madera High band and choir to perform “The City of New Orleans” with a slight change in lyrics:
Riding on the Train to Nowhere
High speed Monday morning rail
Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders
Three auditors and a 75 billion cost overrun
All along the southbound odyssey
The train pulls out of Bakersfield
Rolls along past houses, farms, and fields
Passin’ trains that have no riders
Powered by promises full of hot air
And the lies of the un-trusty politicians
Good morning California how are you?
Say, don’t you know me? I siphoned your dough
I’m the train heading fast to Nowhere
I’ll burn through 500 million dollars when the day is done
This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org