LA WATCHDOG--On May 16, the Federal Rail Administration (“FRA”) terminated its agreement to provide $929 million to the California High-Speed Rail Authority (“CHSRA”) because, among many other failures, the CHSRA has been unable to make reasonable progress in completing the Bullet Train from Union Station in Los Angeles to the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco.
The FRA is also threatening to claw back $2.6 billion in federal funds that CHSRA has already spent on its “failed boondoggle.”
Less than a week later, the CHSRA sued the U.S. Department of Transportation, the parent of the FRA, in U.S District Court, alleging that the defunding of the Bullet Train was political retaliation by the Trump Administration and that this “arbitrary and capricious” action was an abuse of power and a violation of the law.
While the two sides will continue to duke it out in the courthouse and in the court of public opinion, the FRA was right to terminate its funding of the not so speedy High-Speed Rail project that has been grossly mismanaged by the CHSRA and former Governor Jerry Brown.
In 2008, the proponents of Proposition 1A, the $10 billion Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act, indicated that the 500 mile Bullet Train from Los Angeles to San Francisco would cost $33.6 billion, that the travel time would be 2 hours and 40 minutes, and that the Bullet Train would not require any subsidies to cover its operations.
These representations, from politicians, organizations, and the media that we trusted, made the difference between victory and defeat as 52.7% of the voters approved the ballot measure. In Los Angeles County, 55.6% of the voters approved the proposition which probably means that a higher percentage of City voters voted yes.
As predicted by many who were skeptical of the State’s ability to handle a complex infrastructure project, High Speed Rail has been a disaster with massive cost overruns and decades of delay.
When Governor Jerry Brown left office in January, the cost had ballooned to $77 billion, but only after the management decided to use a “blended system” that relied on the existing rail infrastructure surrounding Union Station and Transbay Terminal. This reduced the cost from a mind boggling $98 billion. But that meant that the promised travel time of 2 hours and 40 minutes was no longer in the cards, increasing to an estimated four hours.
Furthermore, the State will need to subsidize the operations of the Bullet Train because projections of ridership and fares were pure fantasy.
And now, rather than a 500-mile link between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Governor Newsom has proposed a 170 mile system between the thriving metropolises of Bakersfield and Merced that will cost $21 to $25 billion with a completion date of 2027. We can also anticipate huge operating losses that will have to be covered by the State.
Rather than continue with the High Speed Rail fiasco, it is time for Newsom and the Legislature to follow the lead of the Federal Rail Authority and deep six the Bullet Train, take the hit while at the same time placing the blame on President Trump, and use the freed up “cap and trade” funds to finance worthwhile projects that are consistent with AB 32, the Global Solutions Warming Act of 2006, as extended in 2016.
There is one positive aspect to High Speed Rail: it makes the DMV look like an efficient, well run, customer centric organization.
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.)