Monday, July 23, 2012

Your California high speed choo-choo update


So, it begins. Four years after the voters of California said, "You know what we really need right now? (sorta) High-speed choo-choos", Governor Brown got the bond purchasing ball rolling last Wednesday.

Gov. Jerry Brown gave his approval Wednesday to spending billions of dollars in government money for a high-speed rail line that still faces major funding, environmental and political challenges before it could connect Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Brown was at historic Union Station in Los Angeles to celebrate the project and sign a bill authorizing California to begin selling $2.6 billion in bonds for construction of the initial 130-mile segment of the bullet train in the Central Valley. The move allows the state to tap $3.2 billion in federal funds for the project.

However, most of the money for the $68 billion project linking the two major cities has yet to be identified.

California voters approved $10 billion in bonds for the project in 2008, and the state's business plan calls for some backing from private investors and for a private operator to run the system without a state subsidy.

Supporters say it's rarely known upfront where all the money for such massive transit projects will come from.

News flash: We're no longer "upfront" anymore. We're 4 years into this thing and the charlatans running this show can't identify a single private investor.

The Democratic governor signed the bill, SB1029, at a carefully staged event where cheering politicians and unionized construction workers provided a striking contrast with the political fight last month in the state Senate, where the plan narrowly survived.

The first segment of the line will be financed by taxpayers, and Brown said there was strong interest from private companies in financing the rest of the project. He didn't provide any specifics on possible investment or name any of those firms.

"Private investment will come in the second phase," he said. "Private investment has worked in Europe, and it will work in this project."

The business plan by the California High-Speed Rail Authority, which is overseeing the project, relies on the private sector to "design, build, operate, and maintain a high-speed rail system that is funded by a combination of government investments and future revenues that support the investments of capital from the private sector."

Officials at the authority were unable to identify any future investors and instead released a written statement from Chief Executive Jeff Morales.

Here's where things go a little wonky: the firm that built the French rail system, SNCF, offered to come in and assist the California rail authority in designing the rail system as well as assisting in attracting potential private operators. Competent rail builders with some good ideas and a fresh set of eyes that might be able to bring in some people who would want to run this thing should it ever get built - sounds like something the rail authority might want to take advantage of. Of course, they were pretty much dismissed out of hand.

From the L.A. Times:

The approach, the French company said, would help the California High-Speed Rail Authority identify a profitable route, hold down building costs, develop realistic ridership forecasts and attract private investors - a requirement of a $9-billion bond measure approved by voters in 2008.

But SNCF couldn't get its ideas - including considering a more direct north-south route along the Central Valley's Interstate 5 corridor - out of the station.

Instead, the rail authority continued to concentrate planning in the hands of Parsons Brinckerhoff, a giant New York City-based engineering and construction management firm. Although they have occasionally consulted with high-speed railways, officials decided that hiring an experienced operator and seeking private investors would have to wait until after the $68-billion system was partially built. Last week, the state Senate approved - by a single vote - $8 billion to get construction underway.

"It's like California is trying to design and build a Boeing 747 instead of going out and buying one," said Dan McNamara, a civil engineer who worked for SNCF's U.S. affiliate. "There are lots of questions about the Parsons Brinckerhoff plan. The capital costs are way too high, and the route has been politically gerrymandered."

In order to reduce the cost of this project, Governor Jerry Brown took an axe to it cutting even providing electricity to power the trains on the initial set of tracks in the Central Valley. The Japanese company, Shinkasnsen, that operates the bullet train in that country was scared off by one of the cost-cutting measures: employing a "blended" approach whereby the high-speed choo-choos would, at times, use existing freight and passenger rails. This has tacked an hour on to the projected L.A. to San Francisco route; from just under 2 hours to now just under 3.

Scaring away builders and potential operators while not even having the ability to power that which you intend on building. Not bad for a cool (for now) $68 billion.

This is unfathomable. At the state level, never have we seen politicians so willfully throw around such a great amount of money for such dubious benefit.

We leave you with this bit of agitprop from the state's high-speed rail authority:

Hey, San Diego, there are currently no plans nor money to extend that rail line down here. And if it ever did, you're not going to Orange County and L.A., you're going to freaking Riverside and San Berdoo. Same goes for that bustling Merced to Sacramento corridor - it doesn't exist.


No comments: