Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Your California high-speed choo-choo update


Another day and another round of bad news for high speed choo-choos here in California. Well, to be precise, it's not really more or new, just news that we've known now broken down in a different way that basically illustrates what a disaster this all will prove to be.

What we do know is that if the first 130 miles of track to be built (between Bakersfield and Fresno) is not completed by September of 2017, the project faces the loss of federal funding. That first section of track is expected to cost $6 billion, so on a per day basis that means that $3.5 million every calendar day in resources would have to be spent on that portion of the project.

If you are asking yourself what could possibly go wrong, you would not be alone.

If California starts building a 130-mile segment of high-speed rail late this year as planned, it will enter into a risky race against a deadline set up under federal law.

The bullet train track through the Central Valley would cost $6 billion and have to be completed by September 2017, or else potentially lose some of its federal funding. It would mean spending as much as $3.5 million every calendar day, holidays and weekends included - the fastest rate of transportation construction known in U.S. history, according to industry and academic experts.

Over four years, the California High-Speed Rail Authority would need as many as 120 permits, mostly from a tangle of government regulatory agencies not known to rush their business. It would need to acquire about 1,100 parcels of land, many from powerful agriculture interests that have already threatened to sue. And it would need to assemble five teams of contractors with giant workforces positioned from Fresno to Bakersfield, moving millions of tons of gravel, steel rail and heavy equipment across the valley.

Again, it has never been made clear to us if the estimated cost of the high-speed rail project takes into account the eminent domain compensation paid out to land owners whose property lies in way of the track. There has been a suspicious lack of discussion in what we see as a deal-breaker area. That amount alone may total in the tens of billions.

More from the article:

Even if the authority avoids any delays, its ability to complete the first construction section on time will require a breakneck pace of activity.

"It is a very aggressive plan," said Manuel Garcia, associate director at the Construction Industry Institute affiliated with the University of Texas at Austin. "It does appear that it will be a challenge."

If the rail authority runs into technical problems, legal disputes, permit delays or political roadblocks, it could end up building less track and potentially leave an uncompleted project, according to warnings contained in its own business plan. If the project blows past the federal deadline, for example, the flow of money could be stopped. And the scramble to meet that deadline could lead to construction problems and drive up costs.

Please stop us at any point when this does not stop resembling an absolutely unpassable minefield.

Rail officials, putting on a brave face, point out that the Bay Bridge project will have a "burn rate" of $1.8 million/day once it completed in 2013 but, of course, that is just over half of the required burn rate of the high speed choo-choo project.

And what does it say of this grand statist make-work scheme that it's success is measured in how much money they can blow through on a daily basis rather than meters of track laid?

Back to the article:

John Popov, a construction expert at Parsons Brinckerhoff, a consulting firm working with the rail authority, said he believes the project can be completed on time. Popov calculates that the job will spend $2.7 million per day, which excludes the cost of land acquisition, environmental work, management oversight and reserves. But construction experts say that including all of its costs, the authority would spend $3.5 million per day. Popov added that the authority is considering whether it can legally shift as much as $1.3 billion of work past the 2017 deadline, an option that has not been vetted with the Legislature.
(italics, ours)

That still doesn't answer our question if land acquisition is even in the overall budget. We're leaning "no" but we could be wrong.

And dig this:

The rail authority has just 37 employees and has been operating for months without a chief executive, a deputy chief executive or a chief financial officer. It also has no single executive overseeing construction, which outside consultants say is needed.

"You have 37 mere mortals who have never done anything like this before," said Robert Bea, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a retired UC Berkeley professor of civil engineering and director of the National Science Foundation's project on California's transportation infrastructure. "They need God, because he's the only one who can handle this management challenge."

Forget "God is my co-pilot" or "My boss is a Jewish carpenter", we'll hook up the rail authority employees with "God is my CEO and CFO" bumper stickers.

Want more?

A final environmental report on about half of the 130-mile project is uncompleted and months behind schedule, forcing the agency to start work initially on a 29-mile section from Madera to Fresno and hope that it can get the review problems with the rest of the line cleared up later this year.

In a status report this month, Mark Ashley, a senior vice president with the rail authority's consultant T.Y. Lin International Group, noted that the project has identified 25 issues in the Merced-to-Bakersfield construction plan as high risk or very high risk and that the project is now nine months behind schedule in securing official approval from the Federal Railroad Administration.

Oh, and here's some more discussion regarding land acquisition:

"Fresno to Bakersfield is going to be really tight," Ashley said. The acquisition of land is facing problems, including slow progress in getting agreements with freight railroads, he added. "It is dicey right now whether that is going to hold up our construction or impact our schedule."

Given the deadlines both past due and imminently looming, you think land-holders might have some leverage in which to squeeze the rail authority and by extension, the state and by further extension, the tax payers?

Please link to the article for more dreadful expectations regarding the bid process and how potential contractors are scared to death because of the faltering start high-speed choo-choos have got off to.

As you all know, we have been following this thing since it was a proposed bond issue back in 2008 and where we urged our readers to reject the ballot measure because there was simply no need for high-speed rail in California. Now that we know what a god-forsaken disaster this thing already is before a single length of track has been laid down (see also: ObamaCare) we would've been even more vociferous in our opposition to high-speed choo-choos.

But like the State Water Project back in the 70s, Governor Brown has hitched his wagon to an astronomically expensive public works project of highly dubious need and value and such is the ideological rigidity of big government statism that he just can't shake bad habits.


K T Cat said...

We should start a pool on when the plug is pulled on this toad.

Anonymous said...


murphys law goes exponential with government involvement. this will not end well.

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