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California’s High-Speed Rail Boondoggle Lurches Along
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June 01, 2012, 05:58 AM
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In California, Gov Jerry Brown and his Democrat cronies are trying to jam through a high-speed rail project from San Francisco to Los Angeles that has been a gold-plated turkey from day one.

When first proposed to the voters in the form of an initiative in 2008, the price tag was pitched at a ludicrous $34 billion, and the measure for a $10 billion bond passed (though without my vote) with more cash predicted to come from a mysterious “private partnership.”

What a scam. No way could California build a 500-mile rail line for that amount of money.

The project was originally promoted as a necessary infrastructure upgrade required because of the growing population — as a result of a crazed immigration, though that detail wasn’t mentioned in glossy mailers.

The ugly truth has been burbling out in recent months. The more likely cost has been estimated to be anywhere from $98 billion to $118 billion. Despite lots of bad press and falling public support, Gov. Brown is hoping for something to turn up, particularly a pile of federal money from President Obama to bail out his pet project.

CNN produced a good report on the subject, titled, C?alifornia high-speed rail to nowhere??

CNN Anderson Cooper Transcript May 29, 2012

COOPER: As for California’s high speed rail line, another project backed by President Obama. It turns the original costs estimates were way off. Now there’s a real chance the rail line may never be completed. Here’s Drew’s report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It sure looks like the future, an animated version of California’s high speed rail and it sounded really cool too. L.A. to San Francisco at more than 200 miles an hour.

No planes, no cars, no fuss. That’s why Californians voted for it back in 2008. Passing a $10-billion bond measure for a train that was projected to eventually cost $34 billion.

Keeping them honest, it’s now four years later. Not a single track has been laid and a bombshell report was dropped on California’s taxpayers last fall. Their $34 billion train would actually cost closer to three times the estimated amount.

LISA SCHWEITZER, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, PRICE SCHOOL OF PUBLIC POLICY, USC: The new business plan puts a cost estimate of about $98 billion to $118 billion.

GRIFFIN: It was a shocker. Three times the estimated cost and guess what? You, the federal taxpayer, might be on the hook for a big chunk of it. We’ll get to how that’s possible in a moment.

But in California, the sticker shock caused yet another changed in accounting, a big turnover with California’s High Speed Rail Authority Board, and yet another rethinking of just where the train will go and how fast and how much it would cost.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today, we are releasing the revised plan.

GRIFFIN: In a press conference, a new route, a new slower speed, and a new cost estimate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First beginning next year, we will commence construction here in the valley.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There’s no question that the cost has gone up.

GRIFFIN: Dan Richard is the new chairman of California’s High Speed Rail Authority and co-author of that report that sent the high speed rail plan well, slightly off track.

DAN RICHARD, CHAIRMAN, CALIFORNIA HIGH SPEED RAIL: That report was a draft. It was intended to engender comment. It did that rather successfully. We’re looking now at how we revise the plan and strengthen the plan and go forward.

GRIFFIN: But that is also very troubling. It turns out the latest plan could be for a much slower train, not actually the high speed futuristic cartoon California voters approved four years ago.

More of a hybrid that goes slower, makes more stops, and doesn’t quite deliver the L.A. to San Francisco promise of just a few hours. And that’s not the half of it.

This is about to become really political. California’s high speed rail has one huge backer, President Barack Obama and that is where you come in. The administration has pledged $3.5 billion in stimulus money also known as federal tax dollars. And that’s just so far.

Now California admits it will need even more, tens of billions of dollars more from federal taxpayers to finish it. But first you have to start, and that’s where it gets dicey.

The foundational segment, the first stretch of track will cost at least $6 billion alone. Under the new plan will connect Fresno to Burbank. It won’t go anywhere near San Francisco.

And in the process, will dissect generation’s old dairy farms and nut orchards and towns that don’t want it.

JOHN TOS, ALMOND FARMER: We want them to stay off the land. It is not our intention to let them happen through our property. We farm here for a reason. The tranquillity of it all, this is farming country and we want to keep it like that.

GRIFFIN: USC’s Lisa Schweitzer skeptic says the High Speed Rail Authority Board is doing everything it can to rework numbers and routes to justify spending tens of billions of dollars on a train that may be a huge economic blunder that few want to ride.

SCHWEITZER: Every infrastructure project has the potential to be another Solyndra, right? Whether it’s high speed rail or whether it’s a bridge to nowhere, right? The construction costs can overrun like that and that’s especially true in California where our permitting and approvals process is tough.

GRIFFIN: Does all this have California rethinking its plans? Absolutely not says Rail Board Chairman Dan Richard and for one reason. They’ve already got the promised $3 billion of your tax dollars in federal stimulus.

California may not get another dime from President Obama, but it has no intention of giving back the $3 billion already promised or the billions more from California voters.

RICHARD: So let’s be very clear on this point. We have $6 billion to build the foundational segment.

GRIFFIN: Even if that foundational segment turns out to be a high speed rail, well, to nowhere.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And Drew joins us live. Could this end up being a train to nowhere?

GRIFFIN: You know, this foundational segment really is basically going to run, Anderson, from Fresno to Bakersfield. That’s 130 miles long. It’s going to take five to six years to do it just to finish that portion, which is not going to be a high demand route.

Fear is if the cost overruns which critics say are inevitable will be so high on just that one portion, support is going to fade away. That’s what’s going to be left a train to nowhere.

COOPER: But if all goes right, this could be a very fast train connecting Los Angeles to San Francisco and voters approved it.

GRIFFIN: Yes, that’s right. Voters did pass it back in 2008, but support has been fading as more and more people get details of the project. You know, Orange County was pretty much eliminated from the rail line altogether in this latest attempt to save money. It appears the new version of the high speed rail is actually going to be a little slower. And completion for all of this, Anderson, is 2028. It’s going to be all about the billions and billions California’s going to need to finish this project by 2028.

Whether they get it from us, the federal taxpayers, or possibly private investors so far those private investors haven’t been exactly jumping at this.

COOPER: Yes. Drew, appreciate the reporting. Thanks.