The Bullet Train Looking More Like A Dud All The Time

The Bullet Train Looking More Like A Dud All The Time

A California high-speed rail contractor has warned the project’s state authority that due to delays in land procurement, completion of the line’s first leg is at risk of falling behind by two years. Sounds like we’re just catching up on old news. We’re not. The bullet train has run into so many snags it’s easy to confuse new problems with older ones.

Dragados, a Spanish construction firm, told the California High-Speed Rail Authority last month that, according the the Los Angeles Times, which says it’s seen the letter, “it will not complete a 65-mile section of the future route in Kings County until at least April 14, 2025 – nearly two years after the date that the state included in a business plan adopted” on March 25.

Sounds much like the complaint sent to the authority earlier this year by Sylmar contractor Tutor Perini. The Times called Tutor Perini’s notice a “scorching” letter complaining of persistent construction delays, and contradicting the official line that the “construction pace is on target.” Securing land was one of the issues mentioned.

Not just a few would like to see this high-speed rail business put out of its misery. As we’ve said before, if there’s been a more poorly run public works project in California history, nobody can remember it. Jerry Brown’s life-size train set is over budget, far behind schedule, will travel much slower than promised, carry fewer passengers than projected, and charge them more than the rates included in early estimates.

Yet it remains, and might even be saved by another train devotee whose initials are “J.B.”

President Joe Biden, known as “Amtrak Joe,” for his advocacy of rail travel and the 2 million miles he’s ridden the tracks, last week introduced a $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan. Trade journal Railway Track & Structures says “officials behind the high-speed line that will hopefully some day connect Sacramento, California, with Los Angeles are now more confident than ever that the troubled line will finally be completed.”

While California’s bullet train is not specifically named in the Biden plan, RT&S reports “the Federal Railroad Administration said it supported the project in February, and President Biden” – whose son Hunter was an Amtrak board member from 2006 to 2009 – “and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg are in favor of putting a charge in high-speed rail transportation in the coming years.”

Federal aid is not guaranteed. There might be enough opposition in the 50-50 Senate to halt Biden’s plan. But should Washington send enough taxpayers’ dollars to complete the Merced-Bakersfield section, it “would be critical to win public support for the project,” says RT&S.

Don’t take that as good news, though.

“Receiving some federal money, which seems to be the likely scenario,” says RT&S editor in chief Bill Wilson, “would still require the CHSRA to ask the voters for more via a tax increase.”

Exactly what the state needs – more taxes to dig an overpromised, underperforming “sexy” bullet train out of its hole.

California has a raging case of recall fever. Voters are second-guessing their election-day choices, rethinking their support for the governor, county prosecutors in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and several city council and school board members. Many would probably be grateful for another chance to nullify their vote on Proposition 1A, the 2008 ballot measure that authorized the high-speed rail, as well. It’s unlikely they’ll ever get a chance. But then a year ago, few thought that the effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom would have grown into the real threat it is.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

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