A Train Wreck

Reality is setting in for the high-speed rail project. Cost overruns, construction delays and false promises may have finally doomed the project.

In 2008, voters passed Prop. 1A, a $9.5 billion bond measure to help finance high-speed rail. Promises included keeping costs under $40 billion, the state’s maximum investment would be 30%, funding from federal, private and local sources would pay the rest. Additional taxpayer subsidies were prohibited, and construction could not begin until all revenues were in hand for the first segment.

But projected costs now range as high as $100 billion, making this the third most costly construction project in world history, more costly than the International Space Station and the 47,000 mile interstate highway project.

No ground breaking without funding? In 2016 that promise vanished when work started on the initial segment between Madera and an almond grove in Shafter. But there’s no money for stations, for maintenance facilities, for grade separations, and speeds have been greatly reduced – meaning we’ll have slow high-speed rail.

Governor Newsom requested $4.2 billion to complete the first link, but funds have not been allocated since many legislators are getting cold feet. Obviously, scarce transportation dollars could be better used elsewhere, as in highly urbanized areas like LA, or San Diego for that matter.

There is a way out. The federal government required development of a contingency plan to salvage funds already spent if there were “significant delays.” Obviously, we are having significant delays – the project is 13 years behind schedule. A plan submitted to the federal government would allow transfer of the initial segment to Amtrak to improve travel times on its existing San Joaquin service.

We must cut our losses by getting value out of funds already spent. If we don’t bail out now, High-Speed-Rail will be the biggest train wreck in history.