Bullet trains were approved by California voters back in 2008 and at the time, estimates were that it would cost $33 billion to have them run across the state. Construction began in 2015 and it was supposed to be completed by 2020. That was then. Now, over $100 billion has been spent and the state thinks that maybe, just maybe, it may be ready in 2027. However, there is no official start date for the high-speed rail project and even if there were, we all know that chances are, they wouldn’t make it.
Newsom announced that he’d be scaling back on the project in early 2019, but said he wouldn’t be abandoning it entirely, because doing so would mean “wasting billions of dollars with nothing but broken promises.”
Why has the whole project gone off the rails like this? Mostly due to the sort of incompetency you’d expect from the government of California mixed with a dash of “you know how those people are out there, right?” Although they have been laying track and of course, spending a ridiculous amount of money, environmental concerns, changes to approved plans to “save money” that didn’t work out, and worst of all, large amounts of land needed for the project haven’t been purchased have slowed down the project. What kind of idiots decide to build a bullet train without acquiring the land needed to build it until after the project is due to be completed?
If you want to get an idea of what just one nightmarish misstep on this project looks like up close, the latest one is in the San Joaquin Valley,
The newest misstep involves a 65-mile section through the San Joaquin Valley that a contractor assured could be constructed cheaper than original estimates with a few radical design changes.
That didn’t happen.
Instead, the design changes turned into massive issues and led to busted budgets, becoming the latest troubling chapter for a public works project that has tested the patience and pocketbooks of Californians. The section in question runs through rivers, migratory paths for endangered species, and an ancient lake bed in Kings County, California.
A new investigation by the Los Angeles Times into the multiyear project shows that the state knew about these environmental constraints and prepared lengthy impact reports aimed at avoiding legal objections. However, when the rail authority awarded the contract in 2014, it went with the lowest bidder, a Spanish company Dragados, which promised it could shave off $300 million from the estimate by altering the design that the authority had proposed to regulators.
Those cost-cutting measures backfired, have largely been abandoned, and have contributed to soaring costs that now sit at more than 62% above the contract price — a hefty sum the rail authority has agreed to pay, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday.
What’s worse is that the rail authority signed off on Dragados without finishing an assessment of how sinking land in the area could affect the rail route. The sinking land is the result of decades of excess groundwater pumping, and the state is now paying millions of dollars to raise track embankments.
It’s not that high-speed rail is a bad idea in a densely packed state with lots of large cities like California. After all, bullet trains have been a huge success in Japan. Of course, Japan is run by competent people that aren’t liberal, so they were always destined to do a much better job with a project like this than California.
John Hawkins is the author of 101 Things All Young Adults Should Know
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