A confidential federal government report on California’s high-speed rail project says the troubled program is at least seven years behind schedule and is experiencing cost overruns of at least 50%.
A confidential Federal Railroad Administration risk analysis, obtained by The Times, projects that building bridges, viaducts, trenches and track from Merced to Shafter, just north of Bakersfield, could cost $9.5 billion to $10 billion, compared with the original budget of $6.4 billion.
The federal document outlines far-reaching management problems: significant delays in environmental planning, lags in processing invoices for federal grants and continuing failures to acquire needed property.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority originally anticipated completing the Central Valley track by this year, but the federal risk analysis estimates that that won’t happen until 2024, placing the project seven years behind schedule.
The report, the most critical official assessment of the project to surface so far, is labeled a “confidential-draft deliberative document for internal use only” and was presented by senior Federal Railroad Administration executives to California rail authority board Chairman Dan Richard and Chief Executive Jeff Morales on Dec. 1 in Washington.
This analysis puts the state on notice that it could face bigger cost overruns than anticipated and much longer delays than have been made public, a troubling critique by an agency that has been a stalwart supporter and longtime financier of the nation’s largest infrastructure project.
Morales cautioned in an interview that the numbers in the analysis are only projections and estimates that do not account for intervention by the rail authority, and he asserted that the construction in the Central Valley will cost less than the risk analysis indicates. The estimates, he said, are based on a lot of assumptions that the authority wants to ensure are correct.
“The point of doing this analysis is to identify the challenges and work through them,” he said. “They are not conclusions and not findings.”
The Federal Railroad Administration is tracking the project because it has extended $3.5 billion in two grants to help build the Central Valley segment. The administration has an obligation to ensure that the state complies with the terms, including a requirement that the state has the funding to match the federal grants.
Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock), chairman of the House rail subcommittee, said Friday he would conduct an oversight hearing in the near future and fight any further federal funding.
The report very clearly places the blame on management:
Audit reports last year, for example, found that the rail authority lacks consistent management processes, takes on unnecessary contract risks, does not have orderly records and is short on clearly defined responsibility for its top officials.
In other words, these jamokes haven’t a clue what they’re doing. A competent secretary can keep “orderly records,” and any business graduate student can define responsibilities for upper management.
Can you imagine the interviews with management conducted by the FRA?
FRA: What are your responsibilities?
CHSRA Manager: I make the choo choo go.
FRA: No, I mean what do you do every day?
CHSRA Manager: I count the money to make the choo choo go.
There is 3.2 billion of our tax dollars being poured down this black hole with far more to come. That is, unless Trump cuts off the federal spigot and the state government in California is forced to go to their own taxpayers and ask them to fund the rest of this boondoggle.
I think we all know the answer to that.