Congress to Hold Hearings on High-Speed Rail

Brown at High-Speed Rail Groundbreaking (AP)
AP / Gary Kazanjian

Congress plans to hold hearings on California’s controversial Los Angeles-to-San Francisco high-speed rail project, as estimates from the project’s lead contractor predicted significant cost overruns that the rail authority is attempting to deny.

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), chairman of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, and an opponent of the near-$80 billion project, said he will call hearings in the beginning of 2016. The hearings have been triggered by a new report with higher budget projections from Parsons Brinckerhoff, the project’s main management contractor.

Denham told the Los Angeles Times, “We know it is going to have a significant increase in cost. It is doomed to be a failure. California has always had the philosophy of build it and they will come. That is no way to run a business.”

In November, Denham and 11 other House members demanded that Parsons Brinckerhoff release its 2013 cost estimate, which estimated a 31% increase for the project’s first operating segment from Burbank to Merced, at a cost of $40 billion. The estimate also showed a 5% increase in the cost of the entire system.. The 2013 report was publicized by the Times on Oct. 25.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has sent mixed messages about the project’s actual costs, the Times notes, adding that after Parsons Brinckerhoff projected the higher costs, the rail authority asked Parsons Brinckerhoff to alter its estimates.

A USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll released in 2013 showed that 52% of California voters wanted the high-speed rail project stopped.