Mother Jones: California Bullet Train to Cost More, More, More

Mother Jones: California Bullet Train to Cost More, More, More

Left-wing Mother Jones posted an update on Thursday from URS Corp., the California engineering firm heading up the state’s pricey high-speed bullet train project, and the numbers aren’t pretty.

Mother Jones political blogger Kevin Drum conceded that “most of you are tired of my endless linking to news articles reporting that the California bullet train will cost ever more, more, more.” He added: “Some of you are tired of it because you don’t live in California and don’t care. The rest of you care, but are dismayed at the sight of a fellow liberal who opposes the bullet train.”

Still, Drum “can’t help” himself, and provided the update, which projects the cost of the Fresno-Bakersfield section of the high-speed rail to be about $1 billion more than originally estimated. The $7.13 billion price tag for that section in the new report is 15% higher than the $6.19 billion figure given in a 2011 report.

The California High Speed Rail Authority, for its part, believes the cost of the train will be lower than URS Corp. is projecting. But, according to the Los Angeles Times article containing the update, URS Corp. didn’t just arbitrarily toss out a number: the state code of conduct mandates that engineers can “only express professional opinions that have a basis in fact or experience or accepted engineering principles.”

This new report still might not be close; in the same Times article, close monitor of the rail project Elizabeth Alexis emphasized that the $1 billion cost projection increase only reflected the 114-mile Fresno-Bakersfield segment. “If the authority re-prices all of the segments with the same scrutiny, what would be the real cost?” she questioned.

Drum himself seems to agree with Alexis in his Mother Jones report (original emphasis): “I’m willing to bet that the cost will be higher than URS is projecting. Most construction costs rise after actual construction begins, after all, and so far the rail authority hasn’t laid a single mile of track.” 

Drum’s personal estimate: $100 billion in 2011 dollars, “assuming it gets built at all.”