California High Speed Rail Threatened by State First Audit

fast train california
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

The California legislature’s Democrats and Republicans voted unanimously on Tuesday to have the budget-busting High-Speed Rail Authority subjected to a nonpartisan review by State Auditor Elaine Howle.

Democrats know Elaine Howle has a sterling reputation as a hard-nosed professional who cannot be politically swayed. Howle released an 167-page financial audit of the University of California system and the management failings of its President, and former Obama Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano. That audit found that the UC President “failed to disclose tens of millions in surplus funds” and used “misleading” budget practices. The scandal rocked the world’s biggest university and almost forced Napolitano’s firing after students protested over a decade of double-digit tuition increases.

The “bullet train” is raising similar concerns. Breitbart News reported last week that that the cost to build the first 119 miles of California High-Speed Rail Authority (HSRA) tracks through the Central Valley had jumped from $6 billion to $8.7 billion.

The $2.7 billion spike in cost was apparently kept secret by the state bureaucracy until a Jan. 16 board meeting, according to civil and electrical engineering contractor Ernest Camacho. He told the Fresno Bee, “It’s horrifying when you look at the amount of money we’re going to have to reinvest to make this program work.”

The commercial “rule of thumb” estimate for the cost to add another mile of double set tracks to America’s existing 93,300-mile rail system is between $2 million and $4 million. But the train’s cost per mile over the pancacke-flat Central Valley jumped to $89.1 million.

When Proposition 1A was passed in 2008 by a slim 52.7 percent majority to build an 800-mile bullet train to sprint from L.A.’s Union Station to San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal, the cost was estimated at a very steep $46.3 million per-mile average. But that included the huge cost of tunneling through the 4,160-foot -high and earthquake-prone Tejon Pass.

Critics have called the bullet train a boondoggle, especially with the cost tripling and the buildout already running a decade behind schedule. But as the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s “Funding and Finance” page explains, California’s Democrat-controlled legislature has been just as gung-ho for the bullet train, because Governor Jerry Brown convinced the Obama administration to write a $3.3 billion up-front check towards the $6 billion cost for the first 119-mile stretch of track.

Now, however, 100 percent of the High-Speed Rail Authority’s $2.7 billion cost overrun is a direct hit to the California state budget. That means the state’s $2.7 billion participation share has just doubled to $5.4 billion.

All 14 members of the joint legislative audit committee voted to direct State Auditor Howle and her staff to conduct a full financial and operational review. Democrats joined in support of what could be a guillotine for California’s bullet train to avoid the charge that the very unpopular gas tax passed late last year was just a front to squander more cash on a project that may turn out to be a waste.



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