Embarrassing Details Threaten to Derail High-Speed Rail

A new special report conducted by the Los Angeles Times has thrown very cold water on the California High Speed Rail Authority’s plans for bringing a bullet train to the Golden State.

Through an in-depth investigation, the paper revealed embarrassing details of the train’s lurching progress toward an apparent morass of spiraling costs, spooked investors and — worst of all — an engineering disaster in the making.

Heads in the sand

In one particularly galling example of misfeasance, when California’s main project management contractor, Parsons Brinckerhoff, raised the alarm years ago, it was simply ignored by the authority’s top brass. A document obtained by the Times revealed that Parsons Brinckerhoff had briefed state officials on the spiraling cost projections in October of 2013. “But the state used a lower cost estimate when it issued its 2014 business plan four months later,” noted the Times. “Jeff Morales, the rail authority chief executive, said he was not aware of the Parsons Brinckerhoff projection. A spokeswoman for the authority declined to discuss the differences in the estimates.”

Opposition to California’s high-speed rail project has been strong since Gov. Jerry Brown first threw his weight firmly behind the idea. Critics have predictably held up the Times report as proof that they saw its failures coming from a figurative mile away. As the Reason Foundation suggested as early as 2008, “cost overruns were likely, state and federal funding would not be sufficient to cover the costs of the project, the state would have to spend more money, and private investors would not be making up the difference,” as Scott Shackford noted at Reason.com.

A policy earthquake

The challenges revealed by the report go far beyond those objections, however, raising the specter of dangerous environmental damage done virtually blind. “It will be the most ambitious tunneling project in U.S. history. Crews will have to cross the tectonic boundary that separates the North American and Pacific plates, boring through rock formations and earthquake faults, some of which are not mapped,” the San Francisco Chronicle noted. James Monsees, “one of the world’s top tunneling experts and an author of the federal manual on highway tunneling,” said the plan was unrealistic. “Faults are notorious for causing trouble,” he cautioned.

That trouble could well become calamitous — especially given California’s propensity for large earthquakes affecting populations centers. As the Los Angeles Times added:

“A 2012 report by Parsons Brinckerhoff, obtained by The Times, warned the rail authority that the ‘seismotectonic complexity … may be unprecedented’ and that the rail route would be crossing faults classified as ‘hazardous.’”

But the tunnel trouble arose from the authority’s inability to surmount public criticism to easier, more direct routes. “The original plan was to build the train route up along the 14 Freeway, but a host of nearby residents from Pacoima to Acton, many freaked out about a high-walled train corridor cutting through their towns,” according to Curbed Los Angeles. “Angry citizens in San Fernando even interrupted an informational meeting in on the rail project to protest its dangers to the local economy and the ‘death wall’ that would split the town in two along the route.”

That led the authority toward the current, disparaged tunneling plan — and, last month, a request for “permission to test-drill deep beneath the Angeles National Forest to determine the feasibility of digging a rail tunnel through the rugged San Gabriel Mountains near Santa Clarita,” as the San Gabriel Valley Tribune noted. Among officials, the fear of another public outcry has yet to abate. “In what only can be described as an unusual process, the U.S. Forest Service is asking the public for their thoughts on whether to allow the rail authority to proceed with its tunnel study,” the Tribune added.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com


  1. And yet today the Times gave Moonbeam a glowing “A” on his governance so far. He is as screwed up on his “bullet train” as he is on “global warming”. By virtually setting CA back for decades his and Mary Nicholls (CARB) ridiculous “green mandate” will do little if anything to curb carbon emissions. And he thinks that a train that will take at least 4 hours to get to the outskirts of San Fran from the outskirts of LA will cut emissions, I have a bridge to sell you: The Bay Bridge in San Fran that CalTrans has so badly messed up. If Jerry wanted to cut carbon (not that it is a problem) he should be pushing for hydrogen stations around the State. Switching over to H2 over the next decade will do far more than his silly “bullet train.”

  2. What does it tell you when voters have soured on the bullet train proposal originally sold to them and they no longer want it, but the Governor still pushes it forward even though it is unaffordable? Maybe it’s because the unions are supporting the project as their honey pot.

  3. The train has not turned out to be what the idiots of this state voted for. I knew it wouldn’t and voted against it. Jerry said we had to have the train because we needed the federal money. My thought is he planned to divert (steal) the funds for other things.,just like he has done with our water and roads, just to name a few. Just like him famously saying that we Californians have the money to support the illegal population. I still would like to know just who this we is he keeps talking about because it sure as hell isn’t me.

  4. It does not take a genius to see the disaster in this project nor does it take a genius to understand that a hydro tunnel below the SJ valley is the same stupidity… Why do the people of this state keep electing complete morons to public office???

  5. What impact will this train have on wildife crossings? In Los Angeles County we are seeing inbreeding in mountain lions because of our freeway systems, and some have been killed while crossing. Or will this be an after thought, and cost billions more to fix after the fact? We should kill this, and just build the one to Vegas, one people will actually use.

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