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Before anybody else climbs aboard California’s “high-speed rail” project, they might give a listen to Ralph Vartabedian of the Los Angeles Times, who has been riding herd on this boondoggle from the start. The reporter has obtained a confidential Federal Railroad Administration risk analysis charging that the bullet train could cost taxpayers 50 percent more than estimated, as much as $3.6 billion more, just for the first 118 miles in the Central Valley, supposedly the easiest stretch of the project. This is the same Federal Railroad Administration that forked over grants of $3.5 billion for that very segment.
As we noted, Mr. Vartabedian also charted the bullet train’s tunnel vision. The route will require 36 miles of tunnels through the mountains north of Los Angeles, a tectonic boundary riddled with earthquake faults. This would be the most ambitious tunneling project in the nation’s history, and the probability of cost overruns, according to experts, is 80 to 90 percent. All along the route the railroad bosses need property, but as in Blazing Saddles, one thing stands in way: the rightful owners. Even if built according to plan, from Los Angeles to the Bay Area, the bullet train would be slower and more expensive than air travel.
As we noted, California’s high-speed rail project is best viewed as a bait-and-switch ploy to get state voters to finance local transit projects they otherwise would not support. For that alone it deserves the Golden Fleece Award, but despite cost overruns the rail authority, which as Mr. Vartabedian notes has “never built anything,” does not disappear. Like other useless state government bodies, it remains a comfy sinecure for ruling-class retreads like board member Lynn Schenk, a former congresswoman and chief of staff for governor Gray Davis. That’s why the waste keeps running off the rails.