Against California High Speed Rail by Mark R. Powell

More Delays for California High Speed Rail

HSR Environmental and Financing Schedules Experience Massive Slippage

“Slippage” is a word California’s High Speed Rail Authority Chairman, Curt Pringle, does not like used in reference to the his project’s schedule.  At least that is what he told Board Member Lynn Schenk when she used this word at the March Board Meeting to describe the updated planned completion date for environmental work on the Los Angeles to San Diego high speed rail segment.  Mr. Pringle’s preference is to instead say “we were very aggressive expediting those ARRA segments” [Note 1], namely the Merced to Fresno and Fresno to Bakersfield segments.  He seems to imply some segments only appear to slip by comparison because others are moving ahead of schedule.  Sadly, Mr. Pringle’s spin is not even correct as environmental schedules are also experiencing “slippage” for the segments he references.  In fact, since the last Environmental Milestones Schedule was issued in July of 2010 and made public on September 1, 2010 [Note 2] every segment of the project has suffered “slippage” [Note 3].  Many of the segments have slipped faster than time has elapsed.  In other words, they are further from completion now than they were in September of last year.   A schedule of “slippage” is shown below.

                                   Environmental Milestones Schedule                                            (Construction Can Begin on a Segment Only After Completing  Environmental Work)Segment             Old Completion Date           New Completion Date   Slippage(Mo.)  Francisco to San Jose                Sept 2011                    June 2013                   21
San Jose to Merced                    April 2012                    Nov. 2012                    7
Merced to Fresno                       Sept 2011                    Feb   2012                    5
Fresno to Bakersfield                 Sept 2011                     Feb   2012                   5
Bakersfield to Palmdale             Mar 2013                      April 2013                     1
Palmdale to Los Angeles            Dec  2011                     Jan   2013                   13
Los Angeles to Anaheim             Sept 2011                     Sept  2013                  24
Los Angeles to San Diego           Dec  2013                     2015-2016*                36
Merced to Sacramento               Aug 2013                      unknown**                   ?        Altamont Corridor                       May 2013                     unknown**                   ? 

*   Not shown on March Progress Report, but provided verbally to Board at March Board Meeting.
** Not shown on March Progress Report.

One cannot help notice that the most egregious examples of “slippage” occur in the four largely urban segments.  The residents living along these proposed segments are largely hostile to the project.  Everyone living in these areas seems to want high speed rail built below ground or in a tunnel if it must pass through their neighborhoods.  This would be expensive and so these segments are ones where the Authority will proceed with its “phased implementation approach”.  This is code for intentionally delaying environmental work for years while they build their Train to Nowhere in the Central Valley.

At least as damning as the slippage in environmental work is the Authority’s slippage in hiring a financial consultant to help prepare their updated Business Plan and their Financial (“Funding”) Plan.   At their July 2010 Board Meeting  the Authority authorized its staff to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) and hire a financial consultant.  The target date for bringing a consultant on board was September 15, 2010 because “by the end of January 2011, a fully supported and robust financial plan must be available for the Authority to supply to the California Legislature”[Note 4].  Clearly this task went unmet as from July to the present the Authority’s staff has been unable to find any consultants willing to accept
 the job as defined in the RFP. 

Now the Authority has authorized its CEO, Roelof Van Ark, to modify the RFP so that it will be more palatable to likely bidders and get on with the process of hiring a financial consultant on an expedited basis so that more deadlines do not go unmet.  Specifically, both the Business Plan and Funding Plan need to be completed by October 14, 2011.  The Business Plan in draft form needs to be made public 60 days before approval by the Authority and this approved plan needs to be submitted to the State Legislature the first week in January 2012.  The Funding Plan, mandated by Proposition 1A, must be submitted to the Department of State Finance 90 days before a budget is submitted to the Legislature, typically mid-January [Note 5]. 

Why with $2.5 million at its disposal can’t the Authority hire a financial consultant?  The answers may be  buried  in the RFP outlining the tasks of this consultant [Note 6].  The more onerous tasks include “Performing financial analysis and securing funding  for specific segments of the high speed train system” and “Investigating and securing public and private sector funding sources at the local (county and city) level” (emphasis added).  With no entities stepping forward to invest in this project, why would any consultant take on the task of “securing funding”?   Or perhaps the answer is less complicated.  Simply put,  no reputable firm wants their name tarnished by associating itself with a project that ought not be funded in the first place.

Engineering studies, detailed cost estimates, and Environmental Impact Reports should be done to determine if a project is indeed a worthwhile project.  These reports are being completed and they show California’s High Speed Rail to be a costly boondoggle.  Write to your legislators in Sacramento [Note 7] and Washington [Note 8]and tell them the results are in.  California HSR is a bad idea.  It needs to be de-funded and all work stopped.  Don’t forget to include Paul Ryan (R-WI) [Note 9], chairman of the House Budget Committee in your correspondence.

Facts stated in this article are documented in footnotes shown below. 

 Note 1  Audio of March 3 CHSRA Board Meeting at 2hr 44min 5 sec
Lynn Schenk comment on “slippage” followed by Curt Pringle criticism of the word “slippage”
Note 2  Program Management Team Monthly Progress Report – July 2010,
              Environmental Milestones Schedule – July 2010

Note 3 Program Management Team Quarterly Progress Report – March 2011
 Environmental Milestones Schedule – March 2011

Note 4 Draft Request for Proposal Notice – Financial Consulting Services (unanimously approved)
 Section IV Scope of Work, page 5

Note 5 Audio of March 2 CHSRA Finance Committee Meeting at 19min 43sec
             Van Ark addressing a question raised by Board Member Kopp

Note 6 Draft Request for Proposal Notice – Financial Consulting Services (unanimously approved)
 Section IV Scope of Work, page 5

Note 7   Website to contact California Legislative Representatives

Note 8   Website to contact Congressional Representatives

Note 9    Website to contact Representative Paul Ryan, Chairman of House Budget Committee

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