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Transportation United States Government

California's Bullet Train Hurtles Towards a Multibillion-Dollar Overrun (latimes.com) 408

schwit1 quotes the Los Angeles Times: California's bullet train could cost taxpayers 50% more than estimated — as much as $3.6 billion more. And that's just for the first 118 miles through the Central Valley, which was supposed to be the easiest part of the route between Los Angeles and San Francisco. A confidential Federal Railroad Administration risk analysis, obtained by the Times, projects that building bridges, viaducts, trenches and track from Merced to Shafter, just north of Bakersfield, could cost $9.5 billion to $10 billion, compared with the original budget of $6.4 billion.

The federal document outlines far-reaching management problems: significant delays in environmental planning, lags in processing invoices for federal grants and continuing failures to acquire needed property. The California High-Speed Rail Authority originally anticipated completing the Central Valley track by this year, but the federal risk analysis estimates that that won't happen until 2024, placing the project seven years behind schedule.

The whole project is expected to cost more than $68 billion.
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California's Bullet Train Hurtles Towards a Multibillion-Dollar Overrun

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  • by SensitiveMale ( 155605 ) on Saturday January 14, 2017 @07:15PM (#53669217)

    It may work eventually, but it's a boondoggle for construction companies and mayors/governors.

    • by fizzer06 ( 1500649 ) on Saturday January 14, 2017 @07:22PM (#53669253)
      And a certain US Senator.
    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Saturday January 14, 2017 @08:02PM (#53669445)

      It may work eventually, but it's a boondoggle for construction companies and mayors/governors.

      Sure, but we should give credit where credit is due. The rule of thumb is that public works eventually cost three times their original budget. So if the overrun is only 50%, that is pretty good. But I am skeptical, since overruns generally follow the "salami algorithm" of publicising the overruns in small digestible slices. This is most likely just a slice, not the final figure.

      • by gravewax ( 4772409 ) on Saturday January 14, 2017 @09:10PM (#53669757)
        The overrun is 50% so far! with at least 7 more years to blow that out significantly.
        • by Ichijo ( 607641 )

          The overrun is 50% so far!

          No, it isn't. Didn't you read the article? It says that in the worst-case scenario, the overrun may be as much as 50% if they aren't careful.

          In fact, the contracts awarded so far have cost lass than expected, so the project is actually under budget at this time.

          Unfortunately, there will always be opponents like Jeff Dunham who will have none of it. In an effort to get the project canceled under the guise of potential cost overruns, they ironically (if not hypocritically) drive up

          • by khallow ( 566160 )

            In fact, the contracts awarded so far have cost lass than expected, so the project is actually under budget at this time.

            I guess you don't understand how these games are played. There's been very little spending to date so of course, contractors can afford to appear under budget. To get the real money flowing, the contractors and such need to bait the trap and get California to commit a lot more funding.

            When there's a lot of commitment, then they'll suddenly have huge cost overruns. My view is that the 50% cost overrun is not a "worst case", but rather an unrealistically low cost estimate just like most other public projec

      • It's a lot more simple than that. When buying land for a project is a significant part of the project cost the fluctuating cost of that land is going to make it really hard to work out how much the project is going to cost.
        • by gfxguy ( 98788 )

          Here in GA they were going to build a "Northern Arc," to complement the the I285 by-pass that circles around Atlanta. It would by-pass the city even farther away, as the metro area has grown way beyond the original by-pass. Anyway, the corrupt a-holes in charge at the time bought the land that would be near the exits... and then announced the plan about where the highway would run.

          In an all-too-infrequent bout of sanity, the voters elected a new governor who immediately stopped the program.

          Too bad that d

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      It may work eventually, but it's a boondoggle for construction companies and mayors/governors.

      So I must have been just dreaming when I thought I remembered zipping from London to Paris in just over two hours and sending emails from under the Atlantic seabed.

      • Have any reason to zip to fucking Bakersfield?

      • by magarity ( 164372 ) on Saturday January 14, 2017 @11:06PM (#53670069)

        It may work eventually, but it's a boondoggle for construction companies and mayors/governors.

        So I must have been just dreaming when I thought I remembered zipping from London to Paris in just over two hours and sending emails from under the Atlantic seabed.

        Your response is strange; the article and the GP are about cost overruns not whether the project is completed or not. The Chunnel did indeed overrun by about 80%.

      • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Saturday January 14, 2017 @11:07PM (#53670075)

        It may work eventually, but it's a boondoggle for construction companies and mayors/governors

        . So I must have been just dreaming when I thought I remembered zipping from London to Paris in just over two hours and sending emails from under the Atlantic seabed.

        Emphasis mine. What you say does not contract what OP said. From the Wikipedia article on the Channel Tunnel [wikipedia.org]:

        In 1985 prices, the total construction cost was £4.650 billion (equivalent to £13 billion today), an 80% cost overrun.

        I suspect what's going on is a bit more insidious than mere corruption. Construction companies bid low so that they'll win the contract. Then they charge the actual construction costs as cost overruns. What's needed is an incentive to encourage companies to bid a realistic estimated cost, rather than a completely unrealistic underbid just to win the contract. Something like, say, not paying for overruns and holding the company to its original bid price.

        • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

          I suspect what's going on is a bit more insidious than mere corruption. Construction companies bid low so that they'll win the contract. Then they charge the actual construction costs as cost overruns. What's needed is an incentive to encourage companies to bid a realistic estimated cost, rather than a completely unrealistic underbid just to win the contract. Something like, say, not paying for overruns and holding the company to its original bid price.

          Really? If so, what the heck are the state's lawyers s

        • by thesupraman ( 179040 ) on Sunday January 15, 2017 @02:31AM (#53670687)

          No, what is needed is a PUNISHMENT for not completing the project as they specified.
          Do this a couple of times, and believe me, the problem will be solved.

          Just go and have a look at how the Chinese government gets work done. Hint: NO contractors get to overcharge, or walk away folding the company 1 week after 'completion', etc. THEY ARE HELP ACCOUNTABLE.

          Such construction has long been another slush-fund for politicians to line the pockets of their backroom funders.
          Almost all public construction in the west is not so completely corrupt that the 'organisations' running it make vice and drug gangs look straight..

        • by Macdude ( 23507 )

          I suspect what's going on is a bit more insidious than mere corruption. Construction companies bid low so that they'll win the contract. Then they charge the actual construction costs as cost overruns. What's needed is an incentive to encourage companies to bid a realistic estimated cost, rather than a completely unrealistic underbid just to win the contract. Something like, say, not paying for overruns and holding the company to its original bid price.

          The real problem is the politicians want the budget to

    • by plopez ( 54068 )

      As is any highway project but the overall ROI is massive.

  • by Kohath ( 38547 ) on Saturday January 14, 2017 @07:17PM (#53669227)

    It will never have a single paying passenger. This has been an easy prediction since at least the year after it was approved.

    It's the 21st century, not the 19th. How many airports could you build with $68 Billion ?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      It was obvious from before it was approved. I voted against it. But what do I know? Oh, right - that mass transportation needs to be able to pay its own way or it isn't something we should be putting in. It was very clear that this was going to be a boondoggle.
      • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Saturday January 14, 2017 @08:09PM (#53669495)

        -mass transportation needs to be able to pay its own way or it isn't something we should be putting in.

        I disagree. Some forms of mass transit should be subsidized. The problem is that THIS ISN'T ONE OF THEM. This is long distance travel that only well-off people will be able to afford, that will carry a small proportion of traffic on a route that is not congested anyway, and is already well served by other mass transit options (airplanes, buses, Amtrak).

        • Amtrak and buses take 7+ hours to make the trip that high-speed rail will do in 3.

          As for airports: the planes pollute more, the trains are more comfortable, and the train stations are located where people are (in downtowns) instead of on the outskirts of town.

          • by Kohath ( 38547 )

            Neither LAX nor SFO airports are on the outskirts. Nor is SAN, nor SNA, nor SJC. Which California airport are you talking about?

        • You say "only well-off people will be able to afford" the train, but that's not the case in other places where there is high speed rail.

        • by Kohath ( 38547 )

          Long before (the plan says) you can take a high speed train from San Francisco to LA, you'll be able to hire a robot car to drive you.

          And it will pick you up and drop you off wherever you are going on your own schedule. It will be a little slower, but not that much because it won't stop in Merced or Palmdale unless you want it to, and because robot cars will be safe on rural freeways at 100 mph at least. The price will probably be less than the price of an HSR ticket (and almost surely less than the cost

      • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Saturday January 14, 2017 @08:18PM (#53669545)

        mass transportation needs to be able to pay its own way or it isn't something we should be putting in.

        So if I could spend $10 on mass transit that reduced the road budget by $20 and got people where they wanted to go, we shouldn't save money, because that doesn't hate mass transit enough?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Kohath ( 38547 )

          You should make up more interesting numbers. Say your $10 would save $10000. Why tell merely a dramatic story when you could tell a fantastic one?

          • by Ichijo ( 607641 )

            The cost of building equivalent capacity to the $68.4 billion bullet train is estimated to be $119.0 billion for 4,295 new lane-miles (6,912 km) of highway, plus $38.6 billion for 115 new airport gates and 4 new runways, for a total estimated cost of $158 billion (2.3x $68.4 billion).

            So AK Marc's figures of $10 on mass transit vs. $20 on roads were a little on the conservative side.

      • by Gavagai80 ( 1275204 ) on Saturday January 14, 2017 @11:54PM (#53670279) Homepage

        I don't mind mass transit that can't pay its own way (in fact, I'd fully subsidize free public use of city bus / light rail systems to encourage their use and lower emissions). The main reason I voted against high speed rail is that it doesn't actually solve a problem -- it's not more attractive to the customers than air travel or car travel, the ticket prices aren't projected to be cheaper, the trains won't arrive sooner than planes, and by the time it's built it'll be extremely antiquated already (it's not even a true fast HSR project by today's standards, let alone 2040s standards).

        If the hyperloop had been on the ballot instead, I would've had to consider it much more strongly. It would be a very risky project also, but at least it would be innovation and it would potentially provide something new that would solve real problems.

      • Oh, right - that mass transportation needs to be able to pay its own way or it isn't something we should be putting in.

        Why? Mass transportation has a lot of positive externalities.

    • by AuMatar ( 183847 ) on Saturday January 14, 2017 @10:53PM (#53670035)

      YOu need to get out of the US. Throughout Europe they use trains. They go 200 miles per hour. They're more comfortable than a plane (more leg room, dining cars, etc), cheaper to operate, and when you count the time it takes to get through security faster. Also far more likely to be on time. The only way planes win is if the trip is at least 800 miles so the speed difference beats the amount of time wasted at an airport. Anything else, take a train. Literally nobody in Europe or Asia prefers planes for medium distance travel.

      Except in America of course where we're decades behind on rail technology and have trains limited to 50-60 mph. Its about time we catch up with the rest of the world.

      • Except in America of course where we're decades behind on rail technology and have trains limited to 50-60 mph. Its about time we catch up with the rest of the world.

        The freight rail is perhaps the world's best.

  • by BoRegardless ( 721219 ) on Saturday January 14, 2017 @07:23PM (#53669257)

    If it is viable, a private company would have funded and started it with agreements with California government entitites.

    They haven't done so and would not do it, so that tells you it will NEVER BE PROFITABLE.

    Let Hyperloop step up.

    • by plopez ( 54068 )

      The fallacy to that is the initial costs are huge and the entire project is risky. No company in their right minds wants it no matter how much there is an overall economic argument for it. Only government can take these kinds of risks.

    • If it is viable, a private company would have funded and started it with agreements with California government entitites.
      They haven't done so and would not do it, so that tells you it will NEVER BE PROFITABLE.

      Viable and profitable are not the same thing. Infrastructure should not be a profit centre but rather an economic assessment of the needs for the future of an area. You can look to Australia to see what happens when profits are put first. A whole network of tunnels through cities all tolled, and all barely used while the traffic clogs the streets above.

  • Big projects done by government, bad. No further information needed! You need to fly or drive yourself instead, because that is what St. Ronnie and his new top disciple The Donald want you to do.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Or...or maybe just do what all the greenies like anyway and shop/eat/live local?

    • by gtall ( 79522 ) on Saturday January 14, 2017 @07:35PM (#53669323)

      The Interstate System. NASA's trips to the planets. FDA keeping your food from killing you. SS keeping Grandma from moving in with you. NiH keeping research going on the diseases that might kill you. Need I continue or has your myopic stupidity completely clouded your vision?

    • by jcr ( 53032 )

      Big projects done by government, bad. No further information needed!

      In case you didn't notice, TFA is about a particular example of a boondoggle. Getting snotty won't change that.

      -jcr

      • by dbIII ( 701233 )
        The sort of boondoggle that Japan has got a lot of use out of since the 1960s?
        It worked for them and LA to SF seems almost like a textbook example of where it would work again.
        • by Kohath ( 38547 )

          It would work great if they had built it back in the 1960s. You could get a project done back then, and the land and labor would have been cheap. But we can't go back in time to the 1960s to build it. And now that it's going to be the 2020s, the world has moved on and there are less backward looking alternatives.

    • Big projects done by government, bad. No further information needed!

      E.g. the Apollo program. Or Medicare/Medicaid. Or the Manhattan Project. The government does things wrong, but it also does things well. This mantra about the government fouling up everything it touches is patently false.

    • by plopez ( 54068 )

      It's *Herr Trump* get it right.

  • by Kreuzfeld ( 308371 ) on Saturday January 14, 2017 @07:30PM (#53669299)

    I am shocked that by LA Times writer Ralph Vartabedian's article on the supposed risk and overruns to California's ongoing high-speed rail (HSR) effort. Vartabedian is a known opponent of HSR whose every article drips with antagonism against this project, as a quick review of his past articles will clearly show. Anyone who reads the purported analysis (in fact a single Powerpoint file, taken out of context) will quickly see that the article's claims are not justified -- for example, a *possible* $3B overrun (really less, since this compares against obsolete estimates) does not equal a 50% budget problem for a project of this size. The entire state stands to benefit immensely from this project, which will connect BART, Caltrain, and VTA users in the North with Metro, Metrolink, and Amtrak users in the South --- and connect both to the isolated, ignored, economically-depressed Central Valley. Californians, and all who believe in progress, should embrace this transformative project and reject the uniformed mudslinging by the Vartabedians of the world.

    • The biggest problem is that hardly anyone will ever buy a high-speed rail ticket from Merced to Shafter. Once this segment is completed, it will never be used.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Kreuzfeld ( 308371 )

        Certainly, few people drove on the first five miles of controlled-access highway --- but the fully built-out Interstate system is used by many millions. To describe the entire project as only the Central Valley segment is foolish at best and malevolent at worst.

        • Certainly, few people drove on the first five miles of controlled-access highway

          Actually that would be an interesting thing worth researching.

    • China's has built extensive infrastructure including high-speed rail to connect the Developed coastal regions with the Underdeveloped Interior. Much of the infrastructure remains underutilized and the development of the interior is still very slow despite the huge problems with overpopulation and pollution in the Developed regions. The truth is that it takes a lot more then infrastructure to develop economically-depressed areas.
  • by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Saturday January 14, 2017 @07:30PM (#53669303)
    in seven years nobody will need a train
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 14, 2017 @07:40PM (#53669349)

    I can confidently asset that the fleecing of the taxpayers has hardly begun. Already over seven years late and fifty per cent over budget, they have found a good vein and are going to suck it dry. Look for Trump to try to pull the federal funds, or contain them to the railroad subsidy to get the eastern states squealing too.

  • ChumpChange (Score:5, Informative)

    by sdinfoserv ( 1793266 ) on Saturday January 14, 2017 @08:02PM (#53669443) Homepage
    a mere $3B? no big deal, chump change
    The liberal voters in Seattle pushed through a $54B transportation bill for only 64 MILES of track....Ya, with "B"..
    http://www.seattletimes.com/se... [seattletimes.com]
    Every property owner in 2 counties will get the benefit of higher taxes ($400+ per year) on top of our already 10+% sales tax.

    Sure, traffic is awful, but I can't fathom over $843M per mile of light rail. What a testament to government bloat, payola and incompetence...
    California tax payers should consider themselves lucky with such a paltry number.
    • > What a testament to government bloat, payola and incompetence...

      That's exactly it. We can no longer accomplish big projects because all anyone is trying to do these days is hustle everyone else. And because so many are playing the same racket, no honest player can actually survive.

    • Re:ChumpChange (Score:4, Informative)

      by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Saturday January 14, 2017 @08:30PM (#53669593)

      Apples and Oranges. Building one train line like this is relatively simple, compared to urban light rail.

      A more apt comparison would be to compare Puget Sound's Sound Transit 3 to LA's Measure M [seattletimes.com]. Both are rather complex light rail expansions. Measure M's projected cost was $121 billion, compared to Sound Transit 3's 54 billion.

      Also, Sound Transit's tax base is three counties, not two.

  • America's modern motto, "No, we can't!"

  • I know people are gasping at the $68b possible price tag. I would like to point out that Boston's Big Dig, basically a tunnel an inner-city highway ended up costing $22b. So, a state-of-the-art high-speed rail line from LA to San Fransisco will only cost 3x what a 2 mile tunnel and urban highway cost. Oh and they highway did nothing to reduce congestion, all it did was induce demand for more drivers and push bottle necks outside the city.

    Put that way, this is a relative bargain.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jcr ( 53032 )

      So, one unmitigated debacle justifies another? What exactly are you smoking?

      -jcr

  • by jcr ( 53032 ) <jcr.mac@com> on Saturday January 14, 2017 @08:14PM (#53669525) Journal

    In other news, water remains wet.

    -jcr

  • It's only the public's money, and no politician gives a damn about that.

  • "lags in processing invoices for federal grants": "We can't be bothered to catch the money that's falling down on us".

Money may buy friendship but money cannot buy love.

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