Hi-speed train to financial ruin in California

Federal spending for high-speed rail is coming under close Congressional scrutiny.  Both political parties have begun to recognize the enormous capital costs required for another Solyndra style payoff; in this case the billions of Federal dollars needed to fund a lucrative union-only jobs program.

From SFGATE and AP we read:

President Barack Obama would get just a small fraction of the money he wants to build high-speed rail lines, one of his leading economic priorities, under a bill approved Wednesday by a Democratic-led Senate committee.

On a voice vote, the Senate Appropriations Committee included $100 million for the rail program in a massive measure financing 2012 federal transportation and housing programs. Obama wants to spend $8 billion next year for the rail systems, in which trains can travel between cities at up to 250 miles per hour.

High-speed rail now faces a dismal future in Congress, at least in the short term. A subcommittee in the Republican-run House has approved legislation denying any money for the project next year.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., author of the overall $110 billion transportation and housing bill, included nothing for high-speed rail in the original version of the legislation. She cited tight spending constraints that lawmakers face as they struggle to control ballooning federal deficits.

Durbin said the $100 million for the rail work would be paid for with unspent money from past home district projects called earmarks.

The Appropriations panel approved the transportation-housing bill by 28-2.

Did you catch what happened? Obama had requested $8 billion dollars, the Senate Appropriations Committee, on a bi-partisan vote of 28-2, allocated only $100 million dollars toward high-speed rail. That is just 1.25% of Obama's request. 

However, Obama and his union cronies continue to pick the pocket of US taxpayers when it comes to high-speed rail.

From SFGATE last week:

Ignore the naysayers - full-speed ahead on high-speed rail, said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in Oakland Tuesday. 

LaHood was outside Oakland International Airport in the shadows of an under-construction air traffic control tower to talk about the need for stable funding for the Federal Aviation Administration. So, naturally, we asked him about high-speed rail.

And he enthusiastically answered, saying he just had a lengthy chat with Gov. Jerry Brown about the need for high-speed rail, and opining that Californians are clamoring for speedy trains -- despite the growing grumbles of discontent from various pockets of the state, including the Peninsula.

"We are not going to be dissuaded by a little background noise of criticism because there is loud, loud amount of support for high-speed rail in California."

Asked whether Republican opposition means federal funding of high-speed rail is either dead or in hibernation, LaHood said:

"No. We've made $10 billion in high-speed rail investments over the last couple of years, including in California. This is the president's vision. The president wants to give people alternatives. The president just put $4 billion for high-speed rail in the American Jobs Act.

Yep, high-speed rail is just another union only jobs program.  La Hood just confirmed that fact.

American Thinker published my blog, "The Boondoggle Express." The article describes the massive cost overruns the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) has already racked up, even before a single track is laid between Merced and Bakersfield. As a follow up I contacted Rachel Wall, the media contact for CHSRA, asking for more information about the anticipated capital costs of the CHSRA. Rachel was courteous, professional and returned my calls promptly. We exchanged some emails and I ended up asking a few questions, on the record, concerning the CHSRA for a future article.  Here is that email, dated August 16th, 2011.

Hi Rachel,

Thanks for the time on the phone discussing CHSRA. You should get "combat pay" for the real passion and professionalism you bring to your position.

Here are a couple of questions that I would like answered on the record for a first in series of CHSRA articles in late August.

The capital expenditures plan runs about $50 billion for the 800 mile build out sans rolling stock. What if construction costs were to increase 10% to 150% over these estimates? Who pays for the increased costs? What are the consequences, if any, for CHSRA management for multi-billion dollar errors? Does the project stop if it runs out of money or does the CHRSA dig deeper into (Federal or California) taxpayer's pocket book? Is there an independent IG's [inspector General - an audit department] office? To whom does it report? Could I get a breakdown of it staffing numbers --current and projected?

Since the AFL -CIO has a member on the Board of Directors, will all capital projects with a budget of over $5 million dollars be union only? If not, what percentage of total dollars will be set aside for non-union participation in the CHSRA?

These are some very preliminary questions, more will be forthcoming.

Is there a CHRSA press and media relations guide? What is the procedure to set up interviews within CHSRA? Do all questions have to submitted in advance?  Does Mr. van Ark [CEO of the CHSRA] do "strong and direct", on the record, interviews?  Or just the usual Sacramento two step, a senior management "backgrounder" without attribution? I would like to suggest a candid and direct 55 minutes video interview at some time in the future.

Thanks again,


Since I sent that email I have not received any further contact from CHSRA, my two phone calls and a follow up email have been ignored.  As a taxpaying Californian I really would like some answers. I'm darn sure that the intelligent and thoughtful readers of American Thinker would also like to hear what the CHSRA has to say in regard to these issues.

So, Mr. Van Ark, Ms. Wall, how about CHSRA setting up an "on the record," press conference and allowing the mainstream and web-based media to ask some of the questions listed in the email? Undoubtedly millions of American taxpayers and a couple of million California taxpayers would enjoy hearing your vision for this project, Mr. Van Ark, as well your plans to grapple with the anticipated issues of union feather bedding, cost overruns, environmental lawsuits and the growing perception of high-speed rail as a 20th century solution to a "as-yet" undefined 21st century problem of intra-state transportation.

We all will be waiting to hear from you.