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How Has California's High-speed Rail Project Survived for 14 years Without Plan, Budget, or Single Accomplishment?

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California's fiscal mismanagement isn't a disaster. It''s...oh lord, it's just a DISASTER, OKAY?? Reason magazine's Tim Cavanaugh takes an poignant look at the fiscal disaster that is California through the lens of the state's failing high-speed rail project, in the upcoming August/September issue.

He writes:

"If you were looking to take some easy shots at government waste and abuse, you’d have a hard time topping California State Auditor Elaine M. Howle’s recent assessment of the Golden State’s 14-year-old high-speed rail project. The California High Speed Rail Authority, she writes in a 47-page report issued at the end of April, “paid at least $4 million of invoices for which it had no evidence…that the contractors had performed the work invoiced” and “does not generally ensure that invoices reflect work performed by contractors.""

According to Cavanaugh, "Earlier in the year, the state’s legislative analyst’s office noted that the Authority’s plan contains no timeline and no specifics and that it “appears to violate the law” by using bond funds to subsidize its operations. (The Authority now claims to have corrected this problem, and it recently hired a $375,000-a-year CEO to help get the project on track.) Since 1996—twice as long as the Transcontinental Railroad took from approval to completion in the 1860s—the bullet train project has cost taxpayers more than $250 million, yet not one millimeter of track has been laid."

He calls the Golden State's latest flop "a high-decibel example of the magical thinking that takes hold when people talk about trains," and notes that, the bullet train "exemplifies the arrogance and Bourbon high-handedness with which grand plans get made. Several times the California High Speed Rail Authority has been caught mapping out bullet train alignments and then failing to notify homeowners whose properties would be slated for seizure via eminent domain. The current plan would have the 220-mile-per-hour train running through well-populated residential areas. It also pits the Authority against Union Pacific over track resources, meaning the bullet train would essentially replace freight—the one genre of rail transport that remains viable and important to the economy—with a passenger rail project that has no hope of ever becoming sustainable."

Cavanaugh describes the bullet train as "a case study in the immortality of a bad idea."

"While the train itself may never become a reality," he writes, "sheer political will makes the train project impossible to kill."

“The project has been fighting every year to stay alive,” says Elizabeth Alexis, co-founder of Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design, a watchdog group that supports a rail project in principle but is critical of the Authority. “So they did what they had to do to stay alive, because that’s better than being dead.”

It's not the Little Engine That Could, or even the Little Engine That Couldn't.

It's the Big, Expensive, Taxpayer-Funded Engine That Never Will.
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