California's $100B Bullet Train 'Not Feasible' at This Time, Says Peer Review Group for the High-Speed Rail (Surprise, Surprise)

How many more warnings will it take for starry-eyed California politicians to realize the voter-approved $100 billion Bullet Train is a budget disaster waiting to implode?

On top of skepticism from the state auditor, inspector general and legislative analyst -- as well as university researchers, federal transportation experts and this very news blog -- a "peer review group" for the California High-Speed Rail Authority, formed for the sole purpose of independent review, has declared the project neither physically nor financially feasible at this time.

The train's roster of supporters tells us everything we need to know:

"The project has won major support from organized labor, some big-city mayors and many state lawmakers," reports the Los Angeles Times today.

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So it's backed by politicians and union heads, who of course have every personal interest in seeing the High-Speed Rail carved into the California countryside. They've used all the usual political arguments for going ahead with construction, despite widespread opposition among all those silly brainy types: Job creation. Sustainability first. Green America, at all costs.

Yet somehow their word is worth more than that of a neutral third party tasked with protecting taxpayer interests? From the scathing report:

"We cannot overemphasize the fact that moving ahead on the HSR project without credible sources of adequate funding, without a definitive business model, without a strategy to maximize the independent utility and value to the State, and without the appropriate management resources, represents an immense financial risk on the part of the state of California."

The Bullet Train's proposal has gotten so flimsy that even some Sacramento heads are starting to take pause. "We can't simply dismiss the legitimate concerns by a group of this caliber," former Bullet Train advocate Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) tells the Times of the peer review. "Denial is not going to move the project forward."

LA Weekly has been warning the public about the underplanned, overhyped Bullet Train for years.

From our October 2009 print piece "Riled Over California's High-Speed Rail":

"We're in the honeymoon period," chuckled one [High-Speed Rail] rep. "No one's mad at us."

That may be true in the outskirts of L.A. County, but in downtown L.A. and surrounding areas, the honeymoon between residents and the still-obscure board members who control the California High Speed Rail Authority is over.

"They need to work in partnership with us rather than shoving stuff down our throats," says environmentalist Melanie Winter.

Winter is part of a diverse set of environmental advocates, community leaders, elected officials and taxpayer watchdogs who are banding together in the hopes of changing the direction of the rail authority.

And here's the latest from freelancer David Futch: "$100 Billion Bullet Train," which ran this last November.

None of the wealthy investors who were supposed to share the pain with taxpayers has materialized for this struggling "public-private" project, and on Nov. 17, a crucial source of billions of dollars in public funds dried up when the U.S. Senate voted to kill all future federal funding for high-speed rail -- including for California's.

USC professor and transportation planner Lisa Schweitzer recalls that in 2008, when then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, then-Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez and their appointees on the rail authority board insisted the cost would be just $34 billion, "the coffee shot out of our noses" at USC.

There you have it: a flop from the start. But you don't have to take our word for it. Just ask the California High-Speed Rail Authority's peer review group. That's what they're there for, after all.

[@simone_electra / swilson@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]


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