If a letter sent by a major contractor working on the state’s bullet train boondoggle can be believed, the project is even more of a slow-motion train wreck than authorities have acknowledged. The Los Angeles Times got a copy of a 36-page letter detailing problems and delays with the construction which are likely to lead to more delays, higher costs and layoffs for those working on the project.
As of mid-November, construction teams can not build on more than 500 parcels in the Fresno area because the California High Speed Rail Authority still lacks possession or proper documentation, according to the Jan. 4 letter. The company has completed all the work that could be done efficiently and as a result is now operating at other sites at a slower pace.
“It is beyond comprehension that as of this day, more than two thousand and six hundred calendar days after [official approval to start construction] that the authority has not obtained all of the right of way…” wrote Tutor Perini Vice President of Operations Ghassan Ariqat to Garth Fernandez, the contracting chief at the state rail authority.
Ariqat said his company “anticipates that it will have to lay off a significant number of its field workers in the very near future” and that it has already let 73 field workers go in recent weeks.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority is denying the claims made in the letter but there’s no doubt the project has been a disaster from the start. Tutor Perini won the contract to build a portion of the project near Fresno back in 2013, but for two years it was unable to proceed on construction because the state didn’t own any of the land on which the new line was to be built. Now, according to the letter, the state has even stopped sending out forecasting report showing when additional land would become available for construction. The company claims they haven’t received a report in over a year.
As it stands, the company was supposed to have about half of the line completed by 2023 but this letter suggests even that portion could be delayed for years because of failures like this:
The letter details how project snags have cascaded. The state, for example, has failed to acquire a piece of land from Smart & Final, a grocery chain, at a city corner, delaying relocation of a gas line. The removal of the gas line in turn has delayed construction of temporary freight track, called a shoofly, for Union Pacific Railroad. The shoofly is necessary to allow construction of underpasses and bridges at three major streets near downtown, the letter said…
The Ariqat letter spends considerable time detailing the problems of working with Union Pacific, whose tracks parallel the bullet train route through much of Fresno. It alleges that the railroad has made “preferential and unreasonable demands” in reviewing and approving work plans for sites adjacent to its property. The authority, the letter said, has failed to enforce a 2014 working agreement and failed to establish a coordinating committee that would meet monthly as required by the agreement.
Here’s the bottom line:
Senior engineers and construction executives say that any partial operating system is unlikely until the 2030s, and the costs are likely to grow by billions of dollars above the current $20.4 billion.
So California may finally have a $25-30 billion bullet train a decade from now…around Fresno. That doesn’t sound great to me but here’s the decidedly upbeat take on 2020 progress from the California High-Speed Rail Authority: