California high-speed rail slips four years behind schedule

Over-budget and behind schedule continues to be the pattern for the high-speed rail effort intended to eventually link norther and southern California. Politico reports the completion of the first section of track, the easiest one to build, was just pushed back by four years:

The first segment of California’s first-in-the-nation bullet-train project, currently scheduled for completion in 2018, will not be done until the end of 2022, according to a contract revision the Obama administration quietly approved this morning. That initial 119-mile segment through the relatively flat and empty Central Valley was considered the easiest-to-build stretch of a planned $64 billion line, which is eventually supposed to zip passengers between San Francisco and Los Angeles in under three hours…

Still, the authority has yet to lay any tracks, and it has purchased less than half the land it needs in the Central Valley.

So with two years left to go on the original schedule they are nowhere. The other problem is that, even as the project’s budget has swelled, there is no plan for how to pay for the billions needed to complete it:

Concerns about the project’s viability, however, extend well beyond NIMBY-ism and car-bias. The estimated price tag is now equivalent to 35 times the annual federal subsidy for Amtrak. The state’s voters approved $9 billion in bonds for high-speed rail, and Brown has diverted some revenue from California’s carbon trading program to the project, but Republicans shut off the federal spigot when they took back the House of Representatives in 2010. So while Morales says there’s enough money to extend the railway north to San Jose, there’s not yet a long-term funding source to finish the entire job.

The shortfall is currently estimated to be $43.5 billion. Again, that’s before a single mile of track has been laid. As the LA Times notes, there is good reason not to place too much confidence in the word of the rail authority about when this will get done or how much it will eventually cost:

The rail authority has had difficulty acquiring property since early 2013, when it claimed publicly that it was going to start construction by that summer even though it hadn’t bought a single piece of land. Even today, fewer than half of the parcels it needs for the 118 miles are in hand. The Central Valley was supposed to be the easiest section of the 500 miles system to build, but has proven to be a virtual minefield.

The delays have forced contractors leave to equipment idle, which is likely to result in multimillion-dollar claims of losses. Some outside construction experts are projecting the first 29 miles of construction alone could be as much as $400 million over budget.

The Central Valley portion of the system was considered more shovel-ready than the rest of it. Just wait until the rail authority starts tunneling through mountains to get to Los Angeles. That’s when we’ll see the real delays start.