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California’s High Speed Rail Authority Hires “Sustainability” Consultant

The California High-Speed Rail Authority endorses Arup to fulfill green goals, yet this fiscal boondoggle has left the station

California’s High-Speed Rail Authority (HSRA) has selected Arup, a global sustainable development company, to support “their sustainability program,” according to a July 12 press release from the company.

“Carrying travelers between Los Angeles/Anaheim and San Francisco in under three hours, the high-speed rail system will transform mobility in California for the benefit of communities and the environment,” Arup explains. The project “is the centerpiece for achieving the state’s climate and sustainability goals” and will “provide mobility alternatives to one of the busiest short haul flight paths in the United States, saving an estimated 62,000 annual airplane trips, and taking an estimated 400,000 cars off the road annually, transforming the way Californians travel.”

Arup is leading a team of 12 consultants “to support the delivery of sustainability services along the entire 500-mile route. Key tasks will include renewable energy modeling and procurement, climate change adaptation and resilience, setting sustainable design criteria, managing greenhouse gas and air quality emissions, carbon offsetting, and sustainability reporting.” 

According to Arup, the new high-speed rail line “will be designed to operate with 100% renewable energy, with an estimated capacity of 1.9 million MWh per year supported by solar power and battery storage systems.” Arup will be “helping implement Authority-driven sustainability strategies into the project specifications to ensure the construction of the rail infrastructure, systems, and stations include the use of zero emission construction vehicles and minimize the embodied carbon of concrete and steel used to build the project. Arup will also maintain the Authority’s robust first-party local program for carbon offsetting.”

And so on, in the same utopian style as the original promotional materials back in 2008. The trouble is, as Lee Ohanian explains, California’s high-speed rail was “a fantasy from its inception.” 

Fifteen years after the original $9.95 billion bond issue and three years after the proclaimed completion date, “not one train has left the station. Not one route has been completed, even though nearly all the $9.95 billion seed money has been spent.” The original budget of $33 billion is now inadequate for the single route from Bakersfield to Merced, which “pencils out to $207 million per mile.”

Ralph Vartebedian of CalMatters explains that the whole system’s cost is now up to $128 billion, “leaving a funding gap of more than $100 billion for politicians to ponder.” State taxpayers also have a few issues.

For Lee Ohanian, the high-speed rail project is “perhaps the greatest infrastructure failure in the history of the country” and “nothing short of a betrayal of Californians.” The ruling class wants to sustain it. 

“The Authority is dedicated to creating a transformative transportation project,” said Margaret Cederoth, appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2019 as HSRA Director of Planning and Sustainability. “We are eager deliver the backbone of sustainable transportation for California.”

K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at American Greatness.
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