Did Gov. Brown Just Admit Defeat of High-Speed Rail Project? Don’t Celebrate Yet.

In other California rail news today, Gov. Jerry Brown has backed off his plan to try to block environmental lawsuits against the state’s proposed high-speed rail project. Via the San Jose Mercury News:

The Brown administration on Wednesday abandoned its plan to ease environmental scrutiny of the $69 billion bullet train, backing off quickly after strong opposition from environmentalists threatened the project altogether.

The proposal was designed to prevent opponents from halting high-speed rail construction in court on environmental grounds. It was tied to a key vote in the Legislature in coming weeks on whether to build the first $6 billion leg of tracks in the Central Valley.

But powerful environmental groups -- and key bullet train supporters -- like the Sierra Club and National Resources Defense Council were outraged at what they considered an attempt to undermine the state's landmark environmental law. They spent the last three weeks urging lawmakers to scrap the plan, saying it would set a dangerous precedent.

California is operating on a tight deadline to get started with the project or risk losing $3.5 billion in matching federal stimulus funds. The State Senate has set a July 1 deadline to appropriate $2.6 billion in bonds to start construction on the first leg in central California. Environmental lawsuits against projects in California can take months or years to conclude. On this basis, Conn Carroll of The Washington Examiner is declaring the project dead:

[A]ccording to the stimulus law, California must begin construction on the project before December 31, 2012 or they will not be eligible for any more high speed rail stimulus dollars. Obama’s Transportation Department reaffirmed this time limit last year when they admitted they had “no administrative authority to change this deadline.”

When I read that Brown was dropping his efforts to block environmental suits this morning, I had the same initial thought: There’s no way this train will begin construction this year. But there are a number of possibilities that could keep this boondoggle from the chopping block.

First, it’s important not to make the assumption that the people who are suing to block the project are actually suing to actually block the project. A lot of them are likely looking to be paid to go away or to make sure they get a better sum than an eminent domain process might land them or because they’re close to the tracks but not close enough to sell their land and want compensation for any hardships the trains cause or for any number of reasons. There could be all sorts of quick settlements of these cases by throwing money at the problem or agreeing to land set-asides elsewhere.

Second, don’t underestimate the government’s ability to ignore or alter deadlines, or find other sources for the money. I mean, look at how the Obama administration has been behaving. Just because they don’t have the authority to change the deadline doesn’t mean they won’t do it anyway. And even if they don’t, and California misses the deadline, there’s all sorts of tricks they can resort to. The Federal Railroad Administration has a $35 billion loan guarantee program which states:

Eligible borrowers include railroads, state and local governments, government-sponsored authorities and corporations, joint ventures that include at least one railroad, and limited option freight shippers who intend to construct a new rail connection.

As much as I would like to cackle at the bullet train’s demise, it’s still too soon to say. I’ll believe it when I see the bloated blue-and-gold monster’s corpse on a pike during season three of Game of Thrones.

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  • Emmerson Biggins||

    The eco-commies are good for something after all! Fighting the train worshipers!

  • mr simple||

    I’ll believe it when I see the bloated blue-and-gold monster’s corpse on a pike during season three of Game of Thrones.

    Spoiler alert, please!!

  • ||

    Everyone dies.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    No winners?

  • Hugh Akston||

    Nobody ever wins the Game of Thrones, particularly the people who watch it.

    It's like soccer that way.

  • Sevo||

    Fist of Etiquette|6.21.12 @ 7:22PM|#
    "No winners?"

    If it's between the eco-whackos and moonbeam, I sure hope there's no winners.

  • CE||

    But those guys don't want to kill it off. They're already planning the magical Qarth to King's Landing Line...

  • Elphie||

    [A]ccording to the stimulus law, California must begin construction on the project before December 31, 2012 or they will not be eligible for any more high speed rail stimulus dollars.

    Is it specified what constitutes beginning construction? Can't they just drive a stake in the ground somewhere and declare that construction has begun?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I hate to keep bringing this up, but why did it take environmentalists to kill this project, when in fact it should be amateur detectives who object to high speed rail? It's difficult enough to solve a train murder before the next stop when the train is traveling from station to station at a normal rate. How will mystery novel buffs whittle down the suspects, all of whom had motive, in the short time it takes a bullet train to make its stops?

  • mr simple||

    High speed sleuthing? That sounds like more chances for robots to take jobs from hard working Americans.

  • Elphie||

    It's difficult enough to solve a train murder before the next stop when the train is traveling from station to station at a normal rate.

    I'm so glad you mentioned this. America's trains are assaulting and killing people every day--my own grandpa lost both his legs to one (seriously)--and now they want to build MORE of these high-speed behemoths of death?!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    YOU'RE MAKING A MOCKERY OF MY COMMENT.

  • Elphie||

    SERIOUSLY, MY GRANDFATHER HAD BOTH HIS LEGS SEVERED WHILE TRYING TO BOARD A MOVING TRAIN. THIS IS NOT A JOKE FOR CHRIST'S SAKE.

    He later ended up in the newspapers for fighting off a mugger from his wheelchair. I'm so proud of you gramps!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    That was your grandfather? He sure was strong from that sitting position.

  • Sevo||

    Mentioned this the other day:
    The paper version of the Chron (so no links) had a full-page, four-color ad pitching HSR. Paid for, of course, with taxpayer money, begging for more taxpayer money.
    If lefties want to gripe about money used to 'influence' people, this would be a good place to start. In this case, money stolen from me is being used to pitch what I oppose.

  • CE||

    ...don’t underestimate the government’s ability to ignore or alter deadlines...

    Unless you pull out of the Michigan Republican primary 4 minutes after the deadline.

  • Sevo||

    Any reason the image couldn't be 'shopped to show dead birds draped over the turbine blades?

  • ||

    I think one of the things that Hit'n'Runners might be unaware of, since they are not in the industry, is that even if the infrastructure in question is never actually built, there is huge money in all the studies and reports that have to be submitted before a single shovelful of dirt is actually turned. This represents a huge payout to engineers, planners, surveyors and ecologists and some "professionals" I haven't thought of.

    The fact is that even though the blokes in the construction unions want this stuff, most of them and their leaders are "old union" and do not enjoy the connections with this administration and with the Democratic Party in general that they once had. The fact is, the rank and file of the "old" unions has deserted the traditional New Deal Democrat coalition too many times for the socialists (yes, even I think BHO is a socialist) that control the party now to depend on them (why do you think BHO cancelled the Keystone project?).

    Most of this shit has to do with the bucks that grant writers for mass transit schemes and environmental bullshit can extract from the various agencies that control the dollars.

    Whether you or I ever get to travel on an actual fast train is a matter of complete indifference to most of them. So long as they get their check cut, it doesn't matter.

  • widget||

    This represents a huge payout to engineers, planners, surveyors and ecologists and some "professionals" I haven't thought of.

    Yup. As an engineer I know a little bit about engineers. There are engineers who are engineers because they like the pay, that's all. And there are engineers who are engineers because they derive personal satisfaction from designing stuff that really works and they get payed for it. It's about 50-50. So you know which half will take the jobs designing the bullet-train railway.

  • ||

    "He's spry for a dead fellow."

  • jason||

    He did not accept it but now the results will show everything.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    Well, the important thing to remember is that this is the fault of unbridled free-market capitalism. Or Bush's fault. Or Citizens United. Or the witch hunt against Eric Holder. Or the Koch brothers. Or the birthers.

  • carol||

    We "anti-railers" took a lot of flack here in Florida for opposing high speed rail. Every time another story comes out about California's rail woes I rush to share it with everyone I know who supported rail here. I gloat much.

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