One of the elevated sections of the high-speed rail line under construction in Fresno. (Rich Pedroncelli / AP)
By Ralph Vartabedian
Jan 21, 2018 | 4:00 AM

Massive cost overruns threaten to derail the bullet train. Here’s what has to change

Only two years ago, the California rail authority unveiled an ambitious plan to begin operating a segment of bullet train service between San Jose and the Central Valley by 2025. It would take nearly every penny in its checkbook, but the rail authority assured the public it would work.

But that plan has been crushed by the acknowledgment Tuesday that the cost of building just 119 miles of rail between the farm towns of Madera and Wasco has soared from about $6 billion to $10.6 billion, siphoning off money that the authority had planned to allocate to the ultimate goal of connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco.

It has left the broader high-speed rail project, a lofty objective that Gov. Jerry Brown has pursued since the 1980s, in an existential crisis.

Over the next year, Brown, the Legislature and the next governor will have to decide whether to create new revenue sources, dramatically delay its construction or scale it far back from a complete 550-mile system, among other possibilities.

“The financial demand for this is so enormous,” said Martin Wachs, a UCLA transportation expert and a member of a peer review panel that oversees the project. “We should have been more ready for this. The costs always rise and the schedule always slips, but that doesn’t mean the project isn’t justified.”

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