California’s High Speed Rail

Last Updated on June 17, 2021 by Shaun Snapp

Executive Summary

  • California’s High Speed Rail is project is an example of what consulting companies tend to do infrastructure projects.


The waste that was the California High Speed Rail Project is explained in this quotation.

“Consultants assured the state there was little reason to hire hundreds or thousands of in-house engineers and rail experts, because the consultants could handle the heavy work themselves and save California money. It would take them only 12 years to bore under mountains, bridge rivers and build 520 miles of rail bed — all at a cost of just $33 billion. Now, more than a decade later, that decision has proved to be a foundational error in the project’s execution — a miscalculation that has resulted in the California High-Speed Rail Authority being overly reliant on a network of high-cost consultants who have consistently underestimated the difficulty of the task. But significant portions of this work have been flawed or mismanaged, according to records reviewed by The Times and interviews with dozens of people involved in the project. Despite repeated warnings since 2010 about weaknesses in its staffing, the rail authority believed it could reduce overall costs by relying on consultants and avoiding a large permanent workforce. But that strategy has failed to keep project costs from soaring. Ten years after voters approved it, the project is $44 billion over budget and 13 years behind schedule. When they turn on their computers, much of their data is stored on servers owned by consultants. The software they use to help manage the project is the property of a consultant. They include such firms as WSP, Project Finance Advisory, Cambridge Systematics, Arup, T.Y. Lin, HNTB, PGH Wong Engineering, Harris & Associates, Arcadis, STV, Sener Engineering and Systems, Parsons Transportation and many others. Gregory Kelly, CEO of WSP USA, a New York City-based unit of the firm, defends the company’s role in the project and says it brings world-class engineering, project management and environmental know-how that the state could not possibly duplicate. It would be “wildly inefficient for the state to staff up” to replace the role of consultants, he said in an interview in Los Angeles. WSP alone has about 470 employees on the project, and many hundreds of other consultants are spread out at offices across Sacramento, Fresno and San Francisco. By comparison, the rail authority now has 180 employees, but it has more than 40 vacant positions and is actually smaller than a year ago, according to a March financial report. Kelly, the rail authority CEO, said the vacancy rate is higher than he would like. Professional Engineers in California Government, a union that has 13,000 engineers at state agencies, has long argued that the rail authority is making a grave error by relying so heavily on outside consultants. “They became a consultant-captured organization,” said Ted Toppin, executive director of the union. “This is an entity run entirely by engineering consultants for engineering consultants.” Toppin provided state budget documents from 2010 that showed the rail authority’s contracts with consultants averaged $427,000 per engineer, compared with the rail authority’s state in-house costs of $131,000 per engineer. At one time, Cambridge Systematics, the consultant that developed ridership models, estimated that more than 90 million people would ride the trains every year, based on an overly optimistic assumption that 90% of motorists along the route would switch to trains, said David Brownstone, a UC Irvine economics professor who reviewed the work of consultants that provided ridership estimates. “Once we pointed out all the problems, they lowered it to 25 million and characterized it as a minor change,” he said. “Calling that a minor adjustment was a flat-out lie. The mistakes were obvious and crude.” ” – Los Angeles Times 

Source: Los Angeles Times