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‘Horrible Sequence of Mistakes’: How Bullet Train Contractors Botched Madera Bridge Project



Photo of a rendering of the California high speed-rail
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A series of errors by contractors and consultants on California’s bullet train venture caused support cables to fail on a massive bridge in Madera County crucial to the project, triggering an order to stop work that further delayed a project already years behind schedule, the Los Angeles Times has learned.

The bridge is longer than two football fields and is needed to shuttle vehicles over the future bullet train right of way and existing BNSF freight tracks at Road 27.

“It is a horrible sequence of mistakes,” said Robert Bea, emeritus professor of civil engineering at UC Berkeley and co-founder of its Center for Catastrophic Risk Management.

High-strength steel strands supporting the 636-foot structure began to snap on Oct. 22, one after another. Ultimately, 23 of the strands, which are comprised of seven individual wires each, broke unexpectedly. The order to stop work was issued Nov. 4.

Hundreds of pages of documents obtained by The Times under a public records request show the steel supports snapped as a result of neglect, work damage, miscommunications and possible design problems.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has long wrestled with its dependence on consultants and outside experts, with a 2018 state audit faulting the agency for being overly reliant on these private interests.

“It isn’t getting any better,” said an executive at one firm working on the project, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the news media. “It is such a pillage of the taxpayers.”

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