Fresno · Highlight

Report: High-speed rail contractor muzzled employees over bad news

Ex-employees of a top contractor to California’s High-Speed Rail Authority were reportedly told to suppress bad news and allegedly altered construction progress reports as the 300-mile project stares down a 2022 deadline to complete construction between Madera and Kern counties.

Monday, those ex-officials spoke to the Los Angeles Times about working under WSP, the rail project’s lead consultant.

In the report, the contractor threatened to discipline and fire employees if they spoke out about potential problems, such as budget issues.

Mark Styles was hired to lead scheduling in WSP’s Fresno office in October 2018 to help with scheduling in the Central Valley, but he left in November 2019 and told the Times that it was the worst job of his career.

“I was told to shut up and not say anything,” Styles told the Times. “I was told that I didn’t understand the political arena the project was in. I told them I am not going to shut up. This is my job.”

In February, the California High-Speed Rail Authority announced its projected overall cost is $80.3 billion. Voters passed Proposition 1A in 2008, which allocated $9.95 billion for the project.

Styles was not alone in seeing the poor atmosphere and culture that has surrounded high-speed rail over the past decade.

Engineer Vera Lovejoy and project controls coordinator Todd Bilstein both told similar stories after they left the project in 2019. 

“I wanted the project to succeed,” Lovejoy told the Times. “I was eager to help deliver it, but I couldn’t stay. If you rock the boat, you are labeled as not a team player.”

Bilstein added, “If I was to give a talk at a construction conference, I would say they were not following generally accepted project management principles… Revealing bad news was discouraged. I just couldn’t continue to work there. I don’t work that way. American professionals don’t work that way.”

Styles said the operation was more dysfunctional than he had ever seen before when he started in Fresno. He requested the justification documents for the change orders that dealt with the various delays. WSP management denied his request.

WSP occasionally altered staff reports to make construction progress look better, Styles told the paper.

He also said the 2022 deadline for the 119-mile segment from Madera to Wasco is impossible, saying a more likely completion date would be between 2025 and 2028. 

Daniel Gligich
Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.