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High-Speed Rail Gets Roughed Up

— If high-speed rail ever gets to San Diego, and that’s a big and expanding IF, it won’t be for at least ten years. Now a lot of people wonder whether it can get anywhere at all, even if it does travel at 200 mph.

This week the Legislative Analyst’s Office put out a report questioning the management and the funding of a California high-speed rail line. Voters approved high-speed rail in 2008, along with more than $9 billion in bonding funds.

Unfortunately the estimated cost of the system’s first phase, which doesn’t even include connections to San Diego or Sacramento, is $43 billion. The Legislative Analyst’s report said that cost estimates for building the system seem greatly under-estimated. And federal money, which the project depends on, may or may not be there.

Today, political columnist Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee told us that yet another consultant has highlighted potential problems with high-speed rail in the Golden State. A peer-review group, headed by Will Kempton of Orange County, found the California High-Speed Rail Authority didn’t have adequate staff to manage construction of the line.

The group agreed that the funding scheme for high-speed rail in California is very questionable. Furthermore, the group said California is crazy if it thinks it can operate a high-speed rail line with no public subsidy, as state law demands.

Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor suggested two things: First, management of high-speed rail in California should be taken away from the High Speed Rail Authority and given to CALTRANS. Second, California needs to renegotiate terms of federal funding to get more flexibility. Now, federal guidelines are forcing the rail authority to begin building the line in the Central Valley… not the kind of place where you’d expect to find lots of people to ride the train.

The Obama administration has put up billions of dollars for building high-speed rail in the U.S. But Florida has refused to accept $2 billion in federal dollars because they don’t want to put up the matching funds, and they fear high-speed rail would be too expensive to operate.

Are they rejecting the next great transportation technology or are they just using some common sense?

It will be interesting to see what comes from this high-speed controversy. I recommend you click on the link to the Legislative Analyst’s report and watch the video of Mac Taylor’s presentation. It’s about 7 minutes long and gives a good overview of the reforms they’re proposing.

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