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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.

High-speed trains around the world are pulling into stations like this one in...
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Above: High-speed trains around the world are pulling into stations like this one in South Korea. And two researchers say building a system for California will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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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Avatar for user 'Derek'

Derek | May 11, 2011 at 6:29 p.m. ― 5 years, 10 months ago

While the LAO feels that the $43 billion estimated cost of the project is underestimated, it hasn't offered anything better than extrapolated figures as "proof".

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Avatar for user 'mfedder'

mfedder | May 11, 2011 at 11:24 p.m. ― 5 years, 10 months ago

Tom, you seem bent on presenting only the perspective of those criticizing the project. I suggest reading the rebuttal at:

It's a blog run by enthusiasts, so of course it's one sided, but the main contributor typically posts point-by-point rebuttals within a day of these attacks, and would provide a balance lacking from your reporting. There is so much false information being spread around, and I hate to see you suckered in by groups fronted by NIMBYs and Alan Lowenthal to covertly push their agendas using talking points cut from whole cloth.

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Avatar for user 'Tom Fudge'

Tom Fudge, KPBS Staff | May 12, 2011 at 2:24 p.m. ― 5 years, 10 months ago

I took a look at the California High Speed Rail Blog and I recommend readers click on the link above to see what they have to say. I'll only differ with one thing they say, since I don't think the LAO ever said California should reject federal funds. They just said the terms of those funds should be renegotiated. I will add that it's reasonable to be concerned how California will manage to build and operate a high-speed rail system. California voters just provided seed money by voting for it in 2008. We still need to figure out where the rest of the money will come from.

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Avatar for user 'Frank'

Frank | May 12, 2011 at 6:13 p.m. ― 5 years, 10 months ago

Yogi Berra said "Making predictions is hard, especially about the future" In the 1930's we built a series of dams on the Columbia River that rovided the electric power we needed to make the aluminum to make the planes that were so important to our successful WWII effort (The Greatest Generation had help from the preceeding generation). High speed rail is a lot like those dams, no one knew when they were built what role they would play in history. Infrastructure is the bloodstream of any society and it must constantly be replaced expanded and taken care of. If High Speed Rail is a failure it will have provided jobs at a time when they are greatly needed. If the future is different than the naysayers predictions then building it will give us the ability the function in a future we, like Yogi, have great difficulty in predicting.

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