Analyst's report slams California's high-speed rail plan

The Fresno BeeMay 11, 2011 

The California Legislative Analyst's Office on Tuesday recommended that the state's proposed high-speed rail system start in Los Angeles or the Bay Area – not in the Central Valley.

The recommendation was part of a blistering report that found a host of faults with the project, in which California officials envision an 800-mile rail system connecting San Diego and Los Angeles to Sacramento and San Francisco through Fresno.

Among them, the report said, are unrealistic funding assumptions, an overreliance on consultants, a poor business plan, and outdated and understated cost estimates.

But central San Joaquin Valley officials smelled politics in the report, and said if the recommendations were followed, it would mark the end of a true statewide high-speed rail network.

Eric Thronson, the Legislative Analyst's Office staff member who wrote the report, disputed the claim it had a political agenda.

He said it wasn't requested by a legislator. Instead, he said, his office "felt like it was an important discussion to have."

In his report, Thronson said that because of "a significant risk" that the high-speed rail project will never be completed, state officials should rethink current plans, starting with a line now slated to run from just north of Bakersfield to a point near Chowchilla.

The report said other segments "could provide greater benefit to the state's overall transportation system" if the rail project isn't completed.

Among them are the Los Angeles-Anaheim segment, another between San Jose and San Francisco and between Merced and San Jose.

Because federal money for the project requires the line to start in the Central Valley, the report recommends the High-Speed Rail Authority seek flexibility from the federal government. The Legislature should proceed, the report said, "only if this flexibility is obtained."

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