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Lawmaker insists California bullet train plan complies with law

California high-speed train
An Assembly member who strongly supports the California high-speed rail project on Thursday criticized a new state report that questions the legality of building the first leg of the 520-mile system in the Central Valley.

Cathleen Galgiani, a Stockton-area Democrat and  author of the successful ballot proposition that authorized the bullet train, attacked the Legislative Analyst’s Office, which she called “unqualified to provide a comprehensive analysis of this complex project, which the state has been working on for 15 years.”

The  analyst’s office--an arm of the Legislature that researches policy and the use of state funds--issued a report earlier this week. It concluded that the project’s most recent funding plan does not comply with the 2008 voter-approved measure, Proposition 1A, because high-speed trains will not initially run on the first stretch of track to be built next year between Merced and Bakersfield.

Before state bond financing can be requested for the project, the report states, rail officials must identify a segment that can be used by bullet trains. Until more funding can be secured, the high-speed rail agency wants to run conventional Amtrak trains on the initial 130-mile leg.

Defending the legality of the plan, Galgiani said the project will take a blended approach that will first provide slower-speed passenger service between population centers, with high-speed rail service coming later. “Their report is fraught with inaccurate and misleading information, irrational opinions and faulty conclusions,” Galgiani said. “It raises the question of whose agenda they are promoting.”

Galgiani said she is suspicious about the timing of the analyst’s report, noting that it comes after the Central Valley segment was selected over routes in the Bay Area and the Los Angeles Basin. Critics, including some legislators, have said  those alternatives are better than the Central Valley.

Galgiani said the most appropriate and qualified body to assess the project is its own peer review panel, which was approved by the Legislature and the voters.

However, during an Assembly hearing earlier this week, Will Kempton,  who heads the peer review group, testified that, like the legislative analyst, he and other panelists are concerned about whether the Central Valley segment complies with Proposition 1A.

He also said that the Bay Area and Los Angeles Basin alternatives might be more cost effective than the Central Valley route if the entire high-speed rail system is not built. Kempton added that a better initial investment might be a route between Bakersfield and the San Fernando Valley, which would link two urbanized areas.

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  --Dan Weikel

Photo: Rendering of proposed California high-speed train. Credit: California High-Speed Rail Authority

 
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