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High-speed rail plan flawed, says Legislature's financial analyst

January 11, 2010 |  4:44 pm

There is a major flaw in the business plan for the $42.6-billion state high-speed rail network that would run from San Diego to San Francisco, according to the legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal watchdog.
Among the concerns expressed in a new report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office is that the state High-Speed Rail Authority failed to adequately consider what happens if few people ride the new trains, opening a potentially huge funding gap. Eric Thronson, a fiscal and policy analyst for the office, called a risk assessment in the business plan “incomplete and inappropriate for a project of this magnitude.’’
Thronson warned that there is no backup plan to keep the rail system solvent if it fails to draw 41 million people yearly. A bond measure approved by voters to help pay for the train network prohibits public funds from being spent on operating costs.

Thronson submitted his report at a hearing of the Assembly Transportation Committee. Assemblyman Roger Niello (R-Fair Oaks) said he likes it when people make bold proposals, like the train system, but added, "So did Don Quixote. I have huge concerns about this project.’’

Jeff Barker, a spokesman for the state authority proposing the system, said all risk would be addressed in the future, when the authority enters into contracts with private groups spelling out how much they would invest in building the project and the extent to which they would be on the hook financially if ridership falls short of expectations.

-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento