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State bullet train agency lashes back at critical review

January 3, 2012 |  3:14 pm

California high-speed train
The state agency attempting to build California's proposed bullet train blasted an independent review panel’s report that recommends the Legislature not approve issuing $2.7 billion in bonds to partly pay for the first section of track in the Central Valley.

Just hours after the review panel released its eight-page critique, the California High Speed Rail Authority said the report is “deeply flawed, in some areas misleading and its conclusions are unfounded.”

The sharp reaction is a measure of the high stakes riding on the report's findings, just weeks before Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to ask the Legislature to authorize the construction borrowing.

Under the state law that created the rail program, the California High-Speed Peer Review Group was charged with judging the overall feasibility and reasonableness of the project. On almost every aspect of the project, including capital costs, ridership projections, private-sector participation and future funding sources, the peer review gave a thumbs down.

The rail authority quickly shot back that those conclusions are not a sound basis for lawmakers to decide whether to proceed.

“It is unfortunate that the peer review committee has delivered a report to the Legislature that is deeply flawed in its understanding of the authority’s program and the experience around the world in successfully developing high-speed rail,” said Roelof van Ark, chief executive of the high-speed rail authority.  “As someone involved in many of the successful high-speed rail programs internationally, I can say that the recommendations of this committee simply do not reflect a real world view of what it takes to bring such projects to fruition.”

Added Thomas J. Umberg, chairman of the authority board, “What is most unfortunate about this report is not its analytical deficiency, but that it would create a cloud over the program that threatens not only federal support but also the confidence of the private sector necessary for them to invest their dollars.”


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Image: Rendering of proposed California high-speed trains. Credit: California High Speed Rail Authority