Friends, Foes Respond to Report Dinging California High Speed Rail

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A state Legislative Analyst's Office report critical of California's planned high-speed rail network, which includes a leg that extends into Orange County, is being used as ammunition by critics who want to junk the $42.6-billion project.

On Monday, the LAO released its report that cited concerns with income, risk assessment, ridership projections and the lack of a backup plan if enough ridership fails to materialize.

Among those licking their chops over the report is the editorial board of the San Diego Union Tribune, which is calling for a recall of Prop 1a, the state ballot initiative voters passed last year approving a nearly $10 billion bond for the system.

The ink-stained U-T wretches were the opposite of swayed by an e-mail from California High-Speed Rail Authority spokesman Jeffrey Barker, who said the authority was responding to the LAO criticism by putting together a business plan that "does not require government operating subsidies" and could comply with the wording of Proposition 1A by offering private investors a "ridership guarantee" instead of a "revenue guarantee":

But a "ridership guarantee" and a "revenue guarantee" are the same thing because ridership times ticket price equals revenue. The Legislative Analyst's Office told us yesterday that it agrees.

It appears the rail authority sees semantic acrobatics as the way to answer the LAO's concerns about the bullet-train project's inability to attract $10 billion to $12 billion in private investments without guaranteeing investors their money is safe. It's time to dredge up this warning from the original business plan: Potential private investors "made it clear that they would need both financial and political commitments from state officials that government would share the risks to their participation."

"Shared risks" means "subsidies if things go bad." There's no reconciling that with Proposition 1A's intent. This poorly crafted, nonsensical boondoggle of a ballot initiative should be repealed as soon as possible.


Robert Cruickshank, who was born and raised in Orange County and now lives in Monterey, counters on his independent California High Speed Rail Blog that everything in fine and the LAO's findings are to be expected for a project "that is still very much in development."

In a very long, point-by-point analysis, Cruickshank, who is chairman of Californians for High Speed Rail, writes, "The 2009 Business Plan is a snapshot of a project in evolution. Any expectation that all the financial details would have been ironed out in a year is absurd and unrealistic, but then, HSR often gets burdened with absurd and unrealistic expectations, particularly from skeptics and critics. Certainly the things the LAO points to deserve resolution, and we fully expect they will be resolved. But to use this report, as some want to, as evidence of a flawed project is itself a flawed analysis."
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