The Little Engine That Couldn’t: High Speed Rail Authority’s Faulty Business Plan Scrutinized by Senate

On Tuesday afternoon the State Senate held its own hearing to discuss the High Speed Rail Authority’s new Business Plan for a multi-billion dollar train network stretching from San Diego to San Francisco. Like last week’s Assembly hearing, the Authority’s Plan came under intense scrutiny from the committee members, the Legislative Analyst’s Office, and the public. PCL’s Tina Andolina was there with over a dozen local residents to echo concerns raised by the senators and continue to push for the Authority to be held more accountable for its management of this important project.

The two co-chairs of the hearing, Senators Joe Simitian from Palo Alto and Alan Lowenthal from Long Beach, used the hearing to dig deeper into several areas of the Authority’s Plan that are vague, unclear, or wildly optimistic. In particular, Authority Chairman and Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle was asked how confident the Authority was that California would received more than half the national pot of money dedicated for high speed rail. He had to admit that the estimate was just a hope. Similarly, Pringle was asked about the Authority’s expectation of receiving new taxpayer dollars to subsidize the project once it’s built, even though this would directly violate the $10 billion bond measure passed by voters in 2008. Pringle could only reply that he had not heard the LAO “say it was a problem,” to which Senator Simitian replied, “I heard (the analyst) say, and I read the language not once but twice that says, there’s no indication that this can be done without violating the law. If he didn’t call that a problem, I will.”

The Business Plan is supposed to outline how the Authority will secure local, private, and federal funding to complete the rail project, since the voter-approved bond covers less than a quarter of the estimated costs. Without a sound strategy for raising money and a solid roadmap for completing the project, voters could be left with a boondoggle instead of an efficient, effective transportation option. The Authority’s performance to date does not inspire confidence that it’s up to the task.