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Rail News: High-Speed Rail

GAO: Some California high-speed rail project estimates could be more accurate


The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) met some, but not all best estimating practices in a recent audit of the authority.

The federal agency determined that the CHSRA met some of the best practices in the GAO's "Cost Estimating and Assessment Guide" for producing cost estimates that are "accurate, comprehensive, well documented and credible," GAO officials said in a statement issued late last week.

But by not following all best practices, there is "an increased risk for cost overruns, missed deadlines and unmet performance targets," they said.

While the authority substantially met the criteria for the accuracy characteristic by, for example, reflecting the project's current scope in the cost estimate, it partially met the criteria for the other three characteristics since the operating costs were not sufficiently detailed, the development of some cost elements were not sufficiently explained and no systematic assessment of risk was performed, GAO officials said.

The GAO did find that the CHSRA's ridership and revenue forecasts were "reasonable," but that additional updates are necessary. In addition, the project's funding — which relies on public and private sources — faces uncertainty, GAO officials said.

The agency also concluded that the CHSRA did a "comprehensive job" in identifying the project's impact on users, non-users, travel-time reliability and impact on highway congestion. However, the agency also found that construction of a high-speed rail line will not eliminate the need for additional improvements to meet the state's future travel demand.

The $68.4 billion project entails the construction of a 520-mile high-speed line that would link San Francisco to Los Angeles, and would be designed to operate trains at up to 220 mph.

CHSRA officials expressed satisfaction with the instances of "high marks" the GAO audit gave to the authority.

"The GAO's audit report is extremely clear that the authority's processes and methodologies in estimating its costs, revenue and ridership are sound," said CHSRA Chairman Dan Richard. "The authority appreciate's the GAO's input and is already taking steps to incorporate those suggestions."

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More News from 4/1/2013