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Rail News: High-Speed Rail

Rail subcommittee hears praise, criticism of California's high-speed rail project


The House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials held a congressional field hearing in San Francisco yesterday on the status of California's high-speed rail project.

The hearing was organized by the subcommittee's chairman, U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), a longtime critic of the $64 billion project.

Witnesses providing written testimony were California High-Speed Rail Authority Chairman Dan Richard, Federal Railroad Administrator Sarah Feinberg, Caltrain Chief Executive Officer Jim Hartnett, attorney Stuart Flashman and State Building and Construction Trades Council of California President Robbie Hunter.

The project calls for a high-speed rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Denham has been skeptical of the effort on several fronts, including changes to the initial route, the project's timeline and its cost.

Yesterday, Denham expressed concern about the initial stretch of rail line, which is slated to run from San Jose to Central Valley farmland. He also criticized the state for lacking a plan to complete the entire L.A.-to-San Francisco system, The Los Angeles Times reported.

"You could be stuck in a field somewhere between Safter and Wasco ... and ... out of money," Denham said, according to the newspaper.

Authority Chairman Richard presented a project status report, including key elements of the authority's 2016 business plan.

More than 119 miles of construction is underway — representing $3 billion in contracts — since the project's groundbreaking in January 2015, Richard said in his written testimony. Phase I capital cost estimates for construction between San Francisco/Merced and L.A./Anaheim are lower than earlier estimates, he said.

Richard also noted that in 2014, the state Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown "reaffirmed their commitment" to the program by providing an ongoing revenue stream through the state's Greenhouse Gas Reduction Funds, also known as the Cap and Trade proceeds.

"This and other developments have influenced the strategic direction of the program expressed in the authority's 2016 Business Plan," Richard said. "We now have a clear path forward for funding the initial operating line from the Silicon Valley to the Central Valley with federal and state public funds already committed to the program; and we plan to commence high-speed rail passenger service by 2025."

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has a team dedicated to monitoring the project in order to protect the federal Recovery Act dollars invested in it and "to ensure successful delivery of the project," Feinberg said in her prepared testimony.

"FRA's monitoring and oversight efforts include a robust, risk-based program to ensure compliance with federal rules and regulations; identify fraud, waste and abuse; and identify the need for technical assistance," she said.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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