Gov. Jerry Brown, in his 2012-13 budget plan submitted Thursday, proposes spending nearly $16 million to keep the high-speed rail program alive even if there is no other funding from bond sales or federal grants, and it’s beginning to look as though that may be all money the train scheme gets — enough to keep lawyers, accountants, administrators and planners at work — until the fate of the system is decided.
The HSR plan is under new pressure from a peer review ordered by the state. That Peer Review Group had nothing good to say about the California High-Speed Rail program, and was highly critical of many of its aspects, especially its costs, its claims of what ridership would be and whether it would accomplish any of its long-term goals.
It urged the Legislature to not authorize the sale of voter-approved bonds until such objections could be addressed.
Without the bond sales, promised federal funding is likely to be withdrawn, and that is a real concern. Without federal participation the project is dead.
It would be impossible for California to come up with $100 billion on its own to build the high-speed rail. As with any large public project, the high-speed rail plan has been met with considerable objection from the public as well as from some local governments likely to be affected by the initial stretch of track due to be laid from Merced, through Madera County, down to Bakersfield.
The peer group report questions why track is being laid in the San Joaquin Valley in the first place. They say there is little potential for ridership, compared to the big potential from the Los Angeles and Bay areas. Let’s face it — they’re right.
What worries the peer group most is the unlikelihood that the system ever would recover its costs or be able to sustain its own operations.
If the Legislature says “no” or “let’s wait a while,” the money from the governor’s budget may be the last that the system sees.