A new, $64 billion business plan for California’s planned high-speed rail system lacks important financial details and calls for ending the first segment in a questionable rural area north of Bakersfield that has few amenities for travelers, California’s independent legislative analyst said in a report Thursday.
“Even with a temporary station or platform, ending the (line) in an unpopulated agricultural area does not appear to be an effective approach,” the Legislative Analyst’s Office wrote. “This location would not have the types of facilities and nearby businesses, such as transit connections, rental car facilities, and shops necessary to meet the needs of train passengers.”
The Legislative Analyst’s Office urged state lawmakers to require more detailed planning on the cost, scope and schedule of each high-speed rail segment, noting that the project’s every-other-year business plans make numerous changes that make it hard to compare costs over time.
Still, analysts say the rail authority’s new plan to first build north to the Bay Area instead of to Southern California makes some sense.
With future funding uncertain, officials last month called for building the first 250-mile segment from north of Bakersfield to San Jose. It would begin operating in 2025 – three years later and 50 miles shorter than the original planned route that would have gone to the San Fernando Valley.
Backers said the plan lets the state build an operating portion of the line without relying on additional money that might never come. Supporters hope construction will generate momentum and private investment to pay for the rest of the project south to the Los Angeles area.
The legislative analyst also questioned the math on that: “It is unclear whether the system will actually generate an operating surplus. Moreover, the plan estimates that the amount of funding that could be generated would fall significantly short … and does not identify how this shortfall would be met.”
The updated plans reflect political realities that have confronted the project in the years since 2008, when voters approved selling nearly $10 billion in bonds for a high-speed rail network linking Northern and Southern California. The last business plan, approved in 2014, called for the entire 520-mile system to be finished in 2028 at a cost of $68 billion.
The legislative analyst also noted there is uncertainty about one of the key ongoing funding sources, revenue from the state’s fee on greenhouse gas pollution, which is expected to generate $600 million for the project this year. That program is only authorized through 2020, the report noted.
The High-Speed Rail Authority did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.