High Speed Rail Authority accused of skewing numbers

May 6, 2010 6:52:00 PM PDT
The controversial high speed rail project to link Northern and Southern California got slapped with a lawsuit on Thursday. It was a legal attack that Menlo Park and Atherton were all too eager to join. The lawsuit claims that proponents of the plan to bring the train through the Peninsula, gamed the numbers.

The latest lawsuit against the California High Speed Rail project claims the ridership numbers are rigged.

Those projections were used to decide one of the most contentious segments of the 800-mile system: the Pacheco Pass from the Central Valley to the Bay Area or the Altamont Pass, which crosses over to the Bay Area further north.

Ultimately, the High Speed Rail Authority chose the Pacheco Pass.

"Our expert has concluded that the model was jimmied essentially, so as to come out with higher ridership for Pacheco than it should have," says David Schonbrunn from the Transportation Solutions Defense & Education Fund.

The plaintiffs say they used the High Speed Rail Authority's own forecasts and on a per capita basis, the numbers don't seem right.

They says a Merced resident would ride the bullet train more than 20 times a year, a Gilroy resident would ride it more than 17 times a year, while a Los Angeles resident, would barely use it once a year.

"They rigged the model so extremely, in my view, that they screwed up the LA numbers," says Rich Tolmach from the California Rail Foundation.

The High Speed Rail Authority says it never skewed numbers.

In fact, the method used to project ridership was praised last month by a leading trade journal for being "robust and accurate."

"There was no attempt to try to build preference through ridership in any fashion," says Curt Pringle, the High Speed Rail Authority chairman.

Lawsuits could prevent California from meeting important deadlines. Because federal stimulus money is partially funding this project, the state must break ground by September of 2012.

Any portion of the $43 billion project still tied up in lawsuits by then will likely miss out on that first round of funding.