Trouble on the tracks for high speed rail

This image provided by the California High-Speed Rail Authority shows an artist's conception of a high-speed rail car in California. Officials on Thursday Dec. 2, 2010 approved a $4.3 billion proposal to build California's first segment of high-speed rail line that would run through the state's agricultural heart. (AP Photo/California High-Speed Rail Authority)

January 3, 2012 10:30:57 PM PST
A special committee, appointed by state lawmakers, is putting the future of California's massive plan for high speed rail in jeopardy. The committee is now recommending against funding the start of construction. This could be a major blow for advocates for high speed rail. A panel of experts says it's not wise to spend $6 billion to start construction when future funding is uncertain.

The vision was to link Sacramento and San Francisco to Los Angeles by high speed rail -- a project with a $98.5 billion price tag. Voters approved $9 billion in bonds in 2008. But the appointed Peer Review Committee said there's no solid plan in place to cover the remaining $90 billion. In its critical report, the committee wrote, "We do not think that the current description constitutes a feasible business model."

Assm. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, is a high speed rail supporter, but he is taking the criticism to heart.

"I think we're hearing the same message. It just seems the message is coming from a good, reliable, credible source at this point in time, and I think that's really telling us a lot and showing us that maybe the direction that we're thinking about going is not the correct direction that we should be going," said Hill.

The high speed rail project requires the Peer Review Committee to recommend to the Legislature whether to borrow the money to start construction; $6 billion is needed to work on the Central Valley section. A group called Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design declined an interview, but issued a statement saying, "This is a devastating critique. They're not even saying the plan doesn't work -- they're saying there is no plan."

The Palo Alto City Council two weeks ago voted to oppose the high speed rail project. ABC7 spoke to councilmember Pat Burt and asked him if he thinks this recommendation will end all the controversy and debate. He replied, "I'm not sure it will. The legislature is obligated to rely on the Peer Review Committee as the independent experts to advise them on whether they should release bond dollars for this project."

The state Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown must now review the committee's work and decide whether to put high speed rail on hold or whether to proceed.