High-speed rail project suffers from budget cuts

The Associated Press
Wednesday May 16, 2001

SACRAMENTO — Supporters of California’s proposed high-speed rail system hope lawmakers will provide some money to keep the project on track despite Gov. Gray Davis’ decision to cut off most funding. 

“I’m optimistic that we will be able to get something back in the budget, but it certainly will not be a very aggressive expansion in the next year or two,” Richard Silver, executive director of the Train Riders Association of California, said Tuesday. 

The current state budget includes $5 million to begin the three years of environmental reviews that are needed before the state could begin building the 700-mile, $26 billion system. 

High-speed rail planners had asked the governor for another $14 million to continue the studies during the fiscal year that starts July 1. 

But Davis included no money for the studies in the revised budget plan he unveiled Monday, although he left in place about $1 million to run the High-Speed Rail Authority, the agency overseeing the studies. 

The governor said a slowing economy had forced him to cut almost $3.2 billion in tax cuts and spending increases from the budget plan he initially proposed in January. 

“We were looking for areas to reduce rather than areas to expand,” said Sandy Harrison, a spokesman for Davis’ Department of Finance. 

Silver, whose group supports high-speed rail, said California has to develop the system to cope with population growth and that postponing the studies would cost the state more in the long run. 

By delaying the studies, the greater the chance the previous work will lose its value and force planners to start over again, Silver said. 

He said he hoped to convince lawmakers to add $5 million or $6 million to the budget to at least continue the environmental reviews on the route between Bakersfield and Los Angeles. 

“That’s probably the single most important development in high-speed rail,” he said.  

“It would benefit freight and passengers. If we can move forward on that there is some value to it.” 

The system would link Sacramento, the Bay Area, Los Angeles and San Diego with trains running at speeds of up to 220 mph.  

Advocates say it could be built in stages, with the Los Angeles-to-Bakersfield stretch as an obvious starting point. 

There’s no direct passenger train service between the two cities now, and freight trains are forced to take a long, slow route over the mountains between the San Joaquin Valley and Los Angeles Basin. 

Medhi Morshed, the authority’s executive director, cut short a stay at a high-speed rail conference in Milwaukee and was hurrying back to Sacramento on Tuesday after learning of Davis’ decision. 

He said he was surprised the governor didn’t include any study funding in his revised budget plan. 

“They’ve known all along that the environmental work would cost (a total of) $25 million,” Morshed said. “We could have avoided spending $5 million for no good reason.” 

He said he didn’t have enough information to predict if lawmakers would include any money for the studies in the budget bill they will send to Davis this summer. 

The governor could veto or reduce whatever lawmakers appropriate. 

On the Net: Read the plan at www.cahighspeedrail