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U.S. report backs bullet train revenue forecasts

The GAO study says that the project's ridership and revenue forecasts are reasonable but it renews concerns about future funding.

March 29, 2013|By Ralph Vartabedian, Los Angeles Times

The California bullet train project has reasonable ridership and revenue forecasts, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office, but it could be doing a better job at producing cost estimates.

The report, which was leaked Thursday to the news media, appears to run counter to widespread criticism of the state rail authority's ridership revenue estimates and is likely to provide a dose of good news to the controversial project. But at the same time, the 90-page report renews concerns about future funding for the $68.4-billion venture. It will depend on the federal government for $38.7 billion and private sources for $13.1 billion, which the report terms "one of the biggest challenges to completing this project."

The report was requested by Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), the House Republican Whip and a strident bullet train critic who has worked to block additional funding.

"Apart from the questionable business plan, fluctuating cost estimates and lack of public support, the California High-Speed Rail Authority's continued reliance on additional federal spending is naive and misguided at best," McCarthy said in a statement Thursday. "The authority's plan is irresponsible and reckless, and that is why I am developing legislation to stop more hard-earned taxpayer dollars from being wasted on California high-speed rail."

A spokesman for the rail authority said it had not seen the report and could not comment on it.

The GAO had been recommending to the authority that it use a set of guidelines to estimate the cost of the project and said that the authority has only adopted some of its recommendations. As a result, it could face "increased risk of such things as cost overruns, missed deadlines and un-met performance targets."

Separately, Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday appointed Katherine Perez-Estolano, an adjunct professor at USC and co-founder of urban consulting firm Estolano LeSar Perez Advisors LLC, to the authority's board of directors.

ralph.vartabedian@latimes.com

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