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California High-Speed Rail Authority Says Plans Still On Track Despite Setbacks

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – The California High-Speed Rail Authority lowered its estimated future revenue based on new ridership projections in a report released Friday that also slightly lowered the project’s $68 billion price tag.

Despite legal setbacks, the agency is leaving unchanged its timeline to begin construction later this year. Rail authority officials have warned that the protracted court battles over the bullet train’s financing could cause serious delays, but the updated business plan does not reflect that concern.

More robust analyses of population, traffic and other factors show the system will have more riders taking shorter trips than previously forecast, the rail authority report said, bringing in revenue that is lower than originally projected – 5 percent lower in 2025 and 10 percent lower in 2040. Nevertheless, the report says the system will still be able to operate without a taxpayer subsidy.

The shorter trips also will push operations and maintenance costs higher, the report said.

The overall cost to build the train system is now forecast to be $67.6 billion, down from the $68.4 billion projected two years ago.

The rail authority is required by law to update its business plan every two years, and the latest draft largely projects a rosy picture for a project that has suffered repeated setbacks in recent months. After saying construction would begin last summer, officials now are projecting a spring start for work in the Central Valley.

“The Authority is staying focused on delivering its commitment to implement a statewide high-speed rail system that will tie together northern, central and southern California cities in a way that they have never been connected before,” the report said.

The plan released Friday is separate from a financing plan that was thrown out by a Sacramento County Superior Court judge in a case now on appeal. The judge ruled that the rail authority violated the terms of Proposition 1A, which voters approved in 2008, by failing to identify how it will pay for the entire first segment, which is projected to cost $31 billion.

In one scenario presented in Friday’s plan, the system would have a $50 million operating deficit in 2022, although revenue would climb sufficiently to cover costs in future years, the report said.

 

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.

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