California Said to Trim $30 Billion From High-Speed Rail Cost

The price of a high-speed passenger rail system in California (STOCA1) would drop by $30 billion, or almost a third, under a revised plan to be released next week, according to a person briefed on the proposal.

The project, to connect San Francisco to Los Angeles, would cost $68.4 billion, down from the $98.5 billion estimated in November, according to the person, who wasn’t authorized to speak on the matter publicly. The California High-Speed Rail Authority is scheduled to unveil the revised plan, first reported by the Sacramento Bee, on April 2.

California is the only U.S. state working to lay tracks for trains to run as fast as 220 miles an hour (354 kilometers an hour) an hour, after Congress cut off 2012 funds for such projects. In January, a state legislative review panel recommended against selling debt to start the project.

The new plan calls for a main line running down the center of the state from Merced, about 120 miles south of Sacramento, the capital, to the San Fernando Valley, north of Los Angeles, the person said. It would then connect to the population centers of Los Angeles and San Francisco by upgrades made to existing commuter and freight lines.

Governor Jerry Brown has defended the project, while declining to identify potential funding sources. Gil Duran, a spokesman for the governor, said he had no comment today.

The initial plan, which quickly became dubbed the “train to nowhere,” had called for building the first phase in the state’s Central Valley, where fewer people live, and didn’t explain how the rest of the project would be financed.

Auditor Criticized

State Auditor Elaine Howle criticized the plan in January as lacking specifics about how the state might come up with the money. California has received commitments for $3.5 billion in federal funds for the project. State officials have said they plan to rely on a mix of government and private investment to complete the line, including as much as $9.95 billion in bonds approved by voters in 2008.

Brown will ask lawmakers in the next few weeks to approve spending some of the bond money to start construction. State Treasurer Bill Lockyer would then sell the bonds.

In January, the high-speed rail board’s chairman and chief executive officer both announced they were stepping down amid criticism of the plan’s route through sparsely populated areas and the $98 billion price tag, twice what was projected when the project was submitted to voters.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael B. Marois in Sacramento at mmarois@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net

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