Monday, July 9, 2012

Did CAHSRA reject full financing from SNCF?

The LA Times recently ran a story about how SNCF proposed running the Central Valley portion of the Los Angeles-San Francisco high speed rail line along the I-5 corridor, for a significantly reduced cost and transit time. Apparently there was even more to the story.

Richard Mlynarik, a famously harsh critic of the High Speed Rail Authority, comments:
It gets better.
Much better.
David Schonbrunn reports:
Your otherwise excellent story “High-speed rail officials rebuffed proposal from French railway” was far too kind to California High-Speed Rail Authority officials. At the time of its proposal, SNCF had the investment backing to actually build the LA-SF line, in a deal that sheltered the State from the risk of subsidizing an unprofitable project.
The Authority’s 2012 Business Plan covered up this offer, instead insisting that no private capital would be willing to invest until the first high-speed line showed a profit. The $6 billion Central Valley project approved last week by the Legislature thus exposes the State to unlimited operating losses. Worse yet, before that line can be completed, it will need an additional $27 billion from the federal government — quite unlikely in today’s political climate.
I’d sure like to understand the thinking behind the rejection of the French offer.
It’s unfortunate the story didn’t run earlier. It would have informed the Legislature’s debate.
Any conspiracy theory you can think up about PBQD=CHSRA corruption? Not half as bad as the truth.
 Now, of course, there are the normal caveats to be employed. Neither Richard nor David are neutral sources; Richard is certainly hostile to the Authority and TRANSDEF appears to be as well. Furthermore, these are currently unsourced claims on the Internet: without seeing the original presentation or other document in which that investment backing or offer was made, I can't attest to the veracity of such a claim.

If, however, and that is a very big if, this is true, this is corruption and theft of the highest order. If there is not a law appropriate, then the Constitution be damned, create one and attaint those responsible for it. There is literally no reason why such an offer should ever have been rejected; connection of Fresno, Bakersfield, and the other CV cities is not only a secondary goal, but one that could have been accomplished by the state putting forth funds to create a cheaper, slower (though still significantly faster than current rail service), secondary line, assuming that greenfield stations could not adequately serve them to begin with.

I really would prefer that this is either a misunderstanding or a lie; I do recall claims of financing by Authority members which were completely bogus and this could very well be more of the same (given that it was Diridion, I don't believe that it was in reference to this proposal). However, the Authority does need to come out and clear things up about what precisely SNCF proposed and why the Authority rejected it. Not simply because of this allegation, but also in response to the Los Angeles Times story and in the interests of government transparency to the highest degree possible.

Edit: TheTransportPolitic's latest post reminds me that in 2009, SNCF endorsed the Authority's CV route, so there may be some misinformation or misunderstanding at hand by the LA Times.

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