In Governor Newsom’s State of the State address, he clearly and correctly stated many reasons why the present HSR project was not achievable and he proposed to continue on with a much-reduced project.

Rather than build a SF to LA to Anaheim HSR train, which would surely cost at least $100 billion, and is short of full funding by over $60 billion, Newsom now proposes to construct only about 160 miles of HSR tracks on a route from Merced to Bakersfield. Somehow this is to be a widely used and desperately needed segment, and, at least in his eyes, certainly not a “train to nowhere.”Merced population 83,000… Fresno City and County population 900,000… Bakersfield population 400,000. How will this route generate the ridership needed to avoid a public subsidy – a requirement under the high-speed rail bond act?

Already the Authority has spent $5 billion, and to complete this 160 miles is estimated to cost another $15 billion or so.

Newsom declares this scaled back project is practical and he claims funding for this limited segment will be available.

If Newsom really wants to build a useful and practical train, he should direct that this segment be built, not as an electrified HSR segment, but as an ordinary set of rail tracks, diesel powered, not needing expensive grade separations, but capable of speeds of 110 MPH.

Using cost estimates from other segments, the total cost for the 160 miles could be built at a cost range of $1 billion to $2 billion.   Of course this couldn’t be done with high-speed rail bond funds, but it could be done with cap & trade and other state funds, and the high-speed rail bond funds already spent could be reimbursed –and the bond retired. As Congressman Mark DeSaulnier has observed, the 2008 bond set unrealistic requirements that can’t be met.

Voters should be presented with a new and realistic bond measure, based on which they can decide whether high-speed rail is worth its cost.

Newsom has taken a needed first step in his effort to build something practical and useful, by firing the Chair of the Authority, Dan Richard.

But this is only the first of a set of leadership changes absolutely needed at the Authority.

The entire board of the Authority needs to be replaced. The Board has done nothing but rubber stamp disastrous policies and actions for the last 10 years. They should all be terminated. Replacements should be experienced and knowledgeable, not political cronies; no representatives from labor Unions and no land developers.

The Peer review committee needs a complete new set of members. This committee has been dominated by one individual, whose sole purpose has been to keep the project moving ahead.

Governor Newsom has promised a new era going forward, which will include better oversight and transparency.

What I have observed thus far has not been encouraging.

At the January HSR board meeting, Chair Dan Richard made a statement that a “directive” had been received from Governor Newsom’s office and that the Governor wanted all of the recent State Auditor’s recommendations to be implemented quickly.  Richard stated the Authority was certainly going to comply.

I immediately sent to the Authority a public record request for a copy of this “directive”, to which the Authority responded they found no such item.  A public record request to Governor Newsom’s office, for a copy of this “directive” yielded the same response.

This is supposedly the era of new transparency!