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High speed rail executives on hotseat as latest plan undergoes California lawmaker review

California High Speed Rail Authority
State lawmakers questioned high speed rail officials about their latest plan to begin the bullet train construction in Northern California.

High speed rail officials came under pointed questioning in Sacramento Monday as state lawmakers sought answers to questions about the latest plan for the bullet train.

A state Senate oversight committee probed into why officials scrapped plans to build the bullet train route in Southern California first, deciding instead that the $64 billion project — already beset by delays and cost overruns — would begin in the north instead.

Lawmakers also pointed to a glaring omission: officials still have no funding plan to complete the southern section of the San Francisco to Los Angeles route.

State Sen. Jim Beall, a Democrat representing San Jose, was hungry for more details.

"I'd like to see [the plan] beefed up. You’re a little soft in my opinion. I want more beef," he said.

The shift in construction plans also spurred Assemblyman David Hadley, a Republican whose district is in the South Bay, to introduce a bill that would divert cap and trade funds from the train and redirect them to local transit projects in the Los Angeles area. 

"The purpose of the bill is to make sure cap and trade funds are spent in a way consistent with the 2014 budgeting process," he said.

Hadley said cap and trade revenues promised for the project were predicated on the idea that the train would alleviate pollution for disadvantaged communities in Southern California, where the first section of the completed train was originally intended to run.

The California High Speed Rail Authority issued a statement disputing Hadley’s assertion: “The California High-Speed Rail Authority is moving forward to build and operate the high-speed rail program in accordance with all laws and requirements, including benefitting disadvantaged communities throughout California.”

Hadley's bill has little chance of advancing in the Democratic-controlled legislature. But like many Republicans, Hadley opposes the train altogether and said he hears similar discontent from his constituents.

"The project has lots of problems no matter where you start," Hadley said.

Critics are also collecting signatures for a ballot measure to defund the train and use the remaining $8 billion in bonds for water infrastructure, although a recent poll found a majority of Californians still support the project.

This story has been updated.