Group endorses Davis' rail proposal

(The following article by Sharon Noguchi was published in the San Jose Mercury News.)

SAN JOSE -- Not all budget cuts are being bemoaned.

A primary-rail advocacy group applauds Gov. Gray Davis' proposal to dissolve the High Speed Rail Authority and hand over its responsibilities to Caltrans.

``Caltrans has more expertise and depth in train operations, project management, environmental review and serving travel needs. The rail authority staff lacks any real-world experience, and has never dealt with a construction project,'' said Alan Miller, executive director of the Train Riders Association of California.

Gov. Gray Davis has proposed to eliminate the rail authority's funding, and to transfer the four staff positions to Caltrans. The authority's mission is to create a rail line with speedy trains that could reach Los Angeles from San Jose in two hours.

TRAC members think that the rail authority has ignored public input. They criticize the authority's decision on routing, which eliminates the Altamont Pass from consideration and studies only a Pacheco Pass approach to the Bay Area.

But the Pacheco route is favored by South Bay lobbyists, who want the train's first stop in the Bay Area to be in San Jose.

``We view Caltrans as being significantly more responsive to public input than the High Speed Rail Authority, which has shut the public out of its decisions about train routing,'' said Dan McNamara, a TRAC board member from San Carlos. ``Obviously it is time to put high-speed rail in the hands of an agency that understands California's concerns about environmental impacts.''

The little-known authority has suffered from the whiff of scandal. Chairman Rod Diridon invited rail builders to a fundraiser for Davis, a day after the governor agreed to put a bond measure for the rail project on the 2004 ballot. The fundraiser was canceled. Diridon also solicited rail contractors to contribute to his son's unsuccessful campaign for state Assembly.

Both Diridon and state Sen. Dean Florez, D-Bakersfield, have criticized the governor's proposal. Florez's mother is a member of the high-speed rail authority board.

Monday, February 24, 2003

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