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High Speed Rail: A 'Department of High-Speed Trains'?

Concerns regarding the oversight of high-speed rail in San Mateo County and the rest of the state produce bills in the assembly and the senate.

Lawmakers in Sacramento, increasingly concerned about the amount of oversight - or lack thereof -  they wield over the development of high-speed rail in California,  this week passed bills that give more control to the legislature.

According to the website Government Technology, the Assembly on Friday passed AB 145, which would create a Department of High-Speed Trains and turn the current overseer of the project, the California High-Speed Rail Authority, into an advisor for the project. The bill passed the Assembly on a 50-16 vote, and will now be considered by the California Senate.

On Wednesday, the Senate passed SB 517, which makes the HSRA a part of the state Business, Transportation and Housing Agency. That piece of potential law will now move to the Assembly.

Meanwhile, the HSRA Board of Directors on Thursday announced the election of Thomas J. Umberg to be its chairman, replacing Curt Pringle whose term ended after two years. Umberg is an attorney with the law firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips.

The HSRA is the state agency that has been empowered to develop blueprints for a plan that links Southern California with its neighbors to the north using a train traveling through the San Joaquin Valley that could travel at speeds nearing 200 mph.  Reaction to the idea of a high-speed rail line traveling through San Mateo County on its way to San Francisco has been mixed.

Construction is tentatively planned to begin in the Fresno area in 2012. A nearly $10 billion bond approved by voters in November 2008 pays for some of the cost. The federal government has also contributed monies, including newly-available funds originally intended for Florida, which has rejected the idea of high-speed rail.

According to the Government Technology website, an audit of the HSRA ordered because of testimony of the authority’s officials in the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee earlier this year uncovered “significant inadequacies in the management practices” of the HSRA, including “a finding that contractors were paid $4 million in fees without documentation that work was actually performed.”

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