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Reacting to criticism from a variety of sources about management of the state's high-speed rail project, the Legislature on Friday moved a second bill to reduce the autonomy of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

The Assembly approved Assembly Bill 145, which would make the authority an advisory body while shifting control of the project to a new state agency called the Department of High-Speed Trains.

The move comes after the Senate on Wednesday voted 26-12 vote to approve Senate Bill 517, which would shift the HSRA into the state Business, Transportation and Housing Agency. Its author is Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, who has been one of the project's sharpest legislative critics.

As envisioned, high-speed trains would connect the southern and northern metropolitan areas of the state through the San Joaquin Valley at speeds up to 200 miles per hour. It's to be financed with a $9.95 billion bond issue already approved by voters plus funds from the federal government and outside investors.

Controversies have erupted over routes and what critics say is a faulty business plan that relies on inflated ridership estimates. A number of outside organizations, including the Legislature's budget analyst, MacTaylor, have joined in the critical chorus.

During Friday's brief floor debate, Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, R-Laguna Niguel, warned colleagues that the project is a looming financial disaster. But the author of AB 145, Livingston Democrat Cathleen Galgiani replied, "The train has left the station. We're trying to make go on the right track." Her measure was approved by a 50-16 vote.


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