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Will Kempton, who chairs a "peer review" committee that has been sharply critical of the state's highly controversial bullet train project, sounded a more positive note Monday during testimony to the Assembly Transportation Committee.

Kempton, a veteran transportation executive who is chief executive of the Orange County Transportation Authority, told the committee that the California High-Speed Rail Authority's recently revised business plan answers some of his committee's criticism, but still leaves the project's long-term finances in doubt. The committee is still working on a formal response to the new business plan.

The new plan still proposes to build an initial segment in the San Joaquin Valley but, in response to criticisms from the peer review committee and others, also proposes to link that section to Los Angeles soon thereafter.

Gov. Jerry Brown and the CHSRA are asking the Legislature to appropriate money from a state bond issue that would be combined with federal funds to build the San Joaquin Valley segment, but there's still no firm financing for the extension to Southern California.

Kempton cited financing and the lack of a competent project management team as "risk levels" that the Legislature must consider before deciding to appropriate construction funds.

Dan Richard, the CHSRA chairman, told the committee that the management team is being recruited now and reiterated that he and Brown see proceeds of auctioning carbon emission credits under the state's new anti-global warming law as the backup source of financing if more federal money is not available.

But the Legislature's budget analyst and other authorities have questioned whether "cap-and-trade" funds could be legally used for the bullet train.


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