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The latest plan for building a California bullet train system got a very conditional blessing Tuesday from a "peer review committee" of transportation experts.

Will Kempton, the veteran transportation official who heads the committee, told a Senate hearing that the latest revision is "measurably improved" from previous versions.

"It's more reasonable and realistic than previous proposals," said Kempton, who runs the Orange County Transportation Authority.

Senators are weighing whether to give the California High-Speed Rail Authority permission to begin construction on a $6 billion initial segment in the San Joaquin Valley.

Kempton stopped short of recommending approval, but he did say that before money is committed, the Legislature should make sure that there's a competent management structure in place, that the risks are fully weighed, especially whether more money will be forthcoming from the federal government, and that the authority update ridership and operating cost projections.

The rail authority and Gov. Jerry Brown have floated the idea that if the feds don't appropriate more high-speed rail money, the state could complete the $68 billion project with proceeds of the new "cap-and-trade" fees on carbon emissions. The legality of using those funds has been questioned.


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