California high-speed rail seeks private investors, input

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The California High-Speed Rail Authority has received 35 responses from private companies interested in financing, building and operating the first 300-mile segment of the controversial rail project. Officials say the responses are a positive sign of private interest after lawmakers last year dedicated a long-term funding source.

Chief Executive Jeff Morales declined to provide details Friday about what the companies told the agency or make public the responses, saying officials are still reviewing them and plan to meet with the companies over the next two months.

The authority provided a list of 35 firms that replied, including London-based Barclays Bank, a group called the Chinese High Speed Rail Delivery Team and several large international construction and engineering firms with offices in the United States, such as Bechtel Infrastructure Corporation, Siemens Industry Inc. and AECOM.

Laura Mason, business development manager for Bechtel’s North America public infrastructure division, said the company offered its expertise in public-private high-speed rail partnerships in the United Kingdom and Korea.

“It will take new model of contracting that hasn’t been seen before,” she said of the California project.

Several other firms contacted Friday did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.

Facing criticism from opponents for the lack of private investors lining up to finance the $68 billion project, the rail authority asked private firms to respond to a list of questions on how to reduce costs, speed up construction and attract more private-sector investment for a segment from Merced to Burbank, which is scheduled to start operating in 2022.

“Until now we have been saying ‘There will be private sector interest.’ Now the private sector is saying ‘There will be private sector interest,'” Morales said Friday.

He said the responses allow the rail authority to benefit from “the collective experience of firms who’ve delivered big projects who can help us determine the best path forward.”

The state Legislature agreed last year to provide the first ongoing source of financial support to the project: a quarter of all revenues from the state’s greenhouse gas emissions program in which companies buy and sell pollution credits. That amounted to $250 million last year and could eventually total $3 billion to $5 billion a year. Voters in 2008 also approved nearly $10 billion in bonds for the project, and the federal government has committed $3.5 billion in matching funds.

Still, California’s project faces political uncertainty in Washington, D.C. as Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, of Bakersfield, seeks to become the next speaker. He previously has vowed to “do whatever I can to ensure that not one dollar of federal funds is directed to this project.”

Rail officials are expected to brief the board of directors on the industry responses at a board meeting next week.

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