Top U.S. Rail Official Backs High Speed Rail

Endorsement follows Capitol meeting with Gov. Jerry Brown

After weeks of bleak headlines questioning the cost and the feasibility of California's High Speed Rail project, Gov. Jerry Brown is seeking to move off defense and change the narrative

He met Thursday at the state Capitol with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who has made several stops this week around the state to discuss the project.  Afterward, LaHood offered strong support for the rail project.

LaHood said in his discussions, he had "found a strong base of support for the California High Speed Rail project, from workers who will build it, manufacturers that will supply the trains to run on it and businesses that will benefit from using it."

LaHood added, "I look forward to working with Gov. Brown to make this project as successful as possible."

The federal government has already committed $3.5 billion as part of the start up costs for the fledgling project, which hopes to break ground for construction later this year in the Central Valley.  That is just a fraction of the ultimate construction cost, however, which led the state Auditor's office recently to question the financing.

LaHood also toured the Siemens plant this week in South Sacramento, which designs and manufactures light rail vehicles for customers in North America.

To blunt criticism about the project's estimated $98 billion cost, Gov. Brown has been talking up the jobs aspect of the plan.  In fact, a coalition of labor groups and contractors have started running radio ads, featuring comedian Will Durst, focusing on the potential for job creation.

Brown released a statement Thursday, calling the project "a key step in modernizing our transportation system".

The project still faces big problems from skeptical lawmakers in Sacramento and Washington.  But the governor has decided to stake his reputation on putting this train back on the tracks, and building a legacy similar to that of his father's.

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