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Jerry Brown's Waterloo Station? California high-speed rail takes a new hit.

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The significance of the congressional probe is that it threatens to disrupt federal funding. High-speed rail officials intend to pay for half the project's costs with federal funds, but they are running into roadblocks. Republicans in Congress largely oppose President Obama’s plans to make high-speed rail available to 80 percent of Americans by 2037. The California project is a key part of Mr. Obama’s vision.

But the California plan has been taking flak in recent months:

  • A January report by the state auditor concluded that California’s proposed bullet train is “increasingly risky” and has inadequate oversight. 
  • Three weeks before that, an independent panel required by law to review the plans said the bullet train poses “an immense financial risk.”
  • In November, California's independent Legislative Analyst’s Office said parts of the plan don’t comply with the 2008 ballot measure that authorized state funding for the project. 

Now Congressman Issa is ramping up scrutiny of the federal government’s role.

"California high-speed rail was sold to voters as a grand vision for tomorrow but in practice appears to be no different than countless other pork-barrel projects – driven more by political interests and consultant spending than valid cost-benefit analysis," he said in a statement. "Before more taxpayer money is sent to the rail authority, questions must be answered about mismanagement, conflicts of interest, route selection, ridership and other risks."

Some political analysts dismiss the significance of the probe. “I don't suspect that this investigation and potentially hearings would be taken particularly seriously,” says Corey Cook, associate professor of public affairs at the University of San Francisco.

But the investigation does add another potential hurdle for a project already facing many.

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