The California High-Speed Rail Authority began drumming up private industry interest in the $43 billion project Wednesday, asking “several thousand” large and small companies how they could help build and maintain the planned Anaheim to San Francisco system.

No cost estimates were immediately available for the team that will be hired to analyze the replies, which officials said are expected to come in from all over the world.

The first $5.5 billion leg of the rail system is scheduled to be built between Fresno and Bakersfield.

The project, whose overall construction manager is Parsons Brinckerhoff, has been criticized in a series of state audits and analysis for paying millions of dollars in bills without invoices and other financial problems. Political leaders on the authority’s nine-member board also have been found to have conflicts of interest between their rail duties and other government positions. High Speed Rail officials have said those problems are being fixed.

But a report by the authority’s own peer review committee faulted the rail leadership for moving ahead without even a basic business plan and for inaccurate ridership estimates.

Jeff Barker, the authority’s deputy executive director, told a telephone news conference Wednesday that the business plan wasn’t necessary to start construction. The plan was supposed to be ready February 1 but now a draft isn’t expected until roughly October.

For now, said Barker, “it’s time to turn to the private sector.”

The expressions of private interest aren’t a legally required part of the procurement process, according to a High Speed Rail news release but are “an opportunity for the private sector to formally weigh in on the largest infrastructure project in the nation by outlining their interest in the project.”

The actual legal bidding process for the Central Valley leg is expected to begin this spring.


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