Charged California rail debate rolls into House committee

But Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), who is chairman of Transportation and Infrastructure's subcommittee on Railroads, cited recent polling showing support for the railway had declined since it was approved by California voters in 2008.

"I'm not going to speak for California, but I do believe Californians want a mulligan on this. They want a do-over," he said.

Shuster said he supports high-speed rail, but believes "we have to do it in a sensible way."

Republicans from California who were testifying before the committee Thursday were inclined to agree with Shuster.

"If we build this train at the cost that have been discussed, we'll call it the train from nowhere, we'll call it the Orient Express, because that's who will own it," Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) said.

"I just want to see a project on time, on budget and off [agricultural] land," said a California Republican on the Transportation Committee, Rep. Jeff Denham.

"If there's a $33 billion project out there, I'd be all for it," he said.

Supporters of high-speed rail were equally as steadfast Thursdsay.

"The worst thing you can do is try to lead by polls," Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo said. "There's no denying the need of this project to California and how it's going to affect our nation's economy.

"We can either continue to increase the capacity of our highways and airports to meet the population growth, or we can move into the 21st century," California High Speed Rail Authority CEO Roelof Van Ark said. 

That did not convince GOP leaders of the Transportation Committee, which labeled Thursday's hearing as an examination of the "skyrocketing costs" and "growing concerns" about the California proposal. 

"This thing is going to be a boondoggle," Shuster said. "California is not gonna be able to afford it."

Thursday's debate followed a similar confrontation between the GOP-led House Transportation Committee and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood last week.

The California railway proposal has received more money from the Obama administration than any other project, making it a prime target for GOP rail critics.