Plans for State’s High-Speed Train System Derailed Again

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California will scale back plans for an Anaheim to San Francisco high-speed rail system, the Wall Street Journal reports, possibly making the Central Valley the only high-speed zone.

State rail officials are scheduled to submit a new business plan Nov. 1. The project has been plagued by management, contractor and consultant problems even before breaking ground.

Voters approved the high-speed rail proposal in 2008 on the condition that no state money would be used to operate the completed system. California Rail Authority officials predicted trains would whisk travelers between Los Angeles and San Francisco at speeds up to 220 miles per hour in less than two hours and 40 minutes.

But the authority failed to communicate with many communities and businesses around the state that would be hurt by the project, including Buena Park and large and small agricultural interests in the Central Valley. That failure created blocs of opposition in a number of areas, including communities around San Francisco.

More significantly, Republicans in Congress have threatened to stop future federal funding and already have limited expected allocations.

According to the Journal, California rail officials are considering cutting the original route and using existing rail lines.

From the Journal story:

Roelof van Ark, chief executive of the California rail authority, said private investors, including rail operators and construction companies from Europe and Asia, have voiced interest in high-speed rail. The catch: Investors want to see a link to San Francisco or Los Angeles closer to completion before they put in billions, he said. It is precisely that link for which the state needs money.

Mr. van Ark said the new business plan would include scaled-back options that would link the new track to existing commuter transit lines in the two cities and, as a last resort, perhaps Amtrak lines.

Rather than operating a separate high-speed rail service, the state could let the new track be incorporated into Amtrak’s existing service until more funding became available, he said. That would slow the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles travel time — which project planners have envisioned as less than three hours — and make rail less competitive with the 80-minute flight.

Some conservatives in Congress and in the California Legislature, as well as landowners affected by track construction, argue that the state should scrap the high-speed-rail project and use the money already in hand to upgrade existing lines. State Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, a Republican, called the project a “pipe dream” and added: “It can’t be paid for the way people were promised. Federal funding is not materializing.” She also objected to the project “cutting large swaths through huge parcels of productive farmland.”

Supporters, mainly Democrats in California’s Legislature and on Capitol Hill, in addition to the Obama administration, say the project can be built in phases. They say rail is needed to handle the state’s rising population and absorb demand from choked highways.

— TRACY WOOD

 

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