Tuesday, April 6, 2010 | California’s rail authority will revisit the once-rejected idea of high-speed trains sharing existing track with commuter lines between Anaheim and Los Angeles, authority chairman Curt Pringle said Monday.
“It makes a lot of sense,” said Pringle, who also is mayor of Anaheim, which will be the southernmost Orange County stop for the proposed high speed train service.
Pringle said he put the issue on the agenda for Thursday’s high speed rail authority meeting and the board could vote to ask staff to reopen research on the possibilities.
The decision to take a second look at shared rail systems came after a letter to Pringle from Arthur T. Leahy, chief executive of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Will Kempton, chief executive of the Orange County Transportation Authority.
The letter “respectfully” urged better cooperation between high speed rail officials and local agencies. The March 23 letter specifically asked the agency to reconsider shared lines, rather than the present plan to create lines solely dedicated to high-speed rail.
The high speed rail project, which was approved by voters in 2008 on the condition that no government subsidies would be used to operate it once it’s completed in 2035, has run into mounting criticism in recent months. Even rail supporters worry that it lacks a realistic business plan, relies too much on commuters for its financial success and isn’t in control of its construction costs.
City officials along the proposed Los Angeles-to-Anaheim formed a unified effort to deal with high speed rail consultants and board members after Buena Park was informed last fall that it might lose part of an award-winning condominium project or its railroad station so that a rail line dedicated to high speed traffic could be installed.
Buena Park Mayor Art Brown said Monday night that rumors had been circulating among rail transit groups for the past few days about the rail authority possibly reopening studies of shared lines in response to a “groundswell of public opinion.”
Buena Park has three rail lines running through its station and, Brown said, if studies determined they would work with high speed rail, it wouldn’t be necessary to tear down and rebuild the train station.
He serves on area rail boards, including the Orange County Transportation Authority, and said the high speed rail authority is likely to face a number of costly and time-consuming lawsuits if it insists on requiring separate rail lines dedicated to high speed trains.
That letter written to Pringle by Kempton and Leahy came after Leahy let loose at high-speed rail planners in comments last month to a group of city and rail officials who oversee the Los Angeles to San Diego rail corridor.
The Los Angeles Times obtained a recording of the session and quoted Leahy as saying:
“We are big-time unhappy with the conduct of the high-speed authority. I really can’t understand their approach. In many cases they’ve ridden roughshod over the host of cities in Orange County and in Los Angeles. They have ignored input and there are assumptions that are just astonishing.”
Leahy noted that requiring a dedicated track for high speed rail would mean taking out hundreds of homes in Anaheim, according to the Times. “I mean, just crazy stuff,” he said.
Kempton said Monday that one objection high-speed rail officials raised in the past to revisiting the idea of shared rail lines was that the research into the routes and needed improvements might interfere with the current planning schedule.
Part of the more than $42 billion needed for construction is $2.5 billion in federal stimulus money that has to be spent within specific time limits.
But Kempton and Pringle both said it might be possible to simply update research conducted before the shared route approach was rejected in 2008.
“We think we can step back and look at the information they’ve already gathered,” Kempton said. “I don’t think there will be a significant delay.”
In their letter to Pringle, Kempton and Leahy noted the Federal Railroad Administration last November issued its first High Speed Passenger Rail Safety Strategy. The plan provides ways for high speed and traditional rail to share corridors.
Pringle on Monday also mentioned the new federal rail study and said updating the Anaheim to Los Angeles research is “really not starting from scratch.” He noted sections of the proposed high speed rail route near San Francisco is planning shared use.
The major objections in the past have been safety and scheduling issues.
If studies determine shared lines would be safe, Kempton said, it would save millions of dollars that now is necessary to route the line through 490 properties in Anaheim as well as building grade separations and a possible tunnel.