A story in Saturday’s Los Angeles Times reports on the desire of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to give California commuters a taste of high-speed rail before he leaves office at the end of the year.

The governor’s demonstration route would run between San Diego and Los Angeles along the current Amtrak Pacific Surfliner corridor, Jeffrey M. Barker, spokesman for the California High Speed Rail Authority said in an e-mail to Voice of OC.

That route generally runs north from San Diego, along the coast by Camp Pendleton, into southern Orange County to Irvine, then to Anaheim and Fullerton, and on to Los Angeles.

When the full proposed high-speed rail project is built, it will bypass southern Orange County. A high-speed line in Orange County will run only from Anaheim to Los Angeles. The high-speed rail route between San Diego and Los Angeles would go inland from San Diego to Riverside, Ontario Airport and then into Los Angeles.

From the Times story:

The governor has proposed to the federal government that a demonstration project be set up on the rail link between San Diego and Los Angeles, one of the busiest commuter corridors in the nation. He would like it in place by November, two months before he leaves office.

The intercity line would go much slower than the proposed 220 mph bullet train. However, transportation officials say it would probably go a bit faster than conventional trains and make the trip between San Diego and Los Angeles in 2 hours and 10 minutes — about 50 minutes faster than driving during peak travel times.

“Californians need to see and experience something that is ‘high-speed-rail’ sooner than 2020,” Schwarzenegger wrote in his proposal, which was sent to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood earlier this month.

The feds are thus far noncommittal on the idea, saying it warrants further discussion. Skeptics say the plan is unrealistic and a desperate attempt by Schwarzenegger to have some kind of legacy on an issue he has championed. They also note that California must begin work soon on high-speed rail or risk losing $2.25 billion in federal stimulus funds.

“This will not be high-speed rail,” said Jim Mills, a former state senator who helped create commuter rail service between San Diego and Los Angeles. “The difference in the running time compared to conventional equipment might only be a few minutes. And, if one of these lighter European designs derails or hits a gravel truck on the tracks, it will be a catastrophe.”

Others pointedly questioned the governor’s motivation beyond his longtime support for high-speed rail.

“What hit me first about this was the desperation of having a ribbon-cutting shortly before the governor leaves,” said Rich Tolmach of the California Rail Foundation. “They’ve realized there’s no legacy for the governor.”

California’s $42-billion high-speed rail program has been beset with problems in recent years. Extensive reporting by Voice of OC, as well as government audits, have revealed wasteful spending and mismanagement in the program on several levels.


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