Public Meetings Begin on LA-Anaheim High Speed Rail

Two public meetings are scheduled in Orange County this week to discuss the latest design and impacts of a new, 30-mile stretch of railroad between Anaheim and Los Angeles.

The project is the southern end of the Anaheim-to-San Francisco high-speed rail system approved by voters in 2008, although speeds through Orange County won’t come near “bullet train” levels.

Wednesday’s meeting in Buena Park begins at 5:30 pm at the Buena Park High School Gymnasium. Thursday’s meeting in Anaheim is at 5:30 pm at the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (ARTIC).

Translation in Spanish and Tagalog is available at both meetings. Korean translation is also available the Buena Park meeting.

The meetings are part of a key environmental review process that, once complete, will allow the California High Speed Rail Authority to begin acquiring land along that section of the rail line, said spokeswoman Adeline Yee. A draft environmental impact report will be ready in November and the final report is expected to be complete in November 2018.

Although it’s called high-speed rail, the train will only reach its full speed of over 200 miles per hour in some sections in the Central Valley.

Yee said trains running between Los Angeles and Anaheim will be designed to run at 110 miles per hour, but would operate at closer to 90 miles per hour because of safety concerns.

Officials say the first phase of the rail system will open by 2029, but the project already has been delayed by three years and cost estimates have ballooned from the $40 billion advertised to voters in 2008 to nearly $64 billion today.

At least one preliminary forecast suggests the project will be years behind schedule and cost far more than the agency initially stated.

In January, the Los Angeles Times reported a risk analysis by the Federal Railroad Administration projected a $9.5 billion to $10 billion cost for a 118-mile section of the railway through the Central Valley, $3.6 billion more than the original projected budget.

The High Speed Rail Authority also projected finishing tracks in the Central Valley by this year, but the federal analysis suggested that wouldn’t happen for another seven years, in 2024.

Another potential obstacle cropped up in February when opponents of the high speed rail project filed a lawsuit alleging the legislature violated the state constitution when it passed a law last year amending the $9 billion bond act approved by voters in 2008.

The lawsuit, like others in the past, could block the state from accessing that bond money and potentially delay construction even more, according to the LA Times.

In addition to those financing problems, the project faces staunch political opposition from California Republicans.

Shortly after President Donald J. Trump took office in January, Republican congressional representatives sent a letter to the Department of Transportation urging it to halt federal grant money for the Bay Area corridor until the project is audited.

In Orange County, with the exception of officials in Anaheim following the lead of former Mayor Curt Pringle, who is a one-time chairman of the California High Speed Rail Authority Board, the project has not had a warm welcome.

In 2012 the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to endorse a bill by then Assemblywoman Diane Harkey (R-Dana Point) to stop state spending for the train system.

The city of Orange also voted in July 2010 to oppose the project, citing concerns that taxpayers would end up paying for it.

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.