Location of California's First High-Speed Rail Segment to be Decided Next Week [Updated]


[Update: As recommended by high-speed rail staff, the 54-mile Borden to Corcoran section was chosen by the Authority Board at their December 2nd meeting. Although some have called it a "train to nowhere," Authority leadership have consistently said the project needs to start somewhere. "We won't have a true high-speed rail system until we tie every part of this state together," said Authority Vice Chair Tom Umberg.]

Project managers with California's high-speed rail project today said the first piece of track for the 800-mile system should be laid on more than 50 miles of land stretching through Fresno and Hanford. The suggestion comes after the federal government required the state to use $4.3 billion in federal funding within the Central Valley.

Specifically, the initial 54-mile recommended segment would go between Borden, a town south of Madera and north of Fresno, and Corcoran, between Fresno and Bakersfield. The route will be one of four the High-Speed Rail Authority's board will consider at a meeting next week. The other alternatives include building between Fresno and Merced and two options that would go from Fresno to Shafter, just north of Bakersfield.

"The decision before the Authority is an important one, but we should all remember that this project is a marathon, not a single stride," said Authority CEO Roelof van Ark. "It's not about the first 100 yards, the first mile, or even the first 50 miles. It's about the finish line - building the nation's first true high-speed rail system, connecting California's great cities the entire distance between them."

The recommended segment would cost $4.15 billion, leaving money for an additional 11 miles that are part of a federal "independent utility" requirement. Jeff Barker, Deputy Exec. Director of the Authority, said those extra miles would only be built in a "worse case scenario." That is, if California's high-speed rail project fails, the extra track would connect to existing freight track, allowing Amtrak trains to use the route instead. "We hope to have to never connect," noted Barker.

Once a segment is approved, the first steps will include relocating utilities and acquiring right of way before construction can commence, which must happen no later than September 2012 per federal rules. Testing could begin in 2015, but the authority will not run passenger service until the Central Valley segment is built out to a major metropolitan area like Los Angeles or San Francisco.

Although two stations--Fresno and Hanford--are included along the recommended segment, the latter is the only station without board approval. Next week's vote, however, could be a positive step for the realization of that.

By 2020, the high-speed rail project's first phase, an approximately 520-mile route between the Los Angeles region and San Francisco--a 2½ to 3 hour ride--is expected to be completed. The full 800-mile system, carrying passengers as far as Sacramento and San Diego, has no completion estimate at this time.

The authority's board will decide on a Central Valley segment at their meeting on December 2nd in Sacramento.

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