FRESNO -- A 32-chapter report intended to be the final word on the effects of high-speed trains between Merced and Fresno was released Friday by the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
It is unlikely, though, to change the minds of farmers and others who are worried about how high-speed rail may alter their farms, businesses, homes or communities.
"They're looking at the potential for 30 road closures in my district," said Madera County Supervisor David Rogers, who represents the Chowchilla area. "It's going to be an emergency-access nightmare, and it's going to be very difficult for a farmer to navigate his operation when he has to go six miles out of his way to get from one side of his farm to the other."
Newlands and Company Inc. - A train travels through a wind farm in an illustration from the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
The final version of the authority's environmental impact report details the anticipated effects on farmland, habitat, residents, businesses and communities on the 60-mile stretch between Fresno and Merced. It also explains why the preferred route wanders between the Union Pacific Railroad/Highway 99 corridor and the BNSF Railway line a few miles to the east.
Hybrid plan seen as best option
"Whatever selection we make, whatever the decision might be, we cannot avoid the impacts for the people who are opposed to this," said Tom Richards of Fresno, the rail authority's vice chairman and its only representative from the central San Joaquin Valley. "But it's our job to try to get this done as economically and efficiently as we can, and as environmentally responsibly as possible."
The route identified in the EIR is considered a "hybrid" between two options: one that primarily follows the UP/Highway 99 corridor through the heart of cities such as Chowchilla and Madera, and one along the BNSF freight tracks that farmers complained would have consumed more agricultural acreage. The report concludes that the hybrid route would create fewer problems by avoiding the Merced County towns of Planada and LeGrand and by weaving eastward around the city of Madera.
The report says the hybrid route would be the easiest and cheapest to build among the three options, at approximately $450 million less than the BNSF alternative and more than $1 billion less than the UP/99 alternative.
The EIR proposes a couple of options for dealing with farming issues, including providing underpasses for farm equipment to get from one side of the tracks to the other or additional compensation for farmers who can show a hardship from farms being severed.
While the environmental report defines a preferred north-south route between Merced and Fresno, questions remain over how the route would go through or around Chowchilla.
Planning around Chowchilla
Chowchilla sits amid a virtual spaghetti bowl of lines on a map for an east-west connection to Gilroy and San Jose. Different options for what planners call the "Chowchilla Wye" swoop either east, west or south of the city. The Chowchilla City Council has gone on the record opposing any route that comes through town.
In letters to the state rail authority, both the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agreed that the hybrid route appears to be the "least environmentally damaging practicable alternative."
The environmental report follows up on a draft report published last summer for two months of comments and critique from the public and a slew of local, state and federal government agencies.
In Washington, D.C., meanwhile, senators this week joined their House counterparts in dismissing the Obama administration's $1 billion funding request for the project. The state already has received $3.3 billion in federal fund and no additional funds were planned on for the new fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
However, the state's latest high-speed rail business plan anticipates the federal government providing $42 billion of the total project cost, now pegged at $68.4 billion.
The state rail authority has grossly underestimated future operating costs of California's proposed bullet train, meaning taxpayers potentially will have to provide billions of dollars annually once the system is running, according to an analysis released Monday by a group of outside financial experts.
The California High Speed Rail Authority's claim that its future system would generate hundreds of millions of dollars in surpluses is based on unrealistic assumptions about what it will cost to operate the network, according to the study group, which included former World Bank official William Grindley and Stanford University management professor Alain C. Enthoven.
The rail authority claims it can operate the 510-mile system at a cost of about 10 cents per passenger mile, less than one-fourth of the 40 cents to 50 cents it costs high speed rail operators in other countries, the analysis found. If California's bullet train operating costs rise to the international average, losses will range from $2 billion to $9 billion annually, according to the report.
"We are confounded by where the authority is getting its operating costs," Grindley said.
The group, which also includes Silicon Valley executives William Warren and Alan Bushell, has written a series of financial assessments of the bullet train plan that sharply question its economics. The four experts are affiliated with the Community Coalition on High Speed Rail, located in the Bay Area.
The rail authority disagreed with the findings in a statement.
"We have met with the authors of the report in an attempt to correct their flawed assumptions and conclusions," said rail board member Mike Rossi. The rail authority's plan uses conservative assumptions that demonstrates the system can produce an operating profit, which would revert back to the state or pay for additional rail investments, Rossi said. "Most if not all of the foreign high-speed train operators are currently operating without subsidies and some have even repaid portions of their original capital investments," he added.
The authors of the study studied both European and Asian high-speed systems. They found that costs range from a low of 34 cents per passenger mile in Italy to 50 cents in Germany and Japan, based on public reports published by those operating systems.
Grindley said it appears that the rail authority's consultant, Parsons Brinckerhoff, estimated the cost of operating the California system by assembling as many as 300 different cost inputs, though the rail authority has declined to identify all of those inputs. In most cases, California's costs would be even higher than those in Europe, including for labor and electricity, Grindley said.
Under a bond measure approved by voters in 2008, the California system is supposed to operate without a subsidy. The authority has repeatedly assured state lawmakers and the public that the system will operate at a profit from the day it begins partial operations. The $68-billion tab for building the system is not included in the operating costs.
Dipu Gupta: High-speed rail -- Part of the American ethic
We know what makes cities and regions successful and what makes them decline. The record shows that the following are requirements: stable government, active trade between regions, connectivity between urban areas, and technological advances.
High-speed rail promotes three of these four things. Technology is the most important. Technological advances drive economic activity and make us vastly wealthier.
This already happened with the 19th century rail systems in the U.S. The first railroads so clearly spurred economic activity that a national rail system was an obvious next step. The transcontinental railroads were transformative. Critics of rail were silenced. Not only could people and goods be moved rapidly around the country, but the high-tech diesel engines and advanced metal fabrication for the train-sets were exportable technologies. In the 1940s U.S. trains were the envy of the world. By the 1950s so was our economy.
Critics of California high-speed rail tend to ignore the many benefits of the system. By ignoring the fact that technology drives a successful economy they are depriving California of crucial growth potential. The criticisms tend to fall into one of a number of categories: HSR will cause the loss of farmland, it will increase the state deficit, it is generally unnecessary, and the money could be better spent elsewhere. In fact the opposite is true. High-speed rail will not cause these problems. It will solve them.
Crucial to California's future is the preservation of farmland. If you are serious about this, your first goal should be to encourage growth in our urban centers by supporting high-speed rail. Look at an aerial view of your town and see how much land has been lost to new development. It is far more than the proposed rail lines. Kings County has already lost 15 times more farmland to new development than it would to high-speed rail. A statewide HSR system will encourage smarter growth and protect farmland.
While there is no question about the serious financial trouble that California faces, any proposal to cancel high-speed rail must consider the high cost of doing nothing. We could have saved money by not building the 19th century railroads. We would have then been unable to export technologies, open up productive land, move goods to markets, and connect people and ideas. Wise investment in infrastructure pays for itself many times over.
It is a weak argument to say that HSR is generally unnecessary because the private sector would build it. The private sector did not land on the moon. What we spent on a lunar landing was returned to us many times over in new technologies that surround us today. Space exploration was an investment in high-tech industry and infrastructure. Building infrastructure is one of the things governments do well in the sense that otherwise no one would do them at all.
Critics of HSR say the money could be better spent on other infrastructure. All transportation infrastructure is not the same. High-speed rail infrastructure is productive. Areas around stations increase in value and add revenue to local communities. HSR provides crucial statewide mobility and in direct contrast to highways it discourages sprawl. Highways on the other hand need operating subsidies for routine maintenance.
HSR will create jobs at a time when they are needed. It will pay for itself many times over through mobility, connectivity and economic progress. It will spur a manufacturing base and knowledge economy centered in California. It will let us compete globally in the high-tech sector in which we are naturals. We should use this opportunity to create an advanced rail industry including manufacturing trains and control systems. Because we will be the first HSR system in the U.S., California will have a competitive advantage as other U.S. states and developing nations build rail systems. High-speed rail is part of the American ethic of embracing technology with all of its social and economic benefits. It is long overdue that our trains be once again the envy of the world.
Gupta is a licensed California architect. He teaches architecture and urbanism at UC Merced. The views expressed here are his own. He welcomes comments addressed to dgupta@ucmerced. edu and an expanded version of this article, including citations, sources, and link to further reading appears on his website http://www.dipugupta.com.
Video Governor Brown about high speed rail:
Taking action in hopes of preserving local train service, county supervisors voted Tuesday to have a say in the formation of a new joint powers authority that would oversee Amtrak’s future.
That future remains uncertain.
According to the California High Speed Rail Authority’s business plan, Amtrak would switch over to high-speed lines east or west of Hanford when those lines are completed. Amtrak service between Merced and Bakersfield would be eliminated once high-speed train service started service, now slated to happen in 2022 between Merced and Anaheim.
But Authority officials have recently entered into discussions with Kings County to see if Amtrak service through Hanford and Corcoran can be preserved, said Larry Spikes, Kings County administrative officer. Downtown stations are considered critical to cities’ local economy.
Authority Board Chairman Dan Richard couldn’t be reached for comment.
“Taking Amtrak right out of the heart of Hanford and Corcoran is just not a good idea,” Spikes said.
Tuesday’s vote was in favor of amending AB 1779 — the bill establishing the joint powers authority — to split the 11 counties along the San Joaquin Amtrak corridor into three regions. The southern region would include Kings, Tulare and Kern counties.
At least two counties from each region would have to sign on to create the joint powers authority, Spikes said.
Kings County likes the general idea of AB 1779, but wants to prevent northern counties from creating the authority without input from Kings, Spikes said.
Under the existing version of the bill, representatives from any six of the 11 counties could vote to form the authority, Spikes said. Kings is concerned that the northern counties might vote to eliminate Amtrak service in the southern San Joaquin Valley completely.
Supervisors took the vote as an urgency item Tuesday because a hearing for AB 1779 was scheduled for Wednesday.
Michael Corbett, a lobbyist for Kings County, said he’s planning to meet with Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Livingston, the bill’s author, and others this week to find someone willing to introduce an amendment to reflect Kings County’s concerns.
“We’re trying to change the voting structure,” said Terri King, Kings County Association of Governments executive director. “Whether those amendments can get in or not is another question.”
CORCORAN -- This Kings County farming town has come to rely on Amtrak California's San Joaquin line -- six northbound and six southbound passenger trains stop daily.
For Amtrak, Corcoran may be little more than a whistle-stop. But for some residents here and in other communities, the train is a vital transportation option for them to get to the nearby county seat of Hanford and beyond for opportunities that just aren't available otherwise.
"Our residents rely on Amtrak for employment opportunities, medical services, education endeavors," Corcoran City Manager Kindon Meik testified at a recent meeting in Sacramento. "And they use Amtrak to connect to regional hubs outside of the county."
Some Amtrak advocates in the San Joaquin Valley fear that option could be eliminated, however, if California's plans for a high-speed train system are realized.
The latest version of a business plan published this month by the California High-Speed Rail Authority envisions 220 mph passenger trains flying through the Valley between Merced and the Los Angeles Basin within a decade.
ERIC PAUL ZAMORA/THE FRESNO BEE
Ashley Lawless prepares to board the northbound Amtrak train on her way home to Vallejo at the Hanford Amtrak station last week. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA/THE FRESNO BEEA woman awaits the arrival of an Amtrak train at the Hanford station. Smaller towns in the Valley hope high-speed rail doesn't leave them in dust.MORE PHOTOS
The plan anticipates that the 1 million or so passengers who now ride the Amtrak San Joaquin trains each year would shift onto the high-speed service, and that Amtrak service would likely be discontinued.
For towns like Corcoran, Madera and Wasco, where Amtrak trains now stop, there's a catch: They won't be served by the new high-speed trains. They will, in effect, become fly-by communities, likely just a blur along the tracks to the passengers aboard the new system.
That would deprive people in those towns of an important way for them to get around.
Donnie Thomas, a retiree from Corcoran who doesn't own a car or have a driver's license, said the train is how he gets to and from Hanford three or four times a week for business and pleasure.
"It's a lifeline for me," Thomas, 55, said last week as he waited in Hanford to catch the train back home. "Corcoran doesn't have nothing -- no movie theater, no bowling alley, no Popeye's Chicken. ... You get tired of eating at the same places all the time in Corcoran, so you have to get away sometimes."
Over the past few weeks, state rail and transportation officials have said they're looking for ways to preserve that lifeline and maintain some sort of local train service to those towns.
But there also are concerns in other communities along the Amtrak route.
Over the past two decades, Hanford has renovated and improved its old downtown Santa Fe depot at Seventh Street and Santa Fe Avenue into a modern transportation station for Amtrak trains and local and regional bus services.
Months ago, city leaders said they want no part of high-speed tracks coming through the heart of Hanford. So the proposed new line is expected to veer either east or west of the city. If there is a high-speed station at all in the Hanford area, it would be on the outskirts of town.
The rail authority also expects that before high-speed trains start operating in 2022, Amtrak trains could use its new tracks between Merced and Bakersfield once they are completed in 2017. That could take the Amtrak service away from the downtown depot.
In recent weeks, the potential for future passenger trains to bypass cities now served by Amtrak has riled leaders in Kings County, where sentiments against the rail authority already are running high.
A growing rumble
The number of passengers in the prospective bypass cities are relatively small. In Corcoran, for example, Amtrak reports that there were 27,424 boardings and arrivals in the 2010-11 fiscal year. Madera had 21,739 riders that year, and Wasco had 18,209.
MONTHLY MEETING AGENDA
Fresno Convention Center
Exhibit Hall 3
700 M Street
nd and 3rd, 2012
nd = 10:00 am Start Time
rd = 9:00 am Start Time [Agenda Items 9 and 10 start at 10:00 am]
An opportunity for public comment will be provided either before or during the consideration of each agenda item.
Typically public comment will be limited to 2 minutes per person, however the Chair may decide to shorten or lengthen the public comment periods, at his or her discretion.
** Those persons, who wish to comment on agenda and non-agenda items, are required to submit their requests to Board Secretary before the start of the meeting by filling in the green cards
Agenda Items – Day 1 (5/2/12)
1. Staff Presentation on the Merced to Fresno Section Final Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS
The Board will receive a brief staff presentation on the Merced to Fresno Section Final EIR/EIS.
2. Public Comment on Merced to Fresno Section Final EIR/EIS
The Authority intends to receive public comment on the Merced to Fresno Section Final EIR/EIS
3. Update on amendments to Small and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program
Staff will update the Board on the amendments to the Small and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program
4. Operations Committee PMO Report
Closed Session Pertaining to Litigation
The Authority Board will meet in closed session pursuant to Government Code section 11126(e)(2)(A) to confer with legal counsel with regard to the following litigation:
Town of Atherton v. California High-Speed Rail Authority, Sacramento Superior Court No. 34-2008-80000022
Town of Atherton v. California High-Speed Rail Authority, Sacramento Superior Court No. 34-2010-80000679
John Tos; Aaron Fukada and County of Kings v. California High Speed Rail Authority, Sacramento Superior Court Case No. 34-2001-00113919
The Authority may also meet in closed session pursuant to Government Code section 11126(e)(2)(B) (i) to consider potential litigation.
6. Closed session related to employment of a Chief Executive Officer
The Authority Board will meet in closed session pursuant to Government Code section 11126(a) to discuss the employment of a new Chief Executive Officer
H. van Winkle/Board Committee Members
Board Members/Legal Counsel
Board Members/Legal Counsel
Towns Debate Impact Of Calif.-Las Vegas Bullet Train
by Gloria Hillard
April 30, 2012
Listen to the Story
[5 min 9 sec]
April 30, 2012
A bullet train that would deliver tourists from southern California to the Las Vegas strip could be the nation's first high-speed rail system to break ground. The private company, DesertXpress, will soon learn whether it's going to receive a $4.9 billion federal loan for the project. The train's supporters and its critics have squared off over the familiar issues of jobs versus wasteful federal spending. The proposed train is also pitting two small towns against each other.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
A private company called DesertXpress wants to build a bullet train from Southern California to Las Vegas. It could be the nation's first high speed rail project to break ground. The company will soon learn whether it's going to get a multi-billion dollar federal loan. In the meantime, communities along the proposed line are assessing what it means for their future. Gloria Hillard reports on two very different outlooks from Barstow and Victorville.
GLORIA HILLARD, HOST:
In California's high desert just off Interstate 15, two ravens circle lazily above towering power lines. On the ground there's a scattering of shotgun casings. Victorville mayor Ryan McEachron says where we're standing is the future parking lot for thousands of Las Vegas-bound travelers.
MAYOR RYAN MCEACHRON: Nineteen million people drive this freeway every year to and from Las Vegas. You know, some of them are going to get off the freeway and they're going to get on the train.
HILLARD: Victorville is a minimum 90-minute drive from downtown Los Angeles and it would be the starting point for DesertXpress, a high speed train that will travel through mostly public lands to the Vegas strip. Walking towards a clump of creosote bushes, the mayor points to where the proposed train station would be built.
MCEACHRON: Yeah, we have hotels, probably malls, commercial retail development. It will be a tremendous boost to Victorville, our economy.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRAIN)
HILLARD: Victorville has long been a stopping off point for Las Vegas bound travelers. And just beyond the acres of new housing developments and chain restaurants, you'll find yourself in old town on Route 66.
SHARON FOSTER: We're really quite a little town, old town atmosphere, before they get into the glamour and the glitz - let's face it.
HILLARD: Sharon Foster is longtime resident and volunteer at Victorville's Route 66 Museum. She says she's thought quite a bit about the proposed bullet train that would whiz tourists from her city to Las Vegas.
FOSTER: I think there is a need. I know we've talked about it how many years? But I think its time has come.
(SOUNDBITE OF ROADWAY)
HILLARD: Thirty miles up the road, you hit Barstow. It's also a popular stop for tourists. Barstow's city manager Curt Mitchell says the train will go through the town.
CURT MITCHELL: But it's going to go fast.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MITCHELL: So there won't be a stop in Barstow. It's just going to go right through.
HILLARD: Mitchell says about a year ago city leaders decided to oppose the high-speed rail after a study determined their city stood to lose more than 2,300 jobs. Today, on the hope that some construction jobs will come their way, city hall is taking a different tone.
MITCHELL: We're assuming its going forward and we're trying to do everything we can to work with the DesertXpress folks to make sure this as much a positive thing as we can.
HILLARD: Down on Barstow's Main Street, restaurant owner Maxim Atalla is not having any of it.
MAXIM ATALLA: A project like that could just ruin everything for me.
HILLARD: He says along this stretch there are dozens of motels restaurants and gas stations that rely on Vegas traffic.
ATALLA: Here, if you fill up here, you get something to eat; you can make the two-hour drive no problems.
HILLARD: And that brings us to the question most often raised about the train - think math story problem. From Victorville, driving at the posted speed of 70 miles an hour, how long would it take to go the remaining 187 miles to Las Vegas? The answer, just over two and half hours.
I asked traveler Roger Rivera if he would consider parking his car to board a train that would shave a little more than an hour off his drive time.
ROGER RIVERA: It would depend on the price. But driving up to Victorville, I'm half-way there from where I'm at to get there. So it wouldn't be much farther.
CHRISTINE TORRES: Once you're there in Vegas, I mean where is it going to drop you off?
HILLARD: Christine Torres was driving from Las Vegas back to Southern California.
TORRES: Because, you know, transportation can get kind of pretty pricey out there to your hotels.
HILLARD: For most of the trip from Los Angeles to Victorville and then onto Barstow, you navigate heavy traffic, industry and billboards. When you get to Barstow, the scenery changes, says resident Carol Randall. When I ask about the bullet train, she shakes her head. At 150 miles an hour she says travelers will not only miss her town, but some of the best part of the Mojave Desert.
CAROL RANDALL: The colors on the mountains or the spring flowers that are out, and the color that is out there. And there's a lot to see.
HILLARD: If federal funding is approved, the project could break ground early next year.
For NPR News, I'm Gloria Hillard.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
Friday, May 04, 2012
The California High-Speed Rail Authority Board certified the Final Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement for the Merced to Fresno section of the high-speed project, allowing the Authority to take additional steps toward starting construction in late 2012 or early 2013. The Authority also chose a north-south route and station locations for Merced and Fresno.
"Today we reached a major milestone toward making high-speed rail a reality," said Board Chair Dan Richard. "These documents and decisions represent our response to hundreds of comments sent to us from residents, elected officials and business owners as well as feedback shared in nearly 150 public meetings," Richard said.
The Merced to Fresno high-speed section is approximately 65 miles long and will follow a route known as the "Hybrid" alternative. This alignment was identified as the preferred alternative out of three primary alternatives studied in 2011. The "Hybrid" alternative generally parallels Union Pacific tracks and State Route 99 between Merced and Fresno and is responsive to community and civic feedback. To avoid impacts to downtown Madera, the alignment travels east of Madera and generally parallels the existing BNSF corridor. The board also selected the Downtown Merced Station location and the Downtown Fresno Station at the Mariposa Street location as part of the statewide system.
In the next step, the Federal Railroad Administration will consider approving the project and issuing a Record of Decision under the National Environmental Policy Act, scheduled for June 2012.
Friday, May 04, 2012
The Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, which owns and operates the San Fransisco Bay area's Caltrain, unanimously approved a regional agreement to fully fund the electrification of the railroad.
The Memorandum of Understanding between the California High-Speed Rail Authority and more than a half-dozen Bay Area public agencies leverages local, regional and federal funding to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in high-speed rail funds for the project. Riders could see an electrified Caltrain system as soon as 2019.
Electrification will bring a faster, cleaner, quieter, more efficient train service, with more frequent service to more stations. The result would be an increase in riders and an increase in revenue.
Board Chair Adrienne Tissier urged the board to support the MOU saying, "Today is the day. This is the beginning of making sure that we have a cleaner train, a faster train, more service, more stops, less noise and cleaner air."
The agreement is based on a "blended system" first proposed by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto), State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) and Assemblyman Rich Gordon (Menlo Park).
A blended system would allow Caltrain and high-speed rail to operate on the Caltrain tracks using the current infrastructure with a combination of electrification and positive train control. A larger project would be developed in phases over the next 25 years.
The agreement has already been approved by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the California High-Speed Rail Authority. Over the next few weeks, it will be considered by the city and county of San Francisco, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, the city of San Jose, the San Mateo County Transportation Authority, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and the Transbay Terminal Joint Powers Board.
With one-time funding sources for Caltrain expected to run out by the end of fiscal year 2013, the Caltrain board of directors today considered a preliminary budget that would add trains to its current weekday schedule, andapproved an agreement with the California High-Speed Rail Authority to provide $1.5 billion to electrify the corridor.
Caltrain Deputy CEO Gigi Harrington said that average weekday ridership has increased for 20 straight months to reach historic highs, up 12 percent from this time last year.
Some trains at peak commute hours have more passengers than seats, Harrington said.
The fiscal year 2012-2013 preliminary budget includes a $375,000 investment in six additional weekday trains that will help relieve overcrowding at peak hours.
However, the one-time grants, savings, and fare-box revenue increases that have funded Caltrain from year to year are drying up, Harrington said.
Caltrain's executive director Mike Scanlon said that Caltrain had not solved its fiscal crisis, just delayed it for another year.
In a separate vote that Scanlon referred to as "historic," the board of directors unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding with the California High-Speed Rail Authority to match more than $700 million in funds from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to electrify the Caltrain corridor between San Francisco and San Jose, and pave the way for a two-track right-of-way that will eventually accommodate high-speed trains.
Board President Adrienne Tissier, who also chairs the MTC, received a warm round of applause from board members and the public for her "Herculean" effort in spearheading negotiations that secured the funds for a "long overdue" Caltrain upgrade.
"It was a very bumpy road at the beginning," Tissier said.
Tissier commended the CHSRA for listening to the concerns of Peninsula cities and residents along the right-of-way, and coming up with an agreement that would free up high-speed rail funds to electrify Caltrain, which will ultimately be able to operate on a track system that blends with high-speed rail.
"Without this start, this foundation, we have nothing," Tissier said.
An electrified, upgraded Caltrain will be able to make more stops, accommodate more passengers, and reduce greenhouse gas emission by running on electricity rather than diesel-powered engines.
If started this year, the electrification project could be completed by 2015.
The $1.5 billion agreement has already been approved by the MTC and the CHSRA.
The funding will now need to be approved by the state legislature.
FRESNO -- One frequent criticism of the California High-Speed Rail Authority is the lack of private-investment interest so far in its proposed high-speed train plans for the state.
Now, a businessman touting a possible site for a train-maintenance station near Chowchilla is dangling such an investment to the agency.
“We are convinced of the viability of California,” said Ed McIntyre, a partner in the the proposed Gordon-Shaw heavy-maintenance facility site. McIntyre told the authority’s board today in Fresno that he and his partners are prepared to commit up to $1 billion in private-sector investment through development of their site.
McIntyre said that in addition to an estimated $668 million to build the heavy-maintenance facility — a station planned to be located somewhere in the San Joaquin Valley to service trains for the statewide train system — his group is also willing to build a maintenance-of-way facility, where crews would be based to maintain the tracks and right-of-way. Together, the two facilities would add up to a commitment of about $1 billion.
“To those who want further study or planning … I think we’ve planned enough,” McIntyre told the board. “I encourage you to move forward” with approving the environmental impact report for the Merced-Fresno section of the system.
So far, the rail authority has not decided where it would prefer to have the heavy maintenance station, considered something of an economic golden goose by economic development officials up and down the valley because of the prospective permanent jobs it could provide. By some estimates, such a station would employ 1,500 or more workers and serve as a magnet for related industries.
Officials in Merced, Madera, Fresno and Kern counties have been actively courting the rail authority to attract the maintenance station.
McIntyre’s announcement certainly caught the rail board’s attention. “Could you repeat that number?” vice chairwoman Lynn Schenk of San Diego asked
State bullet train officials Thursday approved the environmental impact studies for an initial section of high-speed track to be built from Merced to Fresno, a decision that sets the stage for possible legal challenges from powerful Central Valley farming interests.
Certification of the final state and federal environmental reports is a critical step before the California High-Speed Rail Authority can begin to secure government permits and award construction contracts for the first phase of the $68-billion project that would link Los Angeles and San Francisco with 200 mph trains.
"Today we reached a major milestone toward making high-speed rail a reality," said Dan Richard, chairman of the agency's board of directors, which met in Fresno.
Before the environmental analysis was approved, representatives of farming interests in Madera and Merced counties criticized the reports as inadequate and raised the possibility of lawsuits, actions that could delay the project as rail officials hustle to begin construction later this year.
"We want to explore all political and legal avenues," said Anja Raudabaugh, executive director of the Madera County Farm Bureau. "The plan would disrupt this bedrock of food production. If the board moves to certify this. . . it will sabotage the entire [rail] project."
One calf ranch owner complained to the board that the environmental review incorrectly stated that he ran a "poultry operation." The attorney for a group of Madera farmers described the analysis as "fatally defective," while the owner of a historic landmark, Forestieri Underground Gardens in Fresno, complained that the rail alignment passes only five feet from his entrance.
The Merced to Fresno section, which rail officials call the backbone of the bullet train system, runs about 65 miles next to State Route 99 and parts of the rights-of-way for the Union Pacific Railroad and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. Stations in downtown Fresno and Merced are planned.
Federal Railroad Administration officials will now consider whether to approve the project and issue a record of decision as required by the National Environmental Quality Act. The federal review is scheduled to be completed in June.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority took a key step toward developing its proposed passenger-train system Thursday, certifying environmental reports and formally approving the first portion of the line between Merced and Fresno.
Skeptics remain even as the authority pushes forward on building as soon as this year. But Thursday, a new booster stepped forward -- Madera real-estate developer Ed McIntyre, who said that he and partners are ready to spend $1 billion developing a maintenance yard and more if the authority puts it on their property in Madera.
McIntyre told the board before its vote that his group believes high-speed rail pencils out as a money-maker. In his group's case, he said, they're certain they can secure financing and recoup their investment through a lease-buy deal with the authority.
Thursday's votes at the authority's board meeting in Fresno locks in the route choice -- a hybrid line that follows portions of two different rail lines through the San Joaquin Valley -- and clears the way for the authority to award construction contracts after bids are received later this year.
It also allows the agency to start negotiating with property owners along the route for buying rights of way and determining other types of compensation for potential losses.
"There's a lot of nexts," said Fresno developer Tom Richards, the authority's vice chairman. "With the certification, we have the ability to start talking directly to people. I think that's going to help relieve a lot of the concern."
Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea was ecstatic about the vote.
"This is a historic day not only for Fresno County, but for the state of California," Perea said. "Fresno is going to forever be the birthplace of high-speed rail in California."
Perea declared that construction and operation of high-speed trains "will be an economic game-changer" for Fresno and the Valley. "We're going to see the economic base of this county be diversified like we've never imagined before," he said. "We're going to make sure we capture all of the value-added businesses that support high-speed rail."
While the action prompted congratulatory back-slapping among high-speed rail supporters, hurdles remain before the rail authority can begin construction late this year or early next year in the Valley.
The federal government has pledged about $3.3 billion to California to start building a 120-mile stretch from Madera to Bakersfield -- part of the 520-mile system that would connect San Francisco and Los Angeles. But that money depends on the state putting up $2.7 billion from Proposition 1A, a bond measure approved by voters in 2008.
"If the Legislature doesn't authorize the issuance of $2.7 billion, we have more than a casual difficulty in how to move the project forward because it puts in jeopardy the money from the feds," Richards said Thursday.
"My hope is that the wisdom in Sacramento, and there's a lot of it there, will recognize the importance of this project to not only the economy, but to moving forward to helping transportation stop being a problem and start being a solution," Richards added.
McIntyre, the Madera developer, also described the board's action as "a historic moment."
"To those who want further study or planning ... I think we've planned enough," he told the board before their vote. "I encourage you to move forward."
McIntyre caught the board's attention by dangling the prospect of private-sector investment -- something the authority's representatives say will be critical to the successful development of the statewide $68.4 billion system, but which skeptics suggest has been sorely lacking in the agency's business plans.
McIntyre told the board that he and development partners want to invest up to $1 billion to build maintenance facilities for the trains and the rail line on property just north of Madera, on the east side of Highway 99 between Avenue 18 1/2 and Avenue 20 1/2. The investment depends on that site being chosen by the authority, from a handful of competing sites up and down the Valley, to house a heavy maintenance station.
McIntyre, who was involved in deals to develop University of California at Merced and Children's Hospital Central California in Madera County, said his group estimates it would cost about $668 million to build a plant where heavy maintenance would be done on the high-speed trains. Another $330 million would be needed to build a command center for the train system as well as a maintenance-of-way station to care for a section of tracks in the Valley.
The group doesn't have money in the bank, but McIntyre said he believes that if their site is selected,the partnership could secure the needed financing based on the anticipated profitability of the train system.
"We finance it, we develop it, we construct it, and we lease it to the authority in a lease-purchase agreement in which (the authority) would own it after a certain period of time," he said. "We're confident that the operation can be very profitable and lease payments can be easily guaranteed."
Not everyone was pleased with the board's approval of the route.
"I feel today like I don't count," said RoseAnn Martinez, whose immigration-service office at the corner of G and Fresno streets in downtown Fresno would be dislocated by the high-speed railroad. "I think your engineers need to spend more time to see what families and businesses you're displacing. I just want each one of you to know that."
Valery Forestiere, whose family's Forestiere Underground Gardens on Shaw Avenue between Highway 99 and the Union Pacific Railroad line is a national- and state-recognized historic site, said she is unconvinced that there has been sufficient analysis of how noise and vibration from nearby high-speed trains might affect the property.
"My family does not believe, since we were not involved, that the correct processes were followed," she said. "If so, the board would not have reached this conclusion."
"It's impossible to say there's no adverse impact if the correct studies have been done," Forestiere added. "If they were done, please give us copies, because we were never contacted or involved. ... It's insulting that we weren't taken seriously."
The California High Speed Rail Authority has approved environmental impact studies forâ€¨ an initial segment of high speed rail from Merced to Fresno.
The approval clears theâ€¨ way for expected legal challenges from Central Valley agricultural â€¨interests that the Authority must resolve beforeâ€¨ it can move forward on a project, now estimated to cost $68 billion, that would â€¨operate 200-mph trains between Los Angeles and San Francisco.â€¨â€¨
“Today we reached a major milestone toward making high-speed rail a â€¨reality,” said Dan Richard (pictured, at left), chairman of the agency’s board of directors, which met in Fresno on April 3.
â€¨â€¨Government permits and construction contracts for the first phase must â€¨await approval of final state and federal environmental reportsâ€¨â€¨.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) has approved environmental impact studies for a 65km initial section of rail line to be built from Merced to Fresno.
The approval clears the way for the authority to take further steps towards starting construction on this section in late 2012 or early 2013.
CHSRA board chairman Dan Richard said it is a major milestone towards making high-speed rail a reality.
"These documents and decisions represent our response to hundreds of comments sent to us from residents, elected officials and business owners, as well as feedback shared in nearly 150 public meetings," Richard said.
CHSRA has finalised the downtown Merced station location and Fresno station at Mariposa Street.
The proposed section will follow a route known as the "Hybrid" alternative, which has been chosen from three primary alternatives studied in 2011.
In order to avoid direct impact to the downtown Madera area, the alignment is planned to be routed east of Madera, parallel to the existing Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad corridor.
Following the approval, the US Federal Railroad Administration will review the project before approval and issuance of a record of decision under the National Environmental Policy Act, which is scheduled for June 2012.
In April 2012, the CHSRA approved a 2012 revised business plan for the high-speed rail project, trimming costs by $30bn to $68.4bn.
The new line is planned to link the state's major metropolitan areas, use existing rail infrastructure in northern and southern California, and providing earlier state-wide benefits to daily travellers in the bay area between San Jose, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Image: CHSRA approval clears the way to start construction of an initial section of the high-speed project in California in late 2012 or early 2013. Photo: courtesy of CHRSA.
Opinion By Noel T. Braymer
The heyday for Turbine powered passenger trains was back in the 1960′s and 70′s. The conventional wisdom is rising oil prices and high fuel consumption with Turbine Trains caused their days to be numbered. One reason for the decline was the leader in building Turbine Trains was France. The prototype TGV train built in the 70′s was a turbine train which still holds the speed record for turbine trains of 198 miles per hour. The decision to electrify the TGV trains was largely political. During the oil uncertainties of the 70′s the French Government began building more Nuclear Power Plants. The government soon found they had a glut of electrical power from these new power plants so it ordered the railroad to electrify more lines and the TGV trains.
Turbine trains have high power yet are light weight and the engines take up little space. Turbine passenger trains don’t have locomotives, they have power cars which hold the power plant as well as carry passengers and control cab. Turbines are actually very efficient at full power. The problem is they are not efficient at low power or at idle which is why they were considered inefficient. There is a solution for this: instead of using a big turbine engine on a train it is better to use several smaller ones. With 4 smaller turbines you could use 1 for Head End Power and for going at slow speeds in and out of stations or sidings. With 2 turbines you could cruise at medium speeds while a third engine would let you cruise at high speed with an extra turbine for steep grades or quick acceleration. This is like a car’s engine that can shut down engine cylinders than are not needed to save fuel . Unlike diesels, turbines can be started and shut down quickly.
During the 1990′s the Federal Rail Administration paid Bombardier to build a new turbine train as part of the contract for the Acela. Called the Jet Train, it was a tilt train meant to provide high speed rail service to places without electrification on existing rights of way. The Jet Train had a top speed of 150 miles per hour. At this speed with tilting trains it is possible to provide rail service with running times close to those of faster non-tilting HSR services. This has been successfully done in other countries such as Sweden. The Jet Train was actually a hybrid with both diesel and turbine power. The diesel was a small engine for Head End Power and travel at slow speeds. The turbine was used once the train was under way. The basic concept was sound but High Speed Rail projects in this country went into hibernation by the the Jet Train was finished.
Where could we use turbine tilt trains in California? Metrolink is planning faster express service in the near future. A major part of this to to provide faster service to Palmdale. Improved tracks and reduced curves in the mountainous area between Sylmar and Palmdale are planned. This is a perfect place to use a tilt train combined with the high power and low weight of a turbine train in a mountainous region. Such turbine services in Southern California could reach down to San Diego up to Palmdale and west possibly as far as Santa Barbara. Turbine tilt trains would be useful along the entire California Coast though the chance the UP will allow it north of Santa Barbara is unlikely. In the North ACE is looking at creating a higher speed (125-150 mile per hour) service between Sacramento, Stockton, San Jose and possibly as far as Merced.This will require new separate tracks to get off the UP to allow the speeds and frequency of service to justify higher speeds. In the Altamont Pass tilt service and higher turbine power would make such a service faster.
On the Initial Operating Segment (IOS) of the High Speed Rail Project between Merced and the San Fernando Valley running turbine trains from San Diego to San Jose via the Altamont Pass via the IOS are a possibility. So would trains from San Bernardino to Sacramento or Chatwsorth to Oakland. This could give direct service blending old and new tracks for high speed from day one. This could be run in addition to electrified trains running just on the IOS. Turbine trains would also be an option to use on the entire IOS to provide High Speed Rail Service while postponing electrification of the line which is a major expense. Reducing capital costs and starting a viable service sooner is a possibility in wake of unsure financing. The California High Speed Rail Projects needs to get fast trains running to as many markets with good ridership numbers as soon as possible to attract investors to improve and expand High Speed service in the future. Turbine Tilt trains can give major flexibility to quickly provide State Wide High Speed Rail service in a short time and low cost.
The Obama administration threatened California on Thursday with rescinding $3.3 billion in federal grants to start construction of a bullet train if the Legislature does not act by June to appropriate the state's share of funding.
In a series of meetings with key lawmakers in Sacramento, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said that the recent proposal by state Senate leaders to delay a $2.7-billion decision on the high-speed rail project until August is not acceptable.
"We need the Legislature to make the strongest commitment possible," LaHood said in an interview. "The way to do that is to include the money for high-speed rail in the budget that is passed in June. August is too late for us."
Asked whether the administration might attempt to take back the funding, LaHood said, "Correct," adding that if the state does not move by June then he will begin discussing a response within the Obama administration and Congress.
"We may begin looking at other places in the country," LaHood said.
In what amounts to the highest profile political pressure that the Obama administration has applied on the state so far, LaHood met with Gov. Jerry Brown, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles), among others.
"What I have been reading about is they are planning on holding hearings, that they are going to go throughout summer. That doesn't suit us," LaHood said at a news conference after the meetings.
Brown wants the state to start building a $6-billion segment of track as early as this year in the Central Valley, running from Bakersfield to Fresno. Eventually the complete $68-billion project would connect Los Angeles and Anaheim with San Francisco.
Whether the Transportation Department can legally rescind obligated grants is not clear. When Republican lawmakers in Congress said earlier this year that they were exploring such a move to stop the project, Democrats asserted that it was legally impossible to take back such funds. LaHood, however, said the money would need to be "re-obligated" later this year, suggesting otherwise. In addition, the Obama administration gave California additional funds for high-speed rail after other states backed out and returned grants.
The key senators who are influencing the Legislature's decision on the project did not appear to be ready to bow immediately to the outside political pressure.
State Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), chairman of a select committee on high-speed rail, said he pushed back when pressured by LaHood for quick action.
"They are telling us what to do but they are offering us nothing," Lowenthal said. "There is not enough federal support."
Lowenthal said he wants to continue public hearings on the project and is not sure they can be completed before the new budget takes effect July 1.
"I have to go through a series of hearings. I don't want to be pushed," Lowenthal said. "I told him I have concerns. I needed a financial commitment on the part of the federal government."
State Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), who heads a budget subcommittee on transportation, said he remains convinced the Legislature should continue to hold hearings and make a decision in August. He said it is unlikely that he would support approving $2.7 billion in bond funding for the project in the budget scheduled for action by June 15.
"That's not the kind of thing you ought to do on a hurry-up basis," Simitian said. "I continue to believe that this is a decision that requires thoughtful deliberation."
LaHood said he was reassured by Pérez and Steinberg "that they are committed to high-speed rail and they are committed to making sure that California is able to provide the match that is needed."
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers in Sacramento called LaHood's actions a "shakedown," even though LaHood is the lone Republican in the Obama Cabinet.
Sen. Doug La Malfa (R-Richvale), who has introduced legislation to allow voters to reconsider the bullet train project, said LaHood doesn't understand the state's problems.
"This state is facing a $14-billion deficit, our students have seen their tuition double, and he wants California to invest in a high-speed rail scheme that has a $61-billion shortfall without reviewing the plan's risks?" LaMalfa said. "Secretary LaHood's demand boils down to a belief thatWashington, D.C., knows best, a point of view I couldn't disagree with more strongly."
The Department of Transportation has a message for California: Use your federal high-speed rail money or lose it.
And if California can’t decide fast enough, any other state interested in claiming those funds might be out of luck — since the money will no longer be available after Sept. 30, according to a DOT official on Friday.
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As part of the economic stimulus, the DOT allocated $3.3 billion to California’s planned high-speed rail line, which has become bogged down in a high-stakes fight over its price tag and location. California risks losing those federal funds if the state Legislature doesn’t approve $2.7 billion in bonds by mid-June.
A DOT official said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who was in Sacramento on Thursday, needs California to give him a decision by then so that if the answer is no, the department will have enough time to reallocate the money. The process would be similar to what happened when the governor of Florida rejected billions of dollars in federal high-speed rail money.
The timing is crucial because the money will be forfeited altogether if it isn’t doled out by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.
At a news conference in California, LaHood emphasized that the federal government is committed to realizing high-speed rail in California, but it needs to see the state approve the money quickly. Some state lawmakers, unsure how to proceed, are pushing to delay their vote until the fall.
The DOT official said LaHood “wanted to make sure that they understood the urgency of California including the state match in their budget, which comes out in June.”
The official said the agency is “confident that the project’s going to move forward.” But, he added, if California can’t make a decision, “we would need time to … decide how to use that money for one of the other rail projects that are clamoring for funding.”
California will need to build its high-speed train line in record time if it doesn't want to risk losing federal funds — indeed, it will have to be the fastest piece of transportation construction in U.S. history, experts said.
Under a federal deadline, the California High-Speed Rail Authority has until September 2017 to finish the first segment of the line in the Central Valley. In that time, the project will need to acquire some 120 permits, 1,100 parcels of land and a huge workforce.
At a projected cost of $6 billion, California would be spending $2.7 million a day to finish on time, according to an estimate by John Popov of Parsons Brinckerhoff, a consulting firm working with the rail authority.
The rail authority is considering whether it can legally shift as much as $1.3 billion in work past the deadline, Popov said.
The figure could reach $3.5 million a day when the cost of buying land is added to construction, management and environmental costs, construction experts told the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/JxaT3p).
By comparison, the spending rate for the $6.5 billion Bay Bridge replacement project in Oakland is tagged at about $1.8 million per day.
Construction of the Alameda Corridor freight rail line in Los Angeles, completed in 2002, also ran about $1.8 million per day.
"It is a very aggressive plan," said Manuel Garcia, associate director at the Construction Industry Institute affiliated with the University of Texas at Austin. "It does appear that it will be a challenge."
Delays caused by legal, political or technical problems could leave the first segment uncompleted by the deadline, which potentially could halt the flow of federal money.
The project is nine months behind schedule in securing approval from the Federal Railroad Administration, a consultant for the rail authority said in a status report this month.
Land acquisition also is facing problems, Mark Ashley said.
"It is dicey right now whether that is going to hold up our construction or impact our schedule," he said.
Contractors must submit bids by September to build the first section, from Madera to Fresno. The rail authority contract terms call for builders to face $1 million per day in penalties for failing to meet final deadlines after March 1, 2017.
The Times said at least two companies that are on consortiums qualified to bid on the project are backing away.
California bullet train chief seeks environmental exemptions
The chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority says in a state Senate hearing that he hopes the initial phase of the construction project through the Central Valley can avoid legal delays.
Supporters of the California bullet train rally outside a meeting of the high-speed rail board in Sacramento earlier this year. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press / February 2, 2012)
May 16, 2012
The chief of the state bullet train authority said Tuesday that he hopes to obtain some type of relief from environmental laws that would eliminate a risk that the 130-mile initial construction project could be stopped by an injunction, a potentially growing prospect as agriculture interests in the Central Valley gear up for a legal fight.
At a state Senate hearing, Chairman Dan Richard also said the agency plans to spend the entire $6 billion of initial construction money within a 2017 deadline set by the federal government.
In the past, Richard has insisted the California High-Speed Rail Authority would not seek an outright exemption from state or federal environmental laws, including the California Environmental Quality Act. At the hearing, Richard said that if the project ends up in a lawsuit he would hope the matter would involve mitigations rather than an injunction.
In March, the rail authority and major environmental organizations held meetings to discuss some type of relief on certain environmental reviews for the project. At the time, Richard called it a "technical" matter. So far, the rail authority has been sued twice and lost on a review of a so-called programatic document in Northern California. If it has to redo the report, it could hold up construction.
Under questioning at the Senate hearing, Richard said the rail agency would not attempt to move any of the construction of the Central Valley segment past September 2017. Sen. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) asked whether the authority was trying to speed up or slow down the project.
In an interview with The Times last week, John Popov, a construction expert at authority consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff, said that not all the money would have to be spent by fiscal 2017, because $1.3 billion of state and federal funds do not have any legal deadline requirements. If the authority could stretch out the construction activity past 2017, it might face less pressure in completing the project using what outside experts say is a very fast pace of work.
In more specific comments, Popov said that the authority was considering conducting the work on the final contract of the Central Valley project in 2018, involving the installation of track along the road bed that would be constructed in earlier phases. He said the value of that work was an estimated $500 million.
But Richard told senators at the hearing the statement about pushing back work was not accurate, though he agreed that $1.3 billion of money would not be legally required to be spent by fiscal 2017.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KGO) -- There are new questions concerning high speed rail and whether the project can be done right and done on time. The state would have to spend money faster than anyone ever has in this country for transportation construction.
If the California High Speed Rail Project breaks ground this year on the first 130-mile segment through the Central Valley, it'll have to be built at breakneck speed to meet the federal completion date of September 2017. A missed deadline could mean a loss of federal funding.
At a cost of $6 billion for this initial phase, a Los Angeles Times analysis estimates it would mean spending $3.5 million a day -- the fastest burn rate for transportation construction in U.S. history. That's assuming there are no permitting or environmental delays.
"Our problem has been the planning has not been very good. And now we're going to try and spend money quicker than another construction project in the history of the United States and do it effectively and efficiently is a huge concern," said St. Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord.
Rail administrators admit their plan is aggressive, but not unprecedented, and point out $1.3 billion of the initial funding is not under deadline. They point out the Bay Bridge retrofit has a burn rate of $1.8 million a day. And Salt Lake City improved Interstate 15 for the 2002 Olympics at a hurried pace, burning $1.6 million a day. But that project had a strong management team in place. High Speed Rail hasn't had a CEO or CFO for months.
The High Speed Rail Authority says it's ramping up its staff of 37 now, including an engineer who helped build Taiwan's system, and it's confident Phase One can be built on time.
"The contractors, the people who are preparing the bids right now, if they didn't think they could do it, they wouldn't be spending $6-$8 million each to put these massive bids together," said Dan Richard, the High Speed Rail Authority chairman.
A peer review group cautioned the Transportation Committee that more needs to be done to ensure the project's success.
Lawmakers vote this summer on whether to approve state bond money for the bullet train's first leg.
Official seeks U.S. commitment on high-speed rail
May 17, 2012, 05:00 AM The Associated Press
SACRAMENTO â€” The leader of the California Senate called Wednesday on the Obama administration to say now whether it will commit more federal money to the stateâ€™s high-speed rail project if the president wins a second term.
The request came as Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg pushes skeptical state lawmakers to approve $2.7 billion in initial spending by July 1 to meet a federal construction deadline.
The federal government has pledged $3.5 billion, on top of the $9 billion authorized by California voters.
A sticking point is whether more federal money will be available to complete the project once it gets under way. The rail project is expected to cost at least $68 billion.
Money for the rail line would eventually need approval from Congress.
Still, Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said he hopes â€œthe Obama administration itself would signal now that they intend to make a priority of the allocation of more federal dollars for California.â€
The additional money would go toward extending high-speed rail from Bakersfield to Palmdale, the next stage of the project, he said.
Justin Nisly, press secretary for the federal Department of Transportation, did not directly address whether more money would be allocated. But he noted the administration has consistently backed high-speed rail and included passenger rail funding in every budget and transportation bill it has proposed.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority faces a September 2017 federal deadline to finish the first segment of the line in the Central Valley, from Madera to Fresno.
The authorityâ€™s business plan assumes that the federal government eventually will provide an additional $4 billion over the next decade, on top of the $3.5 billion it already is providing.
This time of the year in Sacramento typically finds June 15 looming large as the deadline for passing a state budget on time. This year, however, the Legislature has a second deadline to contend with as well.
Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said Wednesday that he has set July 1 as the deadline for his house to appropriate $2.6 billion in bond funds for the proposed California High-Speed Rail. High-Speed Rail Authority Chairman Dan Richard said this week that July 1 is the date when the authority needs the bonds to be approved in order for it to move forward with the plan.
The high-speed rail project, of course, has been controversial across the state and in the Legislature. If the bond funds are not appropriated, the project would, for all purposes, stop dead in its tracks. Steinberg said he supports appropriating the funds but also wants to impose a schedule for making expenditures that’s conditional on certain benchmarks being met.
Steinberg said his office will be working on that over the next six weeks with an eye towards meeting the deadline on July 1. It remains to be seen whether the appropriation will garner the votes necessary to pass, although its generally thought it will, given that the project enjoys support among Democrats.
The latest plan to build a California bullet train is a significant improvement over prior plans, but there remain significant risks that should be addressed if the Legislature appropriates money for the project, an independent review panel said Friday.
The panel said the plan to make early upgrades to urban rail systems that would later become blended with the bullet train system and to create an initial operating segment that would begin in Los Angeles sooner than previously scheduled would provide a quicker public benefit.
The review panel, led by Will Kempton, chief executive officer of the Orange County Transportation Authority, also said the California High Speed Rail Authority's 2012 business plan has a more realistic business model than past versions.
But the panel also issued a number of cautions, including recommending that the authority fill its vacant senior executive positions, disclose all of the risks it faces with regular reports to the Legislature and develop a better model for estimating ridership.
The panel again said future funding for construction is in question and raised concerns over the pace of construction.
Over the next decade, the rail authority would be making construction commitments of $4 billion to $5 billion annually.
"The Authority proposes to ramp-up almost immediately to a construction supervision burden that equals or exceeds that of Caltrans," it warned.