L.A. first, or Bay Area?

February 1, 2016

L.A. first, or Bay Area? State rethinks high-speed train route options

By Tim Sheehan, The Fresno Bee

Four years ago, the California High-Speed Rail Authority planned its first operational segment from the San Joaquin Valley to Los Angeles – a Southern California connection that the agency believed was most likely to produce enough ridership to at least break even and cover its operating costs without requiring public funds.Website Insert Fleet for Sale or Lease copy

Now, that south-first strategy for the statewide rail project could be in for a major shake-up. The agency’s leaders are contemplating a north-first option to link the San Joaquin Valley to San Jose and the Bay Area instead of the San Fernando Valley – a move that could be billions of dollars cheaper, and get at least a partial system operating faster than punching tunnels through the San Gabriel Mountains.

Until the rail authority releases a draft version of its 2016 business plan – expected sometime in February – rail board Chairman Dan Richard is being coy about the details. The plan will go through a 60-day comment period before it is approved by the authority and sent to the Legislature.

“We’re not afraid to re-look at things that we’ve looked at in the past,” Richard told an Assembly budget subcommittee last week. “What we’re looking at is, how do we get a high-speed train  up and running as fast as possible.”

Such a change would have little bearing on construction work underway in Madera and Fresno counties on the first portion of the rail route in the Valley. Contracts have been awarded for developing the high-speed infrastructure from northeast of Madera to Shafter in Kern County. Whichever direction the rail authority chooses to go – Merced south to Burbank or Bakersfield north to San Jose – the segments under construction in the Valley would provide the backbone through Central California.

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