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Calif. high-speed rail project in trouble

(The following article by Jake Henshaw was posted on the Visalia Times Delta website on December 10.)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- California's ambitious $35 billion high-speed rail project is struggling to get out of the station.

Money is uncertain at best, some ardent backers are frustrated at insider games, more cautious supporters have lots of questions and major state interests have yet to pay much attention.

"Clearly, my impression is this thing is on life support," said Richard Silver, executive director of the Rail Passenger Association of California, a supporter.

But Ron Diridon, a member of the board of the High-Speed Rail Authority that is overseeing the project, insisted that it offers too many economic, environmental and traveler benefits to die stillborn.

"I am convinced that high speed rail will be in California's future," Diridon said. "It is just a matter of when."

The 'when,' much less the 'if,' of the project could very well depend on whether the state gets its financial house in order, said Leon Panetta, former congressman, federal budget director and White House chief of staff.

"If you don't," Panetta said, "ultimately you can put on paper all the projects you want, but you are just not going to have the resources you want to do them."

At full development, the proposed 700-mile rail system is projected to carry 68 million passengers by 2020 between San Francisco and Los Angeles through the Central Valley at speeds of 200 miles per hour.

It would be one of the largest public works projects ever, producing hundreds of thousands of jobs and requiring, for example, the equivalent of two years of the world output of high quality steel, said Diridon.

Funding is uncertain for the next, more detailed environmental reviews of the other corridors, and the rail authority is waiting to see what the governor will propose for its operation in his 2005-06 budget to be released in January.

"We are putting forth our best effort to get it done with the resources we have," authority deputy director

about having the rail system run through their boundaries.

Cully said Visalia city leaders are trying to come up with options that would allow the train to bypass those cities.

He also said Rail Authority board members are steadily showing interest in a local stop. Some board members have already visited Visalia.

A few made plans to re-visit the city, Cully said.

"If I were to have a crystal ball, I would have a tendency to tell you that I think they will eventually see the value in what we're proposing and why we're proposing it," Cully said. "Our recommendations are sound, they're based on fact, not fiction, and that's simply the way the Valley is going to grow.

"I think their eyes will open to that and I certainly hope they decide this is the best route for everyone involved."

Friday, December 10, 2004

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