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Board OKs likely Calif. high-speed rail routes

(The Associated Press distributed the following article by Steve Lawrence on January 27.)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A state board approved likely routes for a high-speed rail system Wednesday, but it left open questions about how the trains would reach the San Francisco area and whether they would stop between Fresno and Bakersfield.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority adopted routes and station locations that will be used in environmental reviews for the 700-mile system, which would link San Diego, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Fresno, Bakersfield and San Francisco with trains running at top speeds of more than 200 mph.

The authority's board tentatively approved a series of recommendations made by its staff on routes and station locations at meetings in September and November. Wednesday's 8-0 vote approved those earlier recommendations with some changes.

The board's so-called preferred route would run down the Central Valley from Sacramento, through Palmdale to Los Angeles and then take an inland path through Riverside to San Diego. There also would be lines running to Irvine in Orange County and from the Central Valley to the Bay Area.

But the board agreed that more study was needed to find the best route to use between the Central Valley and the Bay Area. It said there were multiple options in a corridor between Interstate 580 on the north and State Highway 152 to the south, but it ruled out a line
through Henry Coe State Park.

The authority had dropped consideration of the Interstate 580 route through the Altamont Pass, but it agreed to reconsider the route after environmental groups and Sacramento and East Bay politicians lined up in support of that option.

The board also left open the possibility of a route change and location of a station between Fresno and Bakersfield if the Legislature puts money into the next state budget to pay for a study of the switch.

Currently, the plan includes no stop between the two San Joaquin Valley cities along a route that would follow the Burlington Northern Santa Fe right of way down the western side of the San
Joaquin Valley around Hanford.

The Burlington Northern alignment would have fewer construction and noise problems and would be $590 million to $800 million cheaper than following a Union Pacific right of way along the east side of the valley, the authority's staff said.

The staff also recommended against locating a station in the Hanford-Visalia area, saying it would have the lowest ridership potential of any station considered for the project.

But a number of local government agencies, including the Tulare County Association of Governments and the cities of Visalia and Tulare, support a route along the Union Pacific right of way with a station at the Visalia

Several legislators testified Wednesday in support of a new route study and a stop between Bakersfield and Fresno, stressing the likelihood of big population growth in the area. They said they would support funding for the study.

"We know the population is going to increase dramatically," said Sen. Roy Ashburn, R-Bakersfield.

But Alan Miller, executive director of the Train Riders Association of California, said the board shouldn't bow to local pressure for more high-speed rail stations.

"You do not land a 747 in Visalia," he said. "You do not put a high-speed rail stop in Visalia. Everybody can't have a high-speed rail stop."

Board member Rod Diridon said if there is a station it should be located in Hanford or Visalia instead of an undeveloped spot to avoid encouraging urban sprawl. A Visalia station could be linked to Hanford, or a Hanford station to Visalia, by light rail, he added.

Friday, January 28, 2005

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