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California high-speed rail rejects one of three proposed routes

(The following story by Russell Clemings appeared on The Fresno Bee website on April 8, 2010.)

FRESNO, Calif. — The California High Speed Rail Authority has ruled out one of three alignments for its 220-mph system's route through Madera County.

Two alternatives that remain under study include one that closely follows the Union Pacific Railroad corridor and another that follows the Burlington Northern Santa Fe corridor a few miles east.

Removed from further consideration was a route that would have taken the train system through farmland west of Highway 99, bypassing both Madera and Chowchilla.

The authority's board made its decisions at a meeting Thursday in San Jose. Current plans call for the $42.6 billion system to start construction in 2012 and begin serving passengers between San Francisco and Anaheim in 2020.

In addition to narrowing its choices around Madera and Chowchilla, the board also dropped a proposal for the line to follow the UP line south from Merced, then cross to the BNSF north of Chowchilla. It also chose a downtown Merced station site, dropping the Merced Amtrak station and the old Castle Air Force Base.

Authority officials noted that the BNSF east of Madera had been identified as the preferred route in 2005. On Wednesday, however, the board was told that route would be 10 miles longer and raise more environmental issues.

The route west of Highway 99 would have faster travel times. But it drew opposition from Merced, Merced County, Madera County and farmers.

Local governments were split on the two other alternatives. Merced and Merced County backed the UP route, but Chowchilla and Madera voiced a preference for the BNSF.

Friday, April 9, 2010

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