California fast tracking high speed rail

(Reuters circulated the following story by Zaher Karp on May 11, 2009.)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. Bullet trains will someday link major California cities at over 220 miles per hour, ferrying commuters along proposed routes from the Bay Area to southern California. This week, the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) made its first stops down that line by approving a number of shovel-ready projects to qualify for federal stimulus funding. California, with billions of dollars in voter-approved funds and extensive planning, is laying tracks for national high-speed rail implementation.

Projects like California's trains, if approved, will qualify for a portion of the $8 billion in initial federal stimulus. The Recovery Act funds will support the construction of a high-speed rail network through an initial $8 billion with an additional $1 billion each year for the next five years. CHSRA staff is ready to get moving, with preliminary environmental and engineering work for several projects, which along with the service corridors mentioned above, will include areas along Merced to Bakersfield. California residents shared these sentiments, having voted to approve Proposition 1A last November, putting nearly $10 billion into the system.

According to statements made by the chairman of the CHSRA, Quentin Kopp, the railway could generate new jobs, to the tune of 150,000 construction-related positions between now and 2025. When the 800-mile goal is reached and operations are ready, it would create, according to Kopp, "450,000 plus or minus permanent new jobs," and the system is expected to provide an annual surplus of over $1 billion.

Citing increasing costs, CHSRA now projects the cost to be $45 billion. It has been suggested that building a national system of inter-city would cost between $250 billion and $500 billion. Nonetheless, the Golden State feels confident about their position in the race towards bullet trains. Though Ray LaHood, Transportation Secretary, also mentioned Florida as being "way ahead of the curve."

Before the federal deadline on August 1, CHSRA staff will also work to identify other projects outside of the initial proposed main corridors. Primary locations are already receiving attention, as may be evidenced by changing property values. In Los Angeles, after new transit station locations were announced, commercial property values in expected station areas grew 40% more than in other properties.

With cities in Florida and California offering proposals, and other states such as New York showing interest despite less-evident voter support, high-speed trains are receiving growing attention due to President Barack Obama's plans, including linking Pittsburgh to the East Coast.

As the stimulus deadline nears, California's plan seems more than just a dream of less emissions and congestion.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

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