Published Monday, June 1, 2009, by the Valley Voice (Visalia)
Stimulus Money May Change High Speed Rail Schedule
SAN JOAQUIN VALLEY -- The Central Valley portion of the High Speed Rail system
may be constructed after both the San Francisco-to-San Jose and Los
Angeles-to-Anaheim segments are constructed, but that timetable is not set in
High Speed Rail Authority spokesperson Kris Deutschman said it is true that both
the northern and southern segments of the rail system are further along in the
planning stage than the Central Valley, but what actually gets built first is
yet to be determined. At one time, it was believed the Valley segment would be
one of the first constructed.
However, earlier this month, the Authority approved a list of shovel-ready
construction projects likely to qualify for $8 billion in federal stimulus
funding for high speed trains.
According to the Authority, one of the project elements selected was the entire
Los Angeles-to-Anaheim and San Francisco-to-San Jose corridors, where the
Authority is expected to have completed the project level environmental
documents this year and qualified and selected design build teams to begin
construction of the sections by the 2012 deadline.
The Authority also selected a second stimulus project that would be the
identification, selection and negotiation of right-of-way acquisition in the
Merced-to-Bakersfield section, including the system's planned maintenance
facility, but not the rail system.
Mike Olmos, Visalia assistant city manager, said he attended that meeting and he
is not surprised that the Central Valley segment may come later rather than
"There are some areas further along because right of way can be acquired now,"
said Olmos. "However, we're the middle link. The high speed rail cannot work
unless the middle link is done. They have to get to us if they want to make a
connection between L.A. and S.F. and that's what the system is all about."
Georgiana Vivian, with the Authority, told members of the Tulare Sunrise Rotary
Club that because of the federal stimulus funding, the projects first considered
"shovel ready" must be built first. Right now, the San Francisco-to-San Jose
segment is by far the farthest along, with the Los Angeles-to-Anaheim segment
Vivian said construction on the Central Valley segment may not begin for another
seven years, but Deutschman said that does not mean that portions of the Valley
line could not be built sooner and there is a key reason at least a portion of
the Valley line is important.
"We need to test trains on long stretches of flat land and the Valley would be
best for that," she said. Vivian said the timetable is to begin testing trains
by 2015 and that the Authority must test the trains and tracks for three years
before passengers can be carried. That means the earliest riders will be able to
get aboard the high speed rail is 2018.
"We have the longest segment and that is where they can achieve the speeds to
test the trains," agreed Olmos.
He said the seven-year timetable sounds about right, but work on the
environmental review of the Valley line -– which includes determining where the
line will go –- is moving forward.
"There's a team of consultants working on the Bakersfield-to-Merced segment.
They've been in contact with us," said Olmos.
Visalia hopes to land a stop, and the Authority has identified five possible
locations for a stop in this area -– four along Highway 99 near Visalia and one
at Highway 43 and Highway 198 near Hanford.
"We have a general route and recommended stations in the Valley, all along the
99 corridor, not I-5," said Deutschman. However, the Authority has not decided
if a stop will placed in the Visalia/Hanford area.
She also said the Authority is trying to determine where to place its
maintenance facilities –- two smaller facilities probably at each end, then one
large facility somewhere near the middle of the system. Olmos said the Authority
is looking at the old Castle Air Force Base north of Merced for that large
The 800-mile high speed rail is being funded by a $90 billion bond measure,
another $12-15 billion in federal money, $2-3 billion in local money and $6-7
billion in private funds.
Deutschman said the Authority should hear by the end of June if it is going to
get any stimulus money, but it is confident some will come. When asked how many
dollars the high speed rail might get, she replied, "All I'm hearing are
Federal rail officials have established initial criteria for grants to complete
individual projects that are "ready to go" with preliminary engineering and
environmental work completed and that demonstrate "independent utility."
"We are confident that California's system is well ahead of every other high
speed train project in the country and should be a leading candidate to receive
stimulus funding," said Board Chairman Quentin Kopp. "Ours is the only one with
billions of dollars in voter-approved state funding committed to the project,
with environmental clearances already in place and with construction elements
already identified and ready to go."
Deutschman said the L.A. route is most "shovel ready," but there are portions
within each segment that might be shovel ready, but not the entire system.
When fully completed, passengers will be able to ride from San Francisco to San
Diego. The S.F.-to-L.A. non-stop run is projected to take less than three hours.