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Whatever Happened To ... California's vision of a high-speed train

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  • Ronald Dawson
    From http://www.sacbee.com/news/news/local07_20010420.html Dawson Whatever Happened To ... California s vision of a high-speed train By Walt Wiley Sacramento
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 27, 2001
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      From http://www.sacbee.com/news/news/local07_20010420.html Dawson

      Whatever Happened To ... California's vision of a high-speed train
      By Walt Wiley
      Sacramento Bee Staff Writer
      (Published April 20, 2001)

      It wasn't long after the Japanese and French began running their high-speed
      rail service in the 1960s that such service between Northern California and
      Southern California was being proposed.

      That idea of a California bullet train is alive and well today. The
      California High Speed Rail Authority lives today as a little state agency
      with five employees, three of whom are on the road constantly, holding
      hearings on routes and tending to the details that will be needed when
      California's high-speed rail system is open for business along about 2020.

      It will be an investment in public works on the order of the state water
      project or the freeway system -- and it's going to happen -- said Dan
      Leavitt, deputy director of the high-speed rail authority. He took time to
      talk in the authority's cramped quarters upstairs in the rear of an office
      building across from the Capitol.

      This isn't just an improvement on existing rails that will allow 79 mph
      trains to go up to 125 mph, he explained, but a whole new system of true
      "bullet" trains that travel on dedicated rails at much higher speeds. Plans
      call for a Y-shaped arrangement in which separate Sacramento, San Francisco
      and Southern California branches join at Merced. They form a 700-mile system
      on which trains could travel 200 mph or faster over most of its length.

      It's an appealing concept, to hear Leavitt tell it.

      A traveler from Sacramento to Los Angeles would board the train at the
      Sacramento depot, either the present depot or a new one built quite close to
      the old location, but not on the old tracks. High-speed trains will travel
      on their own tracks that aren't shared with conventional trains nor crossed
      at all, except by overpasses and underpasses.

      "Anyone who's ridden the trains in Europe or Japan will tell you: It's
      quiet, smooth. There's very little sense of motion even though you're going
      over 200 mph. You can walk around, go get coffee, even hold a meeting --
      there are tables for that," Leavitt said.

      And two hours and nine minutes after whooshing out of the center of
      Sacramento, passengers would be disembarking at Los Angeles' Union Station,
      all for a fare envisioned at $41 in today's dollars.

      It all will cost about $25 billion, but in the end the investment will pay
      off, carrying 32 million intercity riders and 10 million commuters yearly
      while generating $900 million in revenue, $300 million of which would be
      returned to the state as surplus.

      Right now, contractors are preparing environmental impact statements for the
      entire system so that rights of way can be nailed down, Leavitt said, and in
      a couple of years there will be a bond election to raise part of the money
      for the system. There will also be federal funds and private investments
      involved.

      By the time the train is operational, people will be more than ready for it,
      according to the business plan prepared for the system. Freeway traffic in
      Los Angeles and San Francisco will average 15 mph by then and the air lanes
      will be choked.

      Airline interests are not at all eager to see the system built, not with the
      San Francisco-Los Angeles air corridor the most heavily traveled in the
      country. Ed Merlis, senior vice president of the Air Transport Association
      airlines lobbying group, based in Washington, D.C., calls the whole idea
      "nonsense."

      "What is it? Twenty-six billion dollars? For 5 percent of that, $1.2
      billion, I can buy them eight 747s and have them up and running in six
      months and they'd be carrying all the passengers those trains would carry,"
      Merlis said. "Furthermore, if the system's a dud they can sell the airplanes
      and get their money back. I don't think they'd be able to sell this train
      setup."

      On the other hand, John Shields of Chico, president of a rail passenger
      group called Speedtrain, said his members are eager to see the system built
      and dismayed that the public hasn't been asked to vote on the bonds for it
      already.

      "The population keeps growing. Freeways and airports are jammed," Shields
      said. "Now's the time."
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