The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

December 16, 2013

Eyes on the high-speed line

FRESNO, Calif. — After decades of promises, plans and politics, California has finally reached the construction phase of its high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

But a judge’s ruling last month could derail the $68 billion project, setting new legal and financial hurdles in the path of a proposed 520-mile railroad for 220-mile-an-hour bullet trains.

Championed by Gov. Jerry Brown as a transforming project akin to the early freeways and the Golden Gate Bridge, the high-speed rail line would be America’s first, and the project is being closely watched in the Northeast by boosters of a similar line between Washington and Boston.

If California succeeds, Americans could experience at home the kind of travel widely available in Europe, Japan and China. A 475-mile, L.A.-to-San Francisco train ride is slated to take two hours and 40 minutes, three hours less than the 380-mile car trip.

In addition to fast travel, the project promises to deliver up to 66,000 construction jobs a year and 400,000 related jobs, reduced highway and airport congestion, and cleaner air.

If successful, it could whet the appetite for similar trains in the Northeast Corridor, the nation’s busiest rail route.

But if the California project dies, “critics will quickly point to that” to challenge any high-speed trains for the Northeast, said Drew Galloway, Amtrak’s chief of Northeast Corridor planning and performance.

“There is a lot riding on California’s success.”

“If California were to collapse, it makes it much harder for the Northeast,” said Dan Schned, a senior planner for the Regional Plan Association in New York City, which has long pushed for high-speed trains on the Northeast Corridor.

“It would make it open to the criticism that nobody wants this.”

If the California project is completed on its current schedule, high-speed trains would be running by 2022 between Merced and Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, a distance of about 300 miles. The complete route, connecting L.A.’s iconic Union Station and Anaheim to a new Transbay Terminal in San Francisco, is supposed to be operating by 2029.

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