The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

December 16, 2013

Eyes on the high-speed line

(Continued)

California’s high-speed tracks currently are scheduled to reach major population centers in 2022, after tunneling through the Tehachapi Mountains to the northern Los Angeles suburbs.

Then travelers could make the 300 miles from Merced to L.A.’s San Fernando Valley in about two hours, with commuter train connections available at both ends to complete their trips into Los Angeles and San Francisco.

By 2026, the northern end of the line is supposed to reach San Jose, to allow trains to travel 410 miles and finally connect the Bay Area to the L.A. Basin.

But it will take an additional three years, and not-so-high-speed trains, to complete the “bookends” of the project into downtown San Francisco and downtown Los Angeles.

A compromise to use upgraded existing commuter lines for those “bookends” allowed planners to cut $30 billion in costs and provide earlier benefits for urban commuters, but that “blended” approach raised complaints that the line would no longer be the true high-speed line approved by voters.

In an interview, Morales defended the shift and said nonstop trains would still make the 475-mile journey from L.A. to San Francisco in two hours and 40 minutes, as required by the ballot measure.

“We can achieve the same performance at much less cost,” he said. “It’s a requirement that we make that time limit, and we will.”

The average ticket fare between San Francisco and Los Angeles is estimated to be $81 (in 2010 dollars), with eight trains an hour during peak periods, according to the authority’s current business plan.

Operating revenue is projected to exceed costs, meaning no operating subsidy would be required.

Critics challenge those projections, and public support has slipped since the 2008, as cost estimates climbed, lawsuits mounted, and construction was delayed.

A Los Angeles Times poll in September found 43 percent of voters support the project, down from the 53 percent who approved it at the polls in 2008.

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©2013 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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