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Bullet train to start in north, but plan calls for $2 billion for LA region

Computer-generated image of a potential California high-speed train.
California High-Speed Rail/Flickr
Computer-generated image of what California's high-speed train could look like.

While construction of the controversial San Francisco to Los Angeles bullet train project won't start in Southern California as previously envisioned, a revised schedule does include $2 billion for local rail improvements.

A new High Speed Rail Authority business plan released last week reverses the order of construction, placing a northern segment from San Jose to Bakersfield before the more costly and challenging Southern California section.

Officials encountered resistance from some communities along the planned route between Burbank and Palmdale, and faced costly engineering challenges tunneling through the geologically complex Tehachapi and San Gabriel Mountains.

The project, estimated to cost $64 billion under the new plan, down $4 billion from previous estimates, is already two years behind schedule and $260 million over budget. It also lacks a private partner to fill a funding gap of more than $50 billion. 

While the new plan would delay arrival of the rail project in Southern California, it does offer a bit of a consolation prize: $2 billion to be spent as early as this year on projects to improve existing rail facilities between Burbank and Anaheim.

"The Burbank to Anaheim corridor is one of the most important," said High Speed Rail Authority Chair Dan Richard. "We are continuing to move aggressively to invest in updating it immediately even as we plan construction in other places."

Among the improvements that would be immediately funded:

  • Design of a new through track at Los Angeles Union Station that would allow trains to arrive and depart on separate tracks and provide for faster access by Metro, Metrolink and Amtrak trains.
  • Track and platform improvements to allow greater separation of freight and passenger trains to reduce delays for passenger trains such as Metrolink and Amtrak.
  • Several grade separation projects to move car traffic away from train tracks at dangerous intersections.

"Just that alone, that’s helpful," said Drew Sugars, Burbank city spokesman. "That's critical for us to improve transportation alternatives for our city residents and people who come into work here."
Several Southern California state legislators had been instrumental in securing funds for high speed rail from California's cap and trade market, which charges heavy polluters and uses the proceeds for projects such as transit.

Among the most outspoken on the issue was State Senate President Kevin de Leon, who commented on the revised plan in a statement Friday. "Building high-speed rail first where infrastructure already exists benefits everyone in the long run. It must be a fast track to opportunity for every region of California," he said.