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New High-Speed Rail Plan: $30 Billion Less, First Phase from Merced to Burbank

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(Fresno, CA)
Monday, April 2, 2012

The draft business plan put the price tag at $100 billion and laid out a first phase from Merced to Bakersfield.  Now, the California High-Speed Rail Authority says the "initial operating segment" would run as far south as Burbank.  By using state bonds for Bay Area and Southern California rail projects that would also benefit high-speed rail, the new business plan reduces the cost to $68 billion.  And Board Chair Dan Richard says Governor Jerry Brown has a new funding stream in mind:

Richard: "We do have now - as a result of Cap-and-Trade - a dedicated funding source that will be sufficient to fill in any shortfalls and get us all the way from Merced to Burbank with an initial operating segment."

Listen to our extended interview with California High-Speed Rail Authority Board Chair Dan Richard:

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All this is subject to the approval of a skeptical legislature, which has to sign off on the sale of nearly $3 billion in state bonds within the next couple of months.

Lawmakers React

California lawmakers are just starting to examine the new high-speed rail plan.  They'll have to include state bond funds in the upcoming budget in order for construction to start on time.

State Senator Mark DeSaulnier is one of several Democrats who have raised questions about the project.  He says the first phase from Merced to Burbank doesn't connect the state's population centers.

DeSaulnier: "That brings real concerns to me, because that's better than a non-electrified test track with no trains on it and no real ridership - but with all due respect to Merced, it's not really linking up with San Francisco and Sacramento."

Some other Democrats are on board with the new plan.  Assemblyman Henry Perea says it "makes sense and will give this project the opportunity to succeed."

Republicans are strongly opposed.  State Senator Doug La Malfa says the project looks nothing like what voters were promised when they approved the state bonds in 2008.  He's working on a ballot initiative that would pull the plug on high-speed rail.

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