Obama Sees CA's High Speed Rail Dream

April 16, 2009 8:15:31 PM PDT
President Obama identified 10 high speed rail corridors on Thursday eligible to compete for $8 billion in federal stimulus money and another $5 billion over the next five years. Luckily, the proposed line through California made the cut.

A collective, excited gasp could be heard among the state's high speed rail supporters when President Obama pointed out California's long-reaching dream in his speech.

"California, where voters have already chosen to move forward with a high speed rail system, a system of new stations and 220-mph trains that link big cities to inland towns," said President Obama.

California's High Speed Rail Authority will apply for about half of the first $8 billion available. If you add that with nearly $10 billion in bonds voters approved last November, it's a significant start.

Federal stimulus money for high speed rail is crucial for California because just the first phase alone, from San Francisco to Anaheim, will cost $35 billion.

"You'll see some trains running in probably about five to six years, in all likelihood. The full system, assuming we have the money, you can have it in less than 10 years," said Mehdi Morshed with the California High Speed Rail Authority.

Taxpayer groups aren't that excited because they think passengers won't give up airplanes for bullet trains, even if it will only take two and a half hours to travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

"We've seen studies showing, in California, even if it's built with bond money and federal money, that the fare box revenue won't cover 10 percent of the operating expenses," said Jon Coupal with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

Still, the stars seem to be lining up for this decades old dream.

"California's so ahead of everybody else in their thinking, in their stage development, that they'll have to be a major winner," said former Obama transportation advisor Mort Downey.

High speed rail money is expected to be awarded by the end of summer.


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