Valley high speed rail projects get big boost

FRESNO, Calif.

Those attending a high speed rail meeting in downtown Fresno on Thursday heard how high speed rail is viewed by President Obama as a hallmark of his administration. It's clear the federal government prefers the project begin in the Valley.

The head of the Federal Rail Administration came to Fresno to pledge $715-million dollars to the Valley portion of the California High Speed Rail project. Joe Szabo explained, "We've made a historic down payment on a national system that within 25 years the vast majority of Americans were will be given a traveling choice from city to city with high speed passenger trains."

But California High Speed Rail Authority CEO Roelof Van Ark said the federal funding is contingent on whether the Merced-Fresno or Fresno-Bakersfield stretch is selected to be built first. Van Ark said, "Now with the additional $715-million allocation by the FRA obviously you are in a good position but we definitely will do a very professional evaluation of all four segments."

Van Ark expected a decision by the end of the year.

Congressman Jim Costa felt the Valley's chances are very good since it will be home to the system's maintenance facility. Costa said, "Well I think the wind's at our back."

Several Valley cities hope to land the high speed rail maintenance facility and the jobs which would come with it.

Van Ark hopes to have environmental clearance for high speed rail by the fall of 2011 with construction to begin in 2012.

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