Green light for California high-speed rail project

By Helen Wright03 December 2010

The California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) has voted to begin construction on the inaugural stretch of a state-wide rail system that will eventually boast 1300 km of track and up to 24 stations.

The initial 105 km segment will cost approximately US$ 4.15 billion and start north of Fresno near Madera, continuing to Corcoran, north of Bakersfield.

The project will involve acquiring rights of way, realigning roadways and existing railways and utilities, building two new stations as well as the construction viaducts and rail bridges.

The new stations will be located in down town Fresno and east of Hanford.

CHSRA said the new line would be connected at both ends to existing tracks used by rail operator Amtrak, allowing the segment to be operated by conventional trains until further sections have been built.

This first stretch of the state-wide high-speed rail project "lays the foundation for expanding the track both north and south", CHSRA explained.

The overall network will initially connect Los Angeles to the Bay Area in the California Central Valley, and later run to Sacramento and San Diego.

CHRSA aims for high-speed trains to eventually travel between LA and San Francisco in under two hours and 40 minutes, at speeds of up to 220 mph.

The decision to spend the bulk of the total US$ 4.3 billion funds available for the state-wide project on this one section followed a mandate from the Federal Railroad Administration in October directing that all federal funding awarded to the CHSRA so far must be dedicated to a single portion of the project, with at least US$ 715 million being spent on a rail route in Central Valley.

CHSRA said that it had chosen an option that makes the best use of available funding and lays a core foundation for the network.

Vice chair of the authority Tom Umberg said, "We are building a state wide system. We're in the business of connecting major metropolitan centres across our state, and we won't have a true high-speed rail system until we tie every part of this state together. It's not one town or one region versus another; it's about connecting one region to another".

No construction can begin until the CHSRA completes environmental reviews of the project. The federal deadline for completing these reviews is September 2011, and construction is expected to begin in 2012 and finish in 2017.

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