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Politicians Toot Horns at Rail Corridor Opening

April 13, 2002|LOUIS SAHAGUN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a salute marked by brass band music and train whistles, about 1,000 dignitaries, community leaders and train aficionados gathered at a downtown Los Angeles field Friday to launch a new rail expressway that will enhance the flow of international trade in Southern California.

Among those on hand for the grand opening of the $2.4-billion Alameda Corridor, which links local ports with downtown switching yards, was U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, who called it "one of America's most significant transportation projects."

After two decades of planning and five years of construction, the 20-mile-long railway came in on time and on budget, making it a model of innovative financing, cooperation and good government, Mineta said.

The project's legacy extends beyond speeding the flow of cargo from seaports currently handling $200 billion worth of goods a year. A 10-mile stretch of its tracks hidden from view in a 33-foot-deep, 50-foot-wide trench, which eliminated more than 200 rail crossings, is expected to ease traffic congestion and air pollution in six cities.

The project provided construction job training for 1,200 residents, 637 of whom were placed in union apprenticeships.

The Alameda Corridor was funded by a mix of private and public sources, and involved the cooperation of half a dozen political jurisdictions with conflicting concerns.

"Everybody's going to wonder, 'How'd they do it?'" joshed Mayor James K. Hahn. "This is going to be how to do infrastructure in the future."

Added Gov. Gray Davis: "This is a marvel of leadership and vision--this is a big deal!"

That is precisely why John Olguin, founder of the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, traveled from San Pedro and found a seat up front and center in the bleachers facing a stage crowded with political and business leaders. "This is yet another moment in history that will make Southern California great," said Olguin, 81. "I compare it to the development of the San Pedro breakwater in 1898."

His wife, Muriel, said it reminded her of the seemingly fanciful stories she heard as a student at Occidental College in 1941 about "how they were going to build a freeway in Pasadena--and that there were more to come."

Then there was Wally Shidler of Walnut Park, who recalled a 1925 report by the California Railroad Commission. "It called for the elimination of railroad crossings," he said, shifting his train engineer's cap. "Well, they finally got around to it."

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