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State puts brakes on bullet train plan

Schwarzenegger moves to slash funding for the system, citing other transportation needs.

April 29, 2007|Marc Lifsher | Times Staff Writer

But work on the train should wait for improved highways, new dams and prisons, Mendelsohn said. "There are millions of millions of working families who use freeways and roads in California. It's a reality."

Schwarzenegger's budget would reduce the authority to an office with no more than six full-time employees -- without the 75 consulting firms with 300 employees it has now. Outside contracts would need to be canceled, route planning put on hold and environmental and engineering work frozen.

The time is now to make the train a reality, said Assemblywoman Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco), who heads the Legislature's informal "high-speed rail caucus." Ma said her recent ride on the speed-record-setting French train made her a believer.

"It felt like we were ready to take off on a jet, but we kept on going faster," she said just after getting off the train.

Another member of the delegation, Assemblyman Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar), said high-speed rail would be a good transportation alternative for California, but as a fiscal conservative he was worried about the cost.

Ma's supporters in the Legislature and in local governments want to get Schwarzenegger to change his mind. Failing that, they'll try to allocate about $100 million for the rail authority that the governor wants eliminated. They also oppose his plan to strike the rail bond proposal from the 2008 ballot.

But a top aide to Schwarzenegger says the governor doesn't want to commit state money before lining up private financing.

Asking voters to approve nearly $10 billion in state borrowing, without first lining up at least $20 billion in private capital investments, is like the "tail wagging the dog," said David Crane, a former investment banker whom Schwarzenegger recently appointed to the rail authority board.

High-speed rail advocates agree that they'll need to attract billions of dollars from the private sector. However, they caution that investors are unlikely to risk their money without first seeing state dollars upfront.

"We've got to put enough public investment in to see if there is a system that others find appealing" to invest in, said Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle, a Republican and another new Schwarzenegger appointee to the rail authority.

However it's financed, the idea of streaking from Sacramento to Southern California in a few hours sounded great to Bill Cullifer and his 16-year-old daughter, Katie, as they slowly cruised through Stockton on a 10-hour train and bus trip to Disneyland.

"We could watch a movie on the train and then we'd be there," Katie said before nodding off to sleep.



Begin text of infobox

Proposed high-speed train

A proposed high-speed train that would link Northern and Southern California would be competitive with air travel by 2020 and would relieve pressure on air and highway corridors, according to proponents. Here are the proposed routes and estimated door-to-door times between selected cities.

*--* Sample trip Auto Air High-speed train* Los Angeles to 7 hours, 3 hours, 3 hours, San Francisco 36 minutes 26 minutes 30 minutes Fresno to 4 hours, 3 hours 2 hours, Los Angeles 18 minutes 33 minutes San Diego to 2 hours 2 hours 2 hours Los Angeles 41 minutes 46 minutes 16 minutes Burbank to 6 hours, 3 hours 3 hours San Jose 32 minutes 8 minutes 2 minutes Sacramento to 2 hours, No 1 hour San Jose 33 minutes service 53 minutes


* Express times, including travel time to and from train station.

Note: Air travel includes time needed to get to and from airports and to pass through airport security.


Source: California High-Speed Rail Authority

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