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Panel revives plan to run fast trains on shared track between Anaheim and L.A.

Local officials are concerned that hundreds of private properties would have to be condemned in Anaheim, Buena Park and other cities for the dedicated high-speed rail line along the 34-mile route.

April 09, 2010|By Rich Connell

A high-speed rail configuration that backers say could save up to $2 billion and greatly reduce demolition of homes and businesses across the heart of Southern California was revived Thursday by project officials.

In the 6-1 vote at a meeting in San Jose, the California High-Speed Rail Authority agreed to revisit a plan, discarded in 2008, to share existing rail where feasible with commuter and freight services operating along a 34-mile route between Anaheim and downtown's Union Station.

Upgrades would eliminate at-grade street crossings and add high-tech train control systems to permit bullet trains to operate and conventional passenger trains to increase speeds significantly, officials say.

The action came in response to local officials' concerns that hundreds of private properties would have to be condemned in Anaheim, Buena Park and other cities to accommodate the separate, exclusive tracks being envisioned for high-speed trains. Both alternatives now will be examined.

"It's a very good sign," said Richard Katz, a high-speed rail board member who also is a director of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

"It means we have an opportunity to make a change . . . that is much more neighborhood friendly, that is cheaper and that will improve rail services between L.A. and Anaheim."

Opposing the move was board member Quentin Kopp, a former state lawmaker and longtime Bay Area transportation leader. Kopp questioned the potential costs of changing course in design at this stage, agency officials said. With a recent infusion of $2.25 billion in federal stimulus dollars, officials are racing to break ground by a 2012 deadline.

Previous reviews concluded that the existing Los Angeles-Orange County rail corridor could not accommodate Metrolink, Amtrak and freight service, as well as high-speed trains expected to run every few minutes.

Bullet train board Chairman Curt Pringle, who also is the mayor of Anaheim, supported reexamining the shared-track option. He noted that federal officials who regulate and help finance high-speed rail projects have become more open to such track-sharing arrangements in recent months, said Jeff Barker, the agency's deputy executive director.

Project planners and Los Angeles and Orange county transportation officials will begin reviewing the design alternatives immediately. Among the issues likely to be examined are whether bullet trains can operate safely and how they can avoid delays on mixed-use track.

A final recommendation could come in several months, Katz said.

The L.A.-to-Anaheim leg of the bullet train is projected to cost about $4.5 billion, if separate tracks are laid. It is likely to be the first section constructed of a 500-mile initial phase extending to the Bay Area and carrying a price tag of nearly $45 billion.

rich.connell@latimes.com

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