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Transportation agencies seek bullet train funds to upgrade local corridors

New proposals call for spending an additional $4 billion from a $9-billion bond fund to improve existing tracks in Northern and Southern California that would later become part of the bullet-train system.

February 19, 2012|By Dan Weikel and Ralph Vartabedian, Los Angeles Times

Officials in Northern and Southern California contend that billions of dollars in bullet train construction costs could be saved by dropping plans for exclusive high-speed rights-of-way in dense urban areas. Even with an exclusive corridor, they say, bullet trains could not travel much faster than conventional trains.

"Blending the systems will make high speed rail more feasible and provide a broad benefit across the population centers of the state," said Art Leahy, the MTA's chief executive and an early critic of exclusive rights-of-way for the bullet train. "It reduces the risk if no other funds for high speed rail are available near term."

The shared-track approach has been embraced by the rail authority. Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the Southern California Assn. of Governments, said state officials did so only after the association proposed dropping the high-speed project from a regional transportation plan, a major planning document. Such a move, he added, would have made it difficult for high speed rail to obtain government funding.

"The committee involved did not want to put the high speed rail project into the plan because just building a line in the Central Valley without working on the bookends would not benefit anybody," Ikhrata said.

Richard asserted that he "reached out" to the local agencies rather than being pressured by them to accelerate spending for upgrades to local rail lines.

Until now, Moscovich of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority said, high speed train officials had gravitated toward the sort of costly and exotically engineered networks found in some other countries, rather than a practical starter line that could provide quick benefits.

"We don't need a Tokyo-style system," he said.

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