California's proposed high-speed rail line has a new, shorter route that no longer will end near one of the state's best-known tourist attractions.
Anaheim, Calif., the Orange County city that is home to Disneyland, has been cut from the train's electrified, high-speed route. The line now will end in Los Angeles at its southernmost point and San Francisco to the north, High-Speed Rail Authority spokesman Lance Simmens confirmed yesterday.
The change happened as the state's High-Speed Rail Authority looked for ways to shrink the project's price tag to its current $68.4 billion from an early $99.5 billion. Eliminating construction of new, electrified track between Los Angeles and Anaheim will save $6 billion, Simmens said.
"We're looking to build the best system that we can for the best bang for the buck," Simmens said, adding, "we're building the system better, faster, cheaper."
The new plan for the southern terminus of the train is part of the revised business plan that the High-Speed Rail Authority released earlier this month. That blueprint cut the cost largely by having the train share tracks with existing rail in the northern and southern parts of the state (E&ENews PM, April 2).
The High-Speed Rail Authority board of directors on Thursday will vote on whether to accept that new outline. It then will be sent to the state Legislature, likely with a request to authorize $2.7 billion in bond financing. That along with $3.3 billion in federal funds would be used to start construction on the project this year in California's Central Valley.
Simmens insisted that Anaheim has not been "dropped" from the bullet train plan, because riders would still be able to access that city from Los Angeles using connecting rail.
But both Democrats and Republicans criticized the revision.
The decision to remove Anaheim from the high-speed rail portion of the route makes the system one that is even less useful for most residents, said state Assemblywoman Diane Harkey (R), who represents several cities in south Orange County. She is a skeptic of the development and already had authored legislation to halt its bond financing.
"Southern California outside of Los Angeles continually gets the shaft when it comes to any transportation dollars," Harkey said, adding, "even Anaheim that was a strong supporter [of high-speed rail] is getting the shaft.
"It doesn't serve Southern California," Harkey said of the planned bullet train. "It will never serve Southern California. It doesn't serve the areas that we need."
Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), whose district includes Anaheim, said in a statement that while she was pleased the rail authority had made changes that could help assure the project gets built, the decision to remove Anaheim from the route was flawed.
Anaheim "is home to a thriving business corridor and to our state's largest tourist attractions," Sanchez said. "Failure to link the high-speed rail system to Orange County negatively impacts the county's residents and our local economy, and is a disappointment for the state of California."
As the project moves forward, Sanchez added, the rail authority should "honor the mandates put forward by the California state legislature and continue with the original plan of bringing high-speed rail to Orange County."
Overall, the proposed high-speed rail line continues to draw criticism from many officials. Yesterday, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), whose district is anchored in the San Diego area, announced he had launched an investigation into the project, alleging possible conflicts of interest and questioning how the state plans to spend billions of dollars in federal aid (see related story). Not one-seat ride
The revised route will not conflict with the 2008 ballot measure that launched high-speed rail, Simmens said. Proposition 1A, which approved $9.95 billion in bond funds, specified a train between San Francisco and Los Angeles that would make the trip in two hours and 40 minutes, he said.
The new plan does not cut Anaheim out of the picture, Simmens said.
The High-Speed Rail Authority recently agreed to invest about $1 billion in rail improvements in Southern California. Those previously had been described as upgrades that would lay the groundwork for what eventually would become part of the high-speed rail system (E&ENews PM, April 2). Simmens said those improvements will make for a better ride between Los Angeles and Anaheim.
Passengers who take the bullet train to Los Angeles and want to continue south to Orange County under the revised plan, however, will have to change trains. Amtrak and commuter rail line Metrolink currently connect the two cities, which are about 30 miles apart.
"What we are doing is we're moving from in the draft plan what was a one-seat ride to Anaheim to a transfer in Los Angeles," Simmens said. "So you're going to have superior improvements in that section, but you're going to have to get off the train in Los Angeles and transfer to the train to get to Anaheim.
"We could save $6 billion by giving better service from Los Angeles to Anaheim but not doing $6 billion worth of improvements that in a lot of instances the local leadership down there, particularly the Orange County Transportation Authority did not want," Simmens added.
Harkey disputed the accuracy of that description, saying that the bullet train agency wanted to put a positive spin on the change. The High-Speed Rail Authority lacks credibility, she said, because it "has been misleading the public for years." Adding Anaheim later
A $184 million transportation center is planned in Anaheim for high-speed rail, Harkey said, adding "there's really major disappointment here."
That new transportation center will provide service to commuter line Metrolink, buses and shuttles and "is being built to accommodate future high-speed rail," said Joel Zlotnik, spokesman for the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA).
OCTA has not yet discussed the High-Speed Rail Authority's plan to remove Anaheim from the electrified bullet train route, Zlotnik said. He also said that OCTA had never stated a position on a high-speed rail line that would have been on a separate, electrified track. OCTA in March approved a resolution that supported the "blended" approach of sharing existing track, he said.
High-speed rail could come to Anaheim in the future, Simmens said.
"We want to continue to encourage leaders in Orange County to continue to work with us to help make high-speed rail in Orange County a reality," Simmens said.
Asked what would need to happen for Anaheim to be added and whether it was an issue of finding the money, Simmens said that "we'll work with them however they want to make this a reality."
Copyright 2012 Environment and Energy Publishing, LLC