Calif. high speed rail costs escalate to est. $98 billion

3:32 PM, Nov 1, 2011   |    comments
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SACRAMENTO, CA - The most detailed plan to date on California's high speed rail system brings the ambitious project to a crossroads: Whether to proceed or pull the plug.

The price tag is now an eye-popping $98 billion, more than double than originally thought.

The controversial first segment remains in the Central Valley, where the feds said it must start in order to receive stimulus money. And blended tracks, or existing rail lines, will carry passengers on the final legs into the San Francisco and the Los Angeles basin.

The plan comes after Gov. Brown appointed two new members to the high speed rail commission, asking them to take a hard look at the proposal and assess its viability.

The new cost estimates account for 3 percent inflation over 20 years and $20 billion from private investment.

Supporters say bullet trains are greener and better than building more runways and freeways to handle 50 million Californians by 2040.

"Every year we delay the project adds about $2-3 billion in terms of the price tag. So it's important we get going soon," said Tom Umberg, chairman of the High Speed Rail Authority.

Critics are already slamming the new plan, especially since the project was sold to voters in 2008 as costing $43 billion.

"When the voters approved this," said Jon Coupla of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, "The economy was better, the projects were lower and if this project does go forward, we think the voters ought to have another say."

Opponents also question the wisdom behind the initial construction, slated to begin next October between Fresno and Bakersfield, without funding for the rest of the segments.

The San Francisco to Anaheim leg is supposed to be completed in 2033, making $350 million a year in profit even with low ridership.

"It will not be a train to nowhere," said California High Speed Rail Commissioner Dan Richard. "It will be a train to where trains are waiting. When we get to San Jose, the CalTrain will be there. When we get to the San Fernando Valley, the Metro Link will be there."

The entire project could create a million jobs ... 10% of them in the recession-ravaged Central Valley.

"I"ll work on the rail. I know a lot of people are opposed to it, but I'll do it," said Fresno resident Dan Robles.

The report ballparked a trip from L.A. to San Francisco at $60 to $80 each way. That's about the same as a bargain ticket on Southwest. So will Californians actually make the switch?

Nannette Miranda


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