Calif. bullet train clears 1 obstacle; land, legalities remain

6:42 PM, Mar 18, 2013   |    comments
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The $68 billion California High Speed Rail project is gaining momentum, as it rushes to begin construction in the Central Valley this July.

The California High Speed Rail Authority board voted unanimously to move ahead with authorizing the state to sell up to $8.6 billion in voter-approved bonds. Three billion of that will be used to start the first 130-mile segment in the Central Valley from near Merced to north of Bakersfield.

The state could lose $3 billion in federal matching funds if the project doesn't start soon.

"What's your current estimate of the total amount of debt that will be assessed including the interest on this?" high speed rail opponent Kevin Dayton asked the board.

It all depends on Wall Street, but for estimation purposes, the state is using a 6.5 percent interest rate for 35 years.

"It's about $175 million a year to pay the debt services on that ... for $3 billion," said Authority Chairman Dan Richard.

The financing may be lined up, but the state still has some things to settle if it wants to break ground this summer. The state doesn't have a piece of land yet to put the tracks on.

Reporter: "Have you secured any land yet?"

Richard: "Our staff is out now with four different teams starting the land acquisition process."

And there are at least two pending lawsuits, one of which questions the legality of the revised plan: The bullet trains will be on high speed rails until just before the Los Angeles and San Francisco regions where they'll switch over to existing tracks.

Critics question if passengers can, in fact, get north to south in 2 hours and 40 minutes as promised.

"This resembles nothing that the people voted for and you shouldn't be allowed to do it because it's a question of the law," said Kathy Hamilton with the Community Coalition on High Speed Rail.

"Some of the people who are saying this have ignored the fact that the blended approach is commonly used throughout the world," Richard explained.

Even if the lawsuits are decided in the state's favor, no one knows where the remaining $55 billion will come from to finish the project.

Nannette Miranda


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