Bay Area given priority status for high-speed rail line

Local residents would be among the first to hop aboard California’s high-speed train system that would speed travelers between the Bay Area and Los Angeles in about two and a half hours — if the system ever gets built.

Wednesday’s 5-2 vote by the California High-Speed Rail Authority gave top priority to a Bay Area-to-Anaheim phase, laying the groundwork for approximately 425 miles of track. Stops along the route would include Los Angeles, Palmdale, Bakersfield, Fresno and Merced, according to Judge Quentin Kopp, rail authority chairman and former state senator for San Mateo and San Francisco.

Whether the train would cross from the Central Valley into the Bay Area by way of San Jose and the Pacheco Pass or Oakland and the Altamont Pass likely won’t be decided until the fall, officials said.

The long-delayed project — originally scheduled to go to voters for approval of $10 billion in state bond funds in 2004 for the first phase, and now tentatively scheduled for the November 2008 ballot — would ultimately result in 700 miles of track from San Diego to the Bay Area and Sacramento. Total construction costs are estimated at about $40 billion.

The rail authority hopes to attract $5 billion to $7.5 billion in private venture investment, Kopp said. It is unclear where the rest of the money would come from, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has asked the authority to come up with a clear financing plan before committing to possible taxpayer support.

The authority hopes to gain voter approval in 2008 and break ground on the rail system immediately, but state funding cutbacks could push that back to 2010, Kopp said.

Mayor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday praised the Bay Area’s inclusion in the first phase of construction. “It will have a positive impact economically, and it will tie together the region,” he said.

Choosing the Bay Area-to-Anaheim route as the first phase was “the easy part,” according to Richard Silver, executive director of the Rail Passenger Association of California. “It’s the logical route that serves the most people, while being less expensive and most direct,” Silver said.

In addition to trying to tap into the Central Valley’s ballooning population growth, the Bay Area-to-Anaheim route has the most potential for attracting private investment, said Kris Deutschman, rail authority spokeswoman.

Ridership for high-speed rail is anticipated to hit between 86 million and 117 million passengers per year, with annual revenue between $2.6 billion and $3.9 billion by 2030, according to a study by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Kopp said a one-way ticket would cost in the neighborhood of $40 to $50, making it nearly as fast and far less expensive than flying. “You won’t have to arrive at the station one and a half to two hours before departure like at an airport,” Kopp said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com


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