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City supports high speed rail for the north state

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The city of Sacramento responded to the recently released California High Speed Rail Authority business plan with a letter of support – and a couple of suggestions for the authority to consider as the project develops.

City Councilman Steve Cohn said Tuesday that the city is in support of the project overall, but Cohn and the council want to emphasize two points: recognition that the high-speed rail project must be phased in, and funding should also upgrade existing connecting infrastructure.

“It can’t all be built at once,” Cohn said at the Law and Legislation Committee meeting at City Hall Tuesday. “The revised business plan does a more realistic job of explaining this phasing process (than the initial plan).”

The new business plan, released Nov. 1 to update the 2009 plan, outlines a “building block” approach to connecting the state’s major northern and southern California population centers with high-speed trains.

By building the project incrementally, the plan states, it allows for completion in stages as additional funding is identified.

Cohn said that, from the city of Sacramento’s standpoint, the 20-year project will need to connect well to local and regional transit services as it unfolds.

Some inter-city connectors will need to be upgraded and expanded – and that will not be cheap, Cohn said.

“So far, only $950 million of the original (Proposition 1A) initiative has been set aside for inter-city connections,” Cohn said. “We think that roughly 10 percent of total spending on high speed rail should go into these inter-city connections.”

With an estimated total cost of nearly $98 billion, that means $10 billion over the life of the project directed at essential infrastructure, Cohn said.

Cohn said that upgrades to inter-city connectors and existing rail lines will go a long way to increasing the overall efficiency of rail travel even before high-speed rail is fully realized in the state.

“If we invest money in the tracks and signal equipment between here and the Bay Area,” Cohn said, “We can reach the Bay Area in less than an hour with the exact trains we already have. Those trains are capable of going over 100 miles per hour. The problem isn’t the train, it’s in the track and signaling equipment.”

Cohn said the infrastructure work needs to be completed alongside the high-speed rail project so that, when everything is connected, it will create a smooth transition.

California voters approved $9 billion of public funding for the proposed high-speed rail project with Proposition 1A in 2008. Additional funding for the project will come from both federal and private dollars, according to the California High Speed Rail Authority.

The rail project is planned to ultimately connect Sacramento to San Diego via 800 miles of track, allowing upwards of 44 million riders annually to travel quickly from place to place.

The initial 130-mile stretch is slated to be built in the Central Valley at a cost of approximately $6 billion – including $3.3 billion in federal funds and $2.7 from state funds.

The estimated total cost of the first phase of the high-speed rail project, which would connect the Los Angeles basin to the San Francisco Bay Area, is $98.1 billion.

According to Lance Simmens, deputy director of communications for the high speed rail authority, construction on the initial segment – the “backbone” of the rail line – should start in late 2012.

The first segment of the rail project will extend from just north of Fresno to North of Bakersfield, and construction is expected to take approximately five years to complete. Work to connect to Sacramento would begin in 2026.

“The backbone (segment of the project) will be available for Amtrak San Joaquin (passenger rail) service,” Simmens said, “but it will not be high-speed rail yet.”

Trains on the initial segment will travel at normal speeds – typically between 80 to 100 miles per hour, Simmens said. True high speed rail is capable of speeds up to 220 miles per hour.

Simmens said that further construction will allow for faster speeds.

“We appreciate that the high speed rail authority business plan acknowledges the need for inter-city upgrades,” Cohn said. “Sacramento shouldn’t have to wait until 2040 to benefit from high-speed rail. We should be benefiting all along the way.”

The letter of support from the city of Sacramento will be sent to the high speed rail authority within the next week.

Read the California High Speed Rail Authority draft business plan HERE.

Explore an interactive map of the proposed high speed rail routes HERE.

Melissa Corker is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @MelissaCorker.

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