New funds will double length of California high-speed rail line

Fresno BeeDecember 20, 2010 

An extra $616 million in federal funds from Ohio and Wisconsin will be used to extend the initial construction of California's high-speed rail line, creating a 120-mile segment that will link two of the Central Valley's largest cities, Fresno and Bakersfield, according to a vote Monday by the state's High-Speed Rail Authority board.

The project's critics had derided the initially approved 65-mile segment as going "nowhere to nowhere" because it didn't connect any major population centers.

The money from the Federal Railroad Administration could nearly double the miles track to be built starting in 2012, to as much as 123 miles, spanning from south of Madera to the northern edge of Bakersfield. The exact length of the initial construction, however, cannot be determined until the completion of environmental studies and cost estimates of different route options between Corcoran and Bakersfield.

Earlier this month, the rail authority's board approved a 65-mile span from near Borden, south of Madera, to Corcoran, in Kings County, as the first piece to be built, using $4.3 billion in federal and state funds for what is ultimately planned as an 800-mile system connecting California's major urban centers with trains moving at up to 220 mph. The section was chosen because it could easily tie in to existing Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks now used by Amtrak passenger trains — something required by the federal government in case no future sections are ever built.

The money taken from Ohio and Wisconsin, after newly elected Republican governors in those states declined federal stimulus funds for high-speed rail, will be matched dollar-for-dollar by California with money from Proposition 1A, a 2008 bond measure, to bring the total amount available for the initial construction to about $5.5 billion.

Rail Authority vice chairman Tom Umberg described the latest infusion of cash as "an early Christmas present" to California from Ohio and Wisconsin.

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