High speed rail CEO speaks to business leaders

September 29, 2010 7:34:55 PM PDT
Critics are trying to put the brakes on high speed rail in California. On Wednesday, the man in charge of the project spoke to business leaders in San Jose about some of the challenges.

California voters approved a nearly $10 billion bond for high speed rail, but at a current price-tag of $43 billion, we'll need more than that bond.

"Today I am more confident than ever that this project can and will be built," said California High Speed Rail CEO Roelof van Ark.

Van Ark told San Jose business leaders funding is the single biggest obstacle facing the project, but that he expects the money will come from two main sources: the private sector and the federal government.

He says there's momentum in Washington to provide about $1.5 billion a year over 10 years and there's the idea for an infrastructure bank.

"Which is another possibility, to make an infrastructure development bank, has not yet taken off, but the ideas are being floated which will fund again projects of this nature," says Van Ark.

Another challenge to overcome are peninsula cities who are unhappy with the rail authority and its plans for how to put trains through their cities.

"So how do you separate those trains from cars going at 120 mph? Do you raise the trains 30-40 feet in the air, and kind of destroy, create this scar down the community? No!" says Assembly member Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo.

Also, the trains will use the existing Caltrain right of way, but at certain spots, it is too narrow with only 60 feet instead of the needed 80.

"There are some sections that are narrower, where we are looking at options of partially going into a tunnel, so as not to have an impact on the properties adjacent to the right of way," says Van Ark.

"The most important part is that the High Speed Rail Authority, the staff and the board listen a little more. They have to pay attention to what the community is saying," says Hill.

Van Ark says construction needs to start in 2012.


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