Central Valley gets first segment of bullet train

December 2, 2010 5:41:25 PM PST
The Bay Area will not be getting the first leg of the controversial 800-mile long bullet train, that, years from now, is supposed to run from Sacramento to San Diego. The High Speed Rail Authority awarded the first 65 mile segment to the central valley.

Despite very vocal opposition, the California High Speed Rail Authority unanimously approved what critics call the "train to nowhere." Of the hundreds of miles of track that would operate between Anaheim and San Francisco with extensions to Sacramento and San Diego, the very first 65-mile leg will be built in the Central Valley between two small towns straddling Fresno.

"We're building the firest section in a place that most feasible. We get our biggest bang for our buck," Tom Umberg from the California High Speed Rail Authority.

The commissioners didn't have much leeway. The federal government mandated that more than $4 billion in funding had to be spent in the Central Valley. Contracts had to be signed by the end of the year, or California risked losing the money.

"Four billion dollars, you don't even get cars, you don't get locomotives, you don't get a signal system," Richard Tolmach from the California Rail Foundation said.

At the very least, critics say the tracks could started and ended between two cities where more people live.

"Bakersfield to Fresno proves itself, it provides the most track and will show that the value of the taxpayers' money is being used most effectively," John Ritchie from Paramount Farming said.

Ridership between the two Central Valley towns was not considered because there are no plans to run the trains on any part of the system until the tracks extend to, at least, the Bay Area or Los Angeles.

"This is not a train to nowhere. Fresno is one of the largest cities in California," Visalia Mayor Bob Link said.

Approval of the first leg in Central Valley will help an area of the state that's been dubbed the New Appalachia, where the unemployment rate is as high as 25 percent in some areas.

There's growing concern future funding for the $43 billion project could dry up as Republicans in Congress try to tame the $1.3 billion federal deficit.


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