California High Speed Rail’s recent increase in activity in the Central Valley has caused some rail backers and opponents to voice their dissatisfaction with the “train to nowhere” plan. Both groups have taken the position that starting the high speed bullet train in the Central Valley has no benefit.
The dissatisfaction has caused a political challenge for the California High Speed Rail Authority especially since there are struggles with getting the appropriate funding base for the project’s under-estimated budget. Recently the state of California has tentatively approved $250 million in fiscal 2015, however, that is merely a drip in the bucket given that the CHSRA’s proposed budget is roughly $4 billion for the year.

In attempts to satisfy the public’s concerns, CHSRA has stated it plans on bringing the rail project to Southern California sooner than expected with the addition of the Palmdale to Burbank track with the anticipation that some of the greenhouse gas fees will be allocated to the high speed rail project. However a segment between Burbank and Palmdale will require much planning as well as approvals from a number of government agencies and completion of extensive environmental reports. The hope is that the segment will bring benefits to the Los Angeles area, especially by improving traffic congestion. The current commute time using the Metrolink rail is approximately 90 minutes, which is still faster than by car. However the high speed rail is anticipated to cut travel time down to 14-16 minutes from Palmdale to the San Fernando Valley.

Ultimately the Palmdale track is intended to reach down to Union Square connecting Southern California with the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco. The Palmdale to Los Angeles track is estimated to cost $13.5 billion, however there have been no budget estimates released for the Palmdale to Burbank segment. Jeff Morales, the CEO of CHSRA, had proposed the idea for the Palmdale-Burbank segment in a letter to Sen. Fran Pavely (D-Agoura Hills). He stated that the board of directors would adopt the revised plan for the Palmdale-Burbank segment if the legislature could secure greenhouse gas fees for the rail. The action was secured last month giving the CHSRA a chance to bring the rail to Southern California.

So far, the CHSRA has been confronted with legal issues and lawsuits in Central Valley and the Simi Valley but there has been little opposition in Southern California. The long term funding provided by the greenhouse gas fees may cover billions of funding dollars that had not been allocated to CHSRA by the state. Greenhouse gas fees are typically allotted to projects which reduce or eliminate emissions in large amounts during a short time span. CHSRA argues that a bullet train in the Los Angeles area will be a great benefit to the public and the environment. State legislators have agreed and the long-term funding through greenhouse gas fees will, as Morales states, “accelerate the high-speed rail program and connect California from north to south and south to north.”

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