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California high speed rail plan scaled back

USA: A scaling back of the high speed rail project in California was announced by Governor Gavin Newsom in his first State of the State address on February 12.

Newsom said the project ‘as currently planned’ would ‘cost too much and take too long’, and added that there had been too little oversight and not enough transparency. 

‘There simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to Los Angeles’, he said, and thus the north and southern sections of the proposed route would not be built. However, the section in the Central Valley will still go ahead. ‘We do have the capacity to complete a high-speed rail link between Merced and Bakersfield’, he said, rejecting as ‘wrong and offensive’ any claim that this would be a ‘train to nowhere.’

The 190 km Initial Operating Section of the high speed line between Madera and the northern edge of Bakersfield must be completed by December 2022 to meet a federal government deadline.

Economic transformation

Newsom said high speed rail was about ‘economic transformation’ of the Central Valley, and ‘we can align our economic and workforce development strategies, anchored by High-Speed Rail, and pair them with tools like opportunity zones, to form the backbone of a reinvigorated Central Valley economy.’

Newsom said ‘we will continue our regional projects north and south’, and committed to connecting the Central Valley to other parts of the state, finishing the Phase 1 environmental work which covers San Francisco to Los Angeles and Anaheim,  and continuing to push for more federal and private funding.

He said the state would not ‘walk away from this whole endeavour’, because ‘abandoning high-speed rail entirely means we will have wasted billions of dollars with nothing but broken promises and lawsuits to show for it.’ He was also ‘not interested’ in returning the$3.5bn of federal funding.

Newsom said contractors and consultants would be held more accountable in the future, with details of expenditure to go online. There would also be governance chnages, with Newsom picking his Economic Development Director Lenny Mendonca as the next Chair of the High-Speed Rail Authority.

CHSRA eager to meet the challenge

Responding to the announcement, California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Brian Kelly said ‘the Governor has called for setting a priority on getting high speed rail operating in the only region in which we have commenced construction: the Central Valley. We are eager to meet this challenge and expand the project’s economic impact in the Central Valley.

‘Importantly, he also reaffirmed our commitment to complete the environmental work statewide, to meet our “bookend” investments in the Bay Area and Los Angeles and to pursue additional federal and private funding for future project expansion’, Kelly added.

‘We welcome this direction and look forward to continuing the important work on this transformative project.’

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