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'Bullet' train plan would cost $10 bil.

October 22, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
On November 4, voters will decide whether a high-speed rail line should be built in California. According to its boosters, Proposition 1A will begin to unlock California's gridlock and completely change the way we move around. Its detractors argue it'll cost a fortune for no benefit.

"We think this is the wrong time and this is the wrong plan to approve a 'bullet' train," said Kris Vosburgh, executive director, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

High-speed "bullet" trains already run in Europe, where rail ridership is up 80 percent, and in Japan and China. But here in the United States, plans for high-speed trains have always floundered on cost. Supporters hope California will be different.

"I do expect California could lead the way," said Tom Umberg, California High Speed Rail Authority commissioner. "It's been used for 40 years in Japan and for 20 years in Europe, so it's innovative for us, but not innovative for the world. And the distances in California are ideally suited for high speed rail."

The California High Speed Rail Authority has spent a decade planning for high-speed trains. Now it's asking voters to pay for them.

If passed by a majority of voters, Prop. 1A would raise $10 billion to begin construction of high-speed rail. Congress would pony up another $10 billion and the rest would be paid by private investors.

The lines would run from Anaheim and Ontario to L.A. through Antelope Valley and Bakersfield to San Francisco and Sacramento. A line south from Ontario along the I-15 corridor to San Diego is also in the plan.

Supporters say its speed would be breathtaking, and would change the way we think about travel.

"All you need to do is drive up the 5 Freeway on any morning or any evening and you'll see how congested things are, and people can get from Anaheim to Los Angeles in 22 minutes, I guarantee you there'll be lots of riders," said Umberg.

After the recent Metrolink crash, many worry about safety. Umberg says high-speed trains run on their own dedicated tracks. There's no conflict with freight or slower passenger trains.

But many voters are skeptical -- $10 billion is a lot of money.

"No, I don't think it's worth using money because we have a lot of fixing up to do first before we do this," said Anaheim resident Basel Hassounen.

Supporters acknowledge the cost is high, but they think in the long run, it will pay off with less-crowded freeways and airports. Train travel is on the rise here too, and riders ABC7 talked with support a newer, faster system.

"If you could get to San Francisco from here in two and a half hours, absolutely, the planes are horrible, it takes so many hours to get to the airport and back. If I could ride a train I would do it," said Corona resident, Elena Shuldiner.

Critics call all this pie in the sky, that Californians will never give up their cars, and they point out it's still cheap to fly to San Francisco. They say trains are not needed.

"They are relying heavily on federal money, and private sector investment, which in this economy you just are not going to see," said Vosburgh.

November 4, voters have the final say.


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