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High-speed rail on fast track in Calif.

August 6, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
A high-speed rail may soon be on the fast track in California, if federal stimulus money is approved. A top priority would be the segment from Anaheim to Los Angeles. Californians may be seeing bullet trains sooner than expected. The California High Speed Rail Authority decided to move up the deadlines so it can qualify for federal stimulus money dedicated to such projects across the country.

The Obama Administration requires projects to break ground by September of 2012, which is four to six years earlier than the original plans. Federal money is desperately needed to supplement the $10 billion financing bond voters approved last year.

"People, when they passed the bond, they expected something to happen," said Curt Pringle, Chairman, High Speed Rail Authority. "And in economic stimulus dollars, the requirement is to spend those dollars, start building something and putting people to work. And we're prepared to do that."

But not everyone is happy about the sooner deadlines. They question whether there will be enough time to settle lawsuits and get public input. Portions of the San Diego to Sacramento route, especially those through neighborhoods, are being disputed by residents who like their peace and quiet.

"The biggest danger is that citizens don't get heard, alternatives don't get considered. They don't want to study any route alternatives. And to me, that's absolutely wrong when you're doing a $40 billion project," said Richard Tolmach, California Rail Foundation.

The project engineers insist the early deadlines won't shorten the period for public hearings or environmental reviews. Train passengers who support high-speed rail think seeing the project starting in three years is good news.

"The sooner we can make transportation available to the masses, quicker, the more people are going to use it and the highways will be less crowded," said Charles DeFevere, a train passenger from Visalia.

But critics warn there could be a price for acting too fast.

"You can't short-cut the process on a high-speed train. You end up with a mess," said Tolmach.

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