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Final price on Calif. high-speed rail doubles, but promises profit

November 1, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A new plan has been released designed to make high-speed rail a reality in California. But critics are now calling for the project to be derailed, permanently.

The most detailed plan to date on California's high-speed rail system brings the ambitious project to a crossroads: whether to proceed or to pull the plug.

The price tag is now an eye-popping $98 billion, more than double than originally thought.

The controversial first segment remains in the Central Valley, where the feds said it must start in order to receive stimulus money.

And "blended tracks," or existing rail lines, will carry passengers on the final legs into San Francisco and the Los Angeles basin.

The plan comes after Governor Jerry Brown appointed two new members to the high-speed rail commission asking them to take a hard look at the proposal and assess its viability.

The new cost estimates account for 3-percent inflation over 20 years and $20 billion from private investment.

Supporters say bullet trains are greener and better than building more runways and freeways to handle 50 million Californians by 2040.

"Each year we delay the project adds about $2- to $3-billion in terms of the price tag. So it's important we get going soon," said Tom Umberg, chairman, High-Speed Rail Authority.

"We think the time is now to pull the plug on this project," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assoc.

Critics are already slamming the new plan, especially since the project was sold to voters in 2008 as costing $43 billion.

"When the voters approved this, the economy was better, the projections were lower and if this project does go forward, we think the voters ought to have another say at it," said Coupal.

Opponents also question the wisdom behind the initial construction, slated to begin next October between Fresno and Bakersfield, without funding for the rest of the segments.

"It will not be a train to nowhere," said Dan Richard, commissioner, California High-Speed Rail Authority. "It will be a train to where trains are waiting. When we get to San Jose, the Cal Train will be there. When we get to the San Fernando Valley, the Metro Link will be there."

The report ball-parked a trip from L.A. to San Francisco at $60 to $80 each way. That's about the same as a bargain airline ticket. So will Californians actually make the switch?

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