Rail Authority Wants Private Sector To Connect San Diego
Monday, April 2, 2012
Aired 4/2/12 on KPBS News.
California High-Speed Rail Authority says it can cut costs and create a connection to San Diego with help from companies seeking profits.
SAN DIEGO The chairman of the California High Speed Rail authority today held out hope that San Diegans will live to see high-speed rail connect their city to the rest of California. But it may depend on the willingness of private enterprise to build the San Diego connection in hopes of making profits.
The comments by chairman Dan Richard came as the authority announced a dramatic reduction in the expected cost of a high-speed rail system. Earlier, the authority estimated that completing the “first phase” of the system would cost $98 billion. But today, Richard announced that price tag has dropped by $30 billion, due to a revised plan that has high-speed trains using existing rail bed that's now assigned to conventional trains.
But the news could be met with indifferent shrugs in San Diego, which doesn’t expect to see high-speed rail service for decades. The first phase of the high-speed rail plan, which connects Anaheim to San Francisco, isn’t even scheduled to be finished until 2030.
But Richard said the authority will fund improvements to the heavily used San Diego to LA route, in order to build ridership for conventional rail service. And that will encourage the private sector to partner with the state to make the high-speed connection. At least that's Richard's hope:
“That even while we are building the rest of the system, people see the great opportunity to make a private investment in San Diego up to Los Angeles,” he said.
But first, the high-speed rail authority must convince a skeptical state Legislature to allocate funds this year. The revised total cost of high-speed rail in California is still $68 billion.
Republican Assemblywoman Diane Harkey told the Associated Press the rail authority’s changing plans should cause the Legislature to block sale of the rail system’s bonds.
"The entire high-speed rail project needs to go back to the drawing board," she said.
But Dan Richard said the authority’s new business plan shows ingenuity and it should inspire confidence.
“We can build a world-class system and we can do it at less money than we previously thought we could,” he said.
The first section of the track will run from Merced, in the Central Valley, to Burbank north of Los Angeles. Richard expects that to be done in 10 years.
The Associated Press contributed to this story