Two years ago voters approved Proposition 1A and it appeared that everything was set to build a high-speed rail line from San Diego to Los Angeles to San Francisco.
The idea was that you could get from downtown Los Angeles to San Francisco in two hours and 38 minutes without flying. Bullet trains could run between 90-110 mph in urban areas and accelerate to 220 mph in rural locations.
But fast forward to today and there are as many questions as answers on this project. Cities from north to south have asked for a slowdown. Some have even said don't build it in their area.
Then there's the problem of money. Proposition 1A authorized nearly $10 billion and Congress has allocated about $1.8 billion - an additional $400 million went to San Francisco for a new terminal - in stimulus money.
But the project is expected to cost about $42 billion.
Still, officials for the California High-Speed Rail Authority say they believe the money can be raised and the state needs a high-speed train.
"We've got a state that will grow by more than 12 million people over the next few decades," said Jeff Barker, the authority's deputy director. "We need to keep people moving. We need more (car) lanes, airport lanes and more options that will help people move more efficiently throughout the state."
They're counting on raising $15 billion more from the federal government, $12 billion in private investments and $5 million from local governments.
But more federal money isn't a
"High-speed rail will have to earn the congressional funding it gets," Napolitano said. "They have to work with the communities, respect their wishes, and let us know what their plans are. They have agreed to work with local cities, although there has been no complete resolution of that yet."
Valerie Martinez, a spokeswoman for the authority, said they're working to get federal money.
"There is a desire to get a national high-speed rail system moving," Martinez said. "California is leading the charge and we're working closely with Congress."
No project ever has all of its funds identified upon its inception, she said.
"We have what's appropriate for a running start," she said.
There also are questions about whether private money can be raised.
"There are segments of the line that you could run sensibly, principally L.A. to San Diego," state Treasurer Bill Lockyer told the San Diego Union-Tribune's editorial board.
"I hear from the world of Wall Street investment bankers about what they think makes sense," Lockyer said. "And almost universally, they're convinced that no one can finance the routes from L.A. to the Bay Area, that it just will never work economically, certainly in the foreseeable future."
Lockyer declined to talk to this newspaper about his views.
Barker said the authority agrees that private investors for now aren't interested in putting up money.
"They won't be ready until there's more of an investment from the federal government," he said. "We've always projected that government has to put money up first."
Ticket to ride
There also are questions about ridership.
Officials with the authority have asserted a bullet train will make money.
The authority expects 41 million riders and $2.87 billion in annual revenue by 2035.
However, a new study by researchers at the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Berkeley said the authority's forecasts aren't reliable because they are based on an inconsistent model.
"We found that the model that the rail authority relied upon to create average ridership projections was flawed at key decision-making junctures," said the project's principal investigator, Samer Madanat, director of the institute and UC Berkeley professor of civil and environmental engineering.
"This means that the forecast of ridership is unlikely to be very close to the ridership that would actually materialize if the system were built," Madanat said. "As such, it is not possible to predict whether the proposed high-speed rail system will experience healthy profits or severe revenue shortfalls."
Barker said authority officials heard the presentation but don't agree with it.
"These are academics," he said. "That's one view. We've hired people who we believe are the best in the business. We used a model that is tried and true and tested."
Money isn't the only problem facing the authority.
Locals have their say
Many cities - up and down the state including several in the Whittier area and much of the San Gabriel Valley - are either opposed or saying slow down and answer their questions.
The San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments will send a letter to the Rail Authority next week listing their concerns about the proposed project.
The authority is considering three possible routes - Union Pacific Railroad, Pomona (60) Freeway and the San Bernardino (I-10) Freeway through the Valley.
Union Pacific in May notified the authority it will fight any attempt to put a track next to its own line.
"Locating the high-speed corridor adjacent to Union Pacific's right-of-way raises serious safety issues and creates a barrier against any future rail-served development on that side," stated a four-page letter from the company.
Barker said that the letter will be reviewed and the authority will respond to it.
The proposed route from Anaheim to Los Angeles that goes through La Mirada, Santa Fe Springs and Pico Rivera, which would follow the BNSF Railroad, has drawn criticism from local cities.
Plans of attack
A route proposed to run along the 10 freeway has also drawn ire from some cities, whose residents say the project will displace homes and businesses, lower property values and create unwanted noise.
Rosemead earlier this year passed a resolution opposing any route that would displace property owners. And Alhambra held two public meetings this week during which residents lined up against the route, city manager Julio Fuentes said.
"The bottom line is, they don't want it. They are not against high speed rail. They want to see it in the Southland, but when you look at the levels of housing and businesses along the 10 Freeway... basically they said this just isn't the right place to put it," Fuentes said.
Fuentes said the city only recently heard about a proposed route through the community.
"This thing is moving awful fast," he said.
The Rail Authority is tentatively scheduled to discuss the route at a meeting in October, but that could be postponed.
In the meantime, Alhambra officials are gathering the technical expertise they need to oppose the route, and are considering hiring additional legal help, if necessary, Fuentes said. Next week, the council will send a letter to the Rail Authority opposing the route.
"Sure, it's good for the state, but depending on how it effects our neighborhoods, we'll fight it," Fuentes said.
Racing against time
Another concern is the tight timeline the authority is on to secure federal stimulus money.
An environmental impact report must be completed by Sept. 30, 2011, construction of the track - it doesn't have to be electrified - must be done by 2017 and trains need to run by 2020.
Stimulus money is being used on four portions of the proposed line, Los Angeles-Anaheim, Bakersfield-Merced, Merced-Fresno and San Jose-San Francisco.
Latham said he's not sure the authority can meet these deadlines - in light of the concerns such as aesthetics, noise, safety, vibrations from the train and the possible need to condemn homes or businesses.
"Given the time frame on the use of the stimulus funds, we've asked them to rethink this," he said.
It just isn't cities in Southern California that have concerns.
The Peninsula Cities Consortium - Atherton, Burlingame, Belmont, Menlo Park, and Palo Alto - in Northern California has asked the authority to halt plans until it can prove the rail line won't tear apart the communities.
The line also faces problems from the California Legislature.
Following an audit that said there are problems with oversight, management and funding, several legislators told the authority to have plans in place to fix the issues.
Rail authority officials have said they welcome the scrutiny and are addressing the issues.
"The authority believes strongly in transparency, and we welcome scrutiny and oversight," Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle, the authority's chairman, wrote to Inspector General Laura Chick.
Staff Writer Rebecca Kimitch and Staff Writer Mike Rosenberg of the Bay Area News Group contributed to this story.
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