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10/19/2010



Rail News: High-Speed Rail

CHSRA sets criteria to choose which segment will receive high-speed stimulus funds


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Yesterday, the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) proposed a set of formal criteria to help determine which project segment will be funded first. The initial influx of capital funding could total up to $4.7 billion in federal and state construction dollars.

The Federal Railroad Administration has set a January 2011 deadline to finalize an agreement with CHSRA specifying which segment of the project will receive $2.25 billion in federal stimulus dollars, which will be matched with state bond funds, according to the authority.

The four sections eligible for funding are Los Angeles to Anaheim, San Francisco to San Jose, Merced to Fresno, and Fresno to Bakersfield. To accomplish the goals set under the stimulus program, authority officials believe the funding should be concentrated in one of the segments rather than spread among them.

“It is absolutely critical that we invest these funds where they will do the most good — and position California to ultimately create a true high-speed rail system that connects major cities to one another,” said CHSRA Chief Executive Officer Roelof van Ark in a prepared statement. “We want our board of directors to have all the facts when they make this decision, so we are spelling out both the legal requirements and a clear assessment of the benefits and risks in each eligible section.”

The proposed criteria reflect both the legal requirements in Proposition 1A — the $9.95 billion state bond measure approved by California voters in November 2008 — and federal law, as well as steps to maximize public benefits while minimizing risks.

The legal requirements include meeting a fall 2017 federal deadline to complete construction and achieve “operational independence,” meaning the project must offer quantifiable benefits such as improved travel reliability, reduced travel time or more frequent intercity rail service, even if the entire high-speed rail system is not complete, according to CHSRA.
 
Authority officials also say the board should consider whether the first segment built would form the core of the statewide system, how to build the most useful high-speed rail infrastructure at the lowest cost and factors such as potential litigation that could delay construction.

The board will use the criteria to evaluate each of the four sections before determining which of the segments will go to construction first. Previously set for Oct. 20, the board meeting has been postponed until after the federal government announces the latest round of funding for high-speed rail projects, which is expected to occur before the end of the month.



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