It will be many years before a high-speed rail train will race through San Joaquin and Sacramento counties, carrying residents from the capital to as far south as San Diego.
But the planning stage has started for the estimated $42.6 billion project.
The California High Speed Rail Authority is accepting public comments on possible alignments for the tracks, where the stations should go, how to prevent noise and disturbances to animals and plants, and other issues, said Gene Endicott with Endicott Communications. He has been hired to educate city and county leaders in Sacramento and San Joaquin counties about the project.
The planners will accept comments through Feb. 26 and will hold another series of public meetings once it starts planning more specific routes. Before any construction starts on any of the sections, studies will have to be completed on the environmental impacts.
The priority is to start with the high-speed rails running from San Francisco through Fresno all the way down to Anaheim, Endicott said. The trip from the Bay Area to Los Angeles will take two hours and 20 minutes.
The second phase will be the Sacramento to Downtown Merced portion that will continue south and the Los Angeles to San Diego portion. The trip from Sacramento to Los Angeles will be even shorter at 2 hours and 17 minutes.
The authority is looking at two different routes through Sacramento and San Joaquin counties, but once they start researching land acquisition and possible challenges, the routes could change. One possible route would run similar to the current Union Pacific tracks in use. Another option is to go along the Central California Traction route, which is also owned by Union Pacific but not currently in use.
While the statewide agency is working on the large high-speed rail project, there is also another local effort to work on commuter rail that will run from Sacramento to Downtown Merced.
Endicott said the California High Speed Rail Authority is supportive of sharing the high-speed rail lines with a commuter train. Endicott said one possible advantage to combining the two projects is that money could flow faster to that section of the high-speed rail project.
Lodi City Councilman Bob Johnson serves on the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission and said the commuter and high-speed rail projects are morphing together.
Because both projects are in the beginning stages, Johnson said it is hard to say what the future will be of either project.
"Everything is up in the air, and not to be negative, but this high-speed rail is terribly complex, terribly costly and is still in the design phases," Johnson said.
Councilman Darryl Clare serves on several committees related to rail issues in the area. He said the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee is working with Union Pacific to see if they can put a commuter train on existing rails. The trouble with that plan is that railroad companies often do not like limiting freight traffic for commuter trains, because freight is more profitable. So the committee is also looking at high-speed rail.
"We are pursuing multiple avenues and seeing which one can be done the earliest," Clare said.
Endicott said he knows people have concerns about the cost, and said he has never said the project is inexpensive. He said he believes that when the voters approved selling a $9.95 billion state bond in November 2008, they realized it would put the state in debt, but thought the economic recovery the project would bring is more important.
One of the biggest challenges with getting public support for a new transportation system is that a high-speed rail doesn't exist anywhere in the United States, he said, although 11 projects are in various stages of planning throughout the country. He said in Europe and Asia, high-speed rail has been around in some cases for decades, he said.
"They don't have anything to look to to know what this is. We are not developing something out of fantasy," he said.
The rail authority estimates the project will create an additional 600,000 jobs and another 450,000 permanent jobs statewide. The timeline is to finish the environmental reports in 2011, begin construction in 2012, open sections for passengers in 2017 and have the first phase from Anaheim to San Francisco fully operational by 2020.
Comments soughtThe California High-Speed Rail Authority is requesting comments from the public on the proposed routes or issues that should be included in the environmental impact studies.
Send comments to Dan Leavitt, Deputy Director, Merced-to-Sacramento California High-Speed Rail Authority, 925 L Street, Suite 1425, Sacramento, CA 95814.
Comments can also be submitted by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is the plan for financing the project?— State funding: $9.95 billion from Proposition 1A bonds, which voters approved in November 2008.
— Federal funding: $17 to $19 billion in stimulus funds, other federal loan programs and transportation appropriations.
— Local funding: $4-5 billion in contributions, right-of-way acquisitions, parking fees and transit-oriented developments.
— Private funding: $10 to $12 billion in public-private partnerships, vendor financing and availability payments.
Source: California High Speed Rail Authority