The first segment of California's proposed high-speed-rail line would extend from the unincorporated Central Valley community of Borden to the Bakersfield area under a new plan approved by the California High-Speed Rail Authority this week.
The rail authority shocked city officials throughout the state on Dec. 2 when it selected a segment between Borden and Corcoran as the launching point for the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles line. The selection angered rail critics and city officials from larger Central Valley cities, some of whom branded the proposed system a "train from nowhere to nowhere."
Since the decision, the rail authority received a $616 million grant from the Federal Railroad Administration. The money was initially allocated to Ohio and Wisconsin, but was redirected to California after the two states scrapped their rail programs.
The federal funds would have to be matched with money from Proposition 1A, the $9.95 billion bond measure California voters passed in November 2008.
The rail authority decided on a 7-0 vote Monday to use the money to stretch the initial segment of the rail line to just north of Bakersfield. The authority also directed $500,000 to Bakersfield and another $500,000 to Merced for rail station design. These grants would have to be matched by local funding.
The new federal funds leave the rail authority with about $5.5 billion for the system, which would connect San Francisco and Los Angeles by 2020 and would stretch to Sacramento and San Diego in later phases.
Board member Lynn Schenk, who expressed trepidation about the initial route selection but voted to support it, said this week's revision alleviates some of her concerns. She noted that the Borden-to-Corcoran route selection made engineering sense but "defied common sense," prompting negative reaction from communities.
"This makes a lot more sense," Schenck said. "I'm very pleased that we got the money."
Tom Umberg, vice chairman of the authority's board of directors, and Roelof van Ark, the authority's CEO, both stressed Monday that the agency's goal is to build a statewide system, not to connect two cities in the Central Valley. Umberg also said the authority needs to do a better job communicating its plans and intentions.
"We're about creating a system from Northern California to Southern California, not building a system between two locations in the Central Valley," Umberg said at the meeting.