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Obama announces $368 million for California high-speed rail

SUN-STAR PHOTO BY BEA AHBECK
An artist rendering showing a cross-section of the proposed high-speed rail station in Merced is on display during a public meeting about the train station in Merced, Calif. Tues. April 20, 2010.
SUN-STAR PHOTO BY BEA AHBECK An artist rendering showing a cross-section of the proposed high-speed rail station in Merced is on display during a public meeting about the train station in Merced, Calif. Tues. April 20, 2010. Merced Sun-Star

WASHINGTON – California's high-speed rail plans picked up more momentum Monday, as the Obama administration announced an additional $368 million to boost rail travel through the Central Valley.

The grant includes $300 million to stretch the initial high-speed rail route from Bakersfield toward Merced, and $68 million to purchase rail equipment.

California's share is part of $2 billion newly awarded by the Transportation Department as a result of Florida rejecting the rail funds.

"These projects will put thousands of Americans to work, save hundreds of thousands of hours for American travelers every year, and boost U.S. manufacturing," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood declared.The California money will enable the state to extend its high-speed rail route an additional 20 miles. Transportation Department officials said Monday this will "take the track and civil work from Fresno to the 'Wye' junction, which will provide a connection to San Jose to the West and Merced to the north."

The separate $68 million federal grant will help the state buy 15 passenger rail cars and 4 "quick-acceleration" locomotives for use on the Pacific Surfliner, San Joaquin, and Capitol Corridors.

The new locomotives will be able to travel at speeds up to 125 miles per hour. When constructed, California's high-speed rail line is supposed to offer train speeds up to 220 miles per hour.

"This is great news for Californians," Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein declared.

Feinstein and her colleague, Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, had helped urge the Transportation Department to steer more high-speed rail dollars toward California, as had many of the state's House members.

When complete, California officials envision an 800-mile rail system connecting San Diego and Los Angeles to Sacramento and San Francisco. The phase connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles and Anaheim is projected to cost $43 billion.

Critics, including a number of congressional Republicans, consider the ambitious plan a taxpayer-subsidized boondoggle in the making.

"The project has lacked adequate cost controls, the transparency our Valley farmers deserve and the oversight our taxpayers demand," Rep. Jeff Denham,R-Atwater, declared earlier this year.Citing their own potential problems, GOP governors in Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida rejected federal high-speed rail funds.

Twenty-four states, the District of Columbia and Amtrak submitted nearly 100 applications for the money made available by Florida's decision.

In Congress, lawmakers cut high-speed rail funds from the Fiscal 2011 budget. The money announced Monday comes from a separate stimulus package unaffected by the congressional budget-cutting.

The Amtrak Northeast Corridor received an additional $795 million grant Monday, while a Midwestern corridor received $404 million to boost high-speed service between Chicago and the cities of Detroit and St. Louis.

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