High speed rail proponents had long been hopeful that when construction finally begins by autumn 2012, it would begin with the 50-mile segment running from San Francisco to San Jose. After all, those are two major cities that can easily be connected, and the train would have a steady customer base from day one, even if it doesn’t stretch all the way down the coast. That won’t be happening. The HSRA has decided that the first line to be laid would connect Merced and Bakersfield instead.

The problem is the money. While federal and matching state funds are available, the Authority determined that they are only enough to cover half the cost of the San Francisco to San Jose Section, while there was enough to cover the 60 miles from Merced to Fresno or 113 miles from Fresno to Bakersfield. An additional $715 million in federal funding would have helped, but the federal government stipulated that it must be used in Central California. That sealed the deal, and the Peninsula was out of the running.

Some local towns, including Palo Alto and Atherton, were pleased with the decision. They have long opposed having bullet trains run through their jurisdictions. Local unions, however, were distraught. Construction would have led to tens of thousands of new jobs for the depressed industry. Then there is Caltrain, which also stands to lose out because of the decision. Caltrain is planning to switch to electric trains, which will provide faster, cheaper service. But the train line is struggling, and cannot afford the $1.5 billion switch without federal funding, which would be available through high speed rail funding.

Perhaps the biggest irony in the decision is a statement by HSRA CEO Roelof van Ark that until major population centers are connected, there will be no bullet trains riding along the tracks. Since Merced, Fresno, and Bakersfield do not meet his definition of major population centers, “We will not have trains when we build this first segment.” That’s $5 billion for a track with no train.
Read More at The Mercury News.