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Governor outlines plan to implement high-speed rail by November

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High-speed trains could cut 50 minutes off the trip from San Diego to Los Angeles by November if the federal government approves Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed demonstration project.

In a letter sent earlier this month to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, Schwarzenegger says employing high-speed trains in the rail corridor that spans Los Angeles to San Diego would allow Californians to "experience something that is 'high-speed rail' sooner than 2020."

California voters approved Proposition 1A in November 2008, dedicating $9.95 billion in bonds to build an 800-mile high-speed rail network connecting the state's major cities. The state was also recently awarded $2.25 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to complete the project. The initial Anaheim-to-San Francisco portion of the project is set to be complete in 2020, at which time passengers will make the 465-mile trip in just two hours and 57 minutes.

The project Schwarzenegger is proposing is separate from the one being planned by the California High-Speed Rail Authority. His plan entails replacing two or more of the existing trains on Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner route with newer, faster technology, said Jeff Barker, deputy director of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

The trains would be capable of traveling faster than those currently used, but considerably slower than the roaring speeds of 220 mph planned for the high-speed rail line, Barker said. The proposal would cut the current average three-hour trip between San Diego and Los Angeles to just two hours and 10 minutes.

The proposal was initiated by manufacturer Siemens AG, which approached the state about extra trains that had been built but not put into service, Barker said. Schwarzenegger is seeking approval from the Department of Transportation to employ the Siemens trains.

Securing federal waivers will be the most difficult part of the governor's plan to put the nation's first high-speed trains in service, Barker said. The federal government must examine the safety of the trains and crossings.

The rail corridor between Los Angeles and San Diego is the second busiest in the nation, and some of the crossings do not have gates.

Plans for the state's high-speed rail network require construction of grade-separated crossings to reduce the likelihood of accidents involving trains and cars or pedestrians.

It remains to be seen whether the federal government will require improvements be made to the track before the high-speed trains are permitted to be put into service, Barker said.

Under Schwarzenegger's proposal, the "demonstration service" would be operated by Amtrak and managed by the High Speed Rail Authority. However, the High Speed Rail Authority will not contribute any funds to the project, Barker said.

Schwarzenegger's letter does not outline the financial arrangements related to the purchase or lease of the high-speed trains.

Both environmental and economic benefits will result from implementation of a high-speed rail system in the state, Schwarzenegger stated in his letter.

"This important achievement will mean cleaner air and less congestion in California, as well as less reliance on foreign oil for the entire nation," Schwarzenegger said.

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