High-speed rail planners focus on running trains to L.A. before Bay Area
No final decision has been made, but high-speed rail planners are increasingly focused on Southern California as the most financially promising place to build the project's first operational segment.
In what could become a political win for the southern portion of the state, project officials say ridership and revenue projections clearly favor connecting the Los Angeles Basin's larger population base to initial construction proposed in the Central Valley. Tracks to the Bay Area would follow at least several years later under that scenario.
Recent discussions with transit agencies in the north and south could soften the impact of any decision on where the system would operate first. Project officials say they are looking at connecting as soon as possible with L.A.'s Metrolink and the Bay Area's Caltrain. Observers say these improvements could be made simultaneously.
But as the rail authority puts final touches on a revised business plan that could determine the project's fate in the state Legislature this spring, Chairman Dan Richard confirmed that planners are giving "more attention" to starting service between Merced and the San Fernando Valley rather than between Bakersfield and San Jose.
Richard denied having a preference for one option or the other; neutrality on this point has been the rail authority's policy. He also emphasized that a final board decision could be years away, and that both options will continue to be investigated in case of unforeseen obstacles.
Even so, he said in an interview earlier this month that he and other board members cannot ignore recent estimates suggesting Southern California has more potential for delivering early operational profits.
"We will be guided to a great extent by the (ridership and revenue) numbers," he said.
If they follow this, it would be a great dose of extra sanity for the high speed rail authority. IOS-North doesn't offer terribly much, there's already a rail connection between the Bay Area and it would still take a significant amount of time to connect between San Francisco/Oakland and the Central Valley due to the Caltrain corridor. IOS-South connects the state rail network and, because it has a fast and immediate connection to Los Angeles (and SCRRA is highly likely to fund electrification for the "last mile" from the San Fernando Valley to Union Station), is of high utility, especially considering the large amounts of traffic (about 65,000 average daily vehicles) through the Grapevine, which is subject to weather related closures and delays.