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Sunshine State congressman not sure Golden State can use high-speed rail

Construction of California’s planned bullet train system, linking Los Angeles with San Francisco, will begin next year in the wide open fields of the state’s Central Valley, reports Rich Connell of the Los Angeles Times. That is, unless the new Republican majority moves swiftly enough to derail the entire project, which may actually be a possibility — according to a report by Teresa Garcia of KGO-TV.

A total of $3 billion in federal money and another $1.3 billion from the state will go towards building the first segment of the high speed line, which must break ground before the end of 2012 under guidelines of the federal stimulus.

Meanwhile, Rep John Mica of Florida (R), set to become the new chairman of the House Transportation committee, wants to re-open discussions regarding the $10 billion worth of funding that the administration dedicated to high speed rail. Mica said he isn’t opposed to high speed rail as such, just concerned that California’s population might not be dense enough for bullet trains to make financial sense, suggesting perhaps that the Northeast corridor from Boston to D.C. may yield a better return on investment.

There are legitimate questions about high speed rail in California. It’s not clear that such a massive project can be delivered at anywhere close to the projected budget,  whether fares will be anywhere near what’s been promised, or how many people will actually use it.

However, Los Angeles is moving ahead with ambitious local rail projects to make possible, if still not all that convenient, to reach a reasonable number of destinations in the LA Basin, while the San Francisco Bay Area is already served by two decent commuter rail systems.

With more than one out of ten Americans already residing in California, and the Northeast already served by the somewhat high-speed Acela trains, Mica’s reasoning seems a bit specious coming after the checks have been sent out. Might it have something to do with President Barack Obama making high speed rail a marquee issue?

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