California keen to set the pace

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California has applied for $4.5bn (€3.1bn, £2.8bn) in federal stimulus money to construct one of the largest high-speed rail developments in the US, a network that will connect San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.

About $8bn of economic stimulus cash has been set aside by the US government for high-speed rail projects, a pot California and other states are competing for.

“California is a leading contender for this federal funding because our true high-speed rail system is further along than any other project in the country,” says Curt Pringle, chairman of the California High Speed Rail Authority.

California is in a tight race to win the federal funds with Florida, which wants to construct a network linking Miami, Tampa and Orlando.

But debate is raging in California about whether the proposed 800-mile $40bn project is value for money.

Once the rail link is completed, the CHSRA says trains will reach speeds of 220 miles per hour, resulting in a journey between Los Angeles and San Francisco that will last about two and a half hours and cost less than $75.

Voters have already approved a $9.9bn bond measure to finance construction of a high-speed link. The cash-strapped state, which recently averted a budget crisis when it agreed to cut $15bn in public spending, says it will match federal spending dollar for dollar and also hopes to secure private sector investment.

With unemployment in California recently passing 12 per cent, supporters argue the project will create 160,000 jobs and reduce pollution by taking pressure off the state’s overcrowded freeway system.

But critics say the construction of the network will take too long and be too costly. Opposition is also increasing from residents in towns on the proposed route, who do not want disruption from a massive, long-term construction project.

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