A rendering of the California bullet train. Courtesy California High-Speed Rail Authority
A rendering of the California bullet train. Courtesy California High-Speed Rail Authority

The board overseeing construction of a planned high-speed rail line from San Francisco to San Diego announced Thursday that instead of starting with a segment between Burbank and Merced, the first phase will instead be in Northern California.

A draft business plan released by the High Speed Rail Authority shifted the first phase of construction to a stretch between San Jose and Bakersfield..

Assembly Speaker-elect Anthony Rendon, who represents a district in Los Angeles County, said he was concerned by the move.

“This project is meant to connect the south to the north — neglecting the south would be unacceptable,” Rendon said. “I recognize that this is a draft business plan, that the authority faces major funding challenges and that it therefore must identify an ongoing revenue stream. The draft business plan is an attempt to do that.”

He said the Assembly Transportation Committee will review the business plan at a March 28 hearing.

Other lawmakers, however, said the shift represents more trouble for the much-debated bullet train, which has seen its budget balloon from an originally $40 billion to more than $60 billion.

“The system design is fatally flawed, the alleged private funding is non-existent, the waste and cost escalations are rampant,” said Sen. Andy Vidak, who represents a district stretching from Bakersfield to Fresno. “The proposed route changes more often than the seasons. Hopefully the next governor will see this project for the albatross it is and join the rest of us in running the High Speed Rail Authority out of town on a rail.”

State officials said the Northern California segment will be easier to advance. The originally planned stretch from Burbank to Merced was initially scheduled to be completed by 2022, but was beset by funding issues and political opposition.

The draft plan now calls for the first Northern California segment by 2025.

— City News Service

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.