High-speed rail seeking fed money to extend 1st phase to Bakersfield

FILE - Dan Richard, chairman of the board that oversees the California High-Speed Rail Authority, gestures to a map showing the proposed initial construction of the bullet train in the revised business plan, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

High-speed rail officials said they are trying to get more federal funds to let them build the first phase of the project all the way to Bakersfield. But, city officials remain skeptical, and called the just-released HSR proposal for an interim train station north of Shafter "dysfunctional."

"I don't know what got into them, we're pretty disappointed," Bakersfield City Manager Alan Tandy told Eyewitness News Monday. He said they were shocked to see the latest HSR plans, which call for building the first phase of the project from San Jose down to north of Shafter.

HSR spokeswoman Lisa Marie Alley said that stretch can be built with the funds they have.

"Our Draft 2016 Business Plan lays out our approach to sequencing the delivery of high-speed rail to maximize current federal and state dollars and use them to deliver the earliest operating high-speed rail line that is compliant with Prop 1A within available funding," she said in an email statement. Proposition 1A is the voter-approved funding for the project that's eventually supposed to run from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Alley said the funds they have now will allow construction from San Jose to Poplar Avenue near Shafter, which is the southern end of what they call "construction package 4."

She said with the plan, a site at Poplar would be the location for an interim facility that would function as a temporary train station.

Alley also said they'll try to get more money to go further south, into Bakersfield. Tandy said he's heard that, but he's not convinced.

"I object to the interim plan even being put on paper and circulated," Tandy said. "Again, it's not functional."

While work is underway on plans for HSR, a local group also hopes to get a heavy maintenance facility for the project built in Kern County. Lauren Skidmore is chair of Kern4HMF, and said her group's looking at the latest plans from the HSR Authority.

"I think what they're trying to do is promote that they're being responsible with their budget," Skidmore said. "We're not surprised they're stopping at Poplar Ave. because that's what they have currently allotted their budget for."

Skidmore's group hopes to convince HSR Authority to build the heavy maintenance facility at a site in either Wasco or Shafter. They're convinced the facility would have real economic benefits for the county, and more than 2,000 jobs.

And she said a temporary train station in Shafter could be positive for their efforts.

"Maybe that could be tied to a heavy maintenance facility, as well," Skidmore said.

The HSR spokeswoman said the just-released plan to build from San Jose to near Shafter will cost an estimated $20.7 billion, and would be operational by 2025.

She also stresses that high-speed rail will connect to Bakersfield, and the authority is still working on the route and station location plans which local officials favor.

Bakersfield officials want the train station go to into a site at Golden State Avenue and F Street.

"Our commitment to advance the locally generated alignment in no way has changed," the HSR spokeswoman said. "In fact we are working to complete the remaining preliminary engineering and environmental clearances and ultimate selection of an alignment and station location."

Alley said HRS believes the project should run from San Jose to San Francisco, and from the Poplar Ave. site to Bakersfield, but that will take an additional $2.9 billion.

"We are seeking additional funds from the federal government," Alley said. She also said if they get the funds to build the project all the way to Bakersfield, the train station would go only there, and would be up and running by 2025.

Tandy said the city wants the line and station in Bakersfield, and they'll be speaking up during the current public comment period.

"We do plan to submit comments to the High Speed Rail Authority indicating that they'd better find another way to comply with Prop 1A, while still meeting their budget requiements," he said.

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