Bullet train planners reverse course, revive Anaheim service
Responding to an outpouring of criticism from Orange County business, civic and political leaders, California’s bullet train agency reversed itself Thursday and voted to pursue a direct service link to Anaheim in the project’s initial phase.
The commitment came as the California High Speed Rail Authority board, meeting in San Francisco, adopted a crucial $68-billion business plan for the controversial project.
When a revised, less expensive version of the plan was released last month, it called for initial southbound service to stop at Los Angeles’ downtown Union Station, foregoing long-promised, continuous service to the Orange County area near Disneyland and Angels Stadium.
As an alternative, state officials had said Anaheim-bound travelers could change to Metrolink or Amtrak trains, which would provide improved service on current routes.
But the change, designed to trim $6 billion off the previous $98.5-billion price tag, caught many in California’s third largest county off guard. So-called “one seat” service from Northern California was viewed as preferable to Orange County interests because it would make the bullet train more appealing to tourists and business travelers.
After The Times disclosed last week that Anaheim bullet train service had been cut, proponents rallied and pressed for reconsideration. Rail authority board chairman Dan Richard said Thursday the protests had been heard and his panel agreed to explore restoring one-seat service from the Central Valley to Anaheim in the first construction phase, expected to be completed by 2028.
It was not clear how much that could increase the current $68-billion cost. Richard said engineers were working on options that could hold down expenses.
Gov. Jerry Brown and the rail authority have been trying to boost flagging political support for the project by proposing cost reductions, as well as upgrades to existing commuter rail systems in Northern and Southern California that would connect to the high-speed service.
The business plan adopted Thursday will form the basis of debate in the state Legislature in the coming months. Lawmakers must decide whether to proceed with the borrowing of billions of dollars to begin construction later this year, knowing that most of the money needed to complete the project has not been identified.
-- Ralph Vartabedian in San Francisco
Image: Rendering of California's proposed bullet train. Credit: California High Speed Rail Authority