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Bullet train agency approves a new business plan with 26 pages of changes

Copies of the proposed business plan for the California high-speed rail authority are seen at a hearing in Sacramento on March 28.

Copies of the proposed business plan for the California high-speed rail authority are seen at a hearing in Sacramento on March 28.

(Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

The California high-speed rail authority approved a new two-year business plan Thursday that attempts to patch up concerns and problems that erupted up and down the state over details of a draft plan that was issued in February.

The final plan incorporates 26 pages of changes, including many that were made last week. Among the biggest revisions is a commitment to include service to Merced in the first operating segment, which could cost more than $1 billion.

The plan also reiterates a commitment to make large investments in Southern California, which was dropped from the initial operating segment when the rail agency elected in the new plan to build an initial $21-billion operating segment from San Jose to the Central Valley.

As something of a condolence prize, the authority plans to invest about $2 billion into Southern California passenger rail improvements, including rebuilding some existing railroad street crossings. Rail chief Dan Richard has said several times that the rail will reach San Jose first, but the dollars will flow to Southern California first. But the source of the $2 billion remains unclear.

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The authority also backed off from a plan to stick a temporary station in an agriculture field north of Shafter, saying it would consider other alternatives, such as a station in Wasco.

Richard said the plan would help “unlock latent potential support” in the legislature and the public.

In its efforts to build support for its business model, the plan embraces many hot button issues among supporters, using the word “connectivity” 33 times and “greenhouse” gas 20 times.

Independent experts had called on the authority to better explain how it would obtain funding to complete the $64-billion project, when the state has identified funding of only $21 billion, and to clarify its commitments to different regions of the state.

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The result was a lot of expansive language and some tortured text, such as this one sentence of explanation of its plans in Southern California: “The Authority has undertaken a technical planning study in close coordination with local agencies that is focused on developing strategies for how high-speed rail will be implemented in the project section, including prioritizing locations for advancing enhanced connections to the Phase 1 system, early blended service, phasing, opportunities for right-of-way preservation and approaches for environmental clearance, partnerships and funding, and next steps to move the project forward.”

The approval complies with state law that requires a business plan be submitted to the legislature by May 1 every two years.

ralph.vartabedian@latimes.com

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