Facing high construction costs and political opposition in Southern California, the state has decided to build the first 250-mile section of the California bullet train from San Jose to Bakersfield, rather than from Fresno to Burbank, according to officials who were briefed about the project's new business plan.
The reversal by the California High Speed Rail Authority could result in serious financial, political and transportation consequences for Southern California, which was originally considered as the end point for the project's initial operating segment.
Project officials were expected to discuss the new business plan in a media briefing later Thursday.
Local officials have said that building the Fresno-to-Burbank segment would be a major economic benefit for the region, provide commuters with 15-minute rides to the Antelope Valley and create a convenient link to the Central Valley and future high-speed trains to Las Vegas.
According to the draft plan, reported earlier by the San Jose Mercury News, the shift to the Bay Area will help the rail authority hold down costs and expedite construction of the system, which is already two years behind schedule.
Rail officials also say the latest cost estimate for the entire 500-mile project has been reduced from $68 billion to $64 billion, well below the $98 billion projection from several years ago, but still far above initial estimates of less than $40 billion.
The business report states that the change in the initial segment will avoid expensive tunneling and viaduct construction though the geologically complex Tehachapi and San Gabriel mountains, where several potential routes have been proposed through the Angeles National Forest.