When the Obama administration gave California $3.4 billion in startup money for a high-speed rail system, it insisted on a guarantee that the project would not become a white elephant — something critics could brand as a train to nowhere.
The first section of track had to run down the spine of the Central Valley and have another use, should the rest of the bullet train project collapse.
Those requirements are now at the center of an intensifying political battle, waged by critics who say the state's fallback plan to use a 130-mile stretch of track for slower Amtrak service is a sham because there's no guarantee the national rail service will ever use it.
Amtrak said it has no agreement to operate on the track and has not analyzed the possible negative effects on one of its most successful rail lines. Still, the California High Speed Rail Authority has estimated 45 minutes could be shaved off Amtrak's current service between Bakersfield and Merced.
--Dan Weikel and Ralph Vartabedian, Los Angeles Times
Photo: An Amtrak train is checked by a K-9 unit in Glendale. Credit: Times Community News