Capitol Journal: A rational approach to rail

California's proposed bullet train is being recalibrated. And designers may finally be on the right track.

Sensitive to growing public and political opposition, high-speed rail officials seem to be coming to a rational conclusion: It makes good sense to begin service ASAP in urban areas where people might actually ride the trains.

Construction still would start next fall in the rural San Joaquin Valley, the thinking goes. But simultaneously there'd be major upgrades to conventional lines in the Los Angeles and San Francisco regions.

Those upgrades would amount to initial blending of the Southern California Metrolink and Bay Area Caltrain systems into the ultimate 500-mile high-speed rail line from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

By using existing right-of-way and accelerating construction — therefore reducing future inflationary costs — the state can lower the price tag from the current jaw-dropping estimate of $98.5 billion, triple what voters were told when they approved the project in 2008. At least that's the theory.

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-- George Skelton: Capitol Journal, Los Angeles TimesPhoto: Metrolink trains fill Union Station. Credit: Al Seib, Los Angeles Times / May 9, 2011


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