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First High Speed Rail Segment Likely to be Built in the Central Valley

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A 3D simulation showing a possible high speed rail bridge over the Kern River in Bakersfield, California.

Federal officials have told California that it wants the $4.3 billion it has given to the state for high speed rail to be spent in one of two Central Valley segments -- either the Merced-to-Fresno or the Fresno-to-Bakersfield portions of the $43 billion rail corridor.

State officials said in a statement today that whatever segment is built with federal money must be operational by 2017.

“The Central Valley is indeed key to creating the core of a true high-speed rail system in California, as that is where our trains will travel truly high speeds of 220 miles per hour,” said the rail authority's CEO Roelof van Ark. “But no matter where we start building, the goal remains the same: a statewide high-speed rail system up and running in 2020 connecting the Bay Area with the metropolitan area of Los Angeles and Anaheim, that creates thousands of jobs, improves air quality, and provides us all with a cheaper, faster and more convenient way to travel.”

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The LA Times noted that "the Central Valley segment could offer a chance to build more quickly in less-congested areas and provide the open track needed for a national demonstration of bullet trains traveling more than 200 mph." But the paper added that "without initially linking to the population centers of the state's largest cities, ridership and revenue could lag until more segments are completed."

The first phase of California's high speed rail, which is 800 miles between the San Francisco bay area and Anaheim, is to be completed by 2020. Later phases would inclde section to San Diego and Sacramento. The authority's board will select which section to construct first at a meeting in December.

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