Wednesday, November 27, 2013

California high speed rail on hold via judge but $400 million San Francisco underground station for trains that may never exist will be built anyway-SF Chronicle

11/27/13, "Bullet train snag could affect Transbay Terminal," San Francisco Chronicle, Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross

"Critics have complained that California's high-speed rail project is shaping up to be the bullet train to nowhere. Now that a judge has thrown the project's future into doubt, San Francisco is left to wonder whether it will be stuck with a $400 million train station connected to nothing.

With or without a high-speed-rail line, officials have said the underground station is going to be built at the new, $2 billion Transbay Terminal at First and Mission streets. All the money is in place, and the station is due to be finished in 2017.

But with Judge Michael Kenny having pulled the emergency brake on high-speed rail Monday in Sacramento County Superior Court, the San Francisco station probably will sit empty for some time. 

Here's why: Although the station itself is fully funded, much of the $2.5 billion needed to build the 1.5 miles of track from the Transbay Terminal to the existing rail terminus at Fourth and Townsend streets "still needs to be secured," said Adam Alberti, spokesman for the Transbay Joint Powers Authority.

The financing fallback, should high-speed rail fall apart, has always been turning the Transbay Terminal station into the end point for Caltrain service. However, that turns out to have been an odd fallback, because Caltrain would need high-speed-rail money to make it happen.

Caltrain is banking on $600 million in bullet-train cash to electrify its fleet of diesel trains. The only way Caltrain can run trains through a downtown tunnel is if they are electric.

"You can't run diesel underground. There are too many safety issues," said Caltrain communications manager Jayme Ackemann.

And with Kenny having halted bullet-train bond sales - saying there's no evidence the state will have the cash to build more than a few miles in the Central Valley of the line it wants to run from San Francisco to Los Angeles - all bets are off.

So let's review. We're constructing a train station for a high-speed-rail line that may never be built. The backup plan is to use the station for the local trains, only that may not happen, either. The possible end result: an empty - but paid-for - train station under a very expensive bus terminal and shopping center.

The big picture: The folks behind high-speed rail put on a brave face after Judge Michael Kenny dealt their $68 billion project a severe blow, but they had no answers for how they will salvage the bullet train.

Dan Richard, chairman of the state's High-Speed Rail Authority, insisted the problems are "fixable" - but as of Tuesday, he was still unable to say where the billions of dollars in private money needed to swing the deal would come from.

But Michael Brady, the Peninsula attorney who has been fighting the project on behalf of Kings County and a couple of property owners, says the math simply doesn't add up. In court, he argued that the state needs to show it has at least $31 billion lined up to build the first 300-mile leg of the project from Merced to the Los Angeles basin.

At most, Brady says, California has $6 billion - half from the feds, and half in matching state funds that are now in jeopardy because of the judge's ruling.

"That means they have to come up with $25 billion in new money, and where are they going to get that?" Brady said. 

"No local government has ever offered anything, and no private investor for five years has offered a dime," he said. "And the feds aren't going to give them any more matching funds." That leaves Richard & Co. scrambling to buy time - and looking for answers. "We are just not ready to announce how we are going to approach this," Richard said.

In the meantime, with enough federal money to keep things rolling until April, the state plans to proceed with a signed contract to build the first 29 miles of track from Madera to Fresno. Will it also prove to be the end of the line?"...via Free Rep.


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