California breaks ground on bullet train as climate solution - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

California breaks ground on bullet train as climate solution

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In this Tuesday, July 16, 2013, file photo, an Amtrak conductor checks the time as the passenger train takes on passengers in Hanford, Calif. California's high-speed rail project reaches a milestone Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, as officials mark the start of wo In this Tuesday, July 16, 2013, file photo, an Amtrak conductor checks the time as the passenger train takes on passengers in Hanford, Calif. California's high-speed rail project reaches a milestone Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, as officials mark the start of wo

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — California broke ground Tuesday on its long-sought high-speed rail system, promising to unite the state and combat global warming by whisking travelers between Los Angeles and San Francisco in less than three hours.

The $68 billion project faces challenges from Republican cost-cutters in Congress and Central Valley farmers suing to keep the rails off their fields. Others doubt the state can deliver the sleek project as promised, and worry it will become an expensive failure.

But Gov. Jerry Brown said high-speed rail is essential to meeting his latest goal: Encouraging the nation's most populous state to get half its power from renewable energy by 2030.

"It's not that expensive. We can afford it. In fact, we cannot NOT afford it," Brown said before signing a symbolic section of rail. "All these projects are a little touch and go. You'll have these critics say 'why spend all this money?'"

"On the other hand I like trains, I like clean air," Brown said. "And I like to enjoy the comfort of trains. I like to get up and walk around and shake hands. You can't do that in your little car as you look in your rear view mirror."

Zooming through the Central Valley at 200 mph, the trains could unite northern and southern California like never before.

Riding Amtrak between east San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles now takes 11 to 19 hours, and costs between $59 and $138 each way. That rivals the costs of a direct flight, which takes about an hour and 15 minutes in the air but much more time getting to and from the plane.

By car, the journey takes at least 6 ½ hours in the best traffic, and can cost about as much depending on the type of car, gasoline costs and highway tolls.

Ticket prices for the high speed train will be similar to the cost of air travel, promoters say.

Gina McCarthy, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said the all-electric trains, running on renewable energy, will take cars off highways and provide an effective alternative flying on jet fuel, which pumps far more greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.

"High speed rail is good for our health, it is good for our climate and it is good for our economy," she said.

About a dozen protesters shouted "show me the money" during the groundbreaking, which was held in an industrial section of downtown Fresno, near the city's old rail lines that still deliver produce to West Coast ports. The system will initially share existing rails with freight trains, but eventually travel at higher speeds on dedicated rails, California High-Speed Rail Authority chairman Dan Richard said.

The authority needs to speed up the eminent domain process, since only 100 of the 500 land parcels needed for the rails and stations have been purchased. But Richard said "voters are going to get exactly what they asked for."

Californians approved a nearly $10 billion bond for the train in 2008, and in 2012 the Obama administration dedicated $3.3 billion in stimulus funds. Part of the greenhouse gas fees to be collected under the state's cap-and-trade program also will go to the train.

Bullet train systems make money in other countries, and California officials are banking on this one to entice private development around the stations to offset the costs.

The initial work is on a 142-mile stretch north and south of Fresno. By 2029, planners hope to complete 520 miles of rails linking the San Francisco's downtown Transbay Terminal to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.

"Are we capable of making similar serious investments for future generations? The answer is not only yes we can, but yes we will," said U.S. Rep. Jim Costa, a Central Valley Democrat.

Rep. Jeff Denham, a Central Valley Republican, vows to block funding, since he doubts the trains will be as fast or carry as many riders as promised. "It's hard to celebrate breaking ground on what is likely to become abandoned pieces of track," he said.

But project managers say 632 people are already designing and planning a system that will produce 20,000 jobs a year now that construction has begun.

Fresno's Republican Mayor Ashley Swearengin backs it, saying it will create jobs in the short term and eventually connect the Central Valley to the rest of the state's economy.

"We're stuck right in the middle, and it's difficult to get in and out," she said. "It fills a deficit for central California."

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