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Friday, November 7, 2008

California gives green light to high-speed train

A high-speed Acela train leaves Washington's Union Station

LOS ANGELES (AFP) — Voters in California this week agreed to bankroll a multi-billion dollar high-speed railway system, with technology to come from either Japan or Europe.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority said on its website Tuesday that voters in a referendum held across the state Tuesday gave their backing to financing the startup of the project.

The train would connect San Francisco to Los Angeles and would cost some 45 billion dollars, according to news reports, which said the measure was approved by a vote of some 52 percent to about 48 percent.

"The California High-Speed Train Project will procure extensively-proven high-speed train technology from Europe or Asia," the rail authority said.

The high-speed train project would link various cities across California, the most populous US state.

In a statement, Quentin Kopp, chairman of the rail authority, said: "History will remember this night, when Californians demanded a new transportation system for California's 21st century travel needs.

"Thanks to tonight's vote, a state-of-the-art, new transportation choice will link every major city in the state and move people and products like never before.

The authority says the system will transport 117 million passengers a year by 2030, create 160,000 jobs, in a state with three of five of the largest US metropolitan areas in terms of traffic.

"A reliable 220-mile-per-hour electric high-speed train system will reduce our dependence on foreign oil by more than 12 million barrels per year and reduce greenhouse gases that cause global warming by 12.7 billion pounds annually," Kopp added.

The proposition allows the state to issue bonds worth 9.95 billion dollars to bankroll the project. But issues such as technology appeared up in the air.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger urged voters to back the plan even in tough economic times.

"Just because we had a problem with the budget does not mean that people should vote no on the rail system. We need a high-speed rail. Our rail system in America is so old," he said in late September.

We are driving the same speed as we did a hundred years ago with the same system as a hundred years ago," the governor said..

"We should do what other countries do. All over the world we see high-speed rails that go 200-300 hundred miles an hour. We should do the same thing in this country, especially in this State," he stressed.

California has about 37 million people, but no commercial wide-track high-speed rail system akin to bullet trains like those found in France and Spain. Nor does the state have a commercial wide-track "maglev" magnetic-levitation system such as China, although the state has ruled out this technology, according to the website.

The only "higher-speed" train that has been used in the United States is Amtrak's Acela, a model that can tilt on current narrow rails to allow for higher speeds on existing track, without the investment in other technologies that require wider track beds.

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