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More money coming for high-speed rail
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The federal government will send another trainload of cash to California’s High-Speed Rail project, officials announced Monday.

California’s High-Speed Rail project garnered a further $300 million in this most recent allocation, bringing total federal funding to $3.5 billion. Combined with matching state funds, California now has $6.33 billion to invest in the 220 mile per hour train network, which planners say will eventually run 800 miles from San Francisco and Sacramento to Los Angeles and San Diego, and include stations in Modesto and Merced.

 “It is a testament to the strength of California’s project that we have won 40 percent of every federal dollar awarded for the development of high-speed rail,” said Curt Pringle, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. “In the past 15 months we have won the lion’s share of federal dollars, unlocked state bond funds and began engaging the private sector to secure their future participation, so that we can begin construction and begin creating thousands of quality jobs next year.”

The new funding comes from $2 billion returned to the federal government by Florida, after that state’s Gov. Rick Scott cancelled a planned high-speed rail project connecting Tampa and Orlando earlier this year. The returned funding was redirected to 15 states, with the largest share – $800 million – going to upgrade train speeds from 135 mph to 160 mph on Amtrak’s busy Northeast Corridor.

California’s money will be used to extend the initial Central Valley construction segment, scheduled to break ground next year, north from Fresno to a junction near Chowchilla. Project engineers have yet to determine exactly how far the funding will extend the “backbone” section of the system, which will link Northern and Southern California, but estimate about 20 miles.

Planners have determined that the funding will create 7,500 additional construction jobs, in addition to the more than 100,000 jobs which will be created by funds previously secured.

“This is good news for advancing a 21st century transportation project for California, for getting California’s economy back on track and for the hundreds of thousands of Californians who will benefit from good jobs and economic growth,” said State Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani (D — Livingston), who chairs the Assembly’s Select Committee on High Speed Rail for California.  “These jobs and the economic activity that they create will have a tremendous effect on the economy of the San Joaquin Valley and all of California.”

Future funding for the project remains uncertain.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have campaigned for a nationwide high-speed rail network, with the White House 2012 budget proposal including $53 billion to develop high-speed rail over the next 6 years. House Republicans remain opposed to the plan, and included zero high-speed rail spending in their 2012 budget.

But high-speed rail supporters continue to lobby for the project, lauding the economic impacts of construction on the still-reeling Central Valley. Congressman Dennis Cardoza (D-Merced), in a letter to the U.S. Transportation Secretary and the Federal Railroad Administration administrator, extolled the project’s value to his constituency.

“At this stage of the economic recovery, it is critical that we not overlook opportunities to invest in the hardest-hit areas, where federal funding will not only produce enormous stimulus, but will also prove to be the most effective use of taxpayer dollars,” Cardoza wrote.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.