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A POSSIBLE FUTURE


AV commuters could bring high-speed rail
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press February 18, 1999.

By DON JERGLER
Valley Press Staff Writer

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LOS ANGELES - In the case of high-speed rail, having a large number of commuters may help the Antelope Valley for once.
It is estimated that as many as 50% of working Valley residents commute to points south - mainly the greater Los Angeles area.

On Wednesday, the California High Speed Rail Authority voted unanimously to figure commuter trips into total ridership numbers when voting on track alignment.

It will likely be at least 10 years before such a train rolls into reality.

Ridership is important because authority members have said they will make their final decision based mainly on cost of construction and ridership figures.

Studies indicate that having the train stop in Palmdale would be slightly more costly than having it run near Interstate 5, over the Grapevine.

The Valley alignment would require 30 additional miles of track and land acquisition.

"I think the most encouraging thing that came out of this meeting is that the future analysis of ridership will include inter-regional and commute trips, which were not considered in the first analysis," said Randy Floyd, a transportation coordinator for Palmdale who was at the meeting.

"We have an extraordinary number of those trips. Our ridership figures should go up very dramatically on that AV alignment. It should help us."

A bullet train from Palmdale to Los Angeles would cut the commute time to about 30 minutes.

The Metrolink train that runs to downtown Los Angeles from the Valley carries about 1,200 riders a day.

While the authority voted on Wednesday to continue to examine alternative routes, the primary alignment is still through the Antelope Valley.

This became the case two years ago, when the state's high speed rail commission was persuaded to recommend a Valley alignment by a report commissioned by Palmdale officials. The commission was the group formerly entrusted with getting high speed rail transit going.

The report showed that the economic benefits of having the train pass through the high desert outweigh the higher costs of construction.

From the viewpoint of some, that move gave the Valley the upper hand.

"It's a whole lot easier to make them respect an alignment than make them change," said Palmdale City Councilman David Myers.

According to Myers, an update of the old study is nearly complete. The new study, he said, will further show the economic benefits of having the train come through Palmdale.

The Palmdale City Council voted in October to spend up to $25,000 to update that study. The city plans to present the findings at the next high speed rail meeting, in April.

"As far as the alignment for the high speed system is concerned, the alignment is still the alignment that the original commission adopted," said Mehdi Morshed, the executive director of the authority.

The authority is expected to make a final decision on what route would be best to link San Francisco to Los Angeles in June. Depending on the type of technology, a trip on such a train from north to south could take as few as two hours.

But no one's giving odds on whether the high speed train would come through the Valley. Fierce, high-powered opposition against such an alignment could easily prevail if it becomes a matter of money, some have said.

Lobbyists for tunneling interests are pushing for an alternate route.

That route, along the I-5 and though the Grapevine, would require running the train through the western Tehachapi mountains.

Because high speed trains need long, straight track, a winding route through the mountains would not be possible.

The Grapevine alignment would have the train literally going through the Tehachapis. That would require a lot of tunneling.

But, cutting costs may play a bigger picture in the authority's decision-making process.

In January, it was discovered the estimate of the price of building the train, made by the old rail commission, was much more than originally believed.

Initial estimates were $21 billion to build the 680-mile track and construct the trains. Current figures are about $23 billion.

Funding for the train would likely be raised by increasing fuel taxes by a quarter cent. Once in place, the system could be a combination public, private operation.

The authority is under orders by the Legislature to have a plan for promoting, building and operating the train system in place by Jan. 1, 2000.

Fare estimates aren't yet available, but it's been estimated that a one-way trip from Palmdale to San Francisco would cost about $30.

That ride would take between two and three hours.

Travel times for the train vary widely because the authority has yet to make a decision on the technology.

Of the two types of trains being considered, the steel wheel train, much like the TGV in France, is the leading candidate.

That train, it is estimated, would hit speeds up to 220 mph, and would make a trip from downtown Union Station to San Francisco in two hours and 45 minutes.

A magnetic levitation train, also known as maglev, could go as fast as 310 mph, and make it from bay to bay in a little less than two hours.

Although the commission's final recommendation was to have the train go through the Valley, it examined three other alternatives, which included paralleling the California Aqueduct, passing over the Grapevine near Interstate 5 and running along the coast.

The coastal alignment idea was abandoned early on because, it was discovered, the environmental impacts would be too severe.

If the track paralleled the aqueduct it would still pass through the Valley, but the grapevine alignment would completely bypass the high desert.

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TV host praises AV prospects
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press February 20, 1999.

By VERN LAWSON
Valley Press Managing Editor

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Although he was highly optimistic about the aerospace future of Antelope Valley, Hugh Hewitt, co-host of the weeknight "Life and Times" program on KCET, was extremely negative about prospects for the California High Speed Rail Authority project.
Hewitt, one of the parade of morning speakers at the Business Outlook Conference, said he has been working to assist former vice president Dan Quayle in his quest for the presidency.

[edit] Hewitt said he doubts that California voters will support - and environmentalists will oppose - a $23 billion bond issue to develop a bullet train from San Francisco to San Diego.

He warned that Antelope Valley leaders should be vigilant lest the federal government acquire large chunks of this region as it has done in other areas.

He urged those attending the conference to continue local efforts to retain "control of space, the highest frontier of all."

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Valley battling for bullet train, economic gains

This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press March 24, 1999.

By DON JERGLER
Valley Press Staff Writer

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LANCASTER - The fate of the Antelope Valley's economic future could be as good as a guarantee by a pizzeria.
If a planned high-speed train makes a stop in the Valley, Palmdale City Councilman David Myers hypothesized on Tuesday, "We'd be the Domino's of transportation."

Such a train could whisk commuters to Los Angeles in less than 30 minutes, much like a home delivery guarantee made by Domino's Pizza in television commercials.

Myers, who advocates for the Valley on transportation issues, spoke on Tuesday to the Antelope Valley Board of Trade about the prospects of having Palmdale as a stop for the state's planned 670mile bullet train system.

Within the next three months, the California High-Speed Rail Authority is expected to make a decision that could dramatically change the economic climate of the high desert.

In June, the rail authority will decide whether to run the 200-plus mph bullet train through Palmdale - a move that could bring millions of dollars to the local economy - or have it bypass northern L.A. County entirely. Plans for a bullet train envision the system being up and running sometime between 2010 and 2020.

Although a now-disbanded state commission two years ago recommended having a bullet train stop in Palmdale, the authority is charged with the final decision.

Members of the authority are faced with several dubious choices: how to pay for the estimated $23 billion combination private and public project; how to get the people of California to vote to tax themselves an additional 1/4 cent to pay their share; the type of technology to use.

But, the choice that will be most crucial to the Valley is whether to have the train go in a straight line though Southern California - over the Grapevine, paralleling Interstate 5 - or to have it stop in Palmdale.

Looking at the alignment options, reason dictates that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. That puts some burden on Valley officials, who must argue, in this case, that a straight line is not the best route.

According to a report commissioned by Palmdale, having the train take either of the two suggested routes through the Valley - paralleling the California Aqueduct or along the Antelope Valley Freeway - would result in a greater economic benefit and greater ridership. The report shows ridership favoring a stop in the high desert to the tune of 125,000 more passengers per year.

A Valley rail alignment will also generate $500 million more in economic benefits, the report shows - with the larger chunk of those benefits coming in the form of a projected $200 million to $344 million in residential growth.

On the opposing side of the tracks sits the tunneling industry - which has undertaken a major lobbying effort to have the train parallel the Grapevine, and go over the western portion of the Tehachapi mountains.

Running the high-speed train through that portion of the mountains, said Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford, would require significantly more tunneling.

Dan Leavitt, executive director of the authority, couldn't say which way the authority members are leaning.

But, he offered, because the now-disbanded rail commission recommended an Antelope Valley alignment, "It's much easier to defend something than it is to change something."

While there are no estimates on projected costs to commute from Palmdale to Los Angeles on a bullet train, Leavitt said he believes it would become a viable commuting option.

The authority is expected to make the final decision on alignment at its June 16 meeting in Los Angeles.

Palmdale is inviting the public to attend that meeting, and is in the process of making arrangements to provide transportation free of charge.

Those who wish to attend can call Randy Floyd of the Department of Public Works at 267-5100.

The authority is under orders by the state Legislature to present a preliminary plan by December.

The planned system would go from San Francisco to Los Angeles, with possible offshoots to Sacramento and San Diego.

Depending on the type of technology used, a trip from downtown San Francisco to Union Station in L.A. could take between two and three hours.

"This, in a sense, is like a flight on the ground," Leavitt said.

Both Ledford and Myers, who commutes to his job in L.A., stressed the importance of having a bullet train stop in Palmdale.

According to Ledford, it's projected that population growth in the Valley in the next 20 years will cause rush hour traffic on the 14 Freeway to average speeds as low as 20 mph.

Once the authority presents its plan to the Legislature, the rail plan would go before California voters. That would likely happen in November 2000.

"We are going to need alternate forms of transportation," Myers said. "The future is ours to control, and high-speed rail is in our future."

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Bullet-train system faces roadblocks
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press June 1, 1999.
By STEVE LAWRENCE
Associated Press Writer

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SACRAMENTO - Arda Paley set out from Burbank one recent Monday morning to visit her niece in Sacramento. She arrived nearly nine hours later - after riding on two buses and a train. In a decade or so, travelers may be able to board a train in Southern California and make the same trip in less than three hours, at speeds of more than 200 mph.

"That would be nice," says the soft-spoken Paley, 73, who prefers train travel over driving or flying.

A state board is drafting plans for a high-speed rail system that would link San Diego, Los Angeles, Sacramento and the San Francisco area, but the project must clear some big roadblocks before the first train leaves the station.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority is grappling with several questions. Among them: which routes to take, which cities to serve and more importantly, how to finance the $23 billion to $31 billion project in a way acceptable to a skeptical Legislature and governor.

Competition for funding will be intense, said John Shields, executive director of the Train Riders Association of California, a nonprofit group that supports expanded rail passenger service.

"Without a lot of help from local agencies, from people all over the state and leadership support from the governor, it may be that this project gets buried," Shields says.

Supporters say high-speed rail is a convenient, environmentally friendly system that will ease California's transportation problems as its population balloons in the next century.

California will have 58.7 million residents by 2040, a 75% increase, state experts predict.

"We are going to have to find ways that people don't have to drive as much or we are going to have a virtually unlivable state," said Jerry Meral, executive director of the Planning and Conservation League, an environmental group.

Europe and Japan have used high-speed trains for years, and Amtrak plans to introduce 150mph trains on its crowded BostontoWashington run in fall.

In Europe, bullet trains are so popular that airlines have reduced service on some routes, Shields said.

Dominick Albano, a spokesman for Amtrak - which could end up running the system - said the biggest challenge to California highspeed rail is politics.

"The technology is there. The market is there," Albano said.

Getting the project through the Legislature will be difficult. A huge demand for infrastructure improvements is among the competing interests.

The state Transportation Commission estimates California will need $116.5 billion over the next decade for state and local transportation, including $26 billion to repair and replace systems and equipment.

Gov. Gray Davis has given mixed signals about high-speed rail. In March, he referred to the project as a "Buck Rogers" system and said he'd prefer to improve commuter trains.

But five days later, he told his Commission on Building for the 21st Century that long-range highspeed rail is "definitely . . . a possibility."

Davis spokesman Michael Bustamante said the governor's earlier remarks were misinterpreted - that he wasn't ruling out high-speed rail, but viewed it as a longer-term project than adding commuter trains.

Assemblyman Dean Florez, a high-speed rail supporter, said lawmakers will resist the project if it costs too much.

Michael Tennenbaum, the rail authority's chairman, agreed .

"We are spending a lot of time trying to get the price of the project down," Tennenbaum said.

One way to save would be upgrading tracks between San Diego, Los Angeles, the San Francisco area and Sacramento to handle trains running up to 100 mph instead of 70 mph, and build a 200 mph-plus high-speed line through the San Joaquin Valley to Los Angeles and the Bay area, he said.

But the project's planners face a delicate balancing act. If they scale back service too much, it could cost them valuable political support and riders.

At a recent authority board meeting, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown touted high-speed rail as the state's next great improvement, equating it to the State Water Project and public universities.

Minutes later, Brown told reporters he will oppose the project if the trains stop in Oakland or San Jose instead of San Francisco.

Florez suggests the project would have a better chance for legislative approval if the authority's plan focuses on private investors and state revenue bonds to pay for construction.

Revenue bonds would be paid off by fares, may not need voter approval, and probably would be more acceptable to lawmakers than a tax increase or voter-approved general obligation bonds that taxpayers would pay off.

"My feeling is, in surveying members, they are going to be looking for something that costs less than $20 billion, that incorporates private funding, revenue bonds" and regional train improvements, Florez said.

Medhi Morshed, the authority's executive director, said the state may need to tap its treasury, raise taxes or find federal funds to supplement what it raises from the bonds. Revenue bonds would not be enough, he said.

Florez also recommends that rail advocates take a go-slow approach, instead of trying to push the project to make next year's November ballot, if voters' approval is needed.

But Meral warns that too much of a delay could boost construction costs, as the price of right-of-way increases.

The authority may be able to put a financing plan on the ballot without legislative approval. Board members have promised not to do that and Sen. Kevin Murray, D-Los Angeles, is sponsoring a bill that would require the board to submit its plan to lawmakers.

Surveys show travelers would use the trains, but Murray, citing infrastructure needs, questions whether the timing is right.

Shields said it may take a ballot initiative to get the trains running.

"The authority has got to sell it to the Legislature, and you've got huge money interests that don't want to see it happen: big oil, big highways and some airlines," he said. "They want to keep us driving down the freeway to Los Angeles in a car."

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High Speed Rail Authority to decide bullet train route
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press June 15, 1999.
By DON JERGLER
Valley Press Staff Writer

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PALMDALE - With millions of dollars toward the economic-climate of the Antelope Valley potentially at stake, a trainload and a busload of high desert residents will depart for Los Angeles on Wednesday morning.
The residents are headed to a hearing of the state's High Speed Rail Authority, which will decide whether the state's planned 670mile bullet train system will run through the Antelope Valley or parallel Interstate 5 and pass over the Grapevine.

The rail would whisk commuters from the Valley to Los Angeles in less than 30 minutes.

Plans for a bullet train call for the system to be up and running between 2010 and 2020.

A now-disbanded state commission two years ago recommended a bullet train stop in Palmdale. The authority is charged with the final decision.

A Metrolink train is set to leave the Lancaster station at 6:32 a.m., and a bus is set to depart Palmdale City Hall at 8 a.m.

About 80 passengers have signed on for the free train ride and about 30 have reported they'll take the bus; additional room is available on both. Call Randy Floyd at 267-5375 for information on riding the bus, or Howard Brooks at 942-9481 to ride the train.

The meeting, at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California building, 700 North Alameda St., is expected to run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Members of the authority are faced with several decisions: how to pay for the estimated $23 billion combined private and public project; how to get the people of California to vote to tax themselves an additional one-quarter cent to pay their share; and the type of technology to use.

Looking at the alignment options, reason generally dictates that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. That puts some burden on Valley officials who must argue, in this case, that a straight line is not the best route.

According to a report commissioned by Palmdale, having the train take either of the two suggested routes through the Valley - paralleling the California Aqueduct or along the Antelope Valley Freeway - would result in a greater economic benefit and greater ridership.

The report shows ridership favors a stop in the high desert - 125,000 more passengers per year.

A Valley rail alignment also will generate $500 million in economic benefits, according to the report, with the larger chunk of those benefits coming in the form of a projected $200 million to $344 million in residential growth.

Opposing a Valley alignment is the tunneling industry, which has undertaken a major lobbying effort to have the train parallel the Grapevine and go over the western portion of the Tehachapi Mountains.

Running the high-speed train through that portion of the mountains, according to Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford, would require significantly more tunneling.

The authority is under orders from the state Legislature to present a preliminary plan for a highspeed train by December.

The planned system would go from San Francisco to Los Angeles with possible offshoots to Sacramento and San Diego.

Depending on the type of technology used, a trip from downtown San Francisco to Union Station in Los Angeles could take two to three hours.

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AV bullet train vote sidetracked
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press June 17, 1999.
By DON JERGLER
Valley Press Staff Writer

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LOS ANGELES - Efforts to bring a bullet train through the Antelope Valley were effectively sidetracked and nearly derailed on Wednesday.
Nearly a decade of work by Valley officials to convince a state authority a planned high-speed rail system would be best served by having a stop in Palmdale were overshadowed by an influential opponent of a high desert route.

Mehdi Morshed, executive director of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, recommended the bullet train stop in Gorman, Santa Clarita and continue to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles - circumventing the Valley.

Morshed is a nonvoting member of the authority, charged with spearheading staff efforts to gather information to present to voting authority members, who will in turn make alignment decision.

That decision was to be made on Wednesday at a rail meeting in L.A., but authority members put the vote off, calling for a special alignment meeting on July 20 in San Francisco.

The motion was made and carried to delay the decision by members to allow time for further study of public opinion on the rail alignment.

Wednesday's meeting was attended by mayors of Lancaster and Palmdale, and more than 50 high desert citizens, who were on hand to show support.

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, a strong proponent for a Valley alignment, announced at the meeting the L.A. City Council on Tuesday had voted unanimously to support a high desert alignment.

Her announcement was followed by a speech by Jack Driscoll, director of Los Angeles World Airports, who also urged the authority the consider a bullet train stop in Palmdale.

Both Galanter and Driscoll told authority members that an alignment from the Valley to Los Angeles is crucial in developing an airport in Palmdale for passenger travel, and to alleviate heavy air traffic into Los Angeles International Airport.

Depending on the technology used, a bullet train could whisk riders from Palmdale to L.A. in 30 minutes.

Morshed's recommendation against a Valley alignment effectively puts the Valley at a disadvantage.

Before Morshed's recommendation, a Valley alignment was recommended by the now-defunct High-Speed Rail Commission.

That commission, which was charged with making preliminary decisions on high-speed rail and turning over their findings to the authority had voted narrowly for a Valley alignment.

That vote came after Palmdale officials commissioned a report showing that a Valley alignment would cost little more than alternative routes.

Morshed, who was on that commission, voted against a Valley alignment.

Morshed told the authority on Wednesday his staff is recommending a high-speed rail alignment along Interstate 5 and over the Grapevine because that route is shorter, costs less and is projected to yield higher ridership.

A high-speed system, if approved by the state legislature, is expected to be completed sometime between the year 2010 and 2020.

It would serve San Francisco to L.A. with possible extensions into Sacramento and San Diego.

The authority must have a plan in place by December.

To fund the project, California voters must approve a 1/4 cent sales tax.

While making his recommendation, Morshed claimed that only 600,000 people in the Valley would be served by the high-speed train.

But projections by the Southern California Association of Governments show the high desert's population at least doubling in next 20 years to over one million.

Local officials argued that point.

"This is not a system that would serve 600,000," Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford told the authority.

There was no mention by Morshed or authority members of SCAG's projections or a study commissioned by the city of Palmdale last year with additional estimates showing the positive potential economic impact high-speed transit would have on the region.

It is Ledford's belief that Morshed may have been influenced by the tunneling industry.

Having the high-speed rail pass over the Grapevine would require a significant amount of tunneling.

"We think that his bias is toward tunnels," Ledford said after the meeting.

Before the meeting, no indication had been given by Morshed or his staff what alignment they would favor.

A report by Morshed's staff detailing the Grapevine alignment was not released until Wednesday, after the meeting was well under way.

This moved caused Lancaster's Mayor Frank Roberts and ViceMayor Henry Hearns to question the staff's recommendation of the alignment.

Both said they believed the report was released late to discourage an open debate on the report's findings.

"I believe it was done in an ulterior way," Roberts said. "That was done on purpose. That's not a Democratic principal at all."

**Palmdale City Councilman Dave Myers, who's been a regular at the authority meetings, also questioned the staff's recommendation.

"It is a mystery to me why the staff seems so committed to recommend against going through the Antelope Valley," Myers said.**

Valley officials said they plan to attend the meeting in San Francisco, and until then, they said they'll continue to build a defense for a Valley alignment.

They all expressed hope the authority members would not base their decision solely on Morshed's recommendation.

During the meeting, Myers reminded the authority that although the alignment decision may be based on cost, time savings and ridership estimates, they still need the get the approval of the voters.

"This is a business decision," Myers said, "but it is using taxpayer dollars."

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Board votes support for high-speed rail stop
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press July 7, 1999.
By VALLEY PRESS STAFF

LOS ANGELES - The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted unanimously to support a high-speed train stop in Palmdale.

The board's vote adds to a growing list of supporters of an Antelope Valley route over plans to have the bullet train parallel Interstate 5, passing over the Grapevine.

The Los Angeles City Council, Los Angeles World Airports, the cities of Burbank and El Segundo and a consortium of high desert officials have doggedly called for a high-speed train stop in Palmdale over the past year.

The state's planned highspeed rail system would run from San Francisco to Los Angeles International Airport at speeds in excess of 200 mph.

A decision on the route alignment was to have been made at a meeting of the California HighSpeed Rail Authority in Los Angeles last month.

At the meeting, the staff of that commission recommended aligning the tracks with the Interstate 5 over the Grapevine.

After several vocal speakers touted a Valley alignment, members of the commission voted to delay the vote to hear more public comment.

That vote is now expected to come at a meeting on July 20 in San Francisco.

The motion to support a Valley alignment was made by 5th District Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who represents the Antelope Valley. Antonovich said he believes the support of the county's 10 million residents will sway a state commission on high-speed rail to consider strongly a high desert alignment.

If a high-speed train came though the Antelope Valley, it could whisk commuters to Los Angeles in 30 minutes or less.

Current modes used for the more than 55-mile commute range from a minimum drive of one hour to nearly two hours on the Antelope Valley Transit Authority bus or the Metrolink.

It is estimated that a highspeed train system would not be built until at least 2010. Most estimates have it being built sometime around the year 2020.

At the late June meeting, Palmdale and Lancaster city officials were irate over the staff's advocacy of an I-5 alignment, saying the staff based their decision on old data, and didn't take into account population growth in the Antelope Valley.

According to estimates drawn up by the Southern California Association of Governments, most of the growth in the Los Angeles area is expected to occur in the high desert.

By 2020, those estimates show the population will reach 1.2 million. Currently, the Valley's population is just under 500,000.

According to advocates of an Antelope Valley alignment, the cost of the train moving through the high desert is comparable to an I-5 alignment, which is almost a straight line from Northern California, and will only cost the train about seven minutes.

The staff backed its recommendation by saying that the extra time added to a train trip would reduce the number of longdistance riders.

According to figures provided by the staff, most of the cost of operating the system would be recouped by long-distance ticket sales.

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Boost for AV high-speed rail route
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press July 8, 1999.
By DON JERGLER
Valley Press Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES - The Los Angeles Department of World Airports voted to support a high-speed rail route through the Antelope Valley on Wednesday.

The Board of Airport Commissioners resolved its debate in a vote that adds its support to a growing list of Antelope Valley route supporters.

The route is preferred over plans to have the bullet train parallel Interstate 5, passing over the Grapevine.

The Los Angeles City Council, the cities of Burbank and El Segundo and a consortium of high desert officials have doggedly called for a high-speed train stop in Palmdale over the past year.

The state's planned high-speed rail system would run from San Francisco to Los Angeles International Airport at speeds in excess of 200 mph.

A decision on the route alignment was to have been made at a meeting of the California HighSpeed Rail Authority in Los Angeles last month. At that meeting, the staff of that commission recommended aligning the tracks with the Interstate 5 over the Grapevine. After several vocal speakers touted a Valley alignment, members of the commission voted to delay the vote to hear more public comment.

That vote is now expected to come at a July 20 meeting in San Francisco.

If a high-speed train were to come though the Antelope Valley, it could whisk commuters to Los Angeles in 30 minutes or less.

Current modes used for the more than 55-mile commute range from a minimum one-hour drive to nearly two hours on the Antelope Valley Transit Authority bus or the Metrolink.

It is estimated that a highspeed train system would not be built until at least 2010. Most estimates have it being built sometime around 2020.

According to the airport board, directing the train through the Antelope Valley would facilitate development of the Palmdale Regional Airport, which is owned and operated by Los Angeles World Airports.

The high-speed rail program is being developed as a way to reduce vehicular traffic along the major north-south highways in the Central Valley.

"High-speed rail is a critical element to generating growth at Palmdale Airport," Airport Commission President John J. Agoglia said. "All commercial airports in Southern California must prepare themselves to meet the region's ever-increasing demand for air passenger service. This resolution confirms the Airport Commission's stated objective to develop all its facilities as part of a regional solution to accommodating future air traffic demands."

At the June meeting, Palmdale and Lancaster city officials were irate over commission staff's advocacy of an I-5 alignment, saying the staff based their decision on old data, and didn't take into account population growth in the Antelope Valley.

According to estimates drawn up by the Southern California Association of Governments, most of the growth in the Los Angeles area is expected to occur in the high desert.

By 2020, those estimates show the population will reach 1.2 million. Currently, the Valley's population is just under 500,000.

According to advocates of an Antelope Valley alignment, the cost of the train moving through the high desert is comparable to an I-5 alignment, which is almost a straight line from Northern California, and will only cost the train about seven minutes.

The staff backed its recommendation by saying that the extra time added to a train trip would reduce the number of long-distance riders.

According to figures provided by the staff, most of the cost of operating the system would be recouped by long-distance ticket sales.

John J. Driscoll, executive director of Los Angeles World Airports, said, "The department has consistently supported the development of a regional, multimodal transportation system serving major activity centers and the region's airport system, which includes Los Angeles International, Ontario International and Palmdale Regional airports."

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Odds increase for bullet train route

This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press July 21, 1999.

By DON JERGLER

Valley Press Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO - A state rail authority left supporters of an Antelope Valley high-speed rail route hanging off a proverbial cliff again Tuesday. But, with the proposal of a rail spur to Santa Clarita, odds have increased that a bullet train will serve Palmdale.

A vote on the state's planned 670-mile high-speed railway linking San Francisco to Los Angeles - a trip that would take less than three hours on a bullet train - now is expected to be made today.

The vote will determine if a bullet train would stop in Palmdale or parallel Interstate 5 and pass over the Grapevine.

That vote was scheduled to be made in June, but was postponed until Tuesday by members of the California High-Speed Rail Authority in order to hear more public comment.

The authority is charged with drafting a business plan and presenting it the Legislature and the governor. Final approval would come from the voters, who ultimately would have to approve a bond to pay for the bulk of the public-private funded project, estimated to cost between $23 billion and $30 billion.

Palmdale officials who have followed the high-speed rail project since its inception early in this decade said they believe a slight majority of the authority members are in favor of a Valley rail alignment.

Out of the nine authority members, Palmdale City Councilman David Myers said, he's heard six speak favorably for having a bullet train stop in Palmdale.

After hearing more than four hours of public testimony on various topics from dozens of speakers - nearly a third were concerning an Antelope Valley alignment - authority members delayed the vote for a second time.

While action was delayed, authority staff members, who publicly have opposed a Valley rail alignment, offered to recommend a potential link - a spur - from Palmdale to Santa Clarita to serve high desert residents. That recommendation was made in a report delivered to authority members Tuesday.

"In recognition of the official positions that service to Palmdale is integral to the development of the Palmdale Airport, the staff recommends that a branch line from Santa Clarita to Palmdale be studied through preliminary engineering and environmental phases provided that Palmdale Airport becomes a viable airport with scheduled interstate air service."

Myers, who has represented the Valley on high-speed rail issues since the conception of a bullet train for California, likened the staff's recommendation to a bone tossed to a starving dog.

"As much as we appreciate the spur, I would suggest the cost would outweigh the benefit," Myers added.

Myers and other speakers also suggested that the majority of Southern California supports having a bullet train stop in Palmdale, with constant reminders from the speakers that the voters must eventually agree to tax themselves to pay for a high-speed rail system.

"I would strongly encourage you to take advantage of this so that this project isn't left standing on the platform when this opportunity rolls by," Myers added.

The proposed spur from Palmdale to Santa Clarita is one of three such offshoots of a staff-endorsed high-speed rail route. Spurs from Los Angeles International Airport to downtown Los Angeles and from Oakland to San Francisco also are being looked at.

Funding for those potential links wouldn't be included in a master plan, but would likely have to be lobbied for later in the process of approving an overall plan.

The suggested Palmdale spur would replace or enhance current services by Metrolink. A one-way trip on the train from Lancaster to Union Station in downtown L.A. is one hour, 55 minutes. While Metrolink trains are limited to speeds of 79 mph on the Santa Clarita line, a train on the high-speed spur could travel between 150 and 200 mph, dramatically reducing the commute time.

Staff members decided to recommend the spur due to the overwhelming support for high-speed service to Palmdale that's been voiced, said Dan Leavitt, executive director of the rail authority.

"We've been listening," he said.

Today's first action by authority members calls for a comparison of ridership figures and cost analysis.

The city of Palmdale commissioned a report that contradicts a report released by authority staff, which has come out against a high desert alignment.

While the staff report shows increased costs and decreased ridership figures on a Valley alignment vs. the suggested route paralleling I-5, Palmdale's study shows that ridership figures are increased by the number of high desert commuters who would eagerly hop a high-speed train bound for Los Angeles.

A trip from Palmdale to Los Angeles on a bullet train would take less than 30 minutes, studies show.

The Palmdale report also shows that riders from east Kern and northern San Bernardino counties would utilize a bullet train stop in Palmdale, increasing the number of residents to 2.2 million people in the year 2020, when the highspeed rail is expected to be up and running.

Those points were argued vehemently by Valley officials, who used as their talking points the development of a Palmdale Airport, and the 10,000 jobs expected to be created if the joint strike fighter contract comes to the Valley.

It's believed by officials from the Valley and Los Angeles, who oppose expanding the already overcrowded Los Angeles International Airport that having a highspeed rail stop in Palmdale will give a quick transfer option for air passengers, thus encouraging commercial air business at Palmdale.

"We've got 17,000 acres out there in support of an airport," state Sen. William J. "Pete" Knight, R-Palmdale, testified. "It will grow and it will be an industrial base and there will be an airport there."

Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford agreed.

"The airport is not a maybe or a possibility," he argued.

Also speaking on behalf of a Valley alignment were representatives for L.A. County 5th District Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan, the L.A. City Council and Los Angeles World Airports.

The county Board of Supervisors and City Council both voted unanimously to endorse highspeed rail if Palmdale is included as a stop.

"Palmdale Airport is not something in the future, it's now," said Jack Grahm, director of planning for the LAWA.

Both Myers and Ledford said despite the staff's recommendation, they're holding out hopes for a vote in favor of a Valley alignment today. "I think we've got a narrow edge," Ledford said.

************************************************

Palmdale in as bullet train stop

State supports Valley rail route

This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press July 22, 1999.

By DON JERGLER

Valley Press Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO - A state rail authority put Palmdale back on the map Wednesday, giving priority to routing a high-speed train through the high desert's fastestgrowing city rather than an alternative that would have cut Antelope Valley residents out of the state's planned bullet train system.

During a second day of hearings at San Francisco City Hall, members of the California High-Speed Rail Authority voted down a recommendation by the authority's staff members to circumvent the high desert. Instead, authority members voted to add Palmdale to a high-speed rail map.

That decision was followed by a successful motion by authority member Donna L. Andrews to give preference to a high desert highspeed rail alignment over a staff suggestion to parallel Interstate 5 and pass over the Grapevine.

"I just cannot understand how we cannot include the Antelope Valley as part of the statewide rail system," Andrews said, citing arguments that the high desert is where the majority of growth will occur over the next 10 to 20 years, when the bullet train is expected to be up and running.

"We're back in the game," Palmdale City Councilman David Myers exclaimed.

Myers, who has been involved with planning for a California high-speed rail system since its conception early in the decade, said he believes that the authority's vote to give preference to a high-desert rail route puts Palmdale in the driver's seat.

Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford, who lobbied vigorously authority members for a high-desert route, said that with the decision left to Legislature, a Valley alignment is a virtual lock.

"It's everything we could hope for," Ledford said, a look of relief on his face after the two-day ordeal. "When we get to the Legislature, we're going to prevail, because how many people live near the Grapevine?"

Authority members in favor of a Valley alignment also argued that the political will of Southern California should be considered, because the planned $23 to $30 billion project first must be approved by the Legislature and the governor, then placed on a ballot as a bond for voter approval.

The city and county of Los Angeles - which encompass nearly one-third of the voters in California - have taken positions in favor of having a bullet train stop in Palmdale.

The revised map will be included in a business plan, which proceeds environmental and economic studies.

A final plan is expected to be presented to the Legislature sometime before December, and could be put on a ballot by 2000.

The authority's decision came after more than four hours of public comment Tuesday and vigorous debates between authority members Wednesday over whether a bullet train would lose ridership by having a stop in Palmdale because that route is believed to increase travel time between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Arguments have been made that any ridership loss due to the time increase - projected between nine and 15 minutes - would be recouped by the large number of high desert commuters who would hop the train for the daily commute.

Roughly 32,000 people make the one-hour-plus trip from the Valley to the basin daily, Caltrans estimates show.

A trip from Palmdale to Los Angeles on a high-speed train would take less than 30 minutes.

While voting Palmdale onto the rail map, authority members eliminated a proposed high-speed spur from the high desert to Los Angeles, which had been presented by the authority's staff Tuesday as a compromise.

Palmdale originally had been a preferred stop on the state's planned 680-mile high-speed rail system.

A state commission - a predecessor to the authority - voted to have the train run from Bakersfield to Los Angeles via Palmdale.

That vote was essentially canceled when authority staff members announced last month they were endorsing the I-5 alignment.

But that endorsement, followed by strenuous objections from proponents of a Valley alignment at a meeting in June, caused authority members to delay voting on the alignment until this week.

The authority's vote on Wednesday essentially orders the staff to conduct cost and environmental studies on both the Palmdale and I-5 alignments, with priority given to the route through the high desert.

The Southern California Association of Governments, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, L.A. City Council and the Department of Los Angeles World Airports all endorse a high-speed rail alignment through the Valley.

L.A. City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter delivered an impassioned plea for routing a bullet train through Palmdale and relayed Mayor Richard Riordan's endorsement for that alignment.

Los Angeles has resoundingly come out in support of a bullet train stop in the high desert because it's believed that the improvement in ground transportation between Palmdale Airport and Los Angeles will spur the development of that airport and take pressure off the already overburdened Los Angeles International Airport.

"Palmdale is a vastly underdeveloped and underserved resource," Galanter said. "Regional airports grow best when assisted by adequate ground transit."

**********************************************

California's wild ride

Palmdale could become stop along the way

This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press August 8, 1999.

By DON JERGLER

Valley Press Business Editor

PALMDALE - It was a moment of great intensity - knuckle wrenching and gut tightening. Carpe diem - seize the day or let the dream die.

On July 21, Palmdale city officials sat quietly in a board room within the magnificent San Francisco City Hall, where ancient Greek figures carved in smooth white granite look down on visitors passing through the great halls and massive pillars.

In the board room, the economic fate of Palmdale and the surrounding Antelope Valley region of nearly a half-million people was in the hands of a nine-member panel rapidly moving a decision-making process to its close.

The question:

Should Palmdale be a stop on the state's planned high-speed rail system? Routing a high-speed train through the high desert, according to one study, would generate up to $500 million in revenue for the area. It would also get commuters from Palmdale to Los Angeles in 30 minutes or less.

The dilemma:

Such a route requires 38 more miles of costly track and land acquisition, possibly increasing the cost of the $23 to $30 billion project. And, if Palmdale were given a stop, all passengers traveling on the system would be delayed nine to 15 minutes, according to some estimates.

The recommendation on the table was to circumvent the high desert, where a majority of the population growth in Southern California is expected to occur in the next 10 to 20 years - when a highspeed rail system, if approved, would likely be up and running.

That recommendation was made by staff of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, a board of volunteers charged with forming a business plan for a rapid ground transit system from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Instead, the staff suggested a straighter route from Bakersfield to L.A., paralleling Interstate 5.

The weight of that recommendation sunk the hopes of Valley officials who worked hard for the past six years to establish Palmdale as the preferred stop route along what may become a 670-mile high-speed rail system capable of speeding travelers along in excess of 200 mph.

Lobbying efforts were in full force.

Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford made repeated appearances before the authority. David Myers, a Palmdale city councilman, worked feverishly to debunk the authority staff's recommendation.

Guest speakers had been invited. Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter was making her second appearance before the authority to let it be known that she and the entire city council, including L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan, were in favor of making Palmdale a high-speed rail stop.

Galanter spoke vigorously and authoritatively, citing the need to develop Palmdale Airport as a reason to have a high-speed rail alignment through the Valley.

"I just cannot understand how we cannot include the Antelope Valley . . . as part of the statewide system," she said. "Palmdale Airport is a vastly underdeveloped and underserved resource."

Representatives for Los Angeles County 5th District Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich delivered a letter from all five supervisors announcing their support of a route through the high desert.

Officials from the Department of Los Angeles World Airports also hand-delivered a letter of support. They spoke with urgency about the need for a high-speed ground link between Palmdale and L.A. to make Palmdale Airport viable and ease air traffic at the overburdened Los Angeles International Airport.

This last endorsement was surprising, because the airline industry views high-speed rail as a competitor and has traditionally lobbied hard against such rapid ground transit systems.

Southern California Association of Governments, an organization comprised of elected representatives throughout the region, also endorsed a high-speed rail alignment through the Valley.

Facts and figures blurred, as authority members grappled with a vote they'd already delayed twice.

The first time they were scheduled to vote on a rail alignment was in June, during a meeting at the Metropolitan Water District building in downtown L.A.

It was during that meeting the staff first endorsed a route paralleling I-5, passing over the Grapevine, over an alignment through the Valley.

After officials from Palmdale and Lancaster, and Galanter, urged authority members to consider their views, the vote was delayed for a month to allow more public comment.

More public comment is what they got.

During the first day of the twoday meeting in San Francisco, authority members listened to about four hours of public comment - much of which was delivered from proponents of an alignment through Palmdale.

Other speakers urged alignments through their areas. Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, who was California's governor until 1982, questioned the staff's reasoning for leaving his city out of a statewide high-speed rail plan.

Finally, it was time to take a vote on whether to adopt the staff's recommendation, or go through the arduous process of redrawing the map.

Authority member Jerry Epstein, formerly a member of the Los Angeles World Airports and an outspoken supporter of the development of Palmdale Airport, motioned to have Palmdale included in the alignment options.

This point was quickly agreed upon by authority chair Michael Tennenbaum and Mehdi Morshed, the authority's executive director and head of authority staff.

Until Epstein's motion, Tennenbaum had been unreceptive to the idea of a high desert alignment, and Morshed had been outright opposed to it.

Morshed was a member of the High-Speed Rail Commission, the predecessor group to the authority. The commission was merely a start-up committee, charged with getting rail plans under way.

While that commission narrowly voted to recommend having a high-speed stop in Palmdale, Morshed cast one of the dissenting votes.

With Epstein's motion, it appeared Palmdale was in the clear.

All possible alignments would be considered.

But, what wasn't readily clear to all those in the board room was that the staff's proposed alignment would still be the only recommendation carried through in the business plan being developed and delivered to the state Legislature for consideration.

Tennenbaum and Morshed had agreed to put Palmdale in the preliminary planning phase, but not to carry it through the entire process.

This didn't go unnoticed by Palmdale officials.

Just as the vote was about to take place, Ledford, Myers and Randy Floyd, Palmdale's senior analyst, huddled in the rear of the large board room and hurriedly scribbled an alternative motion on a slip of paper torn from a notebook.

The paper was handed to authority member Donna L. Andrews, who had been passively quiet through most of the two-day meeting.

She read the paper, folded it up, and broke her silence, announcing she had a motion.

Her motion was to have both Palmdale and the I-5 alignment considered. But, she wanted the route through Palmdale to be the preferred route, and the one presented to Legislature.

The tired, weary looks on the faces of Tennenbaum and Morshed were telling signs that they would not argue the point further.

Moments later, a vote was taken. Eight members to one, an alignment was approved from San Francisco to L.A. - via the Central Valley to Bakersfield to Palmdale to Santa Clarita.

Ledford, who sat in the front row of the board room with an intense look on his brow - wrenching his hands the whole time - stomped and clapped like a young boy after hitting a grand slam during his first Little League game. A shout of joy was heard from the back of the room.

Myers said he was sitting in the back of the room with Floyd, when they realized something was wrong, and called Ledford back to confer.

When they realized the oversight was a "sleight of hand," as Myers referred to it, they knew they had to move quickly.

"Things were moving very, very quickly at that point," Myers said.

Floyd, who spearheaded the effort to get outside support, prepared outlines, and helped manage speakers, called the tactics by Tennenbaum and Morshed outright trickery.

"The high-speed authority staff was definitely trying to manipulate the process," he said. "We have not seen anything that suggests that the high-speed rail authority staff was correct."

That's when "we all recognized that once again staff was trying to cut us out," he added.

And that's when Palmdale prevailed.

"It was a big win for us and a big day for Southern California" Floyd said.

Now that Palmdale's position on the state's high-speed rail system is virtually locked in, the next step is to maintain the pole position.

The authority must still approve a business plan, with environmental impact studies and cost analysis. Then, there's a decision on which technology to use.

Two different technologies are being considered: Steel wheel, like the TGV in France, and Magnetic Levitation (MagLev), which has yet to be built and used to scale.

The advantage of steel-wheel high-speed rail trains is the track can be built cheaper and, in some instances, existing track may be used.

Where MagLev shines is in its performance. MagLev trains travel on a frictionless surface, saving energy and time. Top speeds of steel wheel technology are estimated at 220 mph. MagLev trains, it's believed, may exceed speeds of 310 mph.

After the business plan is formed, it must be submitted to the Legislature. This is scheduled to happen sometime in December.

If approved by the Legislature and the governor, voters would have to vote on whether to tax themselves, creating a bond for the public-private funded project.

Once that happens, land acquisitions and further planning can be conducted for a system that's between one and two decades away.

While no immediate effects will be felt in the Valley if a high-speed rail system is developed and comes through the Valley, long-term economic impacts are expected to be tremendous.

According to a study commissioned by Palmdale, nearly $500 million in economic benefits can be gained by having a high-speed rail route through the high desert.

The report considers three components: real estate, development of the Palmdale Airport and attraction of industry.

Because the Valley is one of the few places in L.A. County with so much remaining undeveloped property, reducing the commute time between the high desert and L.A. from its current one-to-1 1/2 hour trip to less than 30 minutes is expected to draw people away from the overcrowded city, where property prices are lofty.

Gregg Anderson, a 70-year-old real estate developer, believes the price of property in the high desert is going to skyrocket some time within the next 10 years.

Anderson is developing Rancho Vista, a 1,300-acre community in Palmdale. The project, estimated 70% complete, has more than 500 lots, including a golf course. Project completion is expected in the next five years.

According to Anderson, who's been building communities for the last 40 years, Rancho Vista will support up to 20,000 residents - all from growth he expects to happen despite not yet having a highspeed rail stop in Palmdale.

While Anderson doesn't believe an immediate impact on the real estate market will be felt, he said high-speed transit to the L.A. basin will eventually prove to be a boon.

"Undoubtedly it will increase and improve property values dramatically," Anderson said. "It will put us in touch with San Francisco, with Los Angeles and San Diego."

Because the high desert would have quick ground connection to metropolitan cities with international airports, like L.A. and San Francisco, "it opens up any market in the world," Anderson said, adding, "You could go to a Laker game and be there in 30 to 40 minutes."

Anderson, who lobbied Epstein, his longtime friend, and other authority members on behalf of Palmdale, said he believes the biggest impact of a high-speed rail system will be felt just before the system is completed.

"I would say we're looking at close to a decade from now," he said. "When it becomes a reality, we'll see an acceleration of companies coming here. It will be dramatic."

Now, Palmdale's efforts will focus on keeping Palmdale in as a stop on the high-speed rail system. For now, that will be up to Ledford, Myers and Floyd.

The next step, Myers said, is to "bury Gorman for good."

A rail alignment paralleling the I-5 would pass through the sleepy city of Gorman.

Myers said he plans to go to work on uncovering more faults in the route paralleling the I-5, with emphasis on geological studies.

A route over the Grapevine would require a significant amount of tunneling.

"There's just no question in our mind that it's going to be much cheaper to go though the Antelope Valley," Myers said.

When growth figures are taken into account, Myers added, the decision must be made on the number of people served. And those people will be coming from not only the Valley, but Kern and east San Bernardino counties as well, Myers said.

Jim Gosnell, the director of planning for SCAG, said his organization was pleased with the authority's decision to put a highspeed stop in Palmdale.

"We were supportive of the Palmdale alignment," he said.

Gosnell said he believes a highspeed train would provide relief to the Valley's commuting population, which is estimated at between 32,000 and 50,000.

"It would provide an alternative to having to drive," he said.

A high-speed train would also bring success to SCAG's regional plan to make more use of outlying airports, such as Palmdale and Ontario, to provide relief to LAX, which is expected to be inundated with up to 20 million passengers per year by the year 2020.

********************************************* Rail Authority won't provide data on costs
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press September 27, 1999 .
By BOB WILSON
Valley Press Staff Writer

PALMDALE - Calling the request "overly broad," the deputy director of the California HighSpeed Rail Authority refused last week to supply myriad documents requested by Palmdale City Manager Bob Toone.

Toone asked authority officials to provide information being used to compile a business plan that will show the expected costs and revenues of a high-speed train system to link Los Angeles and San Francisco via the Antelope Valley.

The business plan is to be presented to the state Legislature before Jan. 1. If the plan is approved by the Legislature and governor, voters will be asked to tax themselves to pay the cost of the train system's construction.

The work is expected to take at least 15 years.

The documents were sought because "we do not understand how cost and revenue projections continue to fluctuate with no explanation or backup documentation" from authority staff members, Palmdale's city manager said in a letter dated Sept. 8.

The total cost of the 680-mile system has been estimated at between $23 billion and $30 billion, depending on the route and the type of bullet-train technology used.

Members of the rail authority's staff have argued in favor of a route along Interstate 5 instead of through the Antelope Valley because the local route reportedly would increase costs and travel time.

Proponents of the local route have countered that the cost of laying another 30 miles of track through the Mojave Desert would cost less than digging tunnels through the mountains along I-5.

Also, they say, the desert route will serve more riders, generating more revenue, and would better serve regional economic development.

"We have provided documentation, based on your own research, which backs our position, and yet you have never responded to these efforts," Toone wrote.

"We have tried to work with you to bring forth the best possible analysis so that the authority board, legislature and governor can make an informed decision in regard to the future of high-speed rail in California," he wrote. "You have consistently stood as a roadblock to public participation and input at every possible opportunity."

In a letter back to the city, deputy director Daniel Leavitt said rail authority officials "have been advised by (legal) counsel that the city of Palmdale is not eligible" to request public information pursuant to the state Public Records Act.

However, in an effort to accommodate Palmdale's request, Leavitt provided a list of documents, slides and reports used at previous meetings by authority staff. The items on that list could be made available at the city's request, he said.

"If this is not a correct ... description of what the city wants, then we must reject the request," he wrote on Sept. 20.

Palmdale senior analyst Randy Floyd said the city wants the data that supports the rail authority's projected costs.

"We're trying to get the assumptions and calculations that went into their numbers," Floyd said. "One of the big issues we have is the risk associated with the tunneling.

"Given the recent experience in Southern California with tunneling projects, we don't believe they have adequately assessed the risks involved," he said, referring to problems with Los Angeles County's attempts to build a subway under Hollywood.

City staff has estimated that tunneling through the mountains could cost the state between $396 million and $792 million, Floyd said.

Even if the desert route costs more in the beginning, it would be offset by increased, long-term economic-development revenues of between $200 million and $500 million a year, he said.

"The fact that you have an opportunity to get economic-development benefits over a long period of time outweighs by far any incremental development costs," Floyd said. "We've never been able to get the state (authority) to respond to that assertion.

"Their response is: `Well, we can't give you everything that went into the business plan.' But that is exactly what we want," he continued. "We want to know every assumption and every number, so we are assured the methodology was accurate and thorough."

In the past, authority staff have been very stingy with their information, providing only minimal data during meetings, Floyd said.

"We are coming down to the wire here," he said, noting that a workshop on the business plan has been scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday Sept. 28-29in Sacramento.

The workshop will be the city's chance "to go over with the authority board what the consultants are putting into this business plan," Floyd said. "But we won't have any of the documentation before that meeting. That means we will have a hard time participating in any meaningful way.

"We want to be part of the team that makes this (project) happen, and we want to make sure all the information is available to the public and that it is being reviewed carefully and thoughtfully," he said.

**********************************************

Rail authority sidelines AV route proposal
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press September 30, 1999 .
By BOB WILSON
Valley Press Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO - The California High-Speed Rail Authority voted Wednesday to make a priority of a pro posed bullet-train route along Interstate 5, demoting in the process a proposed route through the Antelope Valley.

That recommendation will be thoroughly scrutinized if it makes it to the state Legislature, state Sen. William J. "Pete" Knight, RPalmdale, told the Valley Press.

Regardless of the recommendation, both the I-5 route along the Grapevine and the Antelope Valley route will be considered equally in an environmental impact report to be compiled as part of a business-plan recommendation to the Legislature, Knight said.

The senator was one of the state, county and municipal representatives in Sacramento on Wednesday to participate in a workshop on the business plan, to be approved or rejected by lawmakers.

In his opinion, the rail authority's move was "lousy," Knight said.

The vote to change the priority of the routes was taken before those supporting the Antelope Valley route could speak, he said.

Those supporters included, among others, the mayor, the City Council and Chamber of Commerce of the city of Los Angeles, the Board of Supervisors of Los Angeles County, the Southern California Association of Governments and the Los Angeles World Airports.

During the two minutes he was given to address the rail authority, "I told them everybody was in support of the Palmdale route," Knight said.

"I told them to look around, that there was nobody there in support of the Grapevine route," he said. He also told them to look at the people opposed to the Grapevine and in favor of the AV route.

The rail authority's vote reportedly was based on the lower anticipated cost of crossing the Grapevine instead of the high desert, Knight said.

According to rail authority Executive Director Mehdi Morshed, the Grapevine route is 52.5 miles shorter than the AV route, and the Grapevine route - with the elimination of a proposed stop in Bakersfield - would cost nearly $670 million less to build.

The AV route also would increase travel times by nine to 14 minutes between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Morshed said. That increase in time would reduce the number of paying passengers by 1.7 million people a year, resulting in a revenue loss of $75.5 million plus additional operations and maintenance costs of $33.2 million.

To build the AV route, the Legislature would have to increase the state sales tax by 0.25 cents, a total cost to taxpayers of $1.86 billion, he said.

Those figures failed to take into account the fact that revenues for the train system would be significantly bolstered by serving the hundreds of thousands of new residents, the dozens of new industries and potential millions of airline passengers expected to live, work or travel through the Antelope Valley as it continues to grow over the next 20 years, Knight said.

"We asked them" to take those revenues into consideration, he said. "They said they would do that later on."

Meanwhile, "this kind of snookers us already because we are No. 2" instead of No. 1 in terms of recommendations, he said.

"But they will have other meetings, and we'll be there" to remind them of the potential benefits of an AV route, Knight said.

"We will keep fighting them. The one thing they don't seem to understand is that when it goes to the Legislature, it's going to come back to us," he said.

"There's going to be some significant scrutiny" of the final route recommendation by the legislators who represent the interests of Southern California communities, cities and agencies that want the bullet train to run through Palmdale, Knight said.

********************************************

High-speed rail stop's future in Palmdale's court
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press November 18, 1999
By DON JERGLER
Valley Press Business Editor

LOS ANGELES - Getting the state's planned high-speed train to stop in Palmdale has been a metaphoric tennis match - one serve putting the high desert's second largest city on the bullet train map, the next lob knocking Palmdale squarely out of bounds.

During the heat of another battle between an impressive proPalmdale lobby and the staff of the California High-Speed Rail Authority in Los Angeles on Wednesday, the high desert won a home court advantage of sorts.

Members of the nine-member authority agreed to sit down with Palmdale officials and discuss the advantages of having a high-speed train stop in Palmdale rather than the authority's currently preferred route - paralleling Interstate 5 and passing over the Grapevine.

That decision came in the midst of a meeting that could have easily sealed Palmdale's fate, leaving the high desert and its inhabitants entirely out of the 680-mile bullet train system.

During its monthly meeting, the authority was expected to once again take a vote that would either put Palmdale back as a priority route in a high-speed rail business plan, or reaffirm its secondary status.

In September, the authority reversed a decision made a month earlier at a meeting in San Francisco that made Palmdale the preferred route from Bakersfield to Los Angeles.

Before the San Francisco meeting, Palmdale's status on the bullet train map had been reverted at least twice.

Wednesday's meeting in L.A. was also to hear a plan by the Southern California Association of Governments to serve the Southern California region by magnetic levitation (Maglev) high-speed rail technology.

SCAG was given a federal grant to conduct feasibility studies on serving the region with a Maglev train - an unproven technology that drew favor from the federal government as a research and development project.

It was unknown whether SCAG's proposal, which includes a stop in Palmdale, would affect the authority's decision on alignments.

After briefly hearing the SCAG proposal, authority members voted for a business plan that recommends the state legislature examine the high-speed rail proposal in increments instead of approving all parts of the plan at once, as had been the authority's stated intention.

The vote was also to keep the Grapevine alignment as the preferred route to Los Angeles, but to equally examine more thoroughly both that route and one through Palmdale at a later date.

As a reason for its decision to divide up the approval process, the authority issued a draft of the business plan which states the plan has shortcomings and uncertainties, which require further investigation.

The business plan must be approved by the state Legislature and the governor. Eventually, voters would have to approve a quarter-cent sales tax hike to pay for the public-private funded project, estimated to cost between $25 billion and $30 billion.

In addition to failing to provide service to Orange County or Oakland, the report states, the plan "does not serve Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), the state's largest airport, or Palmdale, a potential regional airport, and it may adversely impact agricultural land in the Central Valley area."

To develop a more accurate cost figure, the plan states, "the authority recommends several additional corridors be investigated in the next phase of work ..."

Outgoing Palmdale City Councilman David Myers, who represents the Valley on high-speed rail issues, said the authority's willingness to sit down with Palmdale officials is a major advantage for regaining high-speed ground.

Myers said the authority agreed to a two-hour workshop to be scheduled in Palmdale within the next 90 to 120 days.

Through the workshop, Myers said, Palmdale officials hope to convince authority members there's broad public support for a Palmdale alignment, and they hope to find out why the authority's staff has insisted on favoring the Grapevine route.

Palmdale officials have amassed an impressive list of supporters for a high-desert alignment including the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the L.A. City Council and Mayor Richard Riordan, SCAG, Los Angeles World Airports and the city of El Segundo.

So far, the authority has based its decisions on a study conducted in 1994, used by the California High-Speed Rail Commission - the authority's predecessor - that shows it's more costly to put a high-speed stop in Palmdale due to the extra 30 miles of track required to complete that portion of the route.

It's been the argument of Myers and Palmdale officials, who commissioned a report two years ago that debunked the findings of the earlier report, that having the high-speed train go through the Grapevine would require more tunneling with greater cost in the end to repair environmental damage.

If a high-speed train were to pass through the Grapevine, it would also have to overcome a steep grade, which would require that a 400-foot ramp, known as a viaduct, be built.

Additionally, bypassing the high desert, according to Palmdale advocates, would greatly reduce potential ridership in the next 20 years, when the train, if approved, would likely be up and running.

By the year 2020, SCAG estimates predict the population in the Valley will have doubled to at least 1.2 million. SCAG estimates also show the majority of the population growth in the region occurring in the high desert.

"It's our belief that when they do all these studies that we're going to come out superior," Myers said. "When they really study this I think they're going to turn around and show that (going through) the Antelope Valley is going to be a lot cheaper."

John Barna, an authority staff member, said the authority's vote to incrementally approach having the business plan approved puts all possible routes on an even keel.

"Based on today's actions, there is no primary route," Barna said.

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The state's envisioned bullet-train system is en route to its first major crossing, one with a multitude of barriers that could easily derail the $25 billion to $30 billion project. Valley Press Business Editor Don Jergler reports.

High-speed rail study speeds toward funding or derailment
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press February 23, 2000
By DON JERGLER
Valley Press Business Editor

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SACRAMENTO - The state's envisioned bullet-train system is en route to its first major crossing, one with a multitude of barriers that could easily derail the $25 billion to $30 billion project.
The smoke has only recently cleared from years of vigorous debate about where California's proposed high-speed train should stop, with one route through the Antelope Valley still a possibility.

Now, the California High-Speed Rail Authority's recently released business plan is heading to the state Legislature, and eventually to the desk of Gov. Gray Davis.

That business plan outlines the authority's work for the past two years. It also calls for $25 million to conduct an environmental impact report, placing nearly a decade of studying the possibilities of a statewide bullet train system at a crucial juncture.

Without funding for the report, the project would be put on the back burner for at least another year, perhaps indefinitely.

Palmdale's role in the statewide bullet-train system, which remains an unsecured option to having the train parallel Interstate 5 and pass over the Grapevine, will be discussed extensively by authority members at a public meeting from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday, March 1, at the Palmdale Cultural Center, 704 East Palmdale Blvd.

Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford, who has lobbied vigorously for a high-speed rail stop in Palmdale for nearly 10 years, believes that because the authority was appointed by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, Davis will be apprehensive about it.

"I think that Gov. Davis hasn't been given any reason to buy into this previous administration's work," Ledford said, adding, "Certainly he understands the connection of high-speed rail and the airport development in Palmdale."

Some Valley officials believe having a high-speed link between Palmdale Airport and Los Angeles would encourage more airline passengers to fly into Palmdale and take a half-hour train ride into the metropolitan center.

During the March 1 meeting, Ledford said he'll review the authority's business plan and push to get Palmdale in as a stronger consideration for a stop.

"We want to reinforce that, politically, if they want the support of California, they have to come here through the Antelope Valley," Ledford said.

Davis has been noncommittal on high-speed rail, saying through aides that his priority is to examine enhancing existing rail systems and to put more money into alleviating commuter congestion.

"The governor has not taken a position ... thus far," said Hilary McLean, a spokeswoman for Davis. "It is of greater priority to him at this point to provide funding for congestion and relieving some of the crowded commuter corridors."

In the Legislature, there's at least one supporter.

Assemblyman Dean Florez, DShafter, is optimistic about the future of high-speed rail in this state. He's introduced a bill calling for the environmental impact report.

The first major step toward building the system, the report would provide a road map for such problems as right-of-way constraints. It also provides a detailed analysis of possible damage to ecosystems along the various routes suggested in the business plan.

Florez' bill also extends the life of the authority - it's funded through June 30, 2001 - allowing it to continue studying aspects of the 680-mile-plus system from San Francisco to Los Angeles, which could have trains traveling at speeds up to 310 mph.

Florez, who sat on the authority until December 1998, introduced Assembly Bill 1703, which would prescribe terms for members and allow the governor the power to appoint new members. All nine members of the present authority were appointed by Wilson.

AB 1703 now sits in the Assembly Transportation Committee, with a possible hearing as early as March.

Florez, who chairs an Assembly Budget subcommittee that takes up policy concerning transportation and information technology, said he and state Sen. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, met with Davis on Tuesday to talk about high-speed rail.

Both legislators are trying to persuade Davis to put the funding for the environmental study in his May revision of the state budget for fiscal year 2001. It was not included in Davis' preliminary version of the budget.

Florez said he believes Davis is beginning to turn the corner on high-speed rail.

"We think that the governor, despite all the comments about him and high-speed rail - I think the governor's right on track about how he feels about high-speed rail," Florez said, adding that Davis has gradually warmed up to the idea in private conversations.

"We'll continue to push the governor," he said.

The bill could appropriate the $25 million directly, but Florez said he would prefer to get the funding put into the state budget.

And if Davis doesn't include the funding? Florez said he will insert it as a member of the Budget subcommittee.

"If we're not successful, we're going to put it in the budget, anyway," he said.

While legislators have the power to make changes to the budget, Davis holds the ultimate power: the line-item veto.

As for the bill itself, Florez said he believes he has the support necessary to get it through both houses of the Legislature.

"I have heard nothing but positive comments about extending the life of the authority so they can get their job done," said Florez, whose district includes western areas of Kern County. "We're going to do our best to make sure that the (Central) Valley has a voice in the transportation debate."

A possible, or perhaps not so possible, Florez ally for funding the study is Antelope Valley Assemblyman George Runner.

The Lancaster Republican, cochair of the Assembly Budget Committee, is the No. 2 Republican on budget issues.

"Once you start the funding, you are committing yourself to the whole $25 million," Runner said. "Are we actually prepared to feel like the tone and the need in the state is to commit this $25 million for the (study) on a project that's going to cost $25 billion?"

He added, "Right now, I just don't know the answer to that."

Runner is to meet today with Medhi Morshed, executive director of the authority.

The assemblyman said he understands how high-speed ground transit would help alleviate commuter congestion and aid the suburban economic progress by providing connections between Palmdale and Los Angeles, but he has doubts about the efficiency of the system on longer trips.

"I think the concept of highspeed rail makes a lot of sense," he said, referring to linking suburbs and metropolitan areas.

But will travelers board a train in San Francisco bound for Los Angeles - a trip that will take two to three hours - instead of opting for an hourlong commuter jet ride?

"I just don't see how you can compete against airplane seats that are 50 bucks a piece and get there twice as fast," he said.

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The odds of getting a bullet-train stop in Palmdale didn't improve Wednesday at a public workshop of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. Valley Press Business Editor Don Jergler reports.

The buck stops here; the train may not
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press March 2, 2000
By DON JERGLER
Valley Press Business Editor

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PALMDALE - Getting a bullet train stop in Palmdale is a virtual crapshoot{cq}. Each meeting of the state-appointed group that ultimately will decide whether California's planned high-speed train stops in the Antelope Valley is a roll of the dice that gives the region varying odds.

Those odds didn't improve Wednesday at a public workshop of the California High-Speed Rail Authority to unveil the project's business plan.

Authority members and their staff sat placidly at a partially filled meeting room in the Palmdale Cultural Center, while local officials and representatives from all forms of government in the region implored them to make the Antelope Valley a stop on the planned 700-mile rail system.

That system would shuttle passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in under 2 1/2 hours at half the cost to fly.

Valley commuters could hop a train in Palmdale and get to Los Angeles in under 30 minutes.

While the authority hasn't officially ruled out Palmdale as a stop on the bullet train system, members haven't included it in the group's official business plan.

The city also is left out of a map shown in a video the authority is using to promote the project.

There's no official count, but Palmdale has been made the primary stop on the system between Bakersfield and Los Angeles at least three times. And each time, the authority, on recommendation from its staff, has taken the official position that the state would be best served by circumventing Palmdale.

The authority staff instead is recommending that the train pass over the Grapevine and parallel Interstate 5. It's a straighter route, requiring less track and shaves up to 10 minutes off the trip from Bakersfield to Los Angeles.

Advocates of the Antelope Valley alignment argue that placing a stop in the Valley would generate millions of dollars per year in economic benefits and serve one of the fastest-growing areas in Southern California.

The route over the Grapevine also would require 17 miles of additional tunneling, and force trains to consume extra energy climbing more than 1,000 vertical feet to make the trip, proponents of the Valley alignment argue.

Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford, who has led a consortium of local officials to monthly high-speed rail meetings all over the state during the past two years, pointed to the population growth in the high desert and the improving economy as reasons the train should stop in Palmdale.

"We in the Antelope Valley liken this project to what the state water project did for this part of the state or what the Antelope Valley Freeway did for the area," he said.

According to statistics compiled by the Southern California Association of Governments, the population in the area is expected to double by the year 2020 - the time a high-speed train would likely be up and running.

By that time, 1.2 million people would call the Valley home, according to the statistics.

"We believe this growth is occurring and it will be the wellspring of the high-speed rail project," Ledford added.

But the odds that a high-speed rail system will link Palmdale to Los Angeles are becoming slimmer. The fate of the entire project is now in doubt.

The authority's recently released business plan, which excludes Palmdale, is heading to the state Legislature, and eventually to the desk of Gov. Gray Davis.

That business plan outlines the authority's work for the past two years. It also calls for $25 million to conduct an environmental impact report, placing nearly a decade of studying the possibilities of a statewide bullet-train system at a crucial juncture.

Without funding for the report, the project would be put on the back burner for at least another year, perhaps indefinitely.

Davis has been noncommittal on high-speed rail, saying through aides that his priority is to examine enhancing existing rail systems and to put more money into alleviating commuter congestion.

"The governor has not taken a position ... thus far," said Hilary McLean, a spokeswoman for Davis. "It is of greater priority to him at this point to provide funding for congestion and relieving some of the crowded commuter corridors."

In the Legislature, there's at least one supporter.

Assemblyman Dean Florez, DShafter, is optimistic about the future of high-speed rail in this state. He's introduced a bill calling for the environmental impact report.

The first major step toward building the system, the report would provide a road map for such problems as right-of-way constraints. It also provides a detailed analysis of possible damage to ecosystems along the various routes suggested in the business plan.

Florez' bill also extends the life of the authority - it is funded through June 30, 2001 - allowing it to continue studying aspects of the system.

Florez' Assembly Bill 1703 would prescribe terms for members and allow the governor the power to appoint new members. All nine members of the present authority were appointed by former Gov. Pete Wilson.

AB 1703 now sits in the Assembly Transportation Committee, with a possible hearing as early as March.

A possible, or perhaps not-sopossible, Florez ally for funding the study is Antelope Valley Assemblyman George Runner, RLancaster.

Runner, co-chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, is the No. 2 Republican on budget issues.

"Once you start the funding, you are committing yourself to the whole $25 million," Runner said. "Are we actually prepared to feel like the tone and the need in the state is to commit this $25 million for the (study) on a project that's going to cost $25 billion?"

He added, "Right now, I just don't know the answer to that."

The assemblyman said he understands how high-speed ground transit would help alleviate commuter congestion and aid the suburban economic progress by providing connections between Palmdale and Los Angeles, but he has doubts about the efficiency of the system on longer trips.

"I don't know if we need highspeed rail going up the spine of California," he said. "I do believe we need high-speed rail going from the suburban areas to the metropolitan areas."

Runner said he's expressed to the authority his dismay that nearly all the maps they present show the train passing over the Grapevine.

"They reflect the alignment that I think is the staff-driven alignment," he said.

Runner and several legislators have been invited by the authority to take a trip to France and Germany to examine in detail their high-speed rail systems.

The TGV in France is a steelwheeled train that has shuttled passengers across expansive terrain for more than a decade with an impressive safety record.

The train the legislators will be examining in Germany is a prototype. Known as a magnetic levitation system, that train travels on a {cq}frictionless surface and is believed to be capable of speeds exceeding 300 mph.

The trip is planned for sometime in April, but has yet to be approved by the governor, Runner said.

During Wednesday's meeting, authority members also suggested a high-speed rail spur could be built to connect Palmdale to Los Angeles - an alternative that has yet to be studied, but that would surely add to the estimated $25 billion cost of the project.

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Runner on board for high-speed rail
Wednesday, 03-May-2000 22:56:53