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for people who care about the West

California's high-speed rail is slow to gain speed


Fourteen countries have high-speed rail networks; in just a few years, 10 more will. Yet America's primary bullet-train attempt is faltering in California, a state that will add 20 million people in the next two decades and needs to find a way to schlep them around. Estimated costs for the California High-Speed Rail Authority's plan recently doubled, and public relations stumbles, combined with a faltering economy and lack of federal support, are hindering the effort. If California gives up, the U.S. will not only fall behind China, Germany and Japan, but also countries like Italy, Portugal and Turkey, where bullet trains are gathering momentum.

1996 The California High-Speed Rail Authority is created. Its goal: Establish intercity high-speed rail service in the state.

1999 The Authority releases its first business plan. Costs, in 1999 dollars, are estimated at $25 billion; construction is scheduled to take 16 years.

2002 Gov. Gray Davis signs a bill calling for a 2004 vote on a $9.95 billion bond measure to fund the first section of the 800-mile high-speed train system. That vote gets postponed twice, due to California's fiscal worries.

2008 The oft-postponed bond measure finally hits voters, and nearly 53 percent approve it.

2010 January: California wins $2.5 billion in federal stimulus funds for its high-speed rail project, which it will leverage to $4.5 billion with state matching.

2010 The California State Auditor releases a damning report in April, saying the Authority "lacks detail" in its financing plans as well as safeguards to ensure contractors actually complete the work they bill for.

2011 In November: the Authority releases the latest version of its business plan, in which costs -- adjusted for inflation -- jump from a 2009 estimate of $43 billion to $98.5 billion by the time the project, which will break ground in 2012, is completed. The U.S. House kills all funding for high-speed rail, quashing California's hopes for additional future federal support; Obama had sought $8 billion. A Sacramento judge nixes a planned Silicon Valley route for the train.

2017 Completion date for the initial section, connecting Bakersfield to Fresno.

2033 Estimated completion date of Phase One, which will link Los Angeles to San Francisco. Express trip length: 2 hours and 40 minutes. Projected average one-way fare: $81