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California High-Speed Rail board votes to bring trains to San Francisco

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“Blended route” for the way to San Jose—and beyond

Bullet train track construction Fresno in May.
Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

California’s ongoing bullet train project is late, over-budget, and politically assailed everywhere from Sacramento to the White House, but the nearly $80 billion venture still (pardon the term) chugs along, as the High Speed Rail Authority board voted Tuesday for routes that will eventually connect trains to the Bay Area.

Out of four route proposals, board members favored a Merced-to-San Jose connection designated Alternative Four, one that “blended configuration between San Jose and Gilroy in the existing Caltrain and Union Pacific Railroad corridors before continuing to a dedicated high-speed rail alignment through Pacheco Pass” through a tunnel.

For the future San Jose-to-San Francisco route, board members also picked a “blended configuration between...within the existing Caltrain corridor.”

As Caltrain explains it, “blended” means that future bullet trains will use a combination of existing rail infrastructure from regional transit agencies along with newly built trackways laid down specifically for high-speed rail, potentially shaving billions off the final price.

The connection from San Jose to Los Banos will run 84 miles. The Bay Area portion of the route will run 51 miles, from Diridon Station up to the Transbay Transit Center.

The routes favored at Tuesday’s vote may change in the future. Actual construction remains years away—the earliest environmental impact reports on the planned connection between San Jose and Merced won’t appear until early 2020.

But High-Speed Rail CEO Brian Kelly still called the vote “a major milestone for the high-speed rail program in Northern California.”

State Sen. Jim Beall of San Jose sounded more measured, calling the route “a positive first step,” but praised the authority for paying attention to public opinion in the South Bay.

With a series of setbacks and miscues about high-speed rail over the past year, Tuesday’s vote at least proves the proposal is underway with plans to connect major regions of California.

In May, a project update report found that the likely final cost now sat at $79.1 billion, almost double the $40 billion voters approved in 2008, with the route from Bakersfield to Merced now $1.8 billion pricier than previously calculated.

California is presently entrenched in litigation with the federal government over attempts to cancel nearly $1 billion in grants, a move the state alleges is politically motivated.

Originally, the first phase of the bullet train was to connect LA and San Francisco by 2028, but the latest projections estimate that only the Central Valley portion will run by then.