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High Speed Rail.JPGThe California High-Speed Rail Authority, brushing aside questions about their legality, Monday approved two major steps toward construction of a north-south bullet train system.

By unanimous votes, the five-member governing board approved a "memorandum of understanding" to "blend" the bullet train with local commuter rail service on the San Francisco Peninsula and ask state officials to sell up to $8.6 billion in voter-approved bonds to begin construction on an inititial segment in the San Joaquin Valley.

The CHSRA hopes to break ground later this year on the 130-mile segment from near Merced to north of Bakersfield, using about $3 billion in state bond money and another $3 billion from the federal government. The state bonds will actually be sold only as needed for construction, officials said.

Both steps are being challenged in lawsuits, one of which is set for trial in May, but Dan Richard, the CHSRA chairman, and other bullet train officials say they they are confident that they will pass legal muster.

Critics say that when the CHSRA decided to create a system connecting with local commuter rail on the SF Peninsula and in Southern California, they effectively abandoned one of the requirements in the voter-approved bond issue, that the system be capable of carrying passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco in two hours and 40 minutes. They also allege that using state bonds for the segment in the San Joaquin Valley violates another provision of the bond issue.

Those and other legal issues will be aired in court, but the CHSRA is moving ahead with the project because of a looming federal deadline for committing the federal funds.


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