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Progress made on rail reroute

City officials are asking state agency to put planned train through a tunnel or just avoid SCV

Posted: October 21, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 21, 2013 2:00 a.m.

After months of active lobbying, Santa Clarita city officials believe they have made substantial progress in a long-held city goal to take the planned high-speed bullet train underground through the Sand Canyon area – or reroute it out of the Santa Clarita Valley altogether.

The darling of Gov. Jerry Brown’s transit plan to link Southern and Northern California, the high-speed train would thunder through Sand Canyon on its way to the Antelope Valley under current plans, which are opposed by residents of the area who say the plan has dropped property values and left them unable to sell their homes. Many Acton and Agua Dulce residents also oppose the plan.

City officials have been asking the agency that oversees the behind-schedule, over-budget project to consider taking the train through a tunnel as it makes its way through Sand Canyon.

Michael Murphy, Santa Clarita’s intergovernmental relations officer, said staff with the High Speed Rail Authority are recommending the tunnel alternative be reconsidered and undergo further study. The development would be a marked turnaround from when the tunnel option was put aside “because of operational, maintenance and safety issues and high capital and operational costs.”

“They already are tunneling approximately eight miles, and the thoughtwas if they tunnel an additional two miles then it eliminates a lot of the surface conflicts,” Murphy said.

Murphy said the High Speed Rail Authority board is expected to decide in December whether to add that option as an alternative for future study.

Lisa Marie Alley, a spokeswoman for the High Speed Rail Authority, would only say that the authority is always examining ways to include public input in the planning process for rail segments.

“We want feedback from members of the public,” she said. “We can’t make promises but we want to make sure we’re listening to them.”

The below-ground option, if added to the list, would be the third route consideration through the Santa Clarita Valley.

The first and second options would take the high-speed train close to 23 homes, the Evangelical Free Church of the Canyons and within a few hundred feet of both Pinecrest School and Sulphur Springs Community School, according to route details from the High Speed Rail Authority.

Residents of the 23 homes say their property values have plummeted since the plans were released. City officials argue that extending the existing tunnel would be a viable way to lessen or eliminate many of the negative aspects of the train.

Murphy credited the development to the lobbying work of City Council members and staff as well as Jeff Morales, chief executive officer of the High Speed Rail Authority, for the board’s possible reconsideration.

Morales toured the area with City Council members TimBen Boydston and Marsha McLean, among others.
Another alternative route has also been bandied about in recent weeks, one that would take the train out of the Santa Clarita Valley altogether.

Both McLean and Murphy said they have been floating the idea of a different rail alignment that would take the train from Burbank to Palmdale in the Antelope Valley, an alternative they say is more direct, faster and would eliminate the Sand Canyon/Agua Dulce/Acton route disputes. “Perhaps a straight line alignment makes more sense,” Murphy said.

This option is especially attractive, McLean said, since the bullet train isn’t projected to stop in Santa Clarita anyway, and those interested in riding it could easily travel to Burbank or Palmdale to do so.

It’s not just city officials that are pushing that alignment. Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich also submitted a letter to the High Speed Rail Authority board in support of the idea. That letter was read aloud at the Oct. 14 meeting of the High Speed Rail Authority board.

Voters originally approved the high-speed rail project in 2008 with the idea to connect Los Angeles Union Station and Anaheim to San Francisco, with additional links at other large state population centers — including the Inland Empire, Orange County, Sacramento and San Diego.

The train is projected to travel at speeds of up to 220 mph.
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