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In cash-strapped California, plans for a high-speed rail line are rebuked

By Matthew Shaer / July 7, 2009

In this file photo, Amtrak's Lincoln Service train passes Illinois cornfields as it speeds through a crossing en route to Chicago. A 68-page guideline released Wednesday, June 17, 2009, by the Obama administration gives an edge in the race for federal stimulus cash, to states like California and eight states in the Midwest that have cooperated closely to promote a network with Chicago as its hub. In California, at least, that network is suddenly at risk.

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There's debris on the tracks of the White House's revolutionary railroad plan.

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In April, with Vice President Joe Biden at his side, President Barack Obama called for the creation of a high-speed rail network with corridors in the Pacific Northwest, the Midwest, California, the Pacific Northwest, the Southeast, the Gulf Coast, and Pennsylvania, among other areas. Obama said the network, which would be funded in part by the $787 billion stimulus plan, was necessary to cut down on traffic congestion, reduce dependence on foreign oil, and encourage environmentally-friendly travel.

"My high-speed rail proposal will lead to innovations that change the way we travel in America. We must start developing clean, energy-efficient transportation that will define our regions for centuries to come," Obama said at the time.

As Monitor reporter Mark Clayton noted in May, "The idea is not to lay tracks coast to coast, but to zero in on densely populated regions such as the Midwest, California, and Florida, where short distances between cities would let fast trains compete with planes and cars."

In addition to opening new corridors across the country, the White House's blueprint would upgrade existing lines to accommodate faster trains, and improve the quality of the busy Northeast Corridor, which runs from Washington to Boston.

Not so fast

But in California, where a long-simmering budget crisis has exploded into a full-blown emergency, the rail proposal is being met with stiff opposition.The Associated Press reported Monday that residents of San Francisco and Los Angeles are raising concerns that the network would level trees and homes and adversely impact area businesses.

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