Policy: Budgets & Deficits

California, Amtrak end joint high-speed train bid

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California,Budgets and Deficits,Amtrak

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Amtrak and the California High-Speed Rail Authority said Friday that they canceled a joint agreement seeking companies to build high-speed trains for them, a proposal billed as a way to save money and lure advanced train manufacturing to the United States.

The agencies said their needs are too different and manufacturers are not yet ready to build trains that can run on both Amtrak's 100-year-old rail lines and the high-speed corridors planned for California's system.

The joint proposal announced in January called for bids by mid-May on up to 28 electric-powered train sets with 400-450 seats each for Amtrak and 15 train sets with a minimum of 450 seats for high-speed rail. The number of cars per train would be up to bidders to propose.

It became clear in meetings with manufacturers during the last few weeks that the requirements were too different to incorporate into one set of trains, said Lisa-Marie Alley, a spokeswoman for high-speed rail.

"The feedback that we got from the industry was that Amtrak and high-speed rail need such different things, it was almost impossible for them to build a train that meets both our needs," she said. "We'd hoped that the industry had evolved to where they can accommodate both."

California's $68 billion project, which has been stalled because of repeated legal setbacks blocking financing, requires speeds of up to 220 mph, while Amtrak is limited to 160 mph on the Washington-New York City-Boston segment.

The agencies concluded that too many compromises would need to be made to meet both their needs, which would "move us away from a service-proven design and create significant risks as to schedule and costs," Amtrak spokesman Craig Schulz said in an email.

Despite previous statements that the joint bidding could save money, Alley said the change would not affect the cost or construction timeline for high-speed rail. She said California does not require prototypes until 2018, and the agreement had called for Amtrak to receive its trains first.

California's high-speed rail project has come under increased scrutiny, and newly elected U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has vowed to block federal funding for it.

Several unfavorable court rulings have also delayed work. In the most high-profile case, a Sacramento County Superior Court judge halted the sale of $8.6 billion in state rail bonds and ordered the state to write a new funding plan, delaying work on the first 28-mile segment from Madera to Fresno. The state has appealed.

But the $108 billion budget that Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown signed Friday includes a $250 million gift for the project in the coming fiscal year from the state's cap-and-trade greenhouse-gas emissions fund and dedicates a quarter of future cap-and-trade money to the project.

"This high-speed rail is cheaper than more freeway lanes and more airport runways," Brown said Friday.

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Associated Press writer Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.

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