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Rail officials consider underground

Sand Canyon residents request relief from current bullet train plan

Posted: March 3, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: March 3, 2013 2:00 a.m.

After a meeting with representatives from the California High Speed Rail Authority, Santa Clarita city officials express confidence that progress has been made on a long-held city goal to make the bullet train completely underground as it winds its way through Canyon Country.

City officials, among them City Council members TimBen Boydston and Marsha McLean, met with representatives from the state High Speed Rail Authority on Feb. 22 to tour the Sand Canyon area and meet with residents who would be most affected by the proposed rail line.

McLean said Friday this was the first time some officials from the authority, including Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Morales, had visited the area where the train is set to be constructed.

“They’ve seen the engineer’s report, but this was first time they got a firsthand view of that area,” McLean said. “We are very optimistic that they were so receptive to our concerns.”

Voters originally approved the high-speed rail project in 2008. The rail plan would connect San Francisco to Los Angeles Union Station and Anaheim, with additional links at large state population centers — including Orange County, Sacramento, San Diego, Los Angeles and the Inland Empire. Plans call for the train to travel at speeds of up to 220 mph.

Under current, above-ground plans, the first option for the train as it passes through Sand Canyon would directly impact 23 homes, run through the Evangelical Free Church of the Canyons and pass within 400 feet of Sulphur Springs Community School and Pinecrest School, according to route details approved by the High Speed Rail Authority’s board of directors in May.

Under the second option, the train would more closely follow existing Metrolink tracks and pass within several hundred feet of the church, Sulphur Springs School and Pinecrest School.

Residents of the area didn’t like either option, saying both would compromise student safety and plummet property values in the area.

Michael Hogan, chairman of the Santa Clarita High Speed Rail Task Force, lives in Sand Canyon and said the proposed train would devastate the area.

“(The train) would take out a lot of houses when it’s built, but it also takes away the ability for people to sell their houses,” Hogan said. “Who wants to buy a house when they’re building a train next door?”

Because of the potential impacts, representatives from the city have pushed the rail authority to consider keeping the train under ground for an additional two miles until it passes through Sand Canyon.

The board of directors for the High Speed Rail Authority dismissed that option last year due to “operational, maintenance and safety issues and high capital and operational costs,” according to board documents.

Michael Murphy, intergovernmental affairs officer for Santa Clarita, said the same board of directors would have to determine whether to reconsider a below-ground route option.

“The first step would be for the High Speed Rail Authority staff to determine if it is appropriate to move forward with that alternative,” Murphy said. “Then it would be up to the board to determine whether they want to include it in the review process.”

Though Murphy said authority staff members have not officially recommended the board reconsider a below-ground option, he was confident those who visited the area got the message.

“To the best of my knowledge this is something they are looking at seriously,” Murphy said. “And we’re very hopeful that it’s going to happen.”

But some would rather choose another option: Not building the train at all.

Assemblyman Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, told The Signal on Friday that he is opposed to the project in its entirety.

Wilk recently joined Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point, in calling for a complete audit of the High Speed Rail Authority.

“As we move forward, people are going to realize this is not a viable project,” Wilk said. “I just hope it’s sooner rather than later.”

Construction on the first rail segment is scheduled to begin this summer. The entire cost of the project is estimated at $68 billion with an expected completion date of 2028.


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