Politics, government and public life for Southern California

California high-speed rail pairs with Amtrak for cost and clout

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Kitty Felde/KPCC

California High Speed Rail Authority CEO Jeff Morales, Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo, and Amtrak President Joe Boardman. (L-R) Photo credit: Kitty Felde/KPCC

California’s high speed rail czar is in Washington, D.C. this week to mend political fences - and to find partners who can help make it tougher to derail California’s cut of new federal rail funding.

He may have made progress with both.

Jeff Morales, CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, met this week with Republican Congressman Jeff Denham (R-Fresno), the new head of the House transportation subcommittee that oversees railroads.

Morales says Denham, a long time critic of California's high speed rail project, has questions and concerns - and he says it's the California High-Speed Rail Authority's responsibility to answer them.

"We’re confident we can do that," says Morales. He described his meeting with Denham as a "good step."

Morales also announced California is partnering with Amtrak to shop for locomotives and passenger cars - what railroad types call "train sets." These "train sets" will be a complete set of cars, and the high-speed version will have the power to run the train embedded in each car.

The type of train California and Amtrak are shopping for will be able to run on the curvy Acela routes in the Northeast and the faster, straighter California line.

The Acela's top speed is 150 miles per hour; California's version will hit 220 mph. Amtrak President Joe Boardman says they're looking for a train that will fill both needs.

California will be shopping for 27 train sets to can carry 450-500 passengers per trip. The cost is estimated to run between $35-55 million per train set.

Morales says teaming up with Amtrak increases his buying power.

"It’s like going to Costco," he says. "If you buy in bulk, you get a better price."

The California High-Speed Rail Authority's partnership with Amtrak is also a smart political move. Lawmakers from the Northeast have tried to steer federal dollars away from California and toward a project to build a high-speed train that would run from Boston to DC.

A partnership with Amtrak ties both projects together - if Congress can find extra dollars for high speed rail.

California's first leg will run from Madera to Fresno, then south to Bakersfield.

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