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High-speed rail agency finalizes Shafter-to-Bakersfield route

Bullet train-2

Artist's conception of the bullet train speeding through the Tehachapi Pass.

California's high-speed rail agency on Friday finalized a route between Shafter and Bakersfield, allowing it to move forward with acquisition of property including the long-awaited purchase of Golden Empire Transit District's F Street headquarters.

Twenty-three miles of track will run generally southeast and east at street level from Poplar Avenue in Shafter to Highway 99 and Union Pacific Railroad's existing alignment, according to the California High-Speed Rail Authority. From there the route is planned to continue mostly on an elevated platform to a station at F Street and Golden State Avenue in Bakersfield.

The agency's filing Friday of a federal "record of decision" removes uncertainty that for years has hung over GET, Bakersfield's public bus system, whose headquarters along Golden State Avenue must be relocated to make way for the proposed bullet-train station.

An earlier alignment studied by the agency would have run trains all the way to Truxtun and Union avenues, causing what Bakersfield government leaders and others considered avoidable disruption to existing homes, businesses and city-owned property.

The rail authority abandoned that earlier plan after being sued by the city of Bakersfield, which eventually dropped its opposition after project officials agreed to study the route finalized Friday.

The rail authority said its approval process benefited from cooperation with local participants. It added that rail officials had attended or put together more than 100 stakeholder meetings.

“This builds upon analysis done previously in the region, narrowing down the specific alignment route that was most amenable to the local communities,” the rail authority said in the release.

GET CEO Karen King welcomed Friday's announcement, saying it ends the five-year "holding pattern" that has kept the transit district from moving forward with a relocation and planned expansion of its services.

She was unable to offer a timetable for selling the transit district's headquarters or estimate how much money the rail authority will have to pay for the property. But once the headquarters is sold, she said it will take GET between three and five years to relocate “because we’ll have to acquire the property, design a new facility and construct a new facility, and that takes time.”

Friday's filing moves the rail authority closer to its goal of finishing construction of a 119-mile line between Merced and Bakersfield by 2025 or 2026.

Service between the two cities is planned to begin in 2028. Not until 2033 is the larger project between San Francisco and Anaheim scheduled to begin service.

The record of decision filed Friday is a significant milestone for the rail authority as it tries to meet a 2022 federal deadline for finalizing the full, 520-mile project's environmental permitting.

John Cox can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf.

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