Metro Minutes: All aboard High-Speed Rail

The Source recently caught up with Metro CEO Art Leahy for this edition of Metro Minutes to discuss the recent award of $2.3 billion to California for the state’s high-speed rail project and what it may mean for the Los Angeles region. Click above to hear the audio file. And here’s a link to a post earlier today about high-speed rail and climate change.

Read a transcript of the interview after the jump.

2/12/10 Interview with Metro CEO Art Leahy


Rick Jager:  Welcome to Metro Minutes, your source for information on transportation issues.  Today, we’re speaking with Metro’s Chief Executive Officer, Art Leahy.  Art, welcome to The Source.

Art Leahy: Thank you very much.  I’m glad to be here.

Rick Jager:  Listen, big news this month.  The Federal stimulus money came pouring into California for high-speed rail: $2.3 billion dollars.  Could you take a moment to talk about how important this funding is and what it will mean for the region?

Art Leahy: Well, it’s really important.  We began to work on the L.A.-to-Anaheim segment about three years ago.  What this really means is that we can get started right now on doing the initial work for a high-speed connection between Anaheim and Los Angeles.  That connects two counties with a total population of around 13 million.  It opens up jobs in Orange County to people who live in Los Angeles, and it opens up Los Angeles to people who want to come in from Orange to spend money.  So it’s great.

On top of that, what it’s going to do is to create 90,000 construction jobs and about 600,000 jobs all across the state as the project gets going.  So it will be a big boost to the local economy.

Rick Jager: And once this is built, what will it do for the region?  Will it really relieve some of the congestion, or give some competition to the airports, so-to-speak?

Art Leahy: Well, it will.  But I think, remembering that the I-5, which is completely jammed up today, is between these two very large counties, and also Riverside County in San Diego. What we’re really talking about here is integrating the high-speed rail service with Amtrak and MetroLink to make better use of this really wonderful corridor all the way from L.A. down to Anaheim and then off, of course, to San Diego.

Now, the high-speed segment is only to Anaheim, but it’s a very important job center and entertainment center.  Right now, it takes up to an hour to take a train, maybe an hour and a half, or two hours to drive.  With high-speed rail, it’s gonna be a 20 minute trip.

Rick Jager: And how does Metro figure in all of this?  What is our involvement in this project?

Art Leahy:  Well, Metro, MTA and the Orange County Transportation Authority have a very strong partnership.  The Chair of the High Speed Board is Mayor Pringle of Anaheim and the OCTA Board. And Richard Katz, from the MTA Board, also serves as a member of the High Speed Rail Board. 

Orange County owns some of the right-of-way in Orange County, as does Metro in Los Angeles County.  Plus that, we’re both advocates for cities in our counties which will be the host to this project.  So what we want to do is to make sure that the design of the project is something that we’re excited about.  We want to make sure that local community concerns are considered and responded to, and any problems mitigated.  And we want to make sure that when the service gets to Union Station, that it integrates with the Red Line and the Pasadena Line and the East L.A Line and our other projects.

Rick Jager: And the transition around Union Station … that’s gonna be a big challenge to try to see how to get these trains in and out of Union Station.

Art Leahy: Well, it will.  Right now, the trains come into Union Station and they berth, have to reverse direction. Anybody who takes the train knows that that little maneuver can take 10 or 15 minutes at the very least.

So now the idea is to swing the right-of-way over by Little Tokyo, bring it in over the freeway into Union Station, berth to train, load and unload, and then head out to the north without having to reverse directions.

So what that will do is really speed up transportation connections between Anaheim, Los Angeles and the future Bay Area.

Rick Jager: Sounds like exciting times coming to the region.  When do you think ground will break?

Art Leahy: Well, these are wonderful times.  It’s exciting.  We’re really changing Los Angeles.  Right now, we hope to break ground in around 18 months.  It’s a long-range project, but we hope that the L.A.-Anaheim segment will be the first to break ground, and it’ll be pretty soon.

Rick Jager:  Terrific.  Thank you for joining us on the Source.

Art Leahy: My pleasure.  Thank you.

Rick Jager: This has been Metro Minutes with Metro CEO Art Leahy. Reporting for The Source, I’m Rick Jager.