The State of California will apply for additional federal stimulus funding to go along with the $2.25 billion the state already has coming to build the nation’s first high-speed rail network. If completed according to the plans touted by the state’s High Speed Rail Authority the network spanning from Sacramento to San Diego would include station stops in Burbank, Sylmar and Palmdale and provide travelers an alternative to flying or driving. High speed rail – where trains can reach up to speeds of 220 miles per hour – has received the backing of Gov. Schwarzenegger and President Obama, who has pledged more than $10 billion in stimulus funds for a national network of train lines. California has taken a lead in the U.S. with this ultra-modern means of transportation that has long been available in Asia and Europe. The high speed rail authority, started in 1996, is now transitioning from an agency centered on environmental reviews and planning to one focused on construction management. In 2008, state voters approved a sale of $9.95 billion in general obligation bonds to finance the rail network. Despite these advances, skepticism and opposition remain. The proposed network has been described by opponents as a boondoggle and a waste of taxpayer money. Real estate benefits? Proponents, on the other hand, compare establishing a national high speed rail network to the building of the interstate highway system and that the next real estate boom could be centered around train stations. Compared with people living in Japan – which has had its famed bullet trains for more than 40 years – and European countries, Americans have little understanding of what a good quality rail system is, said Jeff Barker, the deputy director of the California High Speed Rail Authority. “It is hard to tell people what it will be like until they can jump on it and see for themselves,” Barker said. The initial segments of the California system, which includes a line between Los Angeles and Anaheim, are still in the environmental review process. The earliest any construction would start would be in 2012. To make the system a success, the rail lines would need to be connected with existing public transportation and airports. That integration is what Transit Coalition Executive Director Bart Reed would like to see at the planned Sylmar station as well as the vision of city officials in Palmdale. AV significance That Antelope Valley city hasn’t given up the idea of a commercial airport, and has also been identified as the terminus for a spur of the privately-funded DesertXpress high speed rail line proposed to run between Victorville and Las Vegas. “If realized this will be as significant to the (Antelope) Valley as the freeway,” said Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford. The state high speed rail authority is taking major steps to bring that realization to Palmdale and the other cities where stations will be located. In Reed’s opinion the authority did not have close supervision from state lawmakers over their ideas or their spending. “That is in the process of changing right now as we speak,” Reed said. That change comes from the appointment of Roelof van Ark as the new chief executive for the authority. For the past five years van Ark has been the president of Alstom Transportation Inc., the North American subsidiary of France’s Alstom SA, makers of the fastest trains in the world. “He is an engineer and has the real world experience delivering infrastructure projects and managing large amounts of money,” Barker said.