A 20-YEAR programme to upgrade many of California’s passenger routes was launched by Amtrak on March 6. Other partners in the $10·1bn scheme are California DOT, Metrolink, Caltrain and Burlington Northern Santa Fe. The aim is to increase patronage from 3 to 12 million passengers a year by 2020.

California Governor Gray Davis says rail is ’the most efficient and practical means of reducing congestion’. The Amtrak scheme is seen as more cost-effective than the $50bn network proposed by the California High Speed Rail Commission. Of the three routes already supported by Californian taxpayers, the Los Angeles - San Diego line is Amtrak’s second busiest corridor and San Jose - Sacramento is the fastest-growing.

Speeds on most lines would be raised from 127 km/h to between 145 and 200 km/h. Much of the money would be spent on curve straightening, signal modernisation and more double-tracking. An expensive new tunnel north of San Diego would help to cut 45min off the Los Angeles - San Diego run, bringing it down to 2h. Sacramento - San Jose would be reduced from 3h to 2h 20min. For the first time in decades there would be a through train from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

Funding would be sought from federal, state, local and regional sources, including the national $12bn high-speed rail investment programme now being debated in Congress.