REPEATED ATTEMPTS to build high speed lines in North America may have produced absolutely nothing to date, but Californians like to be different. Plans for a $37bn network carrying 350?km/h trains between Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego appear to be making some progress. On January 29, the board of the state’s High Speed Rail Authority authorised expenditure approaching $300m on engineering design contracts. Arup won a five-year contract for environmental studies and engineering on the Fresno - Palmdale section, in a joint venture with URS and Hatch Mott MacDonald. Sacramento - Fresno went to DMJM Harris, and HNTB won Orange County - San Diego. Studies are already under way for the Palmdale - Los Angeles - Orange County sections. With work on the 300 km/h line between the Channel Tunnel and London all but complete, Arup was keen redeploy some of its 200 engineers working on High Speed 1 to California. Unfortunately, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to slash HSRA’s budget for next year from $14m to a negligible $1?2m. Executive Director Mehdi Morshed had asked for $103m, and his protest to the governor was ’there is really no public purpose for me and my staff to be in office unless you want to move forward with the project’. State legislators must now decide whether to support a November 2008 referendum vote on a $9?95bn bond issue to fund the network, having twice delayed rail bond ballots in 2004 and 2006. Senator Dean Florez, whose mother is an HSRA director, observed wryly ’because people haven’t seen it, touched it or ridden on it, most people - at least in the legislature - don’t think it can be done’. n