SACRAMENTO – California’s Hummer-driving, motorcycle-riding governor may be getting on board the state’s ambitious high-speed rail project after years of coolness toward the program. In a recent op-ed column in The Fresno Bee, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger extolled the virtues of bullet trains, saying they would help relieve freeway congestion, improve air quality and create greater mobility. “A network of high-speed rail lines connecting cities throughout California would be a tremendous benefit to our state,” the governor wrote. The column appeared three days after an editorial criticized the Republican governor’s “curious coolness” toward rail transit and the high-speed rail project, particularly after the collapse of an Oakland freeway overpass demonstrated the vulnerability of the state’s reliance on highways. It seemed to signal a sharp change in direction for the Republican governor, who in January proposed a 2007-08 state budget that would leave the California High-Speed Rail Authority on life support. Schwarzenegger also asked lawmakers to remove a $9.9 billion high-speed and conventional rail bond measure from the November 2008 ballot. The proposal already has been held up twice with Schwarzenegger’s support. Sale of the bonds would help pay for a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area. It would be part of a $40 billion, 700-mile system the authority hopes the state will build, linking Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento and Fresno with trains running at top speeds of more than 200 mph. A Schwarzenegger spokeswoman, Sabrina Lockhart, said the governor “has always believed that high-speed rail has benefits. But his concern is asking taxpayers to mortgage $10 billion without identifying where the rest of the estimated $30 billion cost will come from.” In the editorial, Schwarzenegger complained that the state’s high-speed rail board had not completed a “comprehensive and credible plan for financing the system so we can get construction under way.” Mehdi Morshed, the rail board’s executive director, said the governor’s public expression of support for high-speed rail was “a big benefit for the project.” He said it was reasonable for Schwarzenegger to want to see a financing plan before moving ahead with the project. A preliminary report prepared by a team of high-speed rail board consultants suggests the system could be funded through a combination of state, federal and local government support and private investment, with as much as 30 percent of the money coming from private sources. One way to bring in that private financing would be through the sale of revenue bonds that would be paid off with income from fares. Authority officials predict that high-speed rail, unlike public transit, would not need government subsidies and would attract enough riders at high enough prices to make a profit. But a significant commitment of government financing would have to be made to attract private investment to help build and perhaps run the system, authority officials say. The preliminary report also predicts the state could pay off the $9.9 billion in rail bonds plus another $43 billion in bonds sought by Schwarzenegger for prisons, schools, university facilities, courthouses, dams and certain other projects without overburdening the state budget. The authority expects to complete a financing plan in the next couple of months, but probably not before lawmakers and the governor negotiate a state budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. Those negotiations will heat up after Schwarzenegger unveils his revised budget proposal on Monday. His new spending plan could reveal how serious the governor is about supporting high-speed rail. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!