A Different Future with California High-Speed Rail

Map of the initial plans for service along the California High-Speed Rail route, showing the Madera-Bakersfield segment now approved for construction. Source: California High-Speed Rail Authority

» California’s Senate takes a courageous step in supporting the first construction stage of the state’s high-speed rail project. There is much more work to be done.

Last week, America’s future in high-speed rail took a modest step forward. On Thursday, California’s State Assembly approved by a 51 to 27 margin the release of $2.5 billion in state bonds for the construction of a 130-mile segment of 220-mph tracks through the Central Valley and the implementation of $2 billion in commuter rail improvements in the Bay Area and Los Angeles regions. On Friday, by a vote of 21 to 16, the State Senate expressed its agreement.* If all goes as planned, the project could be under construction by the beginning of next year. Tracks between Madera and Bakersfield could be ready for use by 2017, the first step towards what could be an eventual 2h40 journey time for trains traveling from

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High Costs Threaten California’s High-Speed Rail Project, But the Wider Context Must be Understood

Comparing high-speed rail costs and the economy

» Over the long run, California’s fast train project remains within an acceptable range of costs, despite recent increases.

The release of the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s revised business plan on Tuesday underlined concerns about the future viability of the nation’s biggest proposed transportation project: Not only would its completion have to be delayed significantly — to 2033 or later — but projected costs have risen dramatically, to $98 billion in year-of-expenditure dollars. In a political environment where making a large long-term commitment to anything other than the military is almost impossible, the increasing costs required to pay for the program put in doubt its future. This fast train project designed to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco in 2h40 is not dead, but its completion is less likely now than it was last week.

The steadily rising nature of the public expenditures that would be required to build the project as

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With Little Hope for Near-Term Federal Support, California High-Speed Rail Struggles

California HSR

» Despite an excellent proposal and significant state support, the project cannot hope to attract private investors without a larger commitment of aid from Washington. Meanwhile, Europe continues to invest.

The long hoped-for private financing necessary to construct the California High-Speed Rail project will not come as easily as originally planned.

That, at least, is the conclusion of the authority empowered to build the project, the nation’s single-largest infrastructure program. According to the Los Angeles Times, in a letter to legislators this week the agency warned that the private money that it had counted on to cover a third of the project’s more than $45 billion costs would likely not be available until after parts of the line were up and running. The problem is that investors are concerned about the fact that of the expected major contribution from the federal government, only $3 billion has been authorized so

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Doing Right by the Public: PPPs in High-Speed Rail

» As the retrenchment continues in the American public sector, private-sector investors are likely to play an important role in paying for fast train systems.

California Governor Jerry Brown, a longtime supporter of the development of high-speed rail, has not given up on his state’s plans for an extensive network stretching initially from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and then on to Sacramento and San Diego. Despite cost estimate increases, opposition to the line among residents of some affected areas, and a total loss of new federal funding thanks to anti-investment Congressional Republicans, Mr. Brown has made evident in recent weeks his support for the line.

Construction on a segment in the Central Valley between Merced, Fresno, and Bakersfield is still planned to get under way next year. Funding for that initial link is mostly lined up, thanks to state commitments and federal grants resulting from the stimulus of early 2009.

But because

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Washington, California, and the Curious Case of the Railway to Somewhere

Fly California

» California’s fast train network should be built, but can its backers maneuver around the difficult federal grant system that is supposed to fund it?

Here’s a little-known fact about California’s geography: The Central Valley, believe it or not, is situated between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

All kidding aside, the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s choice of the Fresno-Bakersfield route for the system’s first construction phase has produced a flurry of criticism, most recently from the California Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO, a sort of CBO for California). The LAO released a report this week that suggests that the project be reevaluated, perhaps by being absorbed into Caltrans (the state department of transportation) or possibly by being refocused on other initial corridors, such as Los Angeles to Anaheim or San Francisco to San Jose, which could act as improved commuter rail corridors if the whole system were never completed.

The report has its inaccuracies

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The Site / The Fight

by Yonah Freemark

yfreemark (at) thetransportpolitic (dot) com

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