California’s troubled high-speed rail project hasn’t been abandoned, but its rising cost and ever-expanding timeframe are enough to make you wonder if any of us will be alive to get this thing up and running.
The latest thing is that some Sacramento lawmakers are releasing the last of the voter-approved bond funds for the railroad project, which traffic officials say will be needed to continue construction next summer. It is roughly $ 4.2 billion of the $ 10 billion electorate approved in 2008, and the Associated Press reports the dispute over whether the California High-Speed Rail Authority is at stake should use part of that sum to get a contract with a company to design, build, and maintain electrified track for the system – a necessity if this rail line is to be truly high-speed, the rail authority says.
Negotiations on this must be completed by the time legislators return to session in January.
But if the actual high-speed rail, which was voted for by voters and connects San Francisco to Los Angeles, is decades away, or if it could potentially be abandoned without funding, some lawmakers argue that that money should instead be spent on other rail projects, in which actually have more Californians. Specifically, several Los Angeles lawmakers want the money to flow into their city instead of building an electrified track system that, when completed, will only connect Merced and Bakersfield in eight years.
That fight dates back at least to June when people like Rep. Luz Rivas (D-Arleta) and Rep. Laura Friedman (D-Los Angeles) began to express doubts as to whether the money there was better, given all the uncertainties about funding should be issued.
“I’m concerned that inadequate funding could leave us with infrastructure that doesn’t meet the high-speed rail vision and benefit Southern California,” Rivas said in June, according to the Chronicle.
Friedman, the chairman of the transport committee and currently negotiating the financing, advocates giving the railway authorities $ 2.5 billion and waiting them to negotiate the track contract. She suggests that a diesel rail line could be the interim solution, with electrified overhead lines to be added later.
“I’m not saying this is an optimal solution, but I think people need to be honest about what we can do right now,” Friedman told the Associated Press.
The cost of the entire high-speed rail project has risen from an initial low estimate of $ 33 billion to $ 98 billion – and just last year the budget was $ 15 billion lower. Federal money will likely go into the project if and when President Biden’s infrastructure bill is passed, but the project has been thrown into uncertainty twice in recent years, first by former President Trump, who withdrew nearly $ 1 billion in funds , and then again through the pandemic, which dried up the cap-and-trade auction finance projects. The latter has rebounded, and in June the U.S. Department of Transportation under Biden negotiated with the state to restore the funds taken away by Trump.
The current estimate is that the Merced-Bakersfield line will be operational in 2029 (five years ago this should be by 2022) and four years later from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 2033. But there are many contingencies in this schedule Last but not least, the construction of a railway corridor from San Jose to Merced and the electrification of the Caltrain tracks and the construction of passing tracks so that high-speed trains can share the Caltrain corridor with suburban trains.
San Francisco is far from just beginning with the so-called DTX or Downtown expansion, which will connect the empty train boxes under the Salesforce Transit Center to the existing Caltrain tracks, but that seems to be a minor problem compared to this point in time.
A positive step forward at the southern end of the project is the approval of the final environmental impact report for the Bakersfield-Palmdale section by the Board of Directors of the Railway Authority in August, which will at least theoretically lead the railway into the Los Angeles district. The aim is to obtain full environmental document approval for the entire SF-to-LA project by 2023. (This counts as Phase 1 with additional connections between Sacramento and San Diego in the future).
And despite mostly negative headlines coming in on the project, construction is underway at 35 different locations along the 119-mile route in the Central Valley, with an average of 1,100 workers per day. (If you’d like the occasional visual updates from the construction sites, follow the high-speed rail project’s Instagram account.)
Governor Gavin Newsom’s office issued a statement to the Associated Press stating that anything but electrification is not an option.
“We believe that the era of the slow, diesel-emitting rail is over, and we remain committed to a future of transportation that moves people quickly and without further pollution.”
Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla also issued a joint statement to lawmakers saying, “This is not the time for California to step back from its commitment to high-speed rail.”
Experts warn that if California pulls out of high-speed rail, it will not only lose federal funding to other projects, but it will discourage other U.S. high-speed rail projects in the future.
It should be noted that Japan’s first bullet train, the Tokaido Shinkansen, which turns 57 this year, also nearly tripled its budget by the time it was completed. But the construction of this railway line only took five years.
Before: Zillionth version of the high-speed rail plan introduced, funding completely uncertain
Photo: cahsra / Instagram