California to receive federal high-speed rail funds

As of 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, three major media outlets — Bloomberg News, the Wall Street Journal and the San Jose Mercury News — were reporting that the Obama Administration will provide about $2.3 billion to California’s effort to build a high-speed rail line between San Francisco and Anaheim. Obama is expected to announce Thursday $8 billion in grants for high-speed rail efforts around the nation; the Mercury News article has the most details about how the money will be spent in California.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority also released a statement Wednesday evening from Authority chairman Curt Pringle praising the federal grant. “This award will go toward specific projects, but it will benefit every single section of our planned high-speed rail system by moving this entire vision closer to reality – closer to being the first true high-speed rail system in the United States,” Pringle said. The full statement is posted after the jump; the above video produced by the Authority shows a future Anaheim high-speed rail station.

California had applied for $4.7 billion in federal funds to help build four segments of track on the proposed Anaheim-to-San Francisco high-speed rail route that voters approved as part of a $9.95-billion bond in Nov. 2008. The four segments were Los Angeles Union Station to Anaheim, San Francisco to San Jose, Merced to Fresno and Fresno to Bakersfield.

As would be expected, there is considerable and understandable excitement in transportation circles about California receiving the federal money. But some cautionary words should be added: The total cost of the San Francisco to Anaheim high-speed rail line is expected to be about $43 billion, according to the California High-Speed Rail Authority, and even with the voter-approved bond and federal dollars, a lot of private dollars will likely be needed to build the line. Authority officials hope that the federal and bond monies combined attract that investment.The L.A. to Anaheim leg is expected to cost $4.4 billion to build. This leg is the farthest along in terms of work on the environmental documents needed and it’s expected to get some of the federal money awarded Thursday. The money would be used to plan and build the tracks, excluding electrification, communications core systems and rolling stock. The rest of the work would be done as the remainder of the Anaheim-to-San Francisco line is completed. The California HIgh-Speed Rail Authority says this will be done by 2020.

The obvious question here is this: if indeed the tracks get built in the next several years, when would actual high-speed rail service begin?

Alex Clifford, Metro’s Executive Officer, High Speed Rail, said that is still being determined and that the answer probably depends on when the rest of the high-speed system is constructed. One possibility under the federal independent utility concept, Clifford said, is that Metrolink trains could run on high-speed rail tracks until bullet train service begins – although that would likely require Metrolink to use trains that weigh less than its current ones.

Also to be worked out is another contentious point: exactly how the tracks will be built. In order to travel at high speeds, bullet trains need to be segregated from other rail lines as well as fully grade separated and in a sealed corridor so that nothing can possibly get in their way.

An initial study of different alternatives shows that about half of the 30 miles of track between L.A. and Anaheim is proposed to be at ground level. But almost nine miles would likely need to be elevated, a big cause of concern to the communities along the alignment. That is something that still needs to be worked out.

It also still needs to be determined how high-speed rail will fit into the existing corridor, which will need to accommodate bullet trains, regular Amtrak and Metrolink trains and freight trains. In its present configuration, the corridor is mostly three tracks wide and is proposed to be expanded to be five or six tracks wide.

The statement from the California High-Speed Rail Authority:

Following the announcement of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding awards for the development of high-speed intercity rail systems, Chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority Curt Pringle released the following statement:

“This award is fantastic news for California and for our state’s high-speed rail project. It is an award that will lead to the creation of tens of thousands of quality jobs in the near-term and to continued economic strength and enhance our transportation network in the long term.

“This award will go toward specific projects, but it will benefit every single section of our planned high-speed rail system by moving this entire vision closer to reality – closer to being the first true high-speed rail system in the United States.

“California’s success in winning a significant portion of this federal funding, for which there was tremendous competition, is a tribute to our partnerships with our Legislature, with local governments, and to the hard work and leadership of Governor Schwarzenegger and California’s senators and congressional delegation. A California high-speed rail system truly gives each of us the opportunity to change the future of California for our children and grandchildren.”

Categories: Policy & Funding, Projects

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