California High-Speed Rail Authority releases revised business plan

The big news is that the first segment planned for construction is no longer 130 miles between Bakersfield and Fresno. The initial segment in the new business plan is now 300 miles between Merced and the San Fernando Valley, which the Authority says reduces the project price from $98 billion to about $68 billion — still many billions more than the Authority has thus far secured to build the project. So that’s one challenge.

While that initial segment is being built, Caltrain will be electrified in the Bay Area to speed commutes between San Jose and San Francisco; eventually that will be connected to the rest of the high-speed system, as will Anaheim and Los Angeles Union Station. By “blending” high-speed rail with existing rail — and providing upgrades to Metrolink also — the Authority says it can speed up construction and avoid inflation and cut costs.

Here’s the news release:

FRESNO – The California High-Speed Rail Authority today released a revised Business Plan to launch the nation’s first high-speed rail service—capable of traveling 220 miles-per-hour from Merced to the San Fernando Valley—within ten years.

“Our revised plan makes high-speed rail better, faster and cheaper,” High-Speed Rail Authority Chairman Dan Richard told a news conference today at the Southern Pacific Building in Fresno. “Drawing on hundreds of public comments as well as the expertise of our technical staff, we were able to refine our thinking and improve the plan enormously. The revised plan will enhance local rail service immediately and, in the long term, cut total project costs by $30 billion.”

Under the revised 2012 Business Plan, construction begins this year on the 300-mile Initial Operating Section, stretching from Merced to the San Fernando Valley. This new plan also improves the safety and efficiency of existing urban rail systems. These improvements will bring immediate benefits to commuters and ultimately allow the integration of local systems with high-speed rail. The key changes to this revised business plan include:

·         Constructing 300 miles of electrified rail from Merced to San Fernando Valley in ten years;

·         Improving existing rail service in the Bay Area and Los Angeles regions to prepare those systems for high-speed rail service;

·         Cutting $30 billion in costs, through the blended approach, cost savings and inflation assumptions; and

·         The potential to access cap & trade funds as a backstop to federal funding.

“In ten years, Californians will be able to travel through the Central Valley and into the Los Angeles Basin in half the time it takes to drive,” said Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. “This revised plan is bold, practical and puts California out in front once again.”

The revised business plan also improves existing local rail systems in Northern California, Southern California and the Bay Area. These improvements include converting local diesel-powered rail systems to electric power and improving safety through positive train control. The new plan also includes safety and reliability upgrades to existing Amtrak/Metrolink rail corridors between Los Angeles’ Union Station and Anaheim. All these improvements will increase the speed at which trains currently in service can travel safely.

Construction of the entire 520-mile rail system will finish in 2028, with service to begin in 2029. This improved system will cost $68.4 billion in year-of-expenditure dollars, a $30 billion reduction over the previous plan. Six billion dollars in funding has already been identified for the first segment of the Initial Operating Section, including $3.3 billion in federal funding and $2.7 billion in voter-approved Proposition 1A bond proceeds. Cap and trade funds are also available as a backstop against federal and local support to complete the initial operating section. No operating subsidy will be required.

“The plan is realistic, credible and transparent,” said Authority Board Member Mike Rossi. “This plan is responsible from a business perspective and is a solid investment for Californians. There is no need for operating subsidies and the system will attract private capital once the operating segment stabilizes ridership in 2022.”

Building the first segment of the Initial Operating Section is projected to generate 100,000 job-years of employment over five years, the equivalent of 20,000 full-time jobs annually. The high-speed rail system will also reduce pollution and improve quality-of-life by saving 146 million hours of time spent in gridlock annually, reducing carbon emissions by 3 million tons annually, and eliminating 320 billion vehicle miles traveled over the next 40 years.

“I applaud the work undertaken by the Brown Administration and the High-Speed Rail Authority to lower the cost of the project and accelerate the completion of the Initial Operating Segment,” said Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin. “Fresnans will benefit tremendously from the immediate economic boost that comes with 20,000 high-paying construction jobs, as well as the long-term benefit of being able to quickly and inexpensively travel to and from the LA basin.”

This revised business plan must be approved by the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board of Directors, who will meet in San Francisco on April 12.

Participants at today’s news conference included Chairman Dan Richard and Board Members Mike Rossi and Tom Richards, Deputy Administrator for the Federal Railroad Administration Karen Hedlund, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin and other federal, state and local officials.

A copy of the revised 2012 Business Plan is available at the Authority website.

8 replies

  1. Thanks Steveland for clearing that up. That is very disappointing and also discouraging to see a completely contradictory statement being made saying that “In ten years, Californians will be able to travel through the Central Valley and into the Los Angeles Basin in half the time it takes to drive” despite a 2029 opening date… But regarding Amtrak and Metrolink operations, does this initial operating segment include finally being able to take Amtrak from LA up through the central valley on the finally-established link between Bakersfield and the SFV? Or will there still be a huge rail gap being bridged by coach buses for the next 20 years? As, stated before, It would be nice to at least be able to finally take a one seat conventional train ride from LA to Sac or the Bay Area that does not take over 9000 hours… (Yes, I’m looking at you Coast Starlight.)

  2. First off, I support this. This plan is more akin to the German Inter City Express high speed rail system that is “blend” of existing rights of way and new track features such as straightening, electrification, new rolling stock, and multiple tracks.
    I see this as the only way this system can get off the ground, let alone, see an opening for service. All parties involved get a win with improved service and enhancements on the Amtrak San Joaquin, CalTrain, and MetroLink’s Antelope Valley Line.
    For our MetroLink Antelope Valley Line, it’s a high ridership commuter line with a lot of constrains and problems that Metro’s Regional Rail group is now looking into how to improve for MetroLink to send trains up to Palmdale in less than 60 minutes. HSR sweetens the pot with more eligible funds and a bigger drumbeat for the improvements for straightening the line, doubling, tripling, or even quadrupling the tracks, and grade separating the dozens of remaining street crossings in the San Fernando Valley. With the state involved on getting this segment up to speed (in more ways than one) these enhancements are sure to happen faster and more concurrently than what Metro has planned on its own.

    @James: The only MetroLink line to electrify will be Antelope Valley line along with a whole host of badly needed improvements on this right of way that is mostly owned by Metro. Also interesting that in the last phase from Los Angeles to Anaheim the Riverside Line could electrify from Union Station to the new right of way in Riverside County (near Ontario Airport).
    @Connor: 2029 is a date for high speed operations I am led to believe. 2019 is the non-electrified initial operating segment which would be open for Amtrak and MetroLink to run existing (or future) diesel powered trains on at greater rates of speeds (like 90-110+ MPH).

    Also worth noting that trains likely will never do more than about 110-150 MPH even when grade separated in the urban San Fernando Valley for noise and other liability purposes, not to mention how relatively close the stops will be also.

  3. Maybe this plan will, in the interim, finally allow us to take conventional trains from SoCal to the Bay Area or Sacramento without it taking 12 plus hours. But I’m also confused about the statement saying that in 10 years we will be able to travel on High Speed Rail in the Central Valley given that it also says 2029 for service beginning… I assume 2029 refers to FULL service on all planned branches? Could someone clarify?

  4. The plan should have been this way to begin with. I like it. It makes sense. Especially the early investments in the Caltrain and Metrolink corridors. It will only get exponentially more expensive to improve those corridors in the next 20 years, so doing it now instead of later is a sharp move. And doing it under the aegis of Caltrain or Metrolink will perhaps help the HSR authority avoid many environmental impact lawsuits. Making the first segment be from Merced to the Valley also makes a lot of sense. This is the biggest bang for the buck – the most ridership for the cheapest right-of-way. Someone is listening, someone put a lot of thought into the proposal.

  5. Service starts in 2029? How is this 10 years? I like the plan other than that.

  6. This will NOT electrify tracks south …if you read the full plan you will see this. In order for them to do that, it will increase the bill to closer to 100 billion (also in the plan if you read it).
    This “new” plan is a sham and it does not adhere to Prop 1A. It would be illegal to allow bond funding for this project.

  7. A much better plan than the previous line since it addresses the tired “to nowhere” phrase. Also it finally will establish a link from Bakersfield to the L.A. Basin that has been missing and is essential to the completion of this project. Finally it seems this agency is being smart and hopefully pushes this plan hard to get rid of the “boondoggle” rhetoric that everyone attaches to it since HSR is an essential component of this states’ infrastructure for the future. Also it’s good to see the revised figures as the 98 billion always seemed over inflated for the sole purpose of putting the project in doubt. Enough of the tired old do nothing rhetoric and time to get this alternative infrastructure off the ground.

  8. I want to see high-speed rail get built in California. Converting Metrolink to electric power is a good idea as well.
    This plan sounds like it could accomplish both of these important goals.

    I do hope that they’re not cutting too much from the HSR project. Are we going to have enough tracks for both HSR and Metrolink?

    The NorthEast Corridor shares between commuter and Acela trains, but the NEC is also FOUR tracks where it shares. Acela is also slower than what Prop. 1A promised.