California High Speed Rail Moves Forward

Lucky California!  They get the High Speed Rail AND the Hyperloop “bullet train” too! …. or not.

As Jeff Morales, CEO, California High Speed Rail Authority, recently said at the CityAge SF conference, “$3 billion in investment so far and people still deny it is happening!”  He’s referring to the construction on the initial section of the planned California High Speed Rail,  from Merced to Bakersfield,  which began in 2015 and expected to end in 2019.  The Phase 1 Plan was submitted to the California state legislature on May 2, 2016.

But if you aren’t in California and are only picking up occasional news, it is easy to get this high speed rail project confused with the “Hyperloop” project touted by Elon Musk.

Here’s the scorecard to keep track.

A Hyperloop track proposed by Hyperloop Transportation Technologies,  is seeking construction permits in Quay Valley, California to run a five mile track.  Completion is expected in 2018.  Quay Valley, a new town in planning phase, is located near Interstate 5 between Bakersfield and Fresno.

The Hyperloop has the theoretical capacity to travel 760 miles per hour.   A fully developed Hyperloop system would run between Los Angeles and San Francisco in 30 minutes.  This transit, so far, is privately funded.

The California High Speed Rail (HSR) system will be over 800 miles long.  The planned network of rail will extend down to San Diego along the coast and will have spurs running east to the Central Valley.  The initial Merced-Bakersfield link will end in 2019.  Phase 1 construction will be about 520 miles  long, and is planned to be completed in 2029, connecting San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Anaheim using high-speed rail through the Central Valley.

California High Speed Rail map
California High Speed Rail map

The Phase 2 route will extend from the Central Valley north to Sacramento, and from Los Angeles east through the Inland Empire and then south to San Diego.

Speed on the HSR system will average about 220 miles an hour on the 422 mile link ,  about 2 hours, between San Jose and Los Angeles.  The LA to Anaheim link (31 miles) will have a top speed of 90 mph, and San Jose to San Francisco (57 miles) about 110 mph.

Capital funding to develop the high-speed rail project will come from federal, state, local and private sources. These funds will be available to the California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) at different times based on the development timeline of the system.  Developing the first segment of the Initial Operating Section (IOS) from Madera to Bakersfield will cost $6 billion, consisting of $3.3 billion in federal funding and $2.6 billion in Proposition 1A bond proceeds.  This amounts to an estimated $44.8 million per mile.  The remaining portions of the IOS will be funded using state bonds, federal support, and local funds. Cap and Trade funds are also available as needed, upon appropriation, as a backstop against federal and local support to complete the IOS.  As the lines continue and proof of revenue is shown, private sector financing will be encouraged.

In contrast, Amtrak, running the Northeast Corridor from Boston to Washington DC. covers 452 miles at top rates that vary from 110 to 125 mph, depending on location.  Built between 1834 and 1917, it is operated by Amtrak.  Sections have different owners including the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Connecticut Department of Transportation,  Metro-North Railroad  and Amtrak.  The National Railroad Passenger Corporation, doing business as Amtrak , is a partially government-funded American passenger railroad service. It is operated and managed as a for-profit corporation.  Amtrak was founded in 1971 through the government-sponsored consolidation of most of the then current passenger rail companies in the United States.

Continuing the tour of fast trains for the public, let’s take a stop at Japan.  The new mag-lev bullet train traveled at 374 mph in test runs.  The train is still only a prototype. Japan Railways is still testing this model. We’ll have to wait until 2027 for it to be put into commercial transport. That’s when Japan Railways plans to use the train between Tokyo and Nagoya.  The world’s fasted mag-lev train used commercially is in Shanghai, China, and reaches speeds up to 288 mph.

$44.8 million per mile is a lot of money.  But it isn’t likely to get cheaper.  This kind of investment will help launch the USA into the future, in competition with cities in Asia.  But, alas, the US has a hefty debt already from our failure to maintain existing infrastructure built over the last 100+ years.   America’s Infrastructure Report Card estimates the US will need to invest $3.6 trillion in infrastructure spending by 2020 to catch up.

Thanks to Jeff Morales and

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