California High-Speed Rail

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California High-Speed Rail
California High Speed Rail.svg
Area served San Francisco Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley, Southern California
Locale California, United States
Transit type High-speed rail
Number of stations 24 (proposed)
Chief executive Jeff Morales
Operator(s) A private operator to be determined
System length 800+ mi (1,300+ km) (proposed)[1]
No. of tracks fully double-tracked plus 2 extra pass-through tracks in stations
Track gauge 4'-8.5" (1,435 mm)
Electrification Fully electric
Top speed

220 mph (350 km/h) from San Jose to LA (about 422 mi (679 km))
102 mph (164 km/h) from San Jose to San Francisco (about 51 mi (82 km))[2]

90 mph (140 km/h) from Los Angeles to Anaheim (about 31 mi (50 km))[3]

California High-Speed Rail is a high-speed rail system currently under construction in the U.S. state of California. The initial implementation phase ("Phase 1") will connect the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center in Anaheim and Union Station in Downtown Los Angeles with the Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco via the Central Valley with speeds up to 220 miles per hour (350 km/h), providing a "one-seat ride" for the trip in 2 hours and 40 minutes. The system is required by law to operate without a subsidy, and to connect the state's major cities in the Bay Area, Central Valley, and Los Angeles Basin.[4] Phase 2 (which has no timetable yet) would extend the system northerly in the Central Valley to the Sacramento Valley Station in Sacramento, and southerly (through the Inland Empire) to the San Diego International Airport in San Diego. The project is managed by the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA), a state agency run by a board of governors.

Construction on the initial section from Merced to Bakersfield began in 2015 and is expected to end in 2019, after which Amtrak's San Joaquin is proposed to first use the HSR tracks for faster conventional rail service until HSR trains use the line to its full potential.[citation needed]

The initial plans were to build an Initial Operating Segment (IOS) from Merced in the Central Valley to Burbank in the Los Angeles metropolitan area in Southern California. However, in 2016 the Authority switched to a northern IOS from San Jose in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley across to the Central Valley then north to Madera and Merced, and south to near Bakersfield at the southern end of the Central Valley. Based on a more recent analysis of the funding available and time necessary to bring an IOS online per the legal requirements, it is expected that sufficient funding will be available to bring this online by 2025.[5] The Phase 1 system could be completed by 2029, provided that additional funds are obtained.[6] The plan was slightly revised after the public comment period.[7] This revised plan was adopted on April 28, 2016.[8] Contracts have been awarded for the segment from Madera to Wasco, and construction is underway on several bridges.[9]

Route and stations[edit]

Locations of planned California High-Speed Rail route and stations. Phase I: blue; Phase II: gold. The separate XpressWest system is shown in cyan. Station and route locations are approximate in some cases.

AB 3034, the authorizing legislation for Proposition 1A (which was submitted to the voters and approved), specified certain route and travel time requirements. Among these were that the route must (1) link downtown San Francisco with Los Angeles and Anaheim, and (2) link the state's major population centers together "including Sacramento, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Central Valley, Los Angeles Basin, the Inland Empire, Orange County, and San Diego." The first phase of the project must link San Francisco with Los Angeles and Anaheim. Up to 24 stations were authorized for the completed system.

This system will be built in two phases. Phase 1 will be about 520 miles (840 km) long, and is planned to be completed in 2029, connecting the downtowns of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Anaheim using high-speed rail through the Central Valley.[10] In Phase 2, the route will be extended in the Central Valley north to Sacramento, and from Los Angeles east through the Inland Empire and then south to San Diego. The total system length will be about 800 miles (1,300 km) long. Phase 2 has no dates as yet.

On February 18, 2016, the Authority released its 2016 Draft Business Plan, which significantly altered its near-term plans for the system implementation. While the core of the construction has always been focused on construction in the Central Valley first, the Initial Operating Section has always had two options: extend from the Central Valley northward toward the Bay Area (the IOS-North, San Jose to Bakersfield), or southward to Southern California (IOS-South, Merced to San Fernando Valley). In the 2012 and 2014 Business Plans the goal was to implement the IOS-South. However, based on a more recent analysis of the funding available and time necessary to bring an IOS online per the legal requirements, the Authority is now proposing the IOS-North be implemented instead. This is being called the Silicon Valley to Central Valley Line, and it is expected that sufficient funding will be available to bring this online by 2025.[5] The Authority remains committed to pursue additional funding to complete the Phase 1 system by 2029.[6]

The new business plan also reduces the cost of the system from $67.6 billion (in year-of-expenditure dollars) for Phase 1 by $5.5 billion based on actual experience, improved plans, and other feedback, but adds back in $2.1 billion more for improvements to the Los Angeles to Anaheim corridor, for a net system cost of $64.2 billion [11] The 2016 Business Plan estimates the cost to completion of the Silicon Valley to Central Valley line is $20.6 billion (in year-of-expenditure dollars).[12] The public has 60 days (from February 19, 2016) to submit comments on the Draft 2016 Business Plan to the Authority. It will be adopted by the Authority in April, and submitted (by legal requirement) to the legislature by May 1, 2016.[13]

The Initial Construction Segment (ICS) of high-speed tracks runs from Merced to Bakersfield in the Central Valley. Simultaneously with the ICS construction, there are "bookend" and connectivity investments[14] including electrification of the San Francisco Peninsula Corridor used by Caltrain, improvements to tracks and signaling for Metrolink in the LA area and Caltrain, and better passenger interconnections for Caltrain, Amtrak, and other Northern California rail lines.

Phase 1[edit]

All stations in this table represent proposed service. Station names in italics are optional stations that may not be constructed. In most cases existing stations are proposed to be used for HSR service, with the exception of completely new stations at Merced, Fresno, Kings–Tulare, and Bakersfield. All listed locations are in California. The California High-Speed Rail Authority considered a mid-peninsula station in Redwood City, Mountain View, or Palo Alto, but it was removed from the business plan in May 2016 due to low ridership projections, although the possibility was raised of adding one in the future.[15]

Station Location Status Completion Connecting rail services Connecting bus services Notes
Transbay Transit Center San Francisco Under construction 2029 BART, Caltrain, E Embarcadero, F Market & Wharves, Muni Metro AC Transit, Amtrak Thruway Motorcoach, Blue & Gold Fleet, Golden Gate Ferry, Golden Gate Transit, Greyhound, Paratransit Service, Red & White Fleet, San Francisco Bay Ferry, Muni, Chariot Transit, SamTrans, WestCAT Lynx Site map
Millbrae Intermodal Terminal Millbrae Existing, modifications needed 2029 AirTrain (SFO), BART, Caltrain SamTrans Site map
Diridon Station San Jose Existing, modifications needed 2025 (IOS) ACE, BART, Caltrain, Capitol Corridor, Coast Starlight, Historic Streetcar, VTA Light Rail, SJC Airport Connector Amtrak Thruway Motorcoach, California Shuttle Bus, DASH, Highway 17 Express, Monterey-Salinas Transit, RTD, VTA Site map
Gilroy Gilroy Planning agreement in place 2025 (IOS) Caltrain Monterey-Salinas Transit, San Benito County Express, VTA Site map
Merced Merced Planning agreement in place 2025 (IOS) San Joaquin (train) YARTS Site map
Madera near Madera Acres 2025 (IOS) San Joaquin (train) [16]
Fresno Fresno Planning agreement in place 2025 (IOS) San Joaquin (train) YARTS, Fresno Area Express Site map
Kings–Tulare Regional Station near Hanford 2025 (IOS)
Bakersfield Bakersfield Planning agreement in place 2025 (IOS) San Joaquin (train) Kern Transit Site map
Palmdale Transportation Center Palmdale Planning agreement in place 2029 Metrolink, XpressWest Amtrak Thruway Motorcoach, AVTA, Santa Clarita Transit, Greyhound Lines

LA County Beach Bus (summer only)

Burbank Airport Burbank Planning agreement in place 2029 Metrolink, XpressWest MTA Burbank
Los Angeles (Union Station) Los Angeles Existing, modifications needed 2029 Coast Starlight, Metro Rail, Metrolink, Pacific Surfliner, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited, Texas Eagle, XpressWest MTA Union Station
Norwalk–Santa Fe Springs Norwalk Optional, no decision made 2029 Metrolink, Pacific Surfliner MTA
Fullerton Fullerton Optional, no decision made 2029 Metrolink, Pacific Surfliner MTA
Anaheim (ARTIC Station) Anaheim Existing, modifications needed 2029 Metrolink, Pacific Surfliner MTA, OCTA Images

Phase 2[edit]

As of 2015, the following stations and options are proposed. Existing train stations, if any, are linked. There is often a choice of alignments, some of which may involve the construction of a new station at a different location.

Sacramento extension. The 110 miles (177 km) segment from Merced to Sacramento will be built on dedicated HSR tracks and go to:

Proposals for San Jose-Oakland and Stockton-Union City lines have been studied,[citation needed] but are not currently in the Phase 2 plan which was adopted by voters statewide.

San Diego extension. The 167 miles (269 km) segment from Los Angeles to San Diego will be built on dedicated HSR tracks and go to:

Speed requirements[edit]

With regard to train speed and travel times, the train must also be electric and capable of a sustained operating speed of no less than 200 miles per hour (320 km/h). There are also a number of travel time benchmarks. The ones applicable to Phase 1 of the project are: (1) a maximum nonstop travel time between San Francisco and San Jose of 30 minutes, and (2) a maximum nonstop travel time between San Jose and Los Angeles of 2 hours and 10 minutes. (Thus, a nonstop time from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 2 hours and 40 minutes.)

There have been some comments by critics (such as the Due Diligence Report noted above) that the proposed system will not meet the Proposition 1A requirement of downtown San Francisco to Los Angeles travel time of 2 hours and 40 minutes.

The Authority's plan is close to the requirement, but does push the limits of conventional HSR speed.

  • San Francisco to San Jose nonstop over the blended-system trackage at 102 miles per hour (164 km/h) for (51 miles (82 km)) = 30 min. (note 30 min. is the maximum allowed).
  • San Jose to Los Angeles nonstop at 220 miles per hour (350 km/h) for (417 miles (671 km) or 437 miles (703 km)) = 1 hr. 54 min. or 1 hr. 59 min. (note 2 hr. 10 min. is the maximum allowed). Even at a slower 200 miles per hour (320 km/h) the times would be 2 hrs. 5 min. or 2 hrs. 11 min. (Note: since the final SF-LA route has not been adopted, the route length will be between the two numbers given.)

Both the 2008 and 2013 Due Diligence reports state that no existing high-speed system currently meets the proposed operation speed and safety goals. It notes that the highest cruising HSR speed in the world on production runs is about 200 miles per hour (320 km/h) in France, and this is significantly less than the sustained speed of 220 miles per hour (350 km/h) the CHSRA plan requires. They also note safety concerns in running at top speed through highly populated urban areas such as Fresno.[17] However, for three years Chinese HSR trains ran at 217 miles per hour (349 km/h), but the speeds were reduced due to safety concerns and - mostly - costs.[18] In fact a Siemens Velaro trainset without any modifications has posted a speed record well in excess of 400 kilometres per hour (250 mph), though economic considerations keep them limited to 320 kilometres per hour (200 mph) in revenue service.

The current trainset specification requires the capability of sustained speeds of 220 miles per hour (350 km/h). So, ultimately it is up to the trainset manufacturers to meet the Authority's speed requirement, since the proposed route and speed do meet the Proposition 1A requirements. It is worth noting that China has created a new operating speed standard of 380 kilometres per hour (240 mph) on its main HSR lines, which trains such as the Chinese CRH380 (manufactured in cooperation with Bombardier Sifang (Qingdao) Transportation Ltd), are capable. The UK's High Speed 2 also specifies a higher operation speed of 400 kilometres per hour (250 mph).

Rolling stock[edit]

Artist's rendering of a TGV-Type California High-Speed Rail trainset with livery; this type of train is used in all CHSRA materials, but since the exact model of trainset to be acquired is not known, this is only illustrative.


In January 2015 the California High Speed Rail Authority issued an RFP (request for proposal) for rolling stock for complete trains (known as "trainsets"). The proposals received will be reviewed so that acceptable bidders can be selected, and then requests for bids will be sent out. The winning bidder will likely not be selected until 2016.

It is estimated that for the entire Phase 1 system up to 95 trainsets might be required.[19] Initially, however, only 16 trainsets are anticipated to be purchased.[20] Trainset expenses, according to the 2014 Business Plan, are planned at $889 million for the IOS (Initial Operating Segment) in 2022, $984 million for the Bay to Basin in 2027, and $1.4 billion for the completed Phase 1 in 2029, for a total of $3.276 billion.[21]

In February 2015 nine companies formally expressed interest in producing trainsets for the system: Alstom, AnsaldoBreda, Bombardier Transportation, CSR, Hyundai Rotem, Kawasaki Rail Car, Siemens, Sun Group U.S.A. partnered with CNR Tangshan, and Talgo.[22]


In addition to many other requirements:[23]

  • each trainset will have a sustained continuous speed of 220 miles per hour (350 km/h);
  • a maximum testing speed of 242 miles per hour (389 km/h);
  • a lifespan of at least 30 years;
  • a length no longer than about 680 feet (210 m);
  • the ability to operate two trainsets as a single "consist" (a long train);
  • have control cabs at both ends of each trainset and the ability to go equally well in either direction;
  • pass-by noise levels (82 feet (25 m) from track) not to exceed 88 dB at 155 miles per hour (249 km/h) and 96 dB at 220 miles per hour (350 km/h)
  • have at least 450 seats and carry 8 bicycles;
  • have seating for first class and business class passengers as well as have space for wheelchairs;
  • have food service similar to airplane style serving;
  • allow for use of cellphones, broadband wireless internet access, and onboard entertainment services;
  • have a train communications network to notify passengers of travel/train/station/time information;
  • and also have earthquake safety systems for safe stopping and exiting.

One specification that is causing some difficulty is the HSR train requirement for a floor height of 50 in. (127 cm) above the rails. This is the international standard for high-speed rail trains, however, Caltrain trains have a floor height of only 25 in. (63.5 cm). (Metrolink trains have a similar issue.) In October 2014 Caltrain and the Authority agreed to work together to try to implement "level-boarding" on the shared station platforms.[24] The Authority resisted lowering their trainset floor height,[25] but a solution was found with their new EMUs which will feature doors at multiple levels. One set will be compatible with the CHSR platforms.[26]

An additional factor for the selection of a model is the Buy America regulation. The FRA has granted a waiver for just two prototypes to be manufactured off-shore before the remaining trainsets (initially 15 to 20 trains) would need to be built according to the rules.[27] These were mentioned as a significant reason that Chinese manufacturers dropped out of the XpressWest project with similar technical trainset specifications.[28]

Economic projections[edit]

In addition to the direct reduction in travel times the HSR project will produce, there are other anticipated benefits, both general to the state, to the regions the train will pass through, and to the areas immediately around the train stations.

Statewide economic growth and job creation[edit]

In 2009, the Authority projected that construction of the system will create 450,000 permanent jobs through the new commuters that will use the system,[29] and that the Los Angeles-San Francisco route will generate a net operating revenue of $2.23 billion by 2023,[29] consistent with the experience of other high-speed intercity operations around the world.[30] The 2012 Economic Impact Analysis Report by Parson Brinkerhoff (project managers for the Authority) also indicated substantial economic benefits from high-speed rail.

Even Amtrak's high-speed Acela Express service generates an operating surplus that is used to cover operating expenses of other lines, Amtrak says.[31] However, the way Amtrak calculates this is not equivalent to the way they calculate costs of other train services, and most of the Acelas costs for using track and fuel are paid for by Silver Service long distance trains, according to TRAINS Magazine's Fred Frailey.[citation needed]

The 2012 Business Plan also estimates that the Initial Construction Segment (ICS) construction will "generate 20,000 jobs over five years," with the Phase 1 system requiring 990,000 job-years over 15 years, averaging 66,000 annually.[32]

Environmental benefits[edit]

According to a fact sheet on the Authority website[33] the environmental benefits of the system include:

  • In 2022, when the Initial Operating Section (Merced to the San Fernando Valley) is up and running, the resulting greenhouse gas reductions will be between 100,000 and 300,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the first year. That’s the equivalent of from between 17,700 and 53,000 personal vehicles taken off the road.
  • Between 2022 and 2040, the cumulative reduction of CO2 is estimated to be between 5 and 10 million metric tons. By 2040, the system is estimated to reduce vehicles miles of travel in the state by almost 10 million miles of travel every day (16,000,000 km).
  • Over a 58-year period (from the start of operations in 2022 through 2080), the system is estimated to reduce auto travel on the state’s highways and roads by over 400 billion miles of travel (6.4×1011 km).

Regional benefits[edit]

In its 67-page ruling in May 2015, the federal Surface Transportation Board noted: "The current transportation system in the San Joaquin Valley region has not kept pace with the increase in population, economic activity, and tourism. ... The interstate highway system, commercial airports, and conventional passenger rail systems serving the intercity market are operating at or near capacity and would require large public investments for maintenance and expansion to meet existing demand and future growth over the next 25 years or beyond."[34] Thus, the Board sees the HSR system as providing valuable benefits to the region's transportation needs.

The San Joaquin Valley is also one of the poorest areas of the state. For example, the unemployment rate near the end of 2014 in Fresno County was 2.2% higher than the statewide average.[35] And, of the five poorest metro areas in the country, three are in the Central Valley.[36] The HSR system has the potential to significantly improve this region and its economy. A large January 2015 report to the CHSRA examined this issue.[37]

In addition to jobs and income levels in general, the presence of HSR is expected to benefit the growth in the cities around the HSR stations. It is anticipated that this will help increase population density in those cities and reduce "development sprawl" out into surrounding farmlands.[38]

Ridership and revenue concerns[edit]

In May 2015, the Los Angeles Times published an article by critics on the estimated operational revenue of the system in "Doing the math on California's bullet train fares".[39] The article raised a number of doubts that the system could be self-supporting, as required by Prop 1A, and ended by quoting Louis Thompson (chairman of an unnamed state-created review panel) who said "We will not know until late in the game how everything will turn out."[40]

The Due Diligence Report in 2008 projected fewer riders by 2030 than officially estimated: 23.4 to 31.1 million intercity riders a year instead of the 65.5 to 96.5 million forecast by the Authority and later confirmed by an independent peer review.[41]

However, Robert Cruickshank of the California High Speed Rail Blog (which closely watches the project and advocates for it) countered by raising numerous critiques of data and conclusions in the article in his article "LA Times Completely Botches Story of HSR Fares".[42] In addition, readers of his blog submitted evidence that the data given for some of the comparison fares were seriously in error.[43]

The Authority's ridership estimates initially were unrealistically high, and have been revised several times using progressively better estimating models, including risk analysis and confidence levels. These now use generally recognized international standard methods.[44] The 2014 study (at a 50% confidence level) estimated the following ridership/revenue figures:

2022 (IOS): 11.3 million riders / $625 million

2027 (Bay to Basin): 19.1 million riders / $1055.6 million

2029 (Phase 1 initial): 28.4 million riders / $1350.4 million

2040 (Phase 1 mature): 33.1 million riders / $1559.4 million[45]

Project budget concerns[edit]

The project's cost and scope have long been a source of controversy. The Authority has estimated the project's year-of-expenditure cost at $68.4 billion (2012 estimate).[46]

The 2008 Due Diligence Report projected that the final cost for the complete system would be $65.2 to $81.4 billion (2008), significantly higher than estimates made for the Authority by Parsons Brinckerhoff,[citation needed] an American engineering firm. However, the Authority is using Design-Build construction contracts to counter the tendency toward cost over-runs. All of the construction is to be done via "design-build" proposals wherein each builder is given leeway in the design and management of construction, but not the ability to run back with contract change orders except for extraordinary problems. The builder is given specifications but also given the freedom to meet them in their own way, plus the ability to modify the construction plans in an expeditious and cost-effective manner.[47]

The California Legislative Analyst's Office published recommendations on May 10, 2011, which they said will help the high-speed rail project be developed successfully. They recommended that the California legislature seek flexibility on use of federal funds and then reconsider where construction of the high-speed rail line should start. They also recommended that the California legislature shift responsibility away from the Authority and fund only the administrative tasks of the Authority in the 2011–12 budget.[48]

In January 2012, an independent peer review panel published a report recommending the Legislature not approve issuing $2.7 billion in bonds to fund the project.[49] The panel of experts was created by state law to help safeguard the public's interest. The report said that moving ahead on the high-speed rail project without credible sources of adequate funding represents a financial risk to California.

Prior to the July 2012 vote, State Senator Joe Simitian, (D-Palo Alto), expressed concerns about financing needed to complete the project, asking: "Is there additional commitment of federal funds? There is not. Is there additional commitment of private funding? There is not. Is there a dedicated funding source that we can look to in the coming years? There is not."[50] The lobbying and advocacy group Train Riders Association of California also considers that Bill SB 1029 "provides no high-speed service for the next decade".[51]

In July 2014 The World Bank reported that the per kilometer cost of California's high-speed rail system was $56 million, more than double the average cost of $17–21 million per km of high speed rail in China and more than the $25–39 million per km average for similar projects in Europe.[52] It should be noted, though, that high real estate prices in California and three mountain ranges to cross contribute to the difference. For example, Construction Package 2-3 in the farmland of the flat Central Valley works out to $11.4 million per km, although this figure does not include electrification or property values, so it's roughly comparable internationally. Furthermore, the proposed High Speed 2 in Great Britain is estimated to be more expensive on a per mile basis than the Californian system.

As of May 2015, both construction packages awarded have come in significantly under staff estimates. For example, Construction Package 1 came in 20% under staff estimates ($985 million versus $1.2 billion),[53] and Construction Package 2-3 came in under by 17% to 28% ($1.234567 billion versus $1.5-$2 billion)

Public opinion and peer review[edit]

There are two types of criticism: the legally established "peer review" process that the legislature established for an independent check on the Authority's planning efforts,[54] and public criticisms by groups, individuals, public agencies, and elected officials.

As of the February 2015 conference Bold Bets: California on the Move?, which is hosted by The Atlantic magazine and Siemens, Dan Richard, the chair of the Authority, warned that not all issues to get the HSR system in place had yet been resolved.[55]

Peer Review Group[edit]

The California Legislature established the California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group to provide independent analysis of the Authority's business plans and modeling efforts. Their documents are submitted to the Legislature as needed.

The most recent critiques are Statement of Louis S. Thompson, Chairman, Peer Review Group, to California Assembly Transportation Committee Oversight Hearing, March 28, 2016, and Comment on Revised 2016 Business Plan, April 25, 2016.

Key points in the 2016 business plan review include:

  • The Group still believes the Southern IOS is superior, but recognizes that the Northern IOS is more financially feasible at this time with limited resources.
  • Future funding sources are still uncertain for meeting projected needs, so there is a critical need for the Legislature to provide future guidance re financing sources and amounts.
  • The lack of connection to downtown San Francisco and downtown Bakersfield will adversely affect ridership and income, especially in the initial startup period.
  • To close these gaps, significant additional funding in the amount of $2.9 billion would be needed. The Authority is suggesting that Federal monies could be obtained for this, although this is very uncertain now.
  • The blended system approach raises some significant issues that need resolution before it is feasible.
  • There are some critical assumptions concerning construction costs, the ability to spend American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding while it is still available, and the ability to securitize Cap and Trade funding for future use.

Professional studies[edit]

Two peer studies have been made of station siting and design in Europe.

Eric Eidlin, an employee of the Federal Transit Administration (Region 9, San Francisco), in 2015 wrote a study funded by the German Marshall Fund of the United States comparing the structural differences of the three relative to HSR and their historical development.[56] He also focused on the issue of station siting, design, use, and impact on the surrounding community. From this, he developed ten recommendations for CASHRA. Among these are:

  • Develop bold, long-term visions for the HSR corridors and stations.
  • Where possible site HSR stations in central city locations.
  • In rural areas emphasize train speed, in urban areas emphasize transit connectivity.
  • Plan for and encourage the non-transit roles of the HSR stations.

Eidlin's study also notes that in California there has been debate on the disadvantages of the proposed blended service in the urban areas of San Francisco and Los Angeles, including reduced speeds, more operating restraints, and complicated track-sharing agreements. However, there are some inherent advantages in blended systems that have not received much attention: shorter transfer distances for passengers, and reduced impacts on the neighborhoods. Blended systems are in use in Europe[citation needed].[57]

A July 2015 study by A. Loukaitou-Sideris, D. Peters, and W. Wei of the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State College compared the rail systems of Spain and Germany, and how blended high-speed rail lines have succeeded there.[58] Emphasis was also given to station siting, design, and use. Similarly to Eidlin's study, they found that the best stations not only provided high connectivity, but they also had a broader role by providing shops and services to community members as well as travelers.

Conservative think tank studies[edit]

Reason Foundation, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, and the Citizens Against Government Waste published a study (which they named the Due Diligence Report) critiquing the project in 2008.[59] In 2013 Reason Foundation published an Updated Due Diligence Report.[17] Key elements of the updated critique include

  • unachievable train speed
  • implausible ridership projections
  • spiraling costs
  • no funding plan
  • incorrect assumptions re HSR alternatives
  • increasing fare projections

This 2013 critique is based on the 2012 Business Plan. Although the 2012 Business Plan has been superseded by the 2016 Business Plan, the critique does include the Blended System approach using commuter tracks in SF and LA.

James Fallows in The Atlantic magazine summarized all the public criticisms thus, "It will cost too much, take too long, use up too much land, go to the wrong places, and in the end won't be fast or convenient enough to do that much good anyway."[40]

Public opinion surveys[edit]

The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) March 2016 Statewide Survey[60] indicated that 63% of Californians think the project is either very important or somewhat important, but costs are an issue. Currently over 50% favor building the system, but this increases to 66% if costs could be reduced. Note that the levels of support have generally been similar since the 2012 survey.

Support also varies by location (with the San Francisco Bay Area the highest at 72%, and lowest in Central Valley at 56%), by race (Asians 66%, Latinos 58%, whites 44%, and blacks 42%), and age (declining sharply with increasing age). Support also notably varies by political orientation. The percentage of supporters and opponents by party is: Democrat (supporters 59% v. opponents 38%), Independent (supporters 47% v. opponents 50%), and Republican (supporters 29% v. opponents 69%).

Dan Richard, chair of the Authority, says in an interview with James Fallows that he believes approval levels will increase when people can start seeing progress, and trains start running on the tracks.[55]


Financing summary[edit]

In 1996 the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) was established to begin formal planning in preparation for a ballot measure in 1998 or 2000.[61] The ballot measure was originally scheduled to be put before voters in the 2004 general election; however, the state legislature voted twice to move it back, first to 2006, and finally to 2008 when 52.7% of voters approved the issuing of $9 billion in bonds for high speed rail in Proposition 1A,[62] a measure to construct the initial segment of the network. The measure authorized $9.95 billion in bond sales for the construction of the core segment between San Francisco and Los Angeles/Anaheim, and an additional $950 million for improvements on local railroad systems, which will serve as feeder systems to the planned high-speed rail system.

On January 28, 2010, the White House announced that California would receive $2.35 billion of its ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) request, of which $2.25 billion was allocated specifically for California High Speed Rail, while the rest was designated for conventional rail improvements.[63] Over the course of 2010 and 2011, the federal government awarded the Authority a further $4 billion in high-speed rail funding, mainly from states that had rejected it such as Florida.[64][65][66]

On July 6, 2012, the California legislature approved construction of high-speed system, and Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill on July 18.[67][68]

In June 2014 state legislators and Governor Jerry Brown agreed on apportioning the state's annual cap-and-trade funds so that 25% goes to high speed rail (under the authority of CHSRA) and 15% goes to other transportation projects by other agencies.[69] The state's Legislative Analyst's Office estimated that cap-and-trade income in 2015 and 2016 could total $3.7 billion, of which $925 million would be allocated to HSR.[70]

On September 30, 2015, the Authority posted the names of 30 large firms who were interested in financing, constructing, and operating the California HSR system. Further discussions were planned to be held with each of them in the following two months.[71]

As of mid-2015, current funds allocated for designing and constructing the system total $6.302 billion, with another $2.024 billion for connectivity and bookend transportation projects.

Legal challenges summary[edit]

The Proposition 1A compliance suit (John Tos, Aaron Fukuda, and the Kings County Board of Supervisors v. California High-Speed Rail Authority) concerned the issue that the Authority was not properly complying with the law. It was first filed in late 2011. The final ruling was that the requirements for the financing plan, environmental clearances, and construction plans did not need to be secured for the entire project before construction began, but only for each construction segment.

However, the case was split into two parts, and the second part of the case was to consider three Proposition 1A legal requirements: (1) Can the train travel from Los Angeles (Union Station) to San Francisco (Transbay Terminal) in two hours and 40 minutes? (2) Will the train require an operational subsidy? (3) Does the new "blended system" approach meet the definition of high-speed rail in Proposition 1A? Judge Kenny ruled on March 8, 2016 that although serious issues were raised, they are not "ripe for review" and that (because this is "an ongoing, dynamic, changing project") he noted "the authority may be able to accomplish these objectives at some point in the future." So, this case was concluded, however, the possibility of future legal action against the Authority on these issues remains a possibility.[72]

On December 15, 2014 the federal Surface Transportation Board determined (using well-understood preemption rules) that its approval of the HSR project in August "categorically preexempts" lawsuits filed under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). However, this supposition is still being tested in the California courts in a similar case, Friends of Eel River v. North Coast Railroad Authority.[73]

Construction summary[edit]

On December 2, 2010, the Authority Board of Directors voted to begin construction on the first section of the system from Madera to Fresno, known as the Initial Construction Segment (ICS). With the Design-Build contractual system the Authority is using, the contractor will be responsible for the final construction design elements.[55] Due to the infusion of additional federal funds reallocated from states that canceled their high-speed rail plans, the initial segment of construction was extended south to Bakersfield in 2010, and north to the future Chowchilla Wye (where trains can be turned) in 2011.[74]

A groundbreaking ceremony was hosted in Fresno on January 6, 2015 to mark the commencement of sustained construction activities.[75]

Construction packages 1 and 2–3 are currently under construction. CP 4 is underway, with both construction and project management and oversight contracts let.[76][77]

Related projects[edit]

XpressWest connection to Las Vegas[edit]

XpressWest is a company that since 2007 has been trying to build a high-speed rail line between Southern California and Las Vegas, Nevada, part of the "Southwest Rail Network" they hope to create. On September 17, 2015 they announced formation of a joint venture with China Railway International USA, a consortium of Chinese firms that includes China Railway, the national Chinese railway company, to develop, finance, build, and operate the line. Initial funding of the venture is reported to be $100 million.

The rail line would begin in Las Vegas and cross the Mojave Desert stopping in Victorville, California and terminating in Palmdale, California (where it would connect with the CHSR line and Metrolink). This route would total about 230 miles (370 km). Lisa Marie Alley, speaking for CHSRA, said that there have been ongoing discussions concerning allowing the trains to use CHSRA lines to go further into the Los Angeles area, although no commitments have been made as yet. While many approvals have been obtained for the rail line from Victorville to Las Vegas, the section from Palmdale to Victorville has none as yet. Construction could begin in late 2016 on the Victorville to Las Vegas link.[78]

In June 2016, XpressWest announced that the joint venture had been called off. The decision was based “primarily upon difficulties associated with timely performance and CRI’s challenges in obtaining required authority to proceed with required development activities.” The biggest challenge cited for the termination of the joint venture was a federal regulation requiring the manufacture of the high speed trains inside the United States.[79]

Alternatives to HSR[edit]

Some have offered the idea that instead of risking the large expenditures of high-speed rail, that existing transportation methods be increased to meet increased transportion needs. However, in a report[80] commissioned by the Authority, a comparison was made to the needed infrastructure improvements if high-speed rail were not constructed. According to the report, the cost of building equivalent capacity to the $68.4 billion (YOE) Phase 1 Blended plan, in airports and freeways, is estimated to be $119.0 billion (YOE) for 4,295 new lane-miles (6,912 km) of highway, plus $38.6 billion (YOE) for 115 new airport gates and 4 new runways, for a total estimated cost of $158 billion.[80]

"Hyperloop" is an alternative system that Elon Musk has championed. He has criticized the high-speed rail project as too expensive and not technologically advanced enough (trains that are - according to Musk - too slow). On August 12, 2013 he released a high-level alpha design for a Hyperloop transit system concept which he claimed would travel over three times as fast and cost less than a tenth of the rail proposal.[81][82] The following day he announced a plan to construct a demonstration of the concept.[83] Musk's claims have been subject to significant debate and criticism, in particular that the costs are still unknown and likely understated, the technology is not proven enough for statewide implementation, the route proposed doesn't meet the needs of providing statewide transportation, and it does not meet the legal requirements of Proposition 1A and so would require a whole new legal underpining.[84]

Further reading[edit]

  • CHSRA's 2014 Business Plan describes the latest project goals, financing, and development plans. (SB 1029 (enacted in 2012) requires the Authority to produce a revised business plan every two years.[68])
  • CHSRA's March 2015 Project Update details the current status of the project. (SB 1029 also requires that twice a year, on March 1 and November 15, the Authority provide a project status report.)
  • James Fallows in The Atlantic magazine wrote a series of 17 articles (from July 2014 to January 2015) about the HSR system which covers many aspects of the system, criticisms of it, and responses to those criticisms.
  • The Bold Bets: California on the Move? conference was hosted February 2015 by The Atlantic magazine and Siemens. There were some significant discussions, presentations, and interviews. Dan Richard, chair of the Authority, was interviewed by James Fallows. (This interview is online.)[55]


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External links[edit]