US High Speed Rail Projects May Wind Down with nothing Built

The US Senate Appropriations Committee ended the rail boosters’ hopes of getting a meaningful appropriation for high-speed rail in the new (FY 2012) fiscal year. There is a token $100 million for high-speed rail as a “placeholder” in their FY 2012 budget recommendations (a sum that is likely to be further cut in the House-Senate negotiations on the FY 2012 appropriations).

After committing $8 billion in stimulus money and an additional $2.5 billion in regular appropriations, the Administration has little to show for in terms of concrete results or accomplishments. Aside from an ongoing project to upgrade track between Chicago and St. Louis (a $1.1 billion venture that promises to offer a mere 48 minute reduction in travel time between those two cities), no significant construction has begun on any of the authorized rail projects.

California High Speed Rail Costs increase and will have legal delays

The one true U.S. high-speed rail project – California’s LA-to-San Francisco bullet train – is beset by mounting political and financial problems. Nearly three years after the passage of the enabling Proposition 1A and less than a year before construction is scheduled to start on the first line segment in the Central Valley, construction costs have doubled the 2008 estimate. There is no evident source of where the additional funds to complete Phase One (LA-SF) system will come from since the prospect of both further federal money and private risk capital is remote. As one recent report put it, the project is being pursued “in the confident hope of a miracle.”

The systems’ first stage – a $10-14 billion 160-mile line segment in the Central Valley from Bakersfield to Merced – has run into determined opposition from local residents and farming interests during the ongoing environmental impact review. The possibility of lengthy court challenges could delay construction, thus increasing costs, eroding political support and putting federal money at risk.

The California High Speed Rail Authority’s new business plan is now expected to be released on Nov 1, 2011

Authority figures originally projected the total cost of the plan, which is slated to connect passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in a little more than 2 ½ hours, at $43 billion. However, the initial segment of project has already exceeded its projected budget, and the Authority’s executive director, Roelof van Ark, conceded that the total cost of the undertaking is likely to rise as well.

Opponents of the plan said it will actually cost more like $66 billion to complete.

The Authority has secured about $3.5 billion in federal funding and $9.95 billion in a voter-approved state bond measure for the project. The release of the business plan on Nov. 1 is expected to reveal more details about how the state agency will find funding for the rest of the project.

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