California might spend nearly $10 billion for 119 miles of remote high speed rail

In March, 2017, construction has been underway for the last couple of years for the California High speed rail. They are working on more than 119 miles of the system from Silicon Valley to the Central Valley, with expected passenger service in 2025. A timeline for building south to Anaheim has not yet been determined, but passenger service is scheduled to start in 2029. Phase 2 would connect Los Angeles Union Station to San Diego and Merced to Sacramento.

The projects current $9.4 billion in federal money, state money and bonds might be enough to complete 119 miles of the rail line from Madera to north of Bakersfield. It is not clear that they can complete that section around 2020-2022 with the existing money. And even more uncertain to complete electrical power systems, signals or to buy trains. That section would definitely be vastly unprofitable and would not be able to pay back the bonds.

The original plan pitched to bond voters as focusing on Los Angeles to San Francisco, was replaced with an initial 32-mile segment under construction between Fresno and Madera counties.

The project is supposed to open in legs. The first, connecting San Jose to the Central Valley, is scheduled to begin passenger service in 2025. Stops along this leg will include San Jose, Gilroy, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Tulare County, and Bakersfield.

The second leg, expected to open in 2029, will build out tracks from San Jose to San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal, including a Peninsula stop in Millbrae; and south from Bakersfield to Anaheim, with stops in Palmdale, Downtown Los Angeles, and at Burbank Airport.

The proposed timeline on the later extensions of the project are to add a 110-mile Sacramento extension, connecting to Modesto and Stockton on its way, and a 167-mile segment that snakes east from Los Angeles through the San Gabriel Valley to the Inland Empire, and eventually down south to San Diego.

The High Speed Rail Authority officially broke ground on the project in Fresno back in early 2015. Since then, construction crews have have been working on a 119-mile segment of track in the Central Valley. For now, this means building out the track’s right of way and its necessary bridges, trenches, and undercrossings.

There is an interactive online map showing the construction.

An unreleased Federal Rail Administration risk analysis from earlier this year said the project was running significantly over budget and behind schedule.

The train is a frequent target for more sweeping legislative change on the state level. A statewide ballot proposition last November not-so-subtly targeted the train by proposing a constitutional amendment to require voter approval for “megaprojects” costing more than $2 billion. Another potential amendment on the ballot next June could derail the one of the train’s funding mechanisms.

The Tutor Perini group was awarded a contract of about $1 billion for the Fresno-Madera construction segment in mid-2013. It was the first of three contracts that have been awarded, totaling nearly $3 billion, to build about 119 miles of the rail line from Madera to north of Bakersfield.

A separate contract was awarded earlier in 2013 for Caltrans to handle the relocation of Highway 99. At that time, the two state agencies agreed on a price of $225.9 million for shoving the highway lanes west by about 100 feet between Ashlan and Clinton avenues through central Fresno and rebuilding several overpasses and interchanges.

Three years on, it’s going to cost an extra $35 million for the state Department of Transportation to fulfill its obligations. And changes to the contract are expected to push the schedule from its original completion deadline of June 2018 to December 2018.

So at least $260 million to move 2 miles of highway 99.

Caltrans also experienced difficulty in acquiring the property it needs for the work.

Any spending from the bonds, which are taxable for investors, must be matched with money from other sources. As of April 2017, the project has $3.5 billion in federal grants and $1.2 billion in state greenhouse gas fees. That would give the rail authority a budget of roughly $9.4 billion for the Central Valley work and commitments made to do early work on the Southern California and Bay Area segments.

The Central Valley cost alone is officially estimated at $7.6 billion, though the Federal Railroad Administration estimated in December that the cost could reach $10 billion, meaning the state could have to scramble to find extra money.

The bond funds are critical to current construction efforts in the Central Valley. They would help finance about 118 miles of construction from Madera to Shafter, not including electrical power systems, signals or trains.

Phase 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles and Anaheim is estimated to cost $64.2 billion to build and funding has yet to be identified for the entire scope. Part of it would be covered by system revenues. The train is expected to pay for itself once it’s built, with revenues taking care of all operations and maintenance costs, as is consistent with similar systems internationally.

Fares are expected to average $89 from San Francisco to Los Angeles or Anaheim, and $30 for a trip from Los Angeles to Anaheim, according to the rail authority’s 2016 business plan based on 2015 dollars.

The Authority’s plan is for the following speeds:

* 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.)

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