California high speed rail needs a $8-16 billion 13.5 mile tunnel

Under the current California high speed rail plan, they wants to begin the 240-mile starter system in San Jose and end in an almond orchard south of Wasco. The state estimates the system would begin operating in 2025 and carry about 3 million passengers a year. Howvever, they are already at least a year behind schedule and only have the funding for the thirty miles.

Earlier this year, they identified the need for the 240 mile starter system to have a 13.5-mile tunnel. Until late last year, officials had considered building five shorter tunnels. But that plan cut too close to the San Luis Reservoir.

Ralph Vartabedian provided information for the LA Times on this high speed rail and tunnel situation.

Bent Flyvbjerg, a University of Oxford professor who has studied high-speed rail projects around the world, estimated the cost could range from $5.6 billion (with a 50% chance of a cost overrun) to $14.6 billion (with a 20% chance of a cost overrun). He based his estimates on data from more than 500 international tunnel projects. On average, an equivalent tunnel would cost $7.6 billion, he said

An executive at one of the nation’s leading engineering firms, who was not authorized to publicly comment on the state rail plan but is knowledgeable about the project, estimated the cost would run from $10 billion to $12 billion, based on recent experience with long tunnels in difficult geology.

The final environmental plan, which sets the exact route, is supposed to be adopted next year, and only then can the state begin soliciting bids and awarding a construction contract.

The contract process will take at least another year.

Once a contract is issued, the builder will have to order a custom-made tunnel boring machine, which takes about one year to build and set up at the site.

The authority would need at least three years to bore the tunnel, possibly much more, and then three more to outfit it with high-voltage electrical systems, ventilation, signals and track, according to outside experts.

Jarvis, the authority’s chief engineer, said the state’s timetable is aggressive and may have to be revised. “We are reviewing the schedule,” he said.

Meeting deadlines will depend on the geology of the route.

The rail authority is building bridges, viaducts, trenches and rail bed along a 29-mile stretch from Madera to Fresno, and has contracts for additional work to south of Wasco.

The rail authority recently disclosed cost estimates that showed its construction work on that stretch is headed for a $1.7-billion overrun. The Pacheco tunnel is not included in that cost increase.

Clearly Elon Musk with his tunneling company (Boring Company) could be helpful to make tunnels faster and cheaper. Part of Elon’s solution though is to make narrower tunnels based on different designs for the high speed system. His famous Hyperloop design.

Even Elon Musk Boring Company and Hyperloop technology would be hard pressed to bring in a San Jose to Los Angeles system for $40 billion especially since $10 billion of it is well on its way to being wasted.

The current California plan will probably cost $100-150 billion if it could get funded and if it could get built.