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.

21 thoughts on “California high speed rail needs a $8-16 billion 13.5 mile tunnel”

  1. “At almost $70 billion dollars, construction of a high speed rail system from San Francisco to Los Angeles and Anaheim is certainly an expensive project. But it will cost a fraction of what the state would have to spend to achieve the same level of mobility for a population expected to reach 50 million people by the year 2030. To move an equivalent number of people would cost $170 billion in new freeways and airport runway expansions in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, assuming those projects would have both the necessary public support and environmental clearance. And while others have said we should wait for newer technology, high speed rail is a safe, reliable and cost effective system of transportation, proven around the world.” –San Francisco Examiner

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  2. Why are we building a HSR system between LA and SF, ? Gee I don’t know. Should be built between LA and Vegas, then on to Houston Texas, through Dallas, Then extended on to Washington DC. Waste of time and money for such
    a high cost short route. Is this just a 100 billion feel good project or is it really needed at all. Just how many people commute every day between LA and SF. a few hundred maybe???? Does not warrant it and the cost. If you want to build one along route 40 or route 20 I am for it. You could use existing railroad right of ways. Drop the cost.

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  3. Even if you remove cost of red tape and corruption, California HSR builds viaducts with scaffolds as opposed to bridge building machines, of course it’s going to be expensive and take forever. Same goes for tunnels, California need to import TBMs from overseas for a one off tunnel, of course it’s going to be more expensive than locally produced standardized TBMs used for HSR lines with thousands of tunnels.
    As for Elon, the guy just bought a small diameter pre-designed second hand TBMs to play around in simple geology, at this point they’re at most just a contractor that want to mod their trucks.
    If the goal is really to get HSR at a low cost, they just need to whole-sale contract it out to Chinese companies and instant obtain advanced construction technology and economy of scale, the only problem being the cost in pride.

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  4. The high speed rail is the poster child of “Corruption of the Democrats of California.” By the time they finally get it running and spend 100 billion dollars everyone else will have hyperloop.

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  5. As usual greed is how locals do business in America,and these projects are a magnet for that,just jack up the price who cares ????????

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  6. Incredibly stupid all or nothing approach. Why don’t they just build the train lines then just bus people from one side of the mountain to the other saving $10 billion and 6 plus years on the project. Then say if private business want to capitalize on this short tunnel route (Elon) then they can make the money off of it.

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    • Bus people over the mountain? So have everyone get off the train including their luggage…board a bus..get back onto the train? That could easily burn up 1-1.5 hours by the time you are done. The idea of high speed rail is to cut time and make the trip more efficient.

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      • Kinda like a layover but you are still moving. Yes people would have to stand up walk to a waiting bus while a crew transfers bags to another bus then it would drive at 30 to 60 mph over the mountain so 20 to 40 minutes extra. First world problems. Lol

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        • people would have to stand up walk to a waiting bus while a crew transfers bags to another bus then it would drive at 30 to 60 mph over the mountain so 20 to 40 minutes extra

          Because people hate doing that sort of stuff and will only accept it if it saves them, personally, a lot of money or there is no alternative.
          Neither apply in this case.

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  7. In my opinion, it should be easy and inexpensive to build from San Francisco, or San Jose to
    the POINT whereof the San Luis Obispo FAULT TUNNEL begins. Just imagine you can cut down
    the travel time to less than one hour from San Francisco or San Jose to SLO in a very
    comfortable high-speed train ride.
    As for the tunnel, ask the Chinese for an estimate, who has built thousands of mile of thunnel in
    difficult terrains, you would be surprised by the time and cost saving.

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    • Built inexpensively”? What is your definition of inexpensive? Why would we need to spend billions to connect San Luis Obispo to anything? There’s around 45,000 people in SLO. Pismo Beach has about 7500 people. If you added up all the surrounding areas you might come up with 150,000 people. And the VAST majority of those would have no reason to travel to SF except occasionally on weekend visits. That train would be virtually empty on weekdays.

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    • Thanks for your input. Just got back from China for the 27th trip as my wife and I work there, but live in Fresno, Ca. Construction here is underway in a medium pace. Over the last five years, I have rode the high speed trains in China, through their tunnels and all. I would have just hired them to build the whole system if I was in Charge. They know how to build and in a hurry. 308 kph not bad through some beautiful country. This time no tunnels just from Beijing to Zhengzhou about 2 1/2 hours and back.

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  8. In my opinion, it should be easy and inexpensive to build from San Francisco, or San Jose to
    the POINT whereof the San Luis Obispo FAULT TUNNEL starts. Just imagine you can cut down
    the travel time to less than one hour from from San Francisco or San Jose to SLO in a very
    comfortable high-speed train ride.

    As for the tunnel, ask the Chinese for an estimate, who has built thousands of mile of thunnel in
    difficult terrains, you would be surprised by the time and cost saving.

    to the gate of the San Luis Obispo tunnel. It will cut down to one hour of very comfortable ride on
    high-speed train.

    As for the tunnel, ask the Chinese for an estimate, who has built thousands of mile of thunnel in
    difficult terrains, you would be surprised by the time and cost saving.

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    • Having driven that route last weekend it’s San Luis River/Reservoir that is there not San Luis Obispo. Note, I for one would prefer it going to the later but it wouldn’t pass through the Central Valley if it went the other way down the coast.

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    • Built inexpensively”? What is your definition of inexpensive? Why would we need to spend billions to connect San Luis Obispo to anything? There’s around 45,000 people in SLO. Pismo Beach has about 7500 people. If you added up all the surrounding areas you might come up with 150,000 people. And the VAST majority of those would have no reason to travel to SF except occasionally on weekend visits. That train would be virtually empty on weekdays.
      And the Chinese don’t have to deal with pesky little things like greedy labor unions and Democratic politicians. They also just take whatever land they need. OSHA and job safety..what is that in China? And our workers might expect to be paid more than a few dollars an hour.

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  9. “they wants to begin”
    Nice proof reading.

    It also needs more than one tunnel. It needs a long tunnel in the south, through earthquake faults. The state has no intention of building that section. It’s too expensive. All they want is the north section serving the Bay Area. But they had to gets the south to vote for it (to get state bond funds) so they made a half hearted attempt, then switched to the north section.

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    • I see maybe two 5 mile tunnel sections need in the southern end. One near the Grape Vine to get into the desert north of LA and the other just north of San Bernardino.

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