By Mehdi Morshed, Executive Director California High-Speed Rail Authority
High-Speed Train Authority Prepares to Lay Down Tracks
In November 2008, California voters gave the go-ahead to the first and only contemporary high-speed train operating on dedicated right of way in the United States. This is a 21st century alternative for a state transportation system designed for the 20th century. This statewide venture is expected to transform the way people travel between cities in California, offering a choice of driving, flying or using high-speed trains.
Voter approval of Proposition 1A on the ballot authorized $9 billion in bond funding for the 800-mile train network capable of speeds up to 220 miles per hour. It also provided $950 million to finance capital improvements to commuter and intercity rail as well as local transit lines that will connect existing infrastructure to the high-speed train system.
While the California High-Speed Rail Authority has spent more than a decade on research, study, planning, environmental and economic review, and public and legislative debate, in many ways the work has just begun. The next decade will be devoted to actually building the system.
Over the next three years, the Authority will focus on environmental and engineering work on six segments of the system: Los Angeles to Anaheim, Los Angeles to Palmdale, Palmdale to Fresno, Fresno to Merced, Central Valley to San Jose, and San Jose to San Francisco.
Construction is expected to start in 2012 on alignment preparation, laying tracks and building civil structures. The Los Angeles/Anaheim to San Francisco backbone of the system through the Central Valley is expected to be completed between 2018 and 2020.
Caltrans will play a significant role in developing the system, including securing rights of way, materials testing, construction inspection and determining where the train system interfaces with state transportation facilities.
In addition to coordination with Caltrans, the Authority will work with local governments and transportation planning agencies from San Diego to Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area to integrate and coordinate the statewide high-speed train with local and regional transportation systems, land use planning principles and economic development efforts.
The system is expected to provide a new transportation option available to 90 percent of California residents. Riders will be able to travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco in about two and a half hours, from Anaheim to Sacramento
in two and a half hours and from Fresno to San Jose in one hour.
A high-speed train system between Los Angeles/Anaheim and San Francisco with extensions to Sacramento and San Diego will eventually carry more than 90 million passengers, and generate $3.6 billion in gross revenues, with fare levels around half the cost of airfares.
The system will be built along, or adjacent to, existing rail transportation facilities instead of creating new transportation corridors. This should reduce unplanned growth and sprawl problems in both rural and urban areas. Stations will be spaced approximately 50 miles (80 km) apart in rural areas and 15 miles (24 km) apart in metropolitan areas to realize the most efficient benefit from high-speed travel.
In virtually every major city, a high-speed train station will be developed in conjunction with existing rail transportation hubs to produce the most efficient linkages to local and regional transit systems. Efficient integration of the high-speed train network with local transportation systems is paramount and key to the success of both.
According to the Authority’s updated business plan released in November 2008, high-speed trains will alleviate the need to spend nearly $100 billion to build about 3,000 miles of new freeway, five airport runways and 90 departure gates during the next two decades. A statewide high-speed train system will meet that same need for about half the cost.
It will use only one-third the energy of airplanes and one-fifth the energy of passenger automobiles. It will help free California from dependence on foreign oil by 12.7 million barrels per year, and reduce the greenhouse gases that cause global warming by 12 billion pounds per year.
Design, preparation and construction of the high-speed train system are expected to create thousands of jobs, stimulating California’s public and private economies. Nearly 160,000 construction-related jobs will be generated to plan, design and build the system. About 450,000 permanent jobs are expected to result from the economic growth the train system will bring to California.
The public will realize long-term benefits as well. There will be an improved movement of people, goods and services throughout the state. Train travel times will decrease. There will also be reduced delays to air and auto travelers as freeways and airports are relieved of congestion. Air quality will also improve, and that will help reduce related health care costs.
The backbone link from Los Angeles/Anaheim to San Francisco will cost $33 billion in 2008 dollars. Once built, it is not expected to require operating subsidies. Financial experts predict it eventually will generate surplus revenues of
about $1 billion a year.
The legislation that guided Proposition 1A (AB 3034) states that the Authority must find matching funds for the state bonds. As a result, the Authority has developed a three-tier financing strategy for planning, design and construction phases of the project — a combination of state and local funding, federal funding and “P3” public-private partnerships. In the long term, train users will pay for the operation of the system.
Planners expect to identify $2 billion to $3 billion in local financing for the Los Angeles/Anaheim to San Francisco link. Local funding is expected to come from local transit: development, commercial concessions at rail stations and cooperative funding arrangements with local transportation agencies.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority will seek $12 billion to $16 billion from federal sources. The High-Speed Rail for America Act, sponsored by U.S. Senators John Kerry (D-MA.) and Arlen Specter (D-PA.), will be a principal target since it would invest more than $23 billion in high-speed rail across the country. That legislation is cosponsored by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and is supported by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s national infrastructure coalition, “Building America’s Future.” The measure would create the Office of High-Speed Passenger Rail to oversee high-speed train development and provide a consistent funding source.
In addition, President George Bush signed the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 to reauthorize Amtrak with $1.5 billion for five years to finance construction and equipment for 11 high-speed train corridors, including California.
Major private investment sources are likely to include private equity funds, new infrastructure funds, pension funds and corporate operational partners. In spring 2008, the Authority issued a Request for Expressions of Interest to gauge private sector participation interest. It generated 30 responses, including strong interest from major construction firms, system and equipment providers, financial institutions and operators. Five firms were also willing to consider significant capital investment in the system.
We’re laying the tracks with Caltrans to improve mobility across California.