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[Editor's note: This story has been updated to include U.S. Rep. Denham's comments.]
The California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) unveiled a new business plan yesterday that changes the location of the first 250 miles of track that will be built and operated to a segment between Bakersfield and San Jose, Calif.
The 2016 draft business plan, which CHSRA officials say will help lower costs and speed up construction of the system, is a major shift from the board's 2012 decision to build the first section of the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles bullet train system between Burbank and California's Central Valley.The authority is soliciting public comments on the new plan through April 18. "This draft business plan presents a clear path forward within available funding to deliver the system as approved by California voters in 2008," said CHSRA Chief Executive Officer Jeff Morales in a press release. "By constructing the line between the Silicon Valley and the Central Valley, while also making significant investments in Southern California’s passenger rail systems, high-speed rail service will become a reality in this state in the next 10 years at a lower cost than previously estimated."Overall capital costs will be reduced to $64.2 billion from $67.6 billion, officials said. The plan's first objective is to get high-speed rail service operating as soon as possible. With existing funding and more than 100 miles of active construction in the Central Valley now underway, the CHSRA will complete construction of the line between Silicon Valley and Central Valley by 2024, with operations expected to begin in 2025.The second objective is to make strategic investments throughout the system that will connect state, regional and local systems. For example, the new plan calls for working with local partners to improve the Burbank to Anaheim corridor to improve conventional train lines and prepare for future high-speed service.The plan's third objective is to build additional segments as funding becomes available. That will require completing environmental studies for each mile and securing environmental approval. CHSRA will continue to move ahead with clearing all project sections between San Francisco and L.A. by 2017, authority officials said.In addition, the draft plan says the authority will seek $2.9 billion in additional federal dollars to fund improvements in the San Jose to San Francisco corridor in order to allow operation of high-speed rail trains in the Caltrain corridor.Caltrain officials said they will review the draft plan to determine how it will benefit Caltrain's modernization program."The updated business plan seems to be great news and is an encouraging sign that state funds already committed to constructing electrification will be available in time for Caltrain to award contracts and start work on the project without any delay to the modernization program," Caltrain officials said in a press release.Caltrain's modernization program calls for electrifying the railroad's system before the end of 2020. The program includes electrification of the San Francisco to San Jose corridor; the purchase of new high-performance electric multiple units; the upgrade of the railroad's signaling system; and implementation of positive train control.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), a longtime critic of the California high-speed rail project, offered the following statement in response to the authority's new draft plan:
"Now that the California High Speed Rail Authority is finally acknowledging what the rest of us have known for years — tunneling through the Tehachapis is going to cost them billions more than they have — they must stop their efforts to put down tracks that will never connect in other parts of the state. Congress is never going to allocate more money to a project that lacks the ridership numbers, speeds, private funding and voter support once promised. Without the billions in funding they need, the authority's change in plans amounts to nothing more than wishful thinking."