“Shovel Ready” High Speed Rail? CA Is Ahead of the Game

Yesterday, Vice President Joe Biden, met with governors from eight different states that are competing for High Speed Rail funding.  Streetsblog’s D.C. Correspondent wrote a story about the national implications of the meeting available at our New York site.  While neither Schwarzenegger nor another representative from California was present, there was good news for California.  From today’s Times,

"The reason why California is looked at so closely — it’s been a
priority of your governor, it’s been a priority of your Legislature,
they’ve talked about it, a lot of planning has been done," Biden said
in a conference call with reporters.

The vice president said
the administration wants "to get shovel-ready projects out the door as
quickly as we can. . . . So California is in the game."

In other words, because California has been working on the San Francisco to San Diego High Speed Rail Corridor, and because voters put up funds for the project in the form of bond money; we have a leg up in applying for federal funds as the Obama Administration makes them available.

And let’s be clear, it’s not as though the entire corridor were "Shovel Ready" but there are two sets of track that the California High Speed Rail Authority says are ready to go.  The first is local, as the state could connect Los Angeles to Anaheim at a cost of $3 billion.  The second corridor would connect San Francisco to San Jose at somewhere between $4 billion and $5 billion.

Back when the federal stimulus was first passed, Ben Fried out of our New York office wrote a pretty brutal takedown of the final bill that I re-posted at the LA Streetsblog.  Supporters of California High Speed Rail were upset for obvious reasons and I defended Fried’s post in the comments section by saying.

But that so much of the negotition was done in Harry Reid’s office (to
the point that Pelosi actually pitched a fit about it according to
Politico) and he’s already talking about funding for the gamblin’ train
to Las Vegas, I am mighty sceptical that much, if any, of that money is
going to end up being spent on the line we supported last fall. If it
does, I’ll do a mea culpa post and you can all "I told you so’d" me.
I’ve certainly been willing to do them in the past.

Well, let’s just say I’m not quite ready to eat crow just yet, but I got it marinating.  In this case, the crow would taste awfully good.

  • Choo choo!! I’ve had my moments of doubt, but I had high hopes for this and it looks like CA may well become home to the first proper high speed rail system in the United States. Woo hoo!

  • Andy K

    So, $8 billion for these first short segments, which leaves $32 billion for the rest of SJ to LA. Doesn’t add up, does it? I know, these two segments are in urban areas, but even these cost seem unrealistic. At $5 billion, the SF to SJ segment is about $80 million per mile. Seems low – many bridges will need to be built, substations installed, etc, etc.

    I’m all for improving our rail systems, however these unrealistic estimates do a real disservice. It makes it hard to make good decisions when estimates are so faulty.

    Am I missing something?

  • Andy: I’m not sure, but isn’t the $40 billion figure for the entire system, meaning Sacramento, Oakland, San Diego and Irvine branches?

    The Central Valley portion would need much less funding not only because of its sparse population along the route, but its relatively flat terrain. Few or no tunnels and bridges to be built, vs. the San Diego-to-LA route which would need many.

  • LAofAnaheim

    Rich – I believe the $40 billion was for the first phase, which is Anaheim to SF. Because Orange County has given the most to high speed rail, they were included as part of Phase 1. Once the $40 billion was spent on Anaheim to SF, the expectation was that revenues earned from the high speed rail or another bond issuance would cover the remaining extensions (i.e. Sacramento, Riverside, Irvine, and San Diego).

  • Andy K

    Still, $80 million a mile for the line from SF to SJ seems way to low.

  • good grief I hope so. We need alternatives to the congested airspace overhead and the congested highways on the ground around California.

  • I don’t know enough of the wonk stuff to know how accurate these estimates or what the most costly expanses will be, but it was not long ago there were zero dollars going toward HSR, and we are actually getting somewhere now, with real work to be done and real dollars being committed. When people get their first taste of traveling on one of these things I think the momentum will be strong not only to finish the project, but continue on a path toward greater train connectivity between and within cities. With existing transit hubs being the stops it will be much easier to make travel plans without driving than at airports. I know a lot of people made the prop an either or proposition, but I think ultimately HSR and inner city transit will compliment each other in a way that will bring momentum to all transit as it has done in other countries.

  • John Thacker

    There’s no way, politically or otherwise, that California is getting all of the $8 billion. The share that California gets won’t go very far towards building this.

    If it’s a choice between making a small down payment on a tens of billions of dollars project in California for 200mph trains, or completing several 110-125mph lines elsewhere, I’m not sure that California will do so well.

    There are other places that have been spending state money and have environmental impact studies and plans ready to go for admittedly less ambitious but higher speed plans. The Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor, for example. Yet everywhere around the country right now you see hopeful articles from papers and blogs about how their state is ahead of game.

  • Of course CA will not get all of the 8 billion, no expects it to. However it could a substantially large share. This would of course not be enough to build very much of the route, but it would be enough to get real work done, which I think is a critical step. Ambitious projects such as this have been killed long before shovels hit the ground, when it is easy to kill such a project. But once real work is going it builds momentum to finish. I’ll rest a lot easier knowing the project has gone from paper to construction.

  • At least land acquisition in the mid-section could commence with these funds. Some of us have worried ROW acquisition could get dicey if delayed too long.

    Of course we have oddles of obstacles for this project to overcome. It is an epic undertaking, in every sense of the word. But at least more plausible than it was a year or so ago.


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