The track to high-speed rail in the state of California has been fraught with complications for several months, but a new proposed business plan recently unveiled by the California High-Speed Rail Authority looks to alleviate some potential problems. The biggest change in the new plan is the cut of some $30 billion in spending projections.
As we reported earlier this year, both the CEO Roelof van Ark and board chairman Tom Umberg resigned from their positions in the California High-Speed Rail Authority. Their departure suggested that pressure from federal government spending cuts, coupled with a business plan submitted last fall that doubled the original proposal to $95.5 billion, was making the project become seen as politically unfeasible.
California has been awarded millions for high-speed rail over time, including some funds from the U.S. Department of Transportation and some from the Rail Authority itself, and has pledged to be green in its construction. Late last year we reported that the initial section of the track will run between Merced and the San Fernando Valley, a $6 billion project that has been approved and funded by federal funds and a voter-sanctioned bond system.
Roughly 300 miles of track, capable of carrying 220 mile-per-hour trains, will be laid for the intial high-speed system, running right through Fresno, California where the plan was announced. The first 300 miles of track will take ten years to complete, hopefully beginning public operations sometime in 2022 or 2023. But, the rest of the total 520-mile-system that will eventually stretch from the Bay Area to Los Angeles and isn’t expected to be finished until sometime in 2029. The total cost of the entire rail system is now projected to be $68.4 billion.
Such a steep price does come with some very tangible social benefits, though. To start, the project is predicting to generate 100,000 jobs over the next five years, with 20,000 of those coming from construction positions in California. The Rail Authority also claims that 146 million hours of time spent in traffic jams will be eliminated, as will 3 millions tons of carbon emissions each year.
“In ten years, Californians will be able to travel through the Central Valley and into the Los Angeles Basin in half the time it takes to drive,” said Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. “This revised plan is bold, practical and puts California out in front once again.”
With support from California’s Governor and other members of the Rail Authority, the proposal will likely pass. Still, the revised business plan must be approved by the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board of Directors, who will meet in San Francisco on April 12.