A Change of Direction for California High-Speed Rail

In the face of political opposition and mounting construction costs in Southern California, the state High-Speed Rail Authority has chosen to build north from the Central Valley to San Jose rather than south from Fresno to the San Fernando Valley.
February 22, 2016, 11am PST | Irvin Dawid
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To be clear, the "initial operating section" included both the northern and southern sections in 2011. The decision by the California High-Speed Rail Authority to change course and build from Kern County to San Jose will save money and time due to the formidable tunneling costs under the Tehachapi and San Gabriel Mountains and local political opposition in the Palmdale to Burbank section.

"The high-speed rail authority said shifting to the Bay Area will allow it to have the initial segment operating by 2025, earlier than planned, which will make the project attractive to private investors that would help fill holes in funding," write Dan Weikel and Ralph Vartabedian for the Los Angeles Times.

"The math is pretty clear," said Dan Richard, chairman of the board that oversees the project in an AP article. "It’s just longer and more expensive to get to L.A. And looking at the available funds, we just couldn’t get there."

The change of Initial Operating Section was contained in the new Draft 2016 Business Plan [PDF] released Thursday, Feb. 18.

"It’s a major strategic pivot for the rail agency, which in its 2012 and 2014 versions of the business plan had proposed a route from Merced southward through the Valley to Bakersfield, then southeast to Palmdale and on to the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles," writes Tim Sheehan for The Fresno Bee.

Sheehan goes into the funding numbers in detail for the northern route to San Jose, writing that it "leaves a gap of about $14 billion to get from the Valley over Pacheco Pass to Gilroy and San Jose."

Construction work began over a year ago in Fresno. Last week, the authority appeared in court in Sacramento facing what may be "the most serious challenge to the entire project," write Ralph Vartabedian and Marc Vartabedian.

It is the second lawsuit filed by attorneys for Kings County and two Central Valley farmers that charges that the project "violates state law because it is not financially viable, will operate slower than promised and has compromised its design by using existing shared tracks in the Bay Area." [Outcome of first lawsuit.]

No word on when Judge Michael Kenny will deliver his ruling, but reporters speculated it will take at least a few weeks. "No matter how Kenny eventually rules, it’s a near certainty that whichever side loses will appeal the decision to the state’s court of appeal," writes Sheehan.

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Published on Thursday, February 18, 2016 in Los Angeles Times
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