California’s high-speed train program is a long-fought victory in the Golden State. Years in the making, it was won at the ballot box on Nov. 4, 2008.
So let’s try to get a sense of why it would not have made much sense to begin construction in either the Los Angeles region or the San Francisco Bay Area or both. For starters, Prop. 1A stipulated that $9 billion of $9.95 billion total was to be applied to actual in-state high-speed rail project construction work. The remaining $950 million, meanwhile, was designated for ancillary, complementary project work, like in improving transit systems that would directly connect with the high-speed train system itself at stations, their serving in the capacity of “feeders” as a way to help boost HSR ridership volumes overall. This was all detailed beforehand prior to voters going to polls to cast their ballots.
The federal high-speed-rail stimulus, created during the Obama presidency, as it turned out, provided for matching funds to be contributed to the project. The cash infusion amounted to $2.55 billion and would not ever have materialized had construction begun anywhere other than in the San Joaquin Valley. There was $8 billion available in all.
Okay, so, by not electing to complete the so-called “bookends” projects of the vast California bullet-train line first, did that turn out to be a mistake? Some actually have gone so far as to say it was.
So here it is almost a decade-and-a-half later and I have a renewed interest in these sorts of issues. As such, the question becomes: should California’s HSR “bookends” work be completed first?
What I believe is key here is to take into consideration what is taking place on high-speed rail’s core section – the 171-mile-long Bakersfield-Merced interim initial operating segment. I mean, we’re looking at an opening date to paying patronage of 2030 at the earliest, that segment alone priced at an estimated $25 billion. That figure also apparently includes in it the cost of construction of the Heavy Maintenance Facility (HMF) in the San Joaquin Valley, and that, unto itself, could mean upwards of 1,500 permanent salaried positions. That alone could turn out to be a tremendous capital investment-opportunity generator and as well prove to be a boon to local and regional economies.
Next, any investment or work aimed at relieving roadway and/or airway congestion and making motor vehicle and/or aviation travel more fluid and less encumbered and helping to improve air quality, regardless of where it occurs (i.e., the Bay Area and coastal southland regions – otherwise known as the “bookends” – or in the Central Valley) is both warranted and welcomed.
The only question now though is where the investment/work will go the farthest or do the greatest amount of good or perhaps even both.
I see the Valley as being the best possible candidate if for no other reason than the major HSR work being performed has already gotten – and is well – underway in this region.
But, it isn’t just that. Building in the state’s middle interior first means that once the segment of Valley HSR is completed, a core system will be available for use. Moreover, a true high-speed-train-testing platform will be available to test system/train mettle. With such, these trains can be thoroughly put through their paces. And having a core system means that it can always be added on to.
Valley-based related building is either already completed or being carried out at the better than 30 construction sites with the 10,000 laborers in the Valley doing the work and making steady progress. Moreover, construction-package sections 1-4 and a number of planned corridor segments located outside the central interior region have received environmental clearances. Construction Package 4 in the south Valley is expected to be completed later this year.
Once the Valley high-speed rail service is made available to the public for use, I would imagine that not that long thereafter, construction work moving toward the project’s extremities will commence.
Meanwhile, work in the Bay Area between San Francisco and Gilroy is progressing. A new electric passenger-train service is expected to be fully operational by fall 2024.
There, that should settle it.
Last updated on Sept. 20, 2023 at 6:50 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time.
⁃ Alan Kandel
Corresponding, connected home-page-featured image: California High-Speed Rail Authority via Wikimedia Commons