New high-speed rail plan drops price tag
California's proposed high-speed rail system would extend from the Central Valley to the Los Angeles Basin within the next decade and would cost $30 billion less than previous estimates indicated under a new business plan that the agency charged with building the system released April 2.
The revised plan, which the California High-Speed Rail Authority's board of directors expects to discuss and approve on April 12, departs in many key ways from the draft the agency released in November.
The new plan commits to building the system through a "blended" design under which high-speed rail and Caltrain would share two tracks on the Peninsula. It also calls for early investment in the northern and southern segments (known as the "bookends") of the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles line, including the long-awaited electrification of Caltrain on the Peninsula.
The revised plan also specifies for the first time that the first usable segment of the rail line would be a 300-mile segment from Central Valley south to the San Fernando Valley. This stretch, the plan states, "will be transformational in creating a passenger rail nexus between one of the fastest growing regions in the state with the state's largest population center."
This "initial operating section" would extend from Merced through Bakersfield and Palmdale to the San Fernando Valley, according to the business plan. The prior plan committed only to an "initial construction segment" — a set of train-less test tracks between north of Bakersfield and south of Merced (this segment was characterized by many critics as a "train to nowhere").
At a press conference in Fresno Monday morning, the rail authority's board Chair Dan Richard emphasized the significance difference between the agency's previous proposal for the system's initial phase and the one laid out in the new business plan.
"Beginning next year, we will begin construction here in the Valley not of a mere track but a fully operational 300-mile electrified operating segment that will connect the valley to the Los Angeles Basin," Richard said.
"This will bring high-speed rail not only to California — it will bring high-speed rail to America," he said.
The business plan also offers a firmer commitment from the rail authority to improve Caltrain and to rely on existing tracks on the Peninsula.
This marks a dramatic departure from the rail authority's initial vision for the system — a four-track system along the Peninsula with high-speed rail on the inside tracks and Caltrain on the outside. The four-track design was widely panned, with many Peninsula residents and city officials expressed concerns about the seizure of property and the visual barriers a four-track system would necessitate.