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Report: High-speed rail to launch in Silicon Valley

California High Speed Rail Authority's new plan calls for connecting region to Central Valley in first phase

California's high-speed rail system would make its debut in the Bay Area, with bullet trains whisking passengers between San Francisco and Bakersfield by as early as 2025, under a business plan that the California High-Speed Rail Authority released Thursday.

The proposal to start the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles rail system in the northern half of the route is an abrupt, though not wholly unexpected, change of direction for a project that received approval from California voters in 2008 but that has since been saddled with cost-overruns, lawsuits and political opposition in the Peninsula and beyond.

Last fall, the California High-Speed Rail Authority made a surprising announcement that it was launching an environmental analysis on the San Francisco-to-San Jose segment, a decision that perplexed local officials and rail watchdogs. Up to that point, the rail authority had indicated that the first usable segment would be constructed in the Central Valley and that the line would only later be expanded to San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The new business plan also includes a lower cost estimate for the project than the 2014 plan. The price tag, pegged at $67.6 billion two years ago, now stands at $64.2 billion. The business plan states that the rail authority achieved this decrease by "factoring in lessons learned from our first construction bids, design refinements suggested in those proposals and other reviews, advancing more detailed engineering and design work and incorporating contractors' viewpoints."

The rail authority is proposing to invest $2.1 billion from these savings in transportation improvements between Los Angeles and Anaheim. Planned improvements include grade separation of the railroad tracks, improved regional rail services and new tracks between Los Angeles and Anaheim, which would support high-speed rail in the future, according to the business plan.

The most dramatic change announced in the plan, however, isn't the shifting price tag but the rail authority's pivot toward Silicon Valley and San Francisco. The decision to launch the system in this region was driven by the agency's goal of "getting a high-speed passenger line into operation as quickly as possible," the plan states.

The agency's analysis – which considered funding sources, travel-speed requirements and revenue projections – indicated that the segment that could be built most quickly (and turned into a revenue generator) would be between Silicon Valley and the Central Valley, with the southern tip ending just north of Bakersfield.

This portion, the business plan notes, can be built with funding from Proposition 1A bonds (the 2008 bond measure that included $9.95 billion for high-speed rail and related transit improvements), along with federal funds and proceeds from the state's cap-and-trade program.

Private investment, which has not materialized to date, is expected to play a central role in the ultimate build-out for the high-speed-rail project, which eventually would stretch to Sacramento and to San Diego.

But according to the business plan, the rail authority is not banking on private funds for the first segment. Once the passenger service is running between the Bay Area and Central Valley, it will generate revenues that could then "unlock private dollars to continue sequencing the rest of the system," the plan predicts.

Though the focus of the first phase is to link Silicon Valley and Central Valley, the plan makes a case for extending the first operating line a bit further, so that it stretches between San Francisco and Bakersfield.

This extended line, the plan states, "would significantly enhance ridership and revenues and therefore attract higher value private sector concession bids based on future discounted cash flows."

The rail authority plans to build the line by 2024 and launch the passenger service in 2025. The new document calls the implications of connecting the two Valleys "tremendous." Completing the link "will change how people travel, work, live and play."

"Today it takes about three hours to drive from Fresno to the Bay Area; flights are available but often at exorbitant prices," the business plan states. "With this new connection, a trip from Fresno to San Jose will take about an hour on high-speed rail, which is a game changer both for the people and the economy of the Central Valley and for Silicon Valley as well.

"New job markets will be opened up for people living in the Central Valley, and creating a high-speed connection to the Central Valley would help address the affordable housing crisis in the Bay Area," the plan states.

"New linkages will be created between higher education institutions in the Central Valley and high-tech and other cutting-edge industries in the Silicon Valley. And some high-tech companies might choose to locate certain corporate functions in the Central Valley, where commercial real estate is less expensive, generating new job opportunities in this region."

The business plan estimates that if the system is built between San Francisco and Bakersfield, it would attract 5.1 million riders in 2025, its first year of operation. Ridership would then grow to 7.1 million in 2026 and to 9 million in 2027.

The system still faces significant hurdles, including a pending lawsuit from Central Valley landowners (which was subject to court hearings earlier this month), uncertainty over future funding sources beyond the first segment, and political opposition. While Palo Alto officials aren't as adamantly opposed to the high-speed rail line as they were in 2011, when the City Council unanimously adopted a resolution calling for the project's termination, council members continue to be concerned about the impacts of the new rail system on local traffic, particularly around rail crossings.

Today, the Palo Alto council's top priority is achieving grade separation of the Caltrain tracks, which would mean either submerging the tracks under the crossing streets or vice versa. A coalition of Peninsula cities that includes Palo Alto, Mountain View and Cupertino recently endorsed a funding plan that would allocate $900 million for grade separations.

Yet the business plan suggests that grade separation is not part of the plan for the Peninsula, at least in the near term. In its "core values" section, the business plan commits the rail authority to grade separation in the "dedicated high-speed-rail right of way," where there will be no at-grade crossings.

For the "blended corridors" (i.e., the Peninsula, where high-speed rail will use the Caltrain tracks), the plan proposes quad gates and intrusion-detection devices to keep people from driving onto the tracks.

The debate over grade separation looms as a potential point of contention between the rail authority and local communities.

Yet for all the unanswered questions, the business plan suggests that after shifting its attention to the Central Valley about four years ago, the project has picked up significant momentum. Construction is now underway in Fresno, where contractors this month began drilling and concrete operations at a 1.5-mile-long trench that will ultimately carry the bullet trains under state Route 180. The business plan emphasizes that in the last two years, "circumstances have changed."

"Most significantly, for the first time, there is a combination of existing funding sources that allow us to deliver high-speed service and do so within the next 10 years," the plan states.

"It is our statutory and fiduciary responsibility to utilize available funding in the most efficient and productive manner and focus those resources on a segment that can be built within the limits of available funding. To do otherwise would mean that the State would be left with a segment that would not be complete, could not meet the statutory requirements, and/or that would not generate private-sector participation."

The new business plan also reaffirms the agency's commitment to the blended system between San Francisco and San Jose, a design that was initially proposed in 2011 by U.S. Rep Anna Eshoo, state Assemblyman Rich Gordon and former state senator Joe Simitian.

The approach, which allows Caltrain and high-speed rail to share two tracks, "minimizes impacts on surrounding communities, reduces project cost, improves safety and expedites implementation," the business plan states.

Just south of the blended segment, the rail authority plans to spend about $20.7 billion to build a rail line between San Jose and just north of Bakersfield. The largest components from this total include $7.8 billion for track structures and track; $5.3 billion for site work, right-of-way purchases and land; and $3.2 billion for professional services, according to the plan.

The rail authority has already identified the $1 billion in funding it would need to complete the environmental clearance for the first segment: a combination of state bonds from Proposition 1A, federal grants and cap-and-trade funds.

But funding the construction could prove trickier. According to the business plan, the rail authority is banking on about $3.165 billion in federal grants for Silicon Valley-to-Central Valley segment, a projection based on an traditional assumption that major transportation projects typically can rely on the federal government as a funding partner. (The fact that Republicans currently hold majorities in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate and that they tend to oppose the rail project doesn't dim the rail authority's optimism).

"Although there is always competition for federal funding, we are prepared to make the case that it is warranted because it would leverage a significant increase in ridership, connectivity between major urban centers, revenues and the value of private sector concession agreements," the business plan states.

The rail authority would also use $4.16 billion from Proposition 1A; $5.3 billion in cap-and-trade funds the agency plans to receive between now and 2024; and $5.2 billion in financing proceeds from cap-and-trade funds that would be collected between 2025 and 2050.

Rail authority CEO Jeff Morales said in a statement Thursday that the business plan presents "a clear path forward within available funding to deliver the system as approved by California voters in 2008."

"By constructing the line between the Silicon Valley and the Central Valley, while also making significant investments in southern California's passenger rail systems, high-speed rail service will become a reality in this state in the next 10 years at a lower cost than previously estimated," Morales said.

Comments

24 people like this
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 19, 2016 at 12:21 pm

Finally - build it! Join the rest of the wold with modern high-sped transportation infrastructure.

Ignore the NIMBYs and flat-earthers.


23 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 19, 2016 at 1:00 pm

Really -- these people think that this could be built in 9 years. It took more than 20 years before a tunnel was build for Devil's Slide

I'm sorry, but did I miss the mass of people traveling between SF and Bakersfield. Really -- 5.1 million riders in 2025 going to 9 million just 2 years after that. Where do these projections come from?

Boondoggle!


20 people like this
Posted by Train Fan
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 20, 2016 at 10:06 am

> Ignore the NIMBYs and flat-earthers.

What he really means is: "Ignore the taxpayers, voters and EVERYTHING in Prop 1a except the bond money, which the CAHSR Authority will spend any way they please, regardless of the law."

There, fixed.


14 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 20, 2016 at 6:25 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

The entire thing is a payoff to organized labor. These projects require "prevailing wage" which is determined by the going union labor rates. We could get it done cheaper but.....it wouldn't be union labor. This thing will NEVER deliver what was promised. It needs to be killed. NOW, before we waste anymore taxpayer money. Take some of the money that is being pi**ed away on this and spend it on repairing our EXISTING infrastructure before it's too late.


2 people like this
Posted by James
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 21, 2016 at 11:58 am

The technology is outdated. Self-driving cars and the Hyperloop will make high-speed rail irrelevant. Menlo Voter is right. The money would be better spent to repair the infrastructure and also fix the water supply. Do we really need Jerry Brown's vanity project?


Like this comment
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 21, 2016 at 2:54 pm

Hyperloop!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yah, I hear ALL those hyperloops in Europe and China have made trains plans and automobiles OBSOLETE!!!!

Seriously, concern trolling about how you don't mind infrastructure investment and taxes is one thing (we know you're not) but going full fantasy with hyperloop is a dead giveaway.

I find it amusing how conservatives suddenly love Musk!!


8 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 21, 2016 at 5:08 pm

Boondoggle --

noun:

1. work or activity that is wasteful or pointless but gives the appearance of having value.

verb:

2. waste money or time on unnecessary or questionable projects.


4 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 21, 2016 at 5:36 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Johnny:

I'm not a conservative and I'm not the one that posted about hyper loops.

The fact is our CURRENT infrastructure is crumbling and needs repair. All the medium speed rail project does is draw money away from fixing current infrastructure. Infrastructure, that even IF, MSR(I refuse to call it "high" speed rail since it never will be. It will be medium speed rail at best.) was in place would still need to be repaired.

We need to not be throwing money away on Brown's vanity/organized labor payoff project and fix what we have.

Bob:

you're quite right, MSR is a boondoggle.


6 people like this
Posted by Michael Stogner
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2016 at 8:13 am

I'm with Menlo Voter and Bob on this.

Kill HSR and Kill it now. Focus on Local Infrastructure repair which should have done years ago. That might be part of the plan make our roads so miserable and expensive (tire repair and well alignment) to drive on that we start thing about Public Transportation.

Bakersfield solves the affordable housing issue for the big employers.


Like this comment
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2016 at 11:39 am

@Menlo Voter: How can it not be HSR if its 200+ mph revenue service cruising speed is faster than that of all other HSR systems in the world today?


6 people like this
Posted by Peter
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2016 at 12:49 pm

Menlo Voter - you say you're not a conservative but you attack labor unions and a project that will help end our destructive addiction to cars.

We've run out of room for cars here. It's time we join the rest of the world and invest in public transit and dense walkable neighborhoods. The ridiculous 20th century dream of auto-centric suburbs has proven to be a disaster. Time to give it up.


4 people like this
Posted by Apple
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 22, 2016 at 1:06 pm

@Peter

If you want to displace cars, then the HSR money should be used to fund better local public transportation options.

A good chunk of $100B could be used to extend BART, build a second transbay tube, increase the frequency of bus service, extend VTA light rail, etc. Those solutions would truly displace cars. People need cars most for local travel convenience, not long distance travel convenience.

HSR will NOT displace short distance car trips. It will displace air transport primarily. Today, if people want to geobetween SF and LA quickly, they take a plane. People who drive today don't need the time savings today. Why would they need it when HSR is built unless it's priced below airfares?

Frankly, the biggest roadblock in creating more dense neighborhoods is not conservatives. It's NIMBYs. It's really, really hard to build any type of dense housing on the peninsula because all the NIMBYs want to preserve their sense of suburbia.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2016 at 1:50 pm

Apple,
HSR should help local transportation by contributing to the electrification of Caltrain. However, if we could take the money allocated to HSR and use it for local projects like you've suggested I would be all for it. My understanding is that that is not an option.


Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 22, 2016 at 2:15 pm

If a high-speed rail project is to be built, it should be done by the Federal Government, as was the interstate highway system, the vast majority of funding and planning for international airports in the U.S., and major shipping ports and facilities. They can best determine the corridors with the most demand.CHSR now intends to put in a spur to match up with the projected, privately funded LA to Las Vegas line; this is the only route that makes any economic sense in
California, but of course CHSR could not consider it since it involves another state.


6 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 22, 2016 at 2:21 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Peter:

supposedly the money for "MSR" is only supposed to be spent on "MSR", but the High Speed Authority has already broken the law by spending it on things not HSR. Like Caltrain electrification. By using absolutely tortured logic they say it is.


8 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 22, 2016 at 2:23 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Reality Check it's not high speed rail because it won't be able to make the SF to LA trip in the time backers of this boondoggle sold the voters. That would require grade separation up the peninsula and that isn't going to happen.


3 people like this
Posted by home
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Feb 22, 2016 at 2:23 pm

> Focus on Local Infrastructure repair which should have done years ago

Yeah, and it DIDN'T happen years ago, and probably won't just because y'all suddenly claim to support it. It's a red herring claim: "don't build this and spend it elsewhere, except I won't support that spending when the time comes."

Build it.


2 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 22, 2016 at 2:26 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Peter:

I didn't attack labor unions. I attacked the crooked politicians that they have bought and paid for. There's a reason all public works projects have to be done at "prevailing wage," and that wage just happens to be the going union scale. The public could be getting their projects done more economically if unions hadn't bought the legislature. That's not a conservative viewpoint, it's a realistic viewpoint.


5 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 22, 2016 at 2:29 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

home:

sorry but you're wrong. We've been paying for the repair and upkeep of our infrastructure for years without complaint through our gas taxes. Just one problem though, the governor and the Legislator have been siphoning off about 80% of the incoming gas taxes and putting them towards other things and our roads and bridges (and our cars) have suffered for it.

Don't build it. Stop diverting gas taxes.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2016 at 4:12 pm

This article says that $100m out the $5B raised by the gas tax is diverted to the general fund. If my math is correct that is only 2%.

Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 22, 2016 at 4:32 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

" When voters approved $20 billion in transportation bonds in 2006, those bonds were to be repaid from the general fund, but state officials decided to use the truck fees to pay them off, freeing up general fund money for other purposes." And those purposes weren't infrastructure.

I've also read differently as to the amounts diverted. If I can find it I'll link it.


Like this comment
Posted by Apple
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 22, 2016 at 4:53 pm

@Peter

Actually, it may be an option to take HSR money and spend it on other non-HSR things. It's technically illegal, but by the time the lawsuits are all resolved, the money will have been spent. There's no way to claw the money back.

If the governor provides political cover to spend money in this way, the attorney general is not going to prosecute.

You have to keep in mind legal options are very different for politically favored organizations.


Like this comment
Posted by home
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Feb 22, 2016 at 5:43 pm

"It's technically illegal, but by the time the lawsuits are all resolved, the money will have been spent."

Remind me, when you run for office, not to vote for you.


6 people like this
Posted by Train Fan
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 22, 2016 at 7:43 pm

I'm in no way a supporter of the CAHSR project (as others have mentioned, improving regional public transportation infrastructure would be a much more effective way to improve commutes and reduce the number of cars on the road, and the CAHSR Authority has rough roughshod over the requirements of Prop 1A)...but...

In fairness, Prop 1A does account for providing some funding for regional transportation projects.

From the Prop 1A Quick Reference Guide, 2008:

"Other Passenger Rail Systems. The remaining $950
million in bond funds would be available to fund capital
projects that improve other passenger rail systems in order
to enhance these systems’ capacity, or safety, or allow riders
to connect to the high-speed train system. Of the $950
million, $190 million is designated to improve the state’s
intercity rail services. The remaining $760 million would be
used for other passenger rail services including urban and
commuter rail."

(source: Web Link )


That said, Prop 1A requires those railways to provide MATCHING FUNDS. Observe:

"(f) In order to be eligible for funding under this section, an eligible recipient
under paragraph (3) of subdivision (a) shall provide matching funds in an
amount not less than the total amount allocated to the recipient under this
section".

(source: Web Link )


Sooooooooo... Where is Caltrain going to get matching funds for the funds it receives from CAHSR/Prop1A?

Also, (and this I'm less clear on), each Operating Segment is suppose to have a funding plan before construction. It's not clear to me if funding for regional transportation systems is included in that requirement, but if it is, Caltrain cannot spend any of the funds from CAHSR until CAHSR has a funding plan for the SJ->SF segment.


4 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 22, 2016 at 10:23 pm

The bonds were approved 10 years ago and where is the project today -- still being debated, lawsuits and challenges pending, officials redesigning the project, and yet the HSR released a report that in just 9 years "bullet trains [will be] whisking passengers between San Francisco and Bakersfield."

If the last 10 years are any indication of what's to come, this debate will still be occurring in 2025, and the project will be well over budget.

Who wants to make a bet? History is on my side.....Devil's Slide tunnel and Bay Bridge to name 2 recent examples.


2 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Feb 22, 2016 at 11:37 pm

Prediction: HSR will never go all the way to San Francisco in the next 20 years, if ever. Cost and the attorneys making their bones in lawsuits will see to that. BUT an electrified Caltrain will get passengers the rest of the way after transferring in San Jose.


Like this comment
Posted by Relax
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 23, 2016 at 8:00 pm

I thought this was all "Shovel Ready" after the 2008 election.
Just like the "Big Dig" in Boston. On time on budget. Check it out.
Generations are retiring on that one.


Like this comment
Posted by reality check
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 25, 2016 at 9:34 am

HSR does nothing to help reduce traffic within the bay area. It is designed to be long-haul. The highest priority for funds should be to enhance regional and local transit.
The local NIMBY's who fight the hardest against transit-oriented density are the school crowd. They fight hard against more dense local housing, which has low traffic and provides customers for local businesses every day of the week, including mornings and evenings. Instead, they should be working with the city to find ways to provide adequate space for classrooms.

Isn't it sad and ironic that environmental groups push HSR when one of its biggest impacts would be to promote growth and SPRAWL in the central valley where there are not sprawl limits.


Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of another community
on Feb 27, 2016 at 5:08 am

Absurd waste of public funds.


4 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 29, 2016 at 7:31 am

Can somebody please tell me of a state project that was completed on time and on budget?


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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