The proposed high-speed rail system could be looked at like a martini.
For some it would shaken, like the faith people had in it ever getting constructed. For others it would be stirred, like the controversy it has stirred up and down the state of California regarding the costs, necessity and benefits.
Now finally, this high-speed rail martini will be blended.
As in focusing on blending services with existing transportation infrastructure in both the North and the South rather than building a fully dedicated track system that was projected to cost $98.1 billion in the draft plan. The revised plan will now cost $68.4 billion.
“Reliance on that approach which we are confident will allow us to meet the performance standards set by the voters saves $30 billion dollars and shortens the time to complete the project by several years,” said Dan Richard, Chairman, High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA).
Today CHSRA released their revised plan for final submission to the California legislature. Richard said the plan reflected Governor Jerry Brown’s directive to ‘Build it, but make it better, faster and cheaper’.
“We have confidence in this plan and in fact we are excited by it,” said Richard.
The highlight of the plan is the construction of a fully operational 300 mile, electrified high-speed rail system from Merced to the Los Angeles basin, called the Initial Operating Section (IOS).
“Ten years from today starting here from Fresno you can get on a high speed rail train and arrive in the San Fernando Valley in one hour and 45 minutes which is half the travel time on the best day going by car,” said Richard.
This move is in stark contrast to an earlier and some say misguided concept of building a test track in the north. The “mere track” as Richard referred to it was dubbed the ‘Train to Nowhere’, recalling the Alaskan ear-marked boondoggle called the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’.
Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin spoke at the CHSRA press conference about having to bite her tongue every time she heard that derogatory phrase and how $6 billion dollars would be stranded ‘nowhere’.
“My friends if Fresno is nowhere, then I don’t want to be somewhere,” said Mayor Swearengin.
Swearengin said Fresno is the fastest growing region of California with 1 million residents. It also boasts three national parks and more lakes in Fresno County than any other part of California. However its isolation has the region suffering from 17.3 percent unemployment compared to 11.4 percent in the rest of California.
CHSRA officials say the project will generate more than 100,000 job years of employment over the next five years, the equivalent of 20,000 jobs per year and will provide substantial environmental benefits, eliminating 320 billion vehicle miles traveled over the next 40 years and 3 million tons of carbon emissions annually.
Fresno businessman and CHSRA Board Member Tom Richard enthusiastically supports the project.
“Yes. Yes. Yes. I believe in the value of 100,000 job years in the next five years here in the valley,” said Richard.
Michael Rossi, a former executive for Bank of America and GMAC Mortgage, is now the governor’s Senior Advisor for Jobs and Business Development. He says the benefits of high-speed rail will be seen in Fresno in the short term, but throughout the state in coming years.
“It will have a beneficial influence on travel patterns, inducing new travel with its result in positive economic impact. It will lead to new commercial and residential real estate development and it will allow greater and more convenient travel possibilities,” said Rossi.
Another chief feature of the plan will be the “near term benefits” of improving existing rail service in the Bay Area and Los Angeles to prepare those systems for high-speed rail service.
These improvements include converting local diesel-powered rail systems to electric power and improving safety through positive train control. The new plan also includes safety and reliability upgrades to existing Amtrak/Metrolink rail corridors between Los Angeles’ Union Station and Anaheim. All these improvements will increase the speed at which trains currently in service can travel safely.
The High-Speed Rail Authority will also work with Caltrains to immediately upgrade the San Joaquin service that connects Sacramento to Oakland and San Jose from Fresno through the ACE train service.
According to CHSRA construction of the entire 520-mile rail system will finish in 2028. Six billion dollars in funding has already been identified for the initial segment of the IOS, $3.3 billion in Federal stimulus funding and $2.7 billion in Proposition 1A bond proceeds to fund the project through 2017.
Cap and trade funds are available, as needed, upon appropriation, as a backstop against federal and local support to complete the initial operating section. No operating subsidy will be required.
The revised plan will be considered by the Authority Board of Directors at their April 12 meeting, and the Board will also consider memoranda of understanding from both Los Angeles and the Bay Area on the early investments.
A revised 2012 Business Plan is available online here.