The Need for Speed
Connecting California by High-Speed Rail
Construction has begun on the nation’s first high-speed rail system, which, when fully completed, hopes to transform the lives of those who live and work in California, shuttling passengers at speeds over 200-mph, saving time, reducing pollution, and increasing economic opportunity.
By Jon Tapping and Scott Jarvis
On Jan. 6, 2015, Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., and almost 1,000 supporters from across California, gathered in Fresno for the official ground-breaking for the nation’s first high-speed rail system.
This celebration represented the culmination of years of work from leaders in the Golden State and across the nation—and it all started with the passage of Proposition 1A by California voters in 2008. That vote allocated more than $9 billion in bonds and led the way for a separate infusion from of $3.3 billion through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Because the fully built high-speed rail program will total over 800-mi with 24 stations, construction of the program has been broken into different stages.
Work is currently underway on the Initial Operating Section with service between Merced and Burbank anticipated to begin in 2022. Subsequent extensions will result in full Phase I services that will run 520-mi and provide non-stop, one-seat ride service from San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal to Union Station in Los Angeles, then continue south to the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center. Future extensions to Sacramento, and Los Angeles to San Diego will complete the system.
Existing urban, commuter and intercity local and regional rail systems also are getting high-speed rail money to modernize. Upgrades include acquiring new trainsets, installing communication and safety systems, building new platforms and adding track to smooth future connections with high-speed rail.
In Northern California, Caltrain will receive $705 million to electrify its entire corridor. The system will replace diesel trains with electric trains that run faster and reduce air pollution. When high-speed rail service begins it will use the electrified corridor.
BUILDING A BETTER OPTION
As most Californians know, the state simply cannot continue to add more freeways and runways to alleviate travel issues. The state’s love affair with cars over the last half century has resulted in six of the most congested areas in the country. Anyone who flies from San Francisco to Los Angeles has dealt with crowds of travelers. San Francisco to Los Angeles is the busiest short-haul market in the country, with one of every four flights delayed.
In addition to clogging roads and skies, all of those cars and planes emit tons of pollution, which has led to communities with some of the worst air quality in the country.
High-speed rail will provide an appealing alternative, while at the same time, enabling the state to reduce pollution—something existing high-speed rail systems in Europe have done effectively. A decade after the Alta Velocidad Espanola opened in Spain in 1992, the share of trips taken by plane dropped from 40 percent to 13 percent while rail trips increased from 16 percent to 51 percent. The French Train à Grande Vitesse in 1981, its first year of operation, had 1.26 million passengers. By 2010, the system carried 160 million passengers.
High-speed rail also will help California reduce its dependence on fossil fuel. The system will be powered entirely with clean, electric energy. The California High-Speed Rail Authority has committed to using 100 percent renewable sources such as wind, solar and hydroelectric power. Projections show high-speed rail will save 1.7–million-barrels of oil every year starting in 2030.
High-speed rail will accelerate smart planning surrounding stations in major urban areas. The Authority has identified $4.5 million in federal funds for Transit Oriented Development around these stations, which will help finance preliminary station designs, site financing, development plans, economic analysis and other efforts to attract private investment.
CREATING ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITIES
Bringing high-speed rail to the Central Valley is starting to pay dividends for a region still struggling to rebound from the recent economic downturn. The Authority is creating jobs through our partnerships with local organizations and our Community Benefits Agreement that provides a strategy for training and hiring workers dealing with employment barriers such as homelessness, chronic unemployment, emancipation from foster care, lack of a high school diploma, or having a criminal record, among other challenges. High-speed rail is expected to provide 20,000 jobs annually for five years in the Central Valley and 66,000 jobs annually over 15 years statewide. After the system is operational, at least 1,500 workers will have full-time operations jobs on the Initial Operating Section. When Phase I is finished, 3,400 people will gain permanent jobs.
Small businesses are playing a key role in supporting the high-speed rail program as well. Currently, about 190 certified small businesses have landed contracts with the program: 28 are owned by disabled veterans and 47 are disadvantaged businesses. These businesses are providing a variety of work from construction to surveying to geotechnical investigations. The Authority has an aggressive small business target that aims to secure 30 percent small business participation on the project through small business certification workshops, partnerships with local stakeholders and other outreach activities and networking.
MANAGING THE PROGRAM
Building what will be the largest infrastructure project in the nation presents challenges. The Authority has developed and continues to refine a rigorous Risk Management Plan to assist in determining the expected outcomes for planning and technical issues, project delivery, funding and financing. In an effort to alleviate some identified risks, the Authority is hiring additional staff and contractors—although key program decisions remain in the hands of the state and the public interest. We are also building and maintaining relations with other agencies including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and California Fish and Wildlife Service.
Whenever it can, the Authority will reduce the number of alignment options that undergo environmental review and accelerate review periods. We are working with landowners to get early access to properties needed for right of way. Timing for buying certain parcels also is prioritized, so that the land becomes available when construction contractors need it.
Building high-speed rail requires third-party agreements for relocating fiber-optic cables and other major utilities such as phone, water, gas and electricity. The companies that do the work operate under their own rules and scheduling. Moving utilities may cost more than anticipated and require the purchase of additional land. Before the Authority gets contract bids from design-build teams, we keep costs in check by working closely with utility firms and finalizing utility agreements.
Funding and financing is another important aspect of the program. The Authority currently has $12 billion in committed funding from federal and state sources—including $3.3 billion in federal stimulus money and $4.7 billion of $9 billion from California’s Proposition 1A. Another $650 million in Cap-and-Trade auction proceeds will come in from 2014 to 2016 and after that high-speed rail will get 25 percent of the annual auction.
The Authority also continues to work with federal, state and local sources for funding opportunities and has signed cooperative agreements with nine countries that have high-speed rail systems in order to share and discuss challenges and best practices both for the construction phase and system operation. When the time is right, private investment will play a significant role in program delivery as well.
Rendering of a future high-speed rail station in San Jose, Calif. When completed, the California High-Speed Rail System will total over 800-mi with 24 stations. IMAGES COURTESY CALIFORNIA HIGH-SPEED RAIL AUTHORITY
TAKING THE NEXT STEPS
In August 2013, The Authority executed the first design-build contract for Construction Package 1, which runs 29-mi from Madera to Fresno, and where work is currently underway. In April 2014, three teams bid on Construction Package 2-3, which stretches 65-mi from Fresno to the Kern County/Tulare County line. We are negotiating the contract with the prime contractor that won the bid, with an anticipated award later this spring.
A Request for Qualifications for Construction Package 4 also hit the street in late 2014. Teams must submit statements of qualifications by the spring, with the Request for Proposal anticipated to be released shortly after and an eventual contract awarded in early 2016. Construction Package 5 will involve putting trackwork (rail) over 130-mi from Madera to Bakersfield to help lay the foundation for a test track and the eventual backbone of the system.
When the first 130-mi of high-speed rail from Madera to Bakersfield is completed in 2018, the project heads south. We will restore passenger train service over the Tehachapi Mountains for train travelers, who have been bussed from Bakersfield to the Los Angeles Basin since 1971.
We are accelerating the environmental and route-selection process in three Southern California sections: Palmdale to Burbank; Burbank to Los Angeles; and Los Angeles to Anaheim. High-speed rail for California is a good thing, economically and environmentally. Heavy construction is underway in the Central Valley. The momentum is exciting. Our planning is paying off and it won’t be long before travelers can get a ticket to ride the nation’s first high-speed rail system.