Review of the California High Speed Rail Business Plan of November 2011 - Phasing and Connections to Other Lines
In November 2011 the California High Speed Rail project provided to the public an updated business plan. The plan provided a description of the phasing of the plan, which will be described here. For details about the route itself and other background information, please refer to my previous article on California High Speed Rail . For details about the cost of the plan, see here. For details about the ridership of the plan, see here . For an October update of all the American high speed rail corridors under development, please see here .
The California High Speed Rail project is going to be constructed in phases. The five steps are as follows:
- Initial construction segment will extend from Fresno to Bakersfield. Construction is supposed to start in 2012.
- Either extend the initial construction segment north from Fresno to San Jose and Merced or south from Bakersfield to Sylmar.
- Complete the extension that was not done in step 2.
- Will complete a one seat ride from San Francisco through Los Angeles to Anaheim.
- Will extend the high speed rail corridors to Sacramento and San Diego. This step will complete the planned 800 mile system.
The phasing is designed to first complete segments of the project that are likely to carry the most long-distance passengers (who will obviously benefit the most from high speed rail) and only later to fill in segments of the system that will both carry more shorter-distance commuters and also already have somewhat extensive commuter rail networks.
Consider the possibility that even the $98 billion estimated cost for completion is not sufficient and the rail authority does not have enough funds to complete the project. If they were to have enough funds to complete steps 1 through 3 (estimated to cost $48 billion, or about half of the total), then high speed rail would be able to utilize high speed rail tracks from San Jose to Sylmar, and then proceed along regular track (at regular speeds) to San Francisco and Los Angeles / Anaheim. Passengers would enjoy the majority of high speed rail amenities at half the cost. In addition to the cost savings, completion of Steps 1 through 3 only would also avoid a lot of political problems arising from the usage of eminent domain and construction of elevated rail lines in populated and sometimes wealthy residential areas We have already seen some of these political problems already, with cities along the San Francisco Peninsula filing suit against the proposed line.
The danger of course is complaints coming from Sacramento and San Diego, two large regions, although of course as not as large as the Bay Area and Los Angeles, that are expected to have a large population increase in the next thirty years. Those regions would certainly argue that as state taxpayers who are repaying bonds sold for the project that they should be able to experience a benefit from the project. Their argument would certainly be a valid one, but if there is no money to finish Steps 4 and 5 it is unclear how it could be resolved. On a side note, isn't it odd that the California High Speed rail project does not include an upgrade of the Capitol Corridor from Oakland to Sacramento to high speed rail, considering that the corridor has the highest rail ridership in the state?
Connections to Other Lines
One aspect of the high speed rail project that is not discussed is how the high speed rail project will interface with other proposed and potential high speed rail lines. Of course, we would not expect the project to have any detailed coordination plans, since no other line in the area has progressed to the point where construction seems possible, but a discussion of how such coordination may be attempted should the opportunity arise would have been welcome.
The only other high speed rail line that could potentially connect with the California line is a high speed rail line from Southern California to Las Vegas. At least two proposals have surfaced in recent years, with one, the Desert Express , the furthest along. The Desert Express is planned to initially operate from Victorville, CA to Las Vegas, with a further extension in the future to Palmdale. If the Desert Express were somehow to be built, then it is theoretically possible that in exchange for track rights the Desert Express could help to pay for the construction of the high speed rail line from Palmdale to Los Angeles, and also for an extension of the high speed rail line from Riverside to Victorville. Such a connection would allow for a one-seat ride from Los Angeles and San Diego to Las Vegas.
Although funding may never be secured for the full $98 billion cost of the entire high speed rail system (as of this writing (December 1, 2011) the high speed rail project did not have enough money to complete anything but the short initial operating segment), the phased nature of the line means that even if the full project were not built Californians would still see their mobility improved from high speed rail. And of course, the great thing about track is that it is easy to lay more when you have additional funding, so even if the initial build-out did not happen on schedule it could still happen eventually.