Overdue, overbudget high-speed rail just got $3.1 billion boost — will trains ever roll?

John Woolfolk

California’s overdue, overbudget and oft-criticized high-speed rail project just got a $3.1 billion boost of federal cash toward completing what is supposed to be an early phase of the project connecting Merced, Fresno and Bakersfield in the state’s rural Central Valley.

President Biden touted the project Friday, and former Gov. Jerry Brown joined former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to celebrate the new federal funding.

But the project is nowhere close to being done. Here’s the latest on where it stands and whether we will ever see speedy trains traversing the Central Valley.

Q: What’s the situation with high-speed rail funding?

A: On Tuesday, officials announced the California High Speed Rail Authority will receive $3.1 billion in federal funding to support construction of a 220-mph, two-track electrified high-speed passenger rail line connecting the cities of Merced, Fresno and Bakersfield. Last year’s infrastructure bill provided the funding that will pay for a station in Fresno, construction of additional track, six electric trains for testing and right-of-way acquisition.

Q: So does that give the Merced-to-Bakersfield piece of the project the money it needs for completion?

A: No. The new federal funding is less than one tenth of the current total projected cost. Initially estimated around $26 billion, costs for the 171-mile Merced to Bakersfield segment now are estimated as high as $35.3 billion, of which about $25 billion had been secured. The $3.1 billion goes toward $8 billion in additional federal funding the California High Speed Rail Authority has been seeking for the project.

Q: When will the trains roll, and will this funding speed that up?

A: The current timeline is for train service by 2033. Asked whether the new federal funding will speed up the project, California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Brian Kelly said Friday that “candidly, it keeps us on schedule.”

Q: Haven’t we been at this for quite a while now?

A: Indeed, California officials have been talking about high speed rail since the 1980s, inspired by similar transit systems in Asia and Europe. California’s high speed rail project got underway in 2008 when voters approved a nearly $10 billion bond measure to help fund construction of an electric bullet train that by 2020 was supposed to speed riders between San Francisco and Los Angeles in under three hours. The bond funding was expected to cover a fraction of the projected cost of $45 billion at the time.

But with repeated cost overruns and delays, no segment has been completed. Costs to run the train from L.A. to San Francisco have swelled to more than $100 billion, and support has eroded with many arguing the money would be better spent on local and regional projects.

Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2019 said “there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A. I wish there were. However, we do have the capacity to complete a high-speed rail link between Merced and Bakersfield.” That has been the focus since.

Q: How much has been spent on high speed rail so far?

A: Kelly earlier this year said about $9.8 billion has been spent on the project already. Committed funding includes the 2008 bond fund, about $750 million to $1 billion a year from the state’s Cap-and-Trade program that provides incentives for reducing industrial emission of gases blamed for warming the climate, and $3.5 billion in federal funding from the Obama-era American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and transportation appropriations.

Q: What’s caused the holdup?

A: Proposed routes through the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles region ran into local opposition over the location of high-speed surface or elevated rail lines through neighborhoods. And building below ground is far more expensive. Above-ground routes are easier to build along major highways in the Central Valley, but the state has faced problems obtaining some of the land. Delays have driven up material and labor costs due to inflation. And questions about the project’s viability have driven calls to reallocate the funding to other needs.

John Woolfolk www.mercurynews.com Business,California News,California Politics,Economy,Latest Headlines,News,Politics,Transportation,Editors’ Picks,Gavin Newsom,High Speed Rail,Nancy Pelosi,PM Report,Regional

2023-12-08 23:35:03 , Santa Cruz County – The Mercury News

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