Future Mobility

California High-Speed Rail Update

It’s been a bumpy ride for the California High-Speed Rail. Proposed to connect the mega-regions of California, the goal is to create a sustainable solution for a state with an immense congestion problem. According to the rail authority, $18.7 billion is lost in fuel from the state’s economy each year. By 2029, the proposed bullet train would run from San Francisco to Los Angeles at speeds capable of over 200 miles per hour, eventually extending to Sacramento and San Diego. But with a domino of financial setbacks, supporters worry they’ll be stuck on roads longer than expected.

When the rail authority approached federal officials in July of 2016—they hoped to get the answer to the project’s biggest problem, funding. California has been at a loss as to where to find the $64 billion it would cost to set the rail into motion. Authorities suggested a federal loan of up to $15 billion to the Obama administration. This particular funding would be allocated to build the regions of San Jose to Shafter. According to meeting notes, in the eyes of private investors, the project would seem more “credit-worthy” with this assistance. However, federal officials shut the suggestion down. Press Secretary for the Transportation Department, Clark Pettig, stated, “At this time, California has not submitted a financing request.”

But according to the rail authority fact sheet, construction of the high-speed rail system in the Central Valley has made immense progress with the construction of more than 119 miles of development. The third construction contract was also executed in February 2016, bringing the total investment to $3 billion. Visible work in Madera and Fresno Counties are being built out to support passenger service that will connect the Central Valley to Silicon Valley by 2025. But to keep the project moving forward, the authority needs to unlock bond funding.

Despite California residents voting on behalf of a $9 billion in bond in 2008, the system would have to operate without a subsidy. The original bond also stated that the rail authority was required to classify sources of funding that would be used to build the rail before construction begins. In other words, they needed to prove they could operate with passengers without the need for any operating subsidies.

Recently, with the help of the Legislature, the rail authorities believe they found an answer to their funding issues though. A bill. Authored by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin (D-South San Francisco), AB 1889 speaks to the original mention of the segment being “suitable and ready” for high-speed rail. If the Mullin bill is successful, the California High-Speed Rail will be free to use bond funds without any plans to carry future passengers. But a Bay Area attorney, Stuart Flashman, has already filed a suit against the new funding plan. He represents anti-rail groups who believe it is unconstitutional to alter a voter-approved proposition. The future of the California High-Speed Rail will rely on establishing a steady stream of funding and winning any and all impending suits.

The California High-Speed Rail may be the first of its size, but it’s not the only rail that’s up for debate. In Texas, Brazos lawmakers in Austin are fighting against a high-speed rail system that is to be built between Houston and Dallas. Boston, however; may have better luck with the Massachusetts Senate voting for an amendment to study the possibility of a rail between Boston and Springfield in May of 2016. But with a change in presidential administrations—several high-speed rail hopefuls are left waiting to see if President Trump will support existing and future plans.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.