Updated business plan released for California high-speed rail project

A rendering of the project near Corcoran, Calif.

A rendering of the project near Corcoran, Calif.

California High-Speed Rail Authority

The California High-Speed Rail Authority issued its Revised Draft 2020 Business Plan on Feb. 9 for public review and comment. The authority says the plan presents a path forward for completing construction in the Central Valley and highlights continued progress to get high-speed trains running in California as soon as possible, and despite the notable impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At a time when job growth is needed most, California high-speed rail is putting thousands to work in good paying labor jobs in the Central Valley and making tremendous progress on construction of the nation’s first high-speed rail,” said California Gov. Gavin Newsom. “Our goal is to get fast, electrified trains up and running in the Central Valley as soon as possible while leveraging other sources of funding to advance important, clean rail and transit work statewide. We’re confident that our federal partners in the Biden Administration share our vision for electrified rail – we look forward to working with them to get it done.”

The plan affirms the policy recommendation to the authority’s Board of Directors to develop a clean, electrified Merced-Fresno-Bakersfield high-speed rail interim service line in California’s Central Valley, while continuing to advance environmental reviews and current investments in local and regional infrastructure projects in Northern and Southern California.

Like other transit systems around the state, the authority has and still is experiencing dynamic and unpredictable conditions due to COVID-19 that affect every aspect of daily work. The plan lays out these challenges in detail and how the authority has overcome and is working to mitigate for ongoing impacts to move the program forward.

The revised plan outlines the following priorities:

  • Complete the 119-mile Central Valley construction segment and lay track pursuant to the federal funding grant agreements with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA);
  • Expand the 119-mile Central Valley segment to 171 miles of operable electrified high-speed rail connecting Merced-Fresno-Bakersfield, three of the fastest growing areas in California;
  • Commence testing of electrified high-speed trains by 2026-2027 and put those trains in service by the end of the decade;
  • Environmentally clear all segments of the Phase 1 system between San Francisco and Los Angeles/Anaheim;
  • Advance construction on the “bookend” projects that have committed funding in Los Angeles and the Bay Area—projects valued at more than $3 billion; and
  • Pursue additional funding opportunities to prospectively “close the gaps” and expand electrified high-speed rail service to the Bay Area and Los Angeles/Anaheim as soon as possible.

The administration has communicated with the federal government on the need for flexibility on the ARRA grant agreement timelines and emphasized the importance of settling existing litigation to restore nearly $1 billion in grant funding de-obligated by the Trump Administration in 2019.

“America has a chance to lead the world once more through innovation in infrastructure—connecting our communities, creating good jobs, addressing climate change and ensuring equity,” said Acting Federal Railroad Administrator Amit Bose. “Passenger rail development, including world-class high-speed rail, can and must be a part of our strategy to accomplish these goals. As in many other arenas, California has taken the lead nationally to advance high-speed rail, starting an economically transformative project in the Central Valley and assuming the challenges that come with that leadership. The U.S. Department of Transportation looks forward to partnering with California as it leads the way to build back better.”

“Historically, during times of economic uncertainty, it’s labor jobs and investment in transportation that spur economic growth. We’re fortunate to be in a position where we’re creating a clean and fast mobility option in California and putting California men and women to work to get it done,” said California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Brian Kelly. “Through hard work, we’ve seen significant progress over the past two years, and we intend to keep that going.”

High-speed rail averages 1,100 construction workers a day at 35 construction sites in the Central Valley. Nearly 77 percent of these workers come from eight counties in the Central Valley, with workers from 43 different California counties participating overall. To date, 55 percent of total high-speed rail program expenditures occurred in disadvantaged communities throughout California. The final 2020 Business Plan was scheduled to be issued to the California Legislature last December. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the administration and the authority worked with legislative leadership to extend the adoption of the Business Plan. Final submission to the Legislature is expected in April 2021.

A copy of the Revised Draft 2020 Business Plan can be viewed on the authority’s website and comments on the plan can be submitted through a form available through this link.