High-speed rail price tag drops by $30B in new plan

Revised business plan relies on 'blended' design, existing infrastructure

California's proposed high-speed rail system would extend from the Central Valley to the Los Angeles Basin within the next decade and would cost $30 billion less than previous estimates indicated under a new business plan that the agency charged with building the system released this morning, April 2.

The revised business plan, which the California High-Speed Rail Authority's board of directors expects to discuss and approve on April 12, departs in many key ways from the draft the agency released in November. The new plan commits to building the system through a "blended" design under which high-speed rail and Caltrain would share two tracks on the Peninsula. It also calls for early investment in the northern and southern segments (known as the "bookends") of the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles line, including the long-awaited electrification of Caltrain on the Peninsula.

The revised plan also specifies for the first time that the first usable segment of the rail line would be a 300-mile segment from Central Valley south to the San Fernando Valley. This stretch, the plan states, "will be transformational in creating a passenger rail nexus between one of the fastest growing regions in the state with the state's largest population center."

This "initial operating section" would extend from Merced through Bakersfield and Palmdale to the San Fernando Valley, according to the business plan. The prior plan committed only to an "initial construction segment" -- a set of train-less test tracks between north of Bakersfield and south of Merced (this segment was characterized by many critics as a "train to nowhere").

At a press conference in Fresno Monday morning, the rail authority's board Chair Dan Richard emphasized the significance difference between the agency's previous proposal for the system's initial phase and the one laid out in the new business plan.

"Beginning next year, we will begin construction here in the Valley not of a mere track but a fully operational 300-mile electrified operating segment that will connect the valley to the Los Angeles Basin," Richard said.

"This will bring high-speed rail not only to California -- it will bring high-speed rail to America," he said.

The business plan also offers a firmer commitment from the rail authority to improve Caltrain and to rely on existing tracks on the Peninsula. This marks a dramatic departure from the rail authority's initial vision for the system -- a four-track system along the Peninsula with high-speed rail on the inside tracks and Caltrain on the outside. The four-track design was widely panned, with many Peninsula residents and city officials expressed concerns about the seizure of property and the visual barriers a four-track system would necessitate.

The authority began to back away from the four-track design in its November business plan, which was amenable to the "blended" two-track approach. But the newly revised business plan cements its commitment to the blended design, which was first proposed a year ago by State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, and state Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park.

"Benefits will be delivered faster through the adoption of the blended approach and through investment in the bookends," the new plan states. "Across the state, transportation systems will be improved and jobs will be created through the implementation of these improvements."

The blended approach, which places a greater emphasis on improving existing infrastructure than the four-track design, is expected shave more than 30 percent off the $98.5 billion price tag cited in the November plan. The new document pegs the cost of the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles system at $68.4 billion. That figure remains significantly higher than the $40 billion price tag presented to state voters in 2008, however.

The main driver behind the major cost spike between 2009 and 2011, according to the revised plan, is a greater reliance on tunnels and elevated structures throughout the system. The plan notes that the possible length of elevated structures went up from 77 miles in 2009 to between 113 and 140 miles under the current plan. The length of tunnels, meanwhile, increased from 32 miles to between 44 and 48 miles.

The proposed $68.4 billion system features new infrastructure between San Jose and Los Angeles, shared electrified tracks on the Peninsula and an upgrades to the Metrolink Corridor between Los Angeles and Anaheim.

"The benefits of investing in high-speed rail will be delivered far cheaper than previously estimated," the revised business plan states. "Through the adoption of a blended approach, the Authority has confidence that the cost of delivering the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles/Anaheim system, in accordance with Proposition 1A performance standards, is reduced by almost $30 billion, now estimated at $68.4 billion."

Even with the lower cost estimate, funding remains a major wildcard. California voters had approved a $9.95 billion bond for the proposed system when they passed Proposition 1A in 2008. The bond measure requires the new system to be capable for whisking passengers between San Francisco and Los Angeles in about two-and-a-half hours.

The rail authority hopes to build the system through a combination of bond funding, federal grants, local contributions and private investments. So far, the system has received about $3 billion in grants from the federal government. At Monday's press conference in Fresno, Karen Hedlund, deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, praised the plan and said her agency looks forward to "working with the High-Speed Rail Authority to making this plan a reality."

"By listening carefully to everyone involved, the High-Speed Rail Authority has offered a new plan today that lays out a faster, better and more cost-effective path to building a high-speed rail system that is so critical to California's economic future," Hedland said. "The new plan will create hundreds of thousands of jobs and deliver the economic benefits of high-speed rail faster and more affordably."

The new business plan is the latest milestone for a project has been facing intense scrutiny throughout the state and particularly on the Peninsula. The Palo Alto City Council, which initially supported the project, adopted in December as the city's official position a call for the project's termination. Palo Alto had also joined Atherton and Menlo Park in suing the rail authority over its environmental analysis for the project.

Republicans in Sacramento remain vehemently opposed to the project, with one legislator, Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point, pushing a "lemon law" that would cut off funding for high-speed rail. Their counterparts in Washington, D.C., have been equally adamant about resisting President Barack Obama's proposal to connect 80 percent of the nation through high-speed-rail systems in the next 25 years.

The rail authority's new business plan, by committing to the blended system and to early investments on the Peninsula, aims to win over some of the project's toughest critics. The rail authority's proposal to help electrify Caltrain -- a long-awaited project that has languished under inadequate funding -- was greeted with great enthusiasm last week by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which approved an agreement with the rail authority that includes a funding plan for the electrification.

Richard said Monday that upgrades to existing rail services, including Caltrain, "will provide near-term benefits" while also building "a portion of the system that we will ultimately be using."

But the new document is unlikely to assuage all of the Peninsula's concerns. Members of the Palo Alto council remain concerned about the fact that the rail authority's environmental impact report for the system still describes a four-track system. Councilman Pat Burt and others have also raised flags at recent meetings about the prospect of the rail authority seeking exemptions from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) -- exemptions that would allow the agency to expedite its environmental-review process.

Dan Richard cited on Monday recent media reports about the rail authority seeking CEQA exemptions and assured those present that the agency plans to fully comply with environmental law.

"Despite recent reports, we're not looking for CEQA exemptions," Richard said. "We're doing a full environmental-review process."

Richard called the new business plan an "overall approach to building tomorrow's transportation system." He lauded the plan for reducing both the project's price tag and its timeline.

"This plan is about more than just high-speed rail as a standalone system or a 'cool train,' if you will," Richard said. "Our plan sees high-speed rail as a strategic tool in an integrated transportation system to meet California's growing mobility needs."


Like this comment
Posted by Alex M.
a resident of Willowgate
on Apr 2, 2012 at 2:45 pm

So, does this drop in the price tag bring it down the price voters originally approved?
I don't think so.
Is the revised plan in agreement with what voters originally approved?
I don't think so.

Like this comment
Posted by LIES
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 2, 2012 at 2:59 pm

This is probably nothing but lies, when the true reality is way higher.

Sugar coating this failed idea is not a good way to go.

Like this comment
Posted by jupiterk
a resident of Gemello
on Apr 2, 2012 at 3:24 pm

If we all whine more, the price may drop another #30B by next week. Wow, how does something drop by $30B. Something is really fishy here. Are they going to lay the tracks with matchsticks now instead of meta?

Like this comment
Posted by Jes' Sayin'
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Apr 2, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Bakersfield to Merced? I've heard of the bridge to nowhere. Is this the railroad to nowhere?

Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 2, 2012 at 4:42 pm

But Mountain View will still get four tracks according to this plan.

A plan that is 30 billion less than 6 times the original estimate, but all of a sudden sold as a savings to the taxpayer while only 1/20 has been raised and therefore the rest will somehow have to be borrowed. Well, more or less. Only in California. But we should all be grateful.

Like this comment
Posted by steve
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 2, 2012 at 4:42 pm

... and I have a bridge I'd like to sell you

Like this comment
Posted by Grumpy
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 2, 2012 at 4:57 pm

This is bait and switch to try and fool the fools who voted for this boondoggle to start with.

Like this comment
Posted by Fools Rush In
a resident of Gemello
on Apr 2, 2012 at 7:34 pm

To save even more:

1. Pull the plug on CAHSR now.

2. Change CAHSR from "California High Speed Railroad" to "Can't Afford
Having Such Ridiculosity".

3. If the CAHSR folk really need a train set to play with, let them do it with their own money.

4. If CAHSR was really such a great idea, don't you suppose the major transportation companies in CA would be campaigning to be part of it?

Like this comment
Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Apr 3, 2012 at 12:34 pm

When I voted for HSR, the 9 billion dollars was only to get it started, so much needs to be done, yes looking for ways to getting the cost lower is good, if needed we can spend the money on improvements. We will have to market the system, we have visitors from out of state who would love to ride the train, see the state. S.D. with stops at Disneyland, Hollywood, Yosemite, and San Francsico. The business traveler from San Francsico with stops in San Jose, L.A, Orange County and S.D. The interstate traveler who just would like to catch a ride with transfer points. 3 classes, tickets prices, family prices, business traveler pass, monthly, yearly passes, Wi-Fi, dining car, bar, vista car, cars with rooms, meeting space, etc I would rather spend the money and ride on the train, then getting stuck on a airplane with peanuts and cramped seats, delays, airport traffice, parking lots fees

Like this comment
Posted by Illogical
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 3, 2012 at 3:13 pm


The amount of people that will travel this train won't pay for 1% of the operating costs, let alone the cost to build. This will be another money pit the state will fall into. I'd rather take my prius down there, that way I won't have to rent a car.

Like this comment
Posted by Otto Maddox
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 3, 2012 at 3:44 pm

I can't remember, ever, a time when I thought "I wish I could take a train to Los Angeles."

Why? Because I can take a PLANE. For $160 I can fly to Southern California. On a plane that is considerably faster than any train.

Like this comment
Posted by Ron Haley
a resident of another community
on Apr 3, 2012 at 6:32 pm

Ron Haley is a registered user.

Pick a number, any number!

Like this comment
Posted by Monte
a resident of another community
on Apr 3, 2012 at 10:12 pm

Wow! I had no idea that HSR was going to go to Yosemite. Is this a yet to be released "press release" from one of the HSR's PR agencies?

laughable, but sadly right on track (ha!) with all the other gibberish **** the HSR PR machine belches.

Like this comment
Posted by Build it and you will ride
a resident of another community
on Apr 4, 2012 at 11:27 pm

All you naysayers ...that's what everybody said about BART....

Like this comment
Posted by Build it and you will TAKEN for a ride
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 5, 2012 at 1:02 pm

"All you naysayers ...that's what everybody said about BART...."




Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Rex Manor
on Apr 5, 2012 at 1:28 pm


Were you here in 1962? Did you know BART was never put to a public vote in San Mateo or Santa Clara Counties? That's right, Silicon Valley never got a chance to join the 21st century until it's first decade was already over. We can agree that HSR has done a bad job so far. We can also agree that widening I-5 and SR 99 as well as building more runways somewhere would not be cheap either. Everything beyond that is my crystal ball vs yours. How much will jet fuel cost? How much solar would be used for HSR? I don't know either. I do know that the Peninsula's approach to arguing with HSR has mostly succeeded in adding cost and time. If that kills it, maybe our kids will have to do what we did not have the guts to do.

Like this comment
Posted by Jim Neal
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 5, 2012 at 2:25 pm

This is exactly why I voted against the High Speed Rail project to begin with. California was broke when this passed and the money is supposed to be coming from a bond (i.e. borrowed money that must be paid back with interest!). Does anyone know of any Bank that loans money to bankrupt people? No? Then why should the people be loaning money to a bankrupt State?!!! It is a project that is not needed, not wanted, and that will never be profitable. The projections for profitability are based on 2 million riders which will never happen at the rates they will have to charge for the service. The airlines will kill them and if they don't, the fact that you can drive your own car to LA in roughly the same time as taking the train will!

I also don't like the fact that the State is seeking to exempt itself from the same environmental laws it wants to shove down our throats every time we want to use our fireplaces or barbecues. I think they should get to enjoy the same restrictions they apply to us every time we try to use one of our constitutionally protected rights! Let them get tied up in court for the next century because there's an endangered cockroach in King County that absolutely cannot be relocated to a new habitat.

HSR, it's an idea whose time has never come. Talk to us AFTER YOU GET RID OF THE STATE'S DEBT!

Like this comment
Posted by Hardin
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 5, 2012 at 3:45 pm

"If that kills it, maybe our kids will have to do what we did not have the guts to do."


This is where I have the most concern with folks who still support HSR in its current form. A project of this size and complexity is a poor candidate for Hail Mary leaps of faith.

Considering the poor performance we've seen with the HSR management team thus far, the incentives that motivate their advocacy of this project, and the current finances of the State, this is NOT the project to be decided upon based on something as whimsical as "guts".

A good gambler knows to set aside his money and play with the house money as soon as he can. In this case, we're implementing an exactly opposite strategy.

Like this comment
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of Rex Manor
on Apr 5, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Fine! If you last two had been in charge back in the day:

We would not have Hetch Hetchy water,
We would not have BART at all, not just not here,
We would not have either Golden Gate or Bay Bridges.

All were first of their kind, bond funded projects begun during financially challenging times.

Silicon Valley, meet the 19th Century.

Like this comment
Posted by kman
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 6, 2012 at 9:45 am

If I have a choice between driving an electric vehicle verses taking a train, it will most definitely be an electric car. Look at the history of train use and you'll see they can barely stay above water. There is really no need for a train like this.

For those that insist on taking a train, there are already trains available for such a journey.

Like this comment
Posted by Hardin
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 6, 2012 at 12:27 pm

"All were first of their kind, bond funded projects begun during financially challenging times."


You're glossing over the details, and as we all know, the devil is in the details:

1. Most of the projects you listed did not have competing venues that offered alternatives. These was no other way to travel from Marin to San Francisco without the Golden Gate, nor was there any other existing alternative that could compete with Hetch-Hetchy.

HSR has to not only make budget sense, it needs to make business sense, and common sense. With alternatives like air travel, and electric vehicles, HSR has tough competition to overcome.

2. Size matters. The Golden Gate Bridge would have cost $1.2 billion, in 2003 dollars.

Web Link

Even at that cost, it is only 1/100th of the PROJECTED cost for HSR. This also illuminates another point: construction is much more expensive nowadays, than in the past. The Golden Gate bridge project did not have nearly the amount of environmental review, safety factors, and enhanced engineering requirements due to improved building codes in a seismically active area, than projects now do.

To sum it up, making comparisons to past accomplishments, ignores the current added risks and cost that are unavoidable in construction today.

You are comparing apples and oranges.

Like this comment
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of Rex Manor
on Apr 6, 2012 at 1:49 pm


Why do you not consider ferries to be competition for the Golden Gate?

San Francisco already had Spring Valley Water when they went ahead with Hetch Hetchy.

No project this large (or larger,like Hoover Dam) can accurately estimate construction costs at this stage of development. Sure we have more environmental reg's. We also use computers and have better educated engineers. It is ok with me if we disagree on the vision thing. Throughout history, most visionary projects have had to overcome rabid opposition, since most people are not visionary.

I'm not asking for a blank check. Since the HSR bond money cannot be reallocated to other worthy government expenses anyway, we should all vigilantly stay on the HSR while they do their work. Even after the legislature votes in June, we'll still have more opportunities to cut them off if need be.

Once we cut them off, can you guarantee we won't need more freeway lanes or runways? That videoconferencing will eliminate business travel? That Jet fuel won't triple in cost over the next 20 years?

Working on HSR is a hedge against any of those things.

Like this comment
Posted by Hardin
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 6, 2012 at 2:54 pm

"Why do you not consider ferries to be competition for the Golden Gate?"


Not to get into too much detail, but HSR does not provide a cheaper, faster, or more convenient method of travel over existing transportation options. Compare this to the Golden Gate Bridge, which was (as still is) cheaper, faster, and more convenient than the options available when it was built.

If anything, HSR is the ferry-like option of today.

Like this comment
Posted by Hardin
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 6, 2012 at 3:38 pm

"Throughout history, most visionary projects have had to overcome rabid opposition, since most people are not visionary."


It's my opinion that not having a great deal of visionary people is a good thing. Too many cooks in the kitchen comes to mind.

And let's not forget the "visionary" projects that go down in flames.

Web Link

Vision, without successful planning and execution is what leads to the proverbial "pipe dream".

The results of the planning and execution by the HSR so far leads me to believe this is a disaster waiting to happen, and that by continuing with this, we are just throwing good money after bad.

Don't get me wrong, I want to see mass transit improvements. But the amount of money we are dedicating to this singe mass transit project, coupled with the current performance of HSR management's team tells me we should pass on this one.

We need to consider opportunity cost in the case, as well as the financial commitments we are making for a state that is already teetering financially. Consider how many smaller, focused regional projects could be completed with this same amount of money, and consider that having a group of projects is more scalable, allowing us to control spending as the state's finances permit.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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