California Unveils High-Speed Rail Business Plan

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has released a business plan for California's statewide high-speed rail program. The business plan makes significant refinements to the previous ridership and revenue projections and cost estimates. The Authority also updated the phasing plan and overall timeline, and established a new funding plan that shows the feasibility of substantial private financing to pay for the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of various segments of the project. The aspect of the business plan that is certain to attract the most headlines is the project's new price tag, which has grown from $43 billion to 65.4 billion in 2010 dollars, or $98.5 billion when accounting for inflation over the life of the project.

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The business plan also includes a detailed analysis of what it would cost California to accommodate the same amount of growth in travel without high-speed rail - $171 billion over the next 40 years to pay for 2,300 lane miles of new highway capacity, 115 new airport gates, and 4 new runways. With high-speed rail in California, the business plan estimates that the system's construction will generate 100,000 jobs within the first 5 years, and 1 million jobs over time.

As described in the business plan, the initial construction segment, currently funded at $5.2 billion will connect Fresno to Bakersfield, the spine of the statewide high-speed rail system, with construction complete by 2017. While these tracks are being built, the Authority will choose an initial operating segment in the Central Valley, which will either be between Bakersfield, Merced, and San Jose or Merced and San Fernando Valley. Subsequent construction will be implemented in phases, including the "Bay to Basin" construction segment - tracks from Fresno to Bakersfield to San Jose and the San Fernando Valley, respectively, and the final track approaches to San Francisco and Los Angeles/Anaheim. The full high-speed rail line from San Francisco to Los Angeles/Anaheim is expected to be operational by 2033. Each phase and segment of the project is intended to function independently if needed, and to generate a net operating profit, giving planners and politicians the flexibility to adapt the scope or phasing to financial realities if necessary.

The release of the business plan kicked off a formal public comment period, from November 1st to December 31st, which can be submitted via the Authority's online comment form.

America 2050 applauds the California High-Speed Rail Authority for taking this critical step toward a better and more realistic understanding of project costs and benefits.

Image: California High-Speed Rail Authority