California High Speed Rail is the best transportation alternative between big cities in the state. Its high speed, high capacity and high-frequency will compliment Airports, Highways, Amtrak Regional Rail, Commuter Rail, Metro Rail and Bus Rapid Transit. It’s the missing piece to allow each transportation mode to optimize in a state careening towards 50 million population. Electric-powered California High Speed Rail and other upgraded passenger rail will form transformational mobility options that battle highway & airport congestion, smog and greenhouse gases.
— Thomas Dorsey, https://www.linkedin.com/in/thomasdorsey/
Population Growth Straining California Passenger Transportation Infrastructure
In 1980, California had minimal Amtrak service, but its airport and highway infrastructure matched population well. Travelers could arrive at SFO or LAX airport, purchase a ticket, breeze through security, board a plane, fly to SFO or LAX and walk to inside-airport rental car centers in 2 1/2 hours. Or travelers could drive 400 miles between downtown Los Angeles and San Francisco in 6 hours with a 15-minute break in between. Then population growth, as measured in millions by Statista and forecast by Public Policy Institute of California, exceeded the comfortable capacity of its transportation infrastructure:
If you’ve looked out an airplane window while approaching the contiguous built landscape of Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside and Ventura counties, you’ve seen Urbanized LA. By 2020, Urbanized LA swelled to 19M population and the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area jumped to nearly 8M population. Both have clogged airports and highways. Though online ticketing is available, there are longer lines for airport security screening. Boarding & unboarding continues to be through one jet door on domestic flights. Jets taxi longer on runways before take-off & after landing. Given the increase in flights, but cap on California’s LAX, SFO, BUR, SJC, SNA, SAN, OAK and ONT airport runways, jet taxi times are lengthening. It takes longer to get a rental car because large airports have moved rental car centers away from terminals.
As gateways for transcontinental & intercontinental travel, LAX and SFO are the 2nd and 7th busiest airports in America, respectively. They make Los Angeles and San Francisco two of America’s most visited cities. California has many other growing cities with increasing transportation demand, including those in the Central Valley (Stockton, Modesto, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Hanford-Visalia-Porterville, Bakersfield, Palmdale). Airlines to Urbanized LA and San Francisco Bay Area airports are skipping over Central Valley cities, shifting their resources to more profitable long distance flights. Bucking that trend, flights between Los Angeles and San Francisco remain the 2nd busiest in America, transporting over 8 million passengers annually. Its that high because intra-state travelers don’t yet have a time-effective alternative.
California Freeway Widening Becoming Fool’s Gold
No state has expanded as many standard and HOV highway lanes as California. Yet according to INRIX, Los Angeles and San Francisco are 2 of the 5 most roadway-congested cities in the world. By 1990, highway widenings in Urbanized LA and San Francisco Bay Area reached maximum capacity efficiency at 6 standard lanes + 2 HOV lanes. Ditto for San Diego by 2000 and Sacramento by 2005. Each highway widening to 10, 12, 14 and 16 lanes is creating less capacity than the prior lane pair. Its like loosening your belt to treat obesity.
Rush Hour speeds in San Francisco Bay Area are getting worse. Urbanized LA suffers the same problem, only more so. A University of Southern California transportation study measured the impact of inefficient capacity per lane. On the busiest freeways in Los Angeles County, average speed is 21-25 mph during Rush Hour and getting worse. Orange County, the second most populous in Urbanized LA, has declining freeway Rush Hour speeds as well. Commute hour conditions have lengthened and even occur on weekends in parts of Urbanized LA, San Francisco Bay Area and San Diego.
A three-part answer explains why. The first part is population growth, mentioned earlier. Second, the mathematics of Queuing Theory explains that for each added freeway lane, drivers spend more time adjusting speeds and lateral motion for lane changing than forward motion. That reduces automotive thru-put per lane. Third, added lanes psychologically induce more solo-driving to enjoy a slightly decongested freeway. In 2 years however, the number of solo-drivers increases to reproduce congestion. That is why freeway widening for congestion relief has become Fool’s Gold in urbanized California.
Fertile soil, sunny days and water from canal infrastructure make Central Valley one of the world’s great agricultural regions. Economic bounty from agriculture, freight rail, freight trucking and establishing three universities helped Central Valley towns sprout into mid-size cities since World War II ended. Now the U.S. Census Bureau forecasts Central Valley cities to add 10 million people between 2010-2040. Most Central Valley residents drive or ride by car to Urbanized LA, San Francisco Bay, San Diego and Sacramento metro areas. Conversely, Central Valley cities are gateways to most of California’s astonishing national parks that attract in-state resident & visitor drivers coming from Urbanized LA, San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego and Sacramento.
Since Central Valley flights are a vanishing option, north-south I-5 and SR-99 freeway congestion is growing. Such intercity driving is a notable contributor to traffic congestion that costs California residents $28 billion/year in lost time and wasted fuel.
California Transportation Greenhouse Gases Contribute to Climate Change
California acquired the nickname “Golden State” due to brush populating its majestic mountains and the sunny days tanning them. Since 2005, California has seen rising temperatures produce more frequent drought conditions that create more dry golden brush, the relentless fuel of wildfires.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports indicate that Transportation Sector remains the largest contributor to Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions in America. In that sector, oil-powered freight trucks, oil-powered cargo ships, oil-powered cars, SUVs & small trucks, and regional flights produce the most airborne emissions. The most recent chart from EIA illustrates state-by-state Carbon Dioxide numbers. California and Texas have the 1st, 2nd and 7th busiest cargo seaports. As the two most populous states with the most car, SUV & small truck drivers, regional flights and freight trucks, Texas and California emit the most Carbon Dioxide from transportation.
The Union of Concerned Scientists sounds the alarm bell that America must cut GHG emissions by 56% from 2005 to 2030 or we will be responsible for more frequent droughts, wildfires, floods, hurricanes and rising sea levels from Climate Change. The good news is Transportation Sector is where we can make huge GHG reductions between 2030-35, while improving economic productivity at the same time.
Transportation Smog Has Lowered, But Not Enough to Reduce Lung Disease
Like GHG emissions, the South Coast Air Quality Management District confirms that most smog in Urbanized LA is transportation-related. Smog has bedeviled Los Angeles since automobiles rose to prominence in 1943, then spread to other California cities as they grew. The economic recovery and population growth have enabled more drivers to choose oil-powered cars, SUVs & small trucks. Getting cargo & cruise ships converted to low-emission biofuel is an unknown date at this point. Airlines worldwide have not uniformly converted to lower emission biofuels and Flightsphere.com reports there are a remarkably high 319 flights each week between San Francisco and Los Angeles. By comparison, there are only 129 flights each week between NYC and Washington, where Amtrak HSR service is a better alternative for most.
California does have success stories cutting smog & GHG. Public & college buses in the state are converting to zero-emission electric-power faster. Californians are adopting electric cars at a faster pace than most states and they buy more electric-hybrid cars & SUVs. California’s biggest seaports have tough smog & GHG emission policy goals that by 2035, include a goal for only zero-emission freight trucks entering the area. Even if that policy fails to reach 100% compliance by 2035, it will significantly reduce oil-powered freight trucks in the state. The Freight Rail industry is shifting to low-emission Tier-4 locomotives, with California as one of its largest beneficiaries. Amtrak California and Commuter Rail agencies in Urbanized LA and San Diego have nearly completed a shift to Tier-4 locomotives before they transition to electric trains.
Excluding wildfire days, the air in Urbanized LA is no longer brown, but California cities still dominate the American Lung Association list of metro areas suffering the nation’s worst smog (ozone) and particulate pollution. High smog levels trigger higher levels of asthma and other lung diseases, particularly among populations within a mile of highways, airports and seaports.
California’s Central Valley has a different set of conditions tormenting its air quality. The valley is surrounded by mountains to the west and east. The combination of airborne emissions from oil-powered freight trucks, cars, SUVs, small trucks and agricultural activities, in-bound marine clouds from the Pacific Ocean, sunny days, warm temperature and surrounding mountains create inversion layers that trap smog. As California’s average heat level rises, inversion layers linger longer.
California Needs Electric, High Speed, High Capacity, High Frequency Transportation
One strategy in the epic war against traffic congestion, smog and GHG emissions is to give people a time-saving green alternative to the regional flights and oil-powered drives between Northern & Southern California and often through Central Valley cities. In 2008, California voters authorized a $9.95 billion bond measure to build an organization and kickstart the electric-powered, high speed, high capacity, high frequency, passenger rail system. It will draw electricity from green energy sources and has two phases:
520-mile Phase 1 (San Francisco-SFO Airport-San Jose-Gilroy-Madera-Fresno-Bakersfield-Palmdale-Burbank-Los Angeles-Anaheim)
280-mile Phase 2 (Merced-Modesto-Stockton-Sacramento AND Los Angeles-Ontario-San Bernardino-Riverside-Escondido-San Diego)
The system is being constructed by California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA). At start-up, CHSRA had lawsuit delays and made rookie mistakes underestimating system cost and property acquisition schedules. Nevertheless, environmental reviews, engineering design and enough property acquisition completed for the mega-project to break ground in 2015. In 2018, financial modeling by more experienced HSR consultants revealed that its best to include a California HSR spur from Madera to Merced in Phase 1, where the two Amtrak San Joaquin lines from Oakland and Sacramento will connect to California HSR.
California HSR will reach 220 mph on Central Valley viaduct and transport over 40 million annual passengers when Phase 1 completes. Though Phase 1 will start at 4 trains per hour, the Central Valley spine from Madera and Palmdale will be capable of 12 trains per hour for Phase 1 ridership growth and Phase 2. The system will also be capable of 97% on-time performance and 110 mph in urban areas, once 95% of needed railroad over/underpasses and street closures are completed in urban areas.
In 2020, CHSRA Business Plan arrived at an $80 billion Phase 1 Base Cost using many years of HSR staff & consultant experience and the respected industry practice of risk modeling via Monte Carlo Simulation. Phase 2 Base Cost is TBD due to unknown start date and route alignments yet to be decided.
Though lengthy HSR viaduct is the most expensive component of Phase 1, long tunnels are the most challenging component because they have so many unknowns. Underground rivers, abandoned & uncharted mines, unmapped utilities, surprise geological conditions and historic artifacts can undermine Base Cost and scheduling. Or conditions can turn out better than expected. To reduce unknowns (“de-risk projects”), CHSRA engineers have studied older rail tunnels in the same California mountain ranges where HSR tunnels are planned. CHSRA geologists have taken deep core samples of alignment alternatives in those mountains. Swiss tunnel consultants who worked on the longest rail tunnels under the Alps were consulted. Though all environmental reviews complete by late 2021, no long tunnel project can be fully de-risked until the boring completes. That is why 2020 Base Cost assumes a chunky percentage of the bad unknowns, while Monte Carlo Simulation produces hundreds of scenarios ranging between a high cost of $98 billion and a low cost of $68 billion. The result is CHSRA is now credible and transparent about Base Cost, yet prepared for the range of low cost and high cost scenarios.
There is No Cost-effective Alternative to California HSR
Critics can’t refute the compelling value proposition for California HSR. Earlier, this article mentioned California’s population and economic growth factors. Combined with tourism growth, they eliminate the “No Build Transportation Alternative.”
In 2018, California Tourism Bureau estimated that tourism generated over $140 billion general revenue, $12 billion in tax revenue and 1.2 million jobs. Furthermore, $6 of every $10 spent by travelers came from other states and countries. Residents and visitors took 361 million annual intra-state trips via all modes of travel in 2010. California intra-state travel is forecast to increase to 545 million trips annually by 2040. To transport more people intra-state by 2040 and beyond, California has to increase airport, highway or passenger rail capacity.
Increasing airport capacity for regional flights is the easiest alternative to dismiss. Eight of the nine largest California airports have no open land and cities reject taking urban land for runway expansion. San Francisco voters reject expanding existing SFO Airport runway into the bay for environmental reasons. North San Diego County residents rejected converting Miramar Naval Air Station to a commercial airport because people who bought homes without commercial jet noise and smog emissions don’t want it introduced over their communities. Only Sacramento Airport can expand. If more airport gates and Nextgen Air Traffic Control allow airlines more takeoff & landing slots per day, their business incentive is to increase more profitable long-distance flights, not regional flights.
The alternative to increase highway capacity is not much better. The Central Valley is on pace for 10 million population by 2040, causing its own traffic congestion. Any further widening of SR-99 and I-5 freeway is required to handle that growth. Yet more urban residents and and non-state visitors are clogging Central Valley freeways to reach California’s national parks. Building another north-south freeway between San Francisco Bay Area and Urbanized LA would either require wide highway tunnels or massive earthmoving through San Gabriel Mountains and Pacheco Pass mountains, far more expensive than previously done for I-5 and SR-152 highways, respectively. Even if the state built another north-south freeway, Urbanized LA, San Francisco Bay and San Diego metro areas have already converted freeway medians to lanes, their average commute speeds are slowing and Rush Hours are lengthening. Inducing more traffic from another north-south freeway will only make urban congestion worse.
The inconvenient truth is, California airports and highways can not cost-effectively expand like the HSR alternative. In a report commissioned by the CHSRA, having access to State of California highway and aviation data, the cost of adding equivalent passenger capacity in freeway lanes and airports is estimated to be:
$160 billion for 4300 new Freeway-lane miles + 90 Airport gates + 2 runways
$80 billion for California HSR Phase 1
Some critics claim that California HSR will not operate at a profit because the state doesn’t have enough population density. Evidence supports quite the opposite. San Francisco-Bakersfield initial operating segment will connect 12 million population, which is higher than French TGV connecting 10 million population in its initial operating segment. Inflation-adjusted since TGV opened in 1981, the average Californian is also wealthier than the average Frenchman, which means they can afford to buy more First Class and Business Class tickets. American Millennials and Generation Z prefer more rapid transit and intercity passenger rail for convenience and to save money, so there will be plenty of demand for Coach Class tickets as well. By 2025, Millennials and Generation Z will control over 50% of U.S. income — a percentage that will only grow. A bonus is that most non-state travelers to California are from the Northeast, Asia and Europe, where they already use HSR, Regional Rail and Commuter Rail for regional travel.
California HSR is the less expensive, less property required, less litigation, environmentally-friendly, high-capacity bargain to maintain resident and tourist mobility.
California HSR Door-to-Door Travel Time Advantage
Going from Los Angeles Bookend to San Francisco Bookend via HSR in less than 3 hours has more public benefits. Knowledge Workers on mobile devices enjoy productive travel time using large seat-back tables, power sockets and more dependable WiFi than airplanes. Passengers will enjoy more relaxing travel on high speed trains because they can walk to the cafe car and restroom whenever they please. Elevated views of the agricultural Central Valley from wide windows in air conditioned cabins will be similar to those comforts enjoyed on Spain’s AVE HSR system. More patrons will transfer at Merced, Fresno and Bakersfield stations to biofuel-powered motor coaches to visit California national parks. Like their Northeast Corridor counterparts, a larger percentage of California’s 2 million college students will use HSR combined with Amtrak Regional Rail, Commuter Rail, Metro Rail and electric campus buses, instead of driving to campus. They will ride electric transportation, pay fares and monitor train status realtime by smartphone.
Riding any modern HSR system is an order of magnitude safer than driving 3 hours or more. It can help reduce motor vehicle fatalities on SR-99, I-5, SR-152 and US-101 highways. Once you’ve driven through fog or slippery conditions on those highways, like this author has many times, the HSR safety advantage increases in personal value.
Symbiotic Relationship of California HSR, Amtrak California, Commuter Rail, Metro Rail & BRT
There are 119 miles of electric California HSR construction underway in the Central Valley and enough state funding secured to extend that to 171 miles between Merced and Bakersfield. By 2022, both Bookends sharing route with California HSR will have train control technology to prevent train vs. train accidents. In the northern Bookend, 51 miles of train & route electrification completes between San Francisco and San Jose, where 2-4 tracks are already in operation. Service will initially be limited to electric Caltrain commuter rail featuring double-deck trains with luggage room, bike room and restrooms, but running more frequently and with more capacity than today.
In the southern Bookend, 44 miles of Burbank-LA Union Station-Anaheim HSR segment are racing to complete 4-tracking and railroad over/underpasses to safely accommodate more frequent Amtrak, Metrolink commuter rail and freight rail service by summer 2028. Absent additional federal funds secured in 2021, train & route electrification of the southern Bookend is anticipated after 2028.
Intermodal transportation centers will initially connect Amtrak Regional Rail, Commuter Rail, Metro Rail, low-emission intercity motorcoaches (Greyhound/Megabus/Amtrak buses) and electric-powered Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems. Amtrak California (Pacific Surfliner, Capital Corridor, San Joaquin Oakland, San Joaquin Sacramento), Commuter Rail and California HSR passengers will find it easy to transfer on the same platform or between platforms. Anaheim Regional Intermodal Transportation Center and SFO Airport Station are already open for transfers between trains and buses. San Francisco Salesforce Transit Center is open for transfers between buses and its lower level is ready for trains, once a downtown train tunnel extends to it. Major upgrades to Los Angeles and San Jose intermodal transportation centers are in final design stages. Planning for Fresno, Hanford, Bakersfield, Merced, Gilroy, Palmdale, Burbank and Norwalk-Santa Fe Springs intermodal transportation centers has begun.
In parallel with Central Valley viaduct and transportation center construction, Bookend counties have passed tax measures that will help fund decades of passenger rail improvements. California Air Resources Board and California State Transportation Agency are committing a larger percentage of funds to passenger rail improvement and freight rail companies are making more of their rights-of-way available for joint freight-passenger rail improvement projects.
Pacific Surfliner is the nation’s third busiest Amtrak line at 2.9 million annual riders. It currently has 13 daily roundtrips and takes 2 hours 56 minutes to travel 128 miles in Los Angeles-Anaheim-Oceanside-San Diego corridor. Trains that pull into LA Union Station have to back out, rather than run through. Too much 1-track mileage forces trains traveling in opposite directions to wait for the other to reach 2-track sections. There are too many gated urban railroad crossings that limit speeds to 80 mph.
By the 2028 Los Angeles Summer Olympics, LA Union Station will have run-thru tracks, about 85-90% of Los Angeles-Anaheim-Oceanside-San Diego corridor will have 2-4 tracks and several key railway over/underpasses will complete. Pacific Surfliner is anticipated to reach 2 hour 35 minute travel time and 18-20 daily roundtrips between Los Angeles and San Diego. By 2035, Los Angeles-Anaheim-Oceanside-San Diego corridor will likely complete 95% of 2-4 tracking, more railway over/underpasses and train electrification for Pacific Surfliner Los Angeles-San Diego to reach 110-125 mph, 32-36 daily roundtrips and 2 hour 10 minute travel time. That should be 30-35 minutes faster than driving on I-5 Freeway between the two cities.
Also by 2035, Pacific Surfliner in Los Angeles-Chatsworth-Oxnard-Santa Barbara corridor is likely to be 95% 2-track and several stretches of 90 mph, but without as many railway over/underpasses or electrification northwest of Chatsworth.
Capitol Corridor is the nation’s fourth busiest Amtrak line at 1.8 million annual riders. It currently takes 3 hours 3 minutes to travel 131 miles in San Jose-Oakland-Martinez-Sacramento corridor with 15 daily roundtrips. It also has major upgrades planned for train speed, frequency & safety improvements. The goal is for electrified Capital Corridor to reach 125-150 mph and 2 hours between San Jose and Sacramento with 40 daily roundtrips by 2040 or sooner, if federal funding advances.
Amtrak San Joaquin Oakland shares the first segment of its line with Capital Corridor up to Martinez, then proceeds separately up to 80 mph towards Stockton, Modesto, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Hanford (Kings/Tulare) and Bakersfield. Once California HSR opens in Merced-Madera-Fresno-Hanford-Bakersfield segment, San Joaquin Oakland service can terminate at California HSR Merced Station.
In 2020, the Bookends had 64 gated railroad crossings in route to be shared between California HSR, Amtrak California, Commuter Rail and Freight Rail. A multitude of railroad over/underpasses are coming. By the 2028 LA Summer Olympics, about 40 gated railroad crossings will remain. By 2033, there should be roughly 25 gated railroad crossings remaining with sophisticated Quad Gate Systems that do a better job preventing accidents. By 2040, there should be only 3-4 gated railroad crossings in the Bookends between San Francisco and Anaheim.
California HSR will also be accessible for luggage-toting urban patrons who don’t want to drive or ride cars to the station. All California HSR, Pacific Surfliner and Capitol Corridor stations will have platforms level with train floors. Urbanized LA Metro Rail network is expanding and will access to four or five California HSR stations. San Francisco Bay Area Metro Rail network is expanding and will access three California HSR Stations. Here are major projects coming before California HSR Phase 1 completes, some of which are dependent on federal funding returning by 2021:
2021: Google is building a 20,000-person village surrounding San Jose Diridon Transportation Center to ease employee transport to/from all parts of Northern California.
2022: A downtown tunnel connector opens for more Metro Rail lines to feed LA Union Station. Caltrain commuter rail completes electrification in San Francisco-San Jose corridor for faster, more frequent and greener trains.
2023: Metro Rail extends from LA Union Station to Los Angeles Museum District and Mid-Wilshire Business District.
2025-26: Several railroad overpasses plus 3rd & 4th track open in Burbank-LA Union Station-Anaheim corridor for faster and safer Metrolink commuter rail, Pacific Surfliner and freight rail services. San Jose Diridon Transportation Center upgrade completes for better connectivity between Caltrain & ACE commuter rail, Capital Corridor, Metro Rail, intercity motor coaches and BRT.
2027: San Joaquin Oakland and San Joaquin Sacramento trains connect at Merced to 220 mph California HSR trains. LA Union Station upgrade completes with pass-thru tracks for shorter travel times and better connectivity between Metrolink commuter rail, Pacific Surliner, Metro Rail, intercity motor coaches and BRT. Metro Rail extends from LA Union Station to Beverly Hills, Century City and Westwood near UCLA.
2028: More railroad overpasses and other upgrades complete to boost Metrolink commuter rail, Coaster commuter rail and Pacific Surfliner to 90-110 mph in Burbank-LA Union Station-Anaheim-Oceanside-San Diego corridor. Burbank-LA Union Station-Anaheim segment of the corridor will be shared later with California HSR.
2029: DT San Francisco tunnel extension to Salesforce Transit Center opens, with its lowest level serving electric Caltrain.
2030: Metro Rail extends from North San Jose to DT San Jose, and San Jose Diridon Transportation Center.
2031: California HSR opens from San Francisco to Bakersfield, with trains entering San Francisco Salesforce Transit Center lower level. More railroad overpasses in Burlingame, San Mateo, Redwood City, Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Mountain View and Sunnyvale complete for Caltrain and California HSR to sustain 90 mph in San Francisco-San Jose corridor.
2033-34: California HSR opens from San Francisco to Los Angeles & Anaheim. Urbanized LA and San Francisco Bay Area Metro Rail & BRT networks continue expansion, attracting more patrons to intermodal transportation centers. Metrolink commuter rail shared with California HSR in Southern California converts to electric trains.
2035-40: Most of Amtrak Capitol Corridor and Amtrak Pacific Surfliner routes are electrified with railway over/underpasses for 125-150 mph top speeds.
By 2035, a Stanford student toting carry-on luggage rides the campus bus to Caltrain Palo Alto Station. Within 6 minutes, Caltrain headed to San Jose Diridon Transportation Center arrives. She rolls her carry-on down one platform and up the next to transfer to California HSR. She finishes an online assignment before arriving at LA Union Station in 2 hours 15 minutes. She takes the escalator to LA Metro Rail leaving every 5 minutes to Westwood. A UCLA friend greets her at Metro Westwood-Wilshire Station before they stroll to a nearby coffeehouse. Travel Time: 3 hours 25 minutes.
Once Federal Funding Steps Up, Big Private Funding Follows
In 2009-10, President Obama authorized $3.5 billion towards California HSR project. Despite his ongoing proposals for more HSR and Regional Rail funding, Congress stopped direct federal funding to the project in 2011. Since then, state and local funds are paying for 85% of construction. That is a 180-degree reversal from the federal government funding 85-90% of early Interstate Highway projects. That said, CHSRA has identified sufficient state funding to help upgrade the Bookends and build 171 miles of Central Valley (Merced-Madera-Fresno-Hanford-Bakersfield) HSR viaduct, meeting both Amtrak San Joaquin lines in Merced. The last environmental reviews for these Phase 1 segments complete in 2020-21, but remain unfunded:
• San Jose-Central Valley segment ($14.2 billion)
• Bakersfield-Palmdale segment ($16.3 billion)
• Palmdale-Burbank segment ($17.5 billion)
In total, California HSR will need $35-36 billion funding from the federal government to combine with $30-31 billion from state and local funds, plus $13-15 billion from private investors. But to de-risk the mega-project, California HSR needs $14.2 billion in federal funding to build the San Jose-Central Valley tunnel segment. That will connect segments completing by 2028 to create a 12 million-person initial operating segment from San Francisco to Bakersfield by 2031. Private investors will jump in after initial operating segment is funded because most HSR routes in 10+ million-person corridors worldwide generate operating profit only 5-6 years after opening. They have even more incentive joining federal and state funds to build the other two segments forming a 38 million-person California HSR Phase 1 corridor. High Speed Train Operators in corridors of such scale collect handsome revenues in billions of dollars per annum with 25-30 year operating contracts. Those who also build adjacent retail, hotel and office collect many billions more dollars.
Private investors are already committing billions of funding dollars to help NYC, Washington, Philadelphia and Boston intermodal transportation centers upgrade their retail and hotel offerings before 2035, when Amtrak Northeast Corridor HSR upgrades to 186 mph in its fastest stretches. In San Francisco, Salesforce is paying $110 million for 25-year naming rights to what was formerly called Transbay Transit Center. As property values around the Salesforce Transit Center escalated to build surrounding skyscrapers, San Francisco captured that value to help pay for the $1.9 billion intermodal transportation center. When its upgrade completes, LA Union Station will abound with retail, hotel and office construction to help pay for that $2.4 billion intermodal transportation center. Private companies are building Virgin Trans HSR from Las Vegas to Southern California and Texas Central HSR from Dallas to Houston.
Private investment in California HSR-related projects will help make the intercity passenger train experience of 2035 similar to Western Europe in 2020. Large intermodal transportation centers will pulse with retail, dining and hotel activity 18 hours a day because HSR, Amtrak Regional Rail, Commuter Rail, Metro Rail, intercity motor coach and BRT vehicles come and go every minute. Some centers will become tourist destinations. Patrons will transport bikes, pets and large luggage easier than air travel. Patrons will let their budgets determine First Class, Business Class and Coach Class seating options, similar to the video (below) of the privately-run Italian high-speed train service.
Voters Want A Big Transportation Infrastructure Deal
Big Infrastructure investment is the one area of unanimous support by voters, regardless of political preference. Voters are frustrated by America’s surface transportation infrastructure falling behind its 21st century needs and those of its Global Economic Competitors. Any visit to Japan, South Korea or Western Europe quickly reveals what California is missing.
California is committing up to $23.4 billion to California HSR by 2030, with more possible later. It is among the states requesting large federal investment in passenger rail projects. To date, the federal government has only delivered $2.5 billion to California HSR, with another $929 million in dispute. The project needs federal investment to average $3.2 billion/year starting in 2020 and continue for the next 11 years ($35 billion) to open by 2033. If that level of federal funding starts in 2021, anticipate 2034 completion. One can be confident that $13-15 billion in private investment will follow towards a California HSR project forecast to generate $4.5 billion in annual ticket revenue by 2040, plus lucrative retail, hotel & office development opportunities.
Private investment is already committing $4.9 billion to a tunnel-less Virgin Trains Las Vegas-SoCal project in a 3-million person corridor because the Las Vegas intermodal transportation center will occupy 14 acres, while its other 96 acres will be developed over time for retail, dining, hotel, office and possibly a casino. Virgin Trains is counting on San Bernardino County and Riverside County residents driving 15-30 miles to their Victorville (SoCal) Station, then riding the train 170 miles to Las Vegas. The value of their investment rises when Virgin Trains route stretches 53 miles from Victorville Station to California HSR Palmdale Station.
There is a reasonable path to cover the $80 billion price tag for California HSR Phase 1. But a return of federal investment is critical in 2021. Further delay will increase Base Cost and lengthen the Phase 1 timeline again for a project that will generate $131 billion in economic impact, help meet environmental goals and allow large California airports to optimize for long-distance flights, like they are doing in the Northeast Corridor.
America is the richest nation on Earth with $20 trillion annual GDP. If California were a separate nation, if would be the 5th richest on Earth. California pays the largest percentage of taxes to the U.S. Treasury and for decades paid more in taxes than it received in benefits. Hence, $3.2 billion/year from USDOT for this transformative HSR project is not unfair to other states. The President and Congress must return to infrastructure commitment, as in 1955-1980, when America invested 2% of GDP on world-class highway and airport infrastructure. A great California was not built in the 20th century without them. A great California can’t be sustained in the 21st century without investment for world-class HSR, Amtrak Regional Rail, Commuter Rail, Metro Rail, BRT and intermodal transportation centers.