The media loves big numbers. Headlines reading “California High Speed Rail to Cost $98.5 Billion” are intended to startle the uniformed and easily misled. A look into the numbers and the plan reveals a well-thought out strategy to provide 21st-century transportation to our state.
The first $6 billion has already been allocated. The Central Valley section will begin next year and be completed by 2017. This block of the system will allow it to be tested and serve as the backbone for the entire system. It will create 100,000 jobs now and will allow future decisions to be made in a logical way. Most importantly, if the project never got another dime, it has utility for existing rail and would be beneficial to the residents of the state.
The next decision is whether to bring the rail to San Jose or the Los Angeles basin. But that won’t happen for some time. Nobody expects any new federal money until 2014. Eventually it will come, but not while Republicans are in the majority in Congress. That will not last forever—god and the people willing.
Moreover, private investment will be forthcoming at this point, as the system will be able to carry real high speed rail passengers for the first time.
That will cost $21.1 billion and could be completed by 2021. It will cost another $27.2 billion to get it to the LA basin. Once the segment from Los Angeles to San Jose is completed, then and only then do you have a “system”. The beauty of the new business plan is that every building block of the route can be utilized and no section will be built until new funding is secure.
So for $54 billion—in inflated dollars—we will have a system linking two population centers. For San Jose, such a system would provide a single-seat ride to Los Angeles in about two hours. Right now it takes me five hours to drive to Los Angeles and a minimum of 2.5 hours to fly, assuming the plane is on time. (This time includes airport security and ground transportation in and out of airport). This will be completed in 2026.
For an additional $23 billion, the system will go from San Francisco to Los Angeles, utilizing a blended system of existing Caltrain tracks in the north. This will be completed in 2030. Applause for Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, Senator Joe Simitian and Assembylman Rich Gordon should be accorded here.
It will take another $20.5 billion to link the Fourth and King St. station in San Francisco with the new Transbay Transit Terminal and extend the Los Angeles portion to Union Station and Anaheim. This will be done in year 2034. In the final analysis, the cost is $98.5 billion over 23 years. This is not an obscene number, nor is it too much for this program. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will high speed rail.
But if we begin now, I might be able to take my great grandchildren, should they exist, on high speed rail to see Disneyland. It’s a uniquely California dream and it is why I’m proud to live in this state.
Rich Robinson is a political consultant and author of “The Shadow Candidate”. He is currently under contract with the High Speed Rail Authority.