Jerry Brown Lowers HSR Cost by $30 Billion
The details of the revised business plan are starting to come out and they contain some big changes – starting with a dramatic lowering of the project cost. From Dan Smith and David Siders at the Sacramento Bee:
The Brown administration has lowered the projected cost to build California’s high-speed rail line by $30 billion – to $68 billion – as it braces for crucial hearings in the Legislature, according to sources familiar with the plan.
The lower estimate is tied to a series of changes to the project, primarily by relying on existing rail lines in and around Los Angeles and the Bay Area.
That’s in year-of-expenditure dollars, by the way. The new business plan also contains a major change to the way the project will begin construction:
The new plan also will abandon the idea of the so-called “train to nowhere,” the much criticized initiative to begin the project with a line from near Chowchilla to Corcoran, in Kings County, sources said.
The federal government, which is contributing about $3.3 billion to the project, conditioned funding on starting in the Central Valley.
Now construction is planned to begin in Merced and move south to Lancaster and the San Fernando Valley.
The Mercury News has more details on that particular aspect of the new plan:
Under the revised plan, the first segment would connect the Central Valley city of Merced with the San Fernando Valley some 300 miles to the south, bringing the bullet train to the outskirts of downtown Los Angeles within 10 years. Instead of going straight into California’s major cities, the high-speed system would stop short of Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area and connect with existing urban commuter rail lines.
What Governor Brown is proposing is a French-style high speed rail solution, where high speed tracks are built to connect metro areas, with trains using upgraded passenger rail tracks within metro areas. Those upgrades can happen in stages and phases. Obviously a single-seat ride would be needed from SF to LA, and other countries have shown that this phased approach can work.
The details matter, of course. How long would travel time be from SF to LA under this blended plan? Would it be a single-seat ride?
Already critics are jumping on this proposal as not meeting what was intended in Prop 1A, although I disagree with that view. More importantly, many of these critics – like Sen. Doug LaMalfa – have never supported high speed rail to begin with, so their claims are completely disingenuous. But I would still expect this to wind up in court.
When the plan is made available to the public – likely on Monday – we will be able to take a closer look at this and geek out over the details. For now, analysis has to be preliminary.
My view is that this is a sensible way to move forward. I would love to build HSR infrastructure from downtown SF to downtown LA in one fell swoop. Politically, that is proving more difficult. The combination of NIMBYism in California and Tea Party control of the US House of Representatives (groups which share common roots) has made it difficult, for the time being, to get that kind of construction schedule done. So a phased approach, resembling how HSR lines have been built in Europe, makes a great deal of sense. As long as the phasing does not permanently compromise the core goals of high speed rail in California, then it is a path worth following.
It’s also worth remembering we don’t exactly have time to wait. Oil prices continue to soar. Unemployment is still sky-high. The globe is only getting hotter. HSR helps to address those challenges. If Governor Brown can get HSR built for a lower price tag on a shorter timeline and in a way that still delivers the kind of bullet train service that we have seen be so effective around the world, then it is worth doing.