High speed trains : the new californian dream for next decade

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After many years of controversy and skepticism about the California's bullet train, the state is finally ready to break ground on the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles rail line. What’s really happens in America, the country where high speed line was just a toy for old Europe ?  Analysis.

As this told  in the website Contra Costatimes.com Larry Gerston, a political expert at San Jose State University: “before, you never knew if and when the project would really get going. Now, as those tracks get laid, mile by mile, it gets harder and harder to turn back the idea.” And so took place last January in Fresno, a ceremony which will be a etching in the pages of railway history. That was the day, California began one of the largest infrastructure projects of his history, a massive high-speed rail line that would connect San Francisco to Los Angeles. The dream comes true ? It's depends. Dream for some people, a nightmare for others.

Fresno (photo from Department of Transport)

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, a Republican, said she backs the rail system. In addition to putting construction workers on the job in the short term, Swearengin said the rail project will connect the Central Valley agricultural region with other sectors of the state's economy. Californian Governor, Jerry Brown (D), 76 years old, who is in his fourth term, told to Washington Post last year : « we should be able to have at least one high-speed rail, and the only place that’s going to happen in our lifetime is California ». As everyone know, California is really a Earth of the future. The rail project is estimated to cost $68 billion over the next 14 years, and the inaugurated section account only 29 miles. Phase one of the project is planned to run from Merced to Bakerfield in 2018, as shown the map bellow :

The entire project will reach the north of Los Angeles in 2028, in Burbank. the next stage of the passage through the city of angels, to Anaheim, is uncertain however. One again a tunnel, like the famous Alameda corridor ? The system will run from San Francisco to the Los Angeles basin in under three hours at speeds capable of over 200 miles per hour (320 km/h). The 836 kilometers of line will account 24 new stations.

Plans for a high-speed train system linking Northern and Southern California were proposed by Governor Jerry Brown in the 1980s, the same governor that today ! In 2008, voters approved by referendum the issuing of bonds with 52.7% voting in favor, the called Proposition 1A (the ‘Safe, Reliable, High Speed Passenger Trains Bond Act for the 21st Century').From this date, things began to mature. The project is however not without controversy. Local governments and opponents critical of the rail system’s cost and legality have sued to block the project several times. Those suits, along with slower-than-expected land acquisition, have set back the beginning of construction by two years. The California Supreme Court still ruled in October against a suit brought by Kings County that would have blocked construction.

Who is responsible ?
The project’s governing body is the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA), created in 1996, and responsible for planning, designing, building and operation of the first high-speed rail system in the nation and which is working with regional partners to implement a state-wide rail modernization plan that will invest billions of dollars in local and regional rail lines to meet the state’s 21st century transportation needs. 

A big financial challenge
In 2008, the cost of the initial San Francisco-to-Anaheim segment was originally estimated by the Authority to be $33 billion. But after many years, the estimated spending grew up to to $53.4 billion in 2011 and finally reached $68.4 billion. Last price ? Surely not ! With this kind of project, the actualized spending will not still reflect the reality. It will be sufficient to refer to the Eurotunnel project or of many high speed lines in Europe, when it is becoming taken for granted that the high speed ecosystem becomes a deficit machine, like in France.

In the Anglo-American world, taxpayers' money is a issue which enrages many people, many more than outside in the world. People don't hesitate to say that after the Obama Administration’s unaccountable spending in the early years of his presidency, the American people spoke loudly and ushered in a new Republican Congress to stop the waste. How, therefore, California authority can do to justify a spending of 68 billion dollars over 14 years ?

The first approval in 2008 by voters was a issuing of bonds for $9.95 billion. The Obama administration added another $3.2 billion in federal grants, and the legislature agreed in 2014 to provide funding through cap-and-trade taxes on greenhouse gases, which will add another $250 million to $1 billion per year, what makes us a total for only $26 billion at best. California High-Speed Rail Authority officials have said they expect advertising, real estate developments and private investors to fund up to a third of the total costs. Over the past six months, the authority scored a major legal victory that will allow the state to sell more than $8 billion in bonds and won its first steady stream of state funding from a program that collects fees from California's worst polluters.

Works began
Before the ceremony of Fresno, CHSRA has selected in april 2013 an offer of $985millions by the consortium of Tutor Perini Corp, Zachry Construction Corp and Parsons Corp to undertake civil works on the first 47 km section, from Madera to Fresno in the Central Valley. This  time, things have really started.

Rolling stock
The question of rolling stock is widely anticipated. In October 2014, according International Railway Journal, California High Speed Rail Authority had received 10 responses to its request for expressions of interest in a contract to supply trainsets and a maintenance facility. The manufacturers are :
Alstom Transportation;
Bombardier Transit Corp;
CSR Corp;
Hyundai Rotem;
Marnell Transportation;
Kawasaki Rail Car;
Siemens Industry;
SunGroup USA & World Harmony City/CNR Tangshan Railway Vehicle Co;

The Authority anticipates that the final design would be a single-deck EMU capable of revenue operation at speeds up to 354 km/h (220 mile/h). A maximum train length of 205 m is specified, with a minimum of 450 seats in first and business classes with seat pitches of 1 067 mm and 991 mm respectively. Static axleloads should not exceed 17 tonnes, in line with the European high speed Technical Specification for Interoperability issued in 2008, CHSRA said. With a fleet of up to 95 trainsets, it is clear that a great battle begins…

So there's an enthralling project to follow on the next ten years. If we add to that the HS2 project in England (1), we have two projects of new railways infrastructure in the Anglo-American world, with his unique attributes for financing. We are very keen to find out how that goes…