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Published on April 8th, 2018 | by Nicolas Zart


Current SF-to-LA High-Speed Rail Cost Estimate = $77 Billion

April 8th, 2018 by  

Electric skateboards, bikes, mopeds, motorcycles, cars, trucks, boats, airplanes, and trains — no matter where we look, all aspects of mobility have been touched or will be touched soon enough by electric powertrains. Ironically, trains were early to electrify, but we’re still behind the times in the US.

Californian High-Speed Rail Budget Balloons

Although we’d be hard-pressed to agree with AMTRAK’s definition of a high-speed train plateauing at 80 MPH*, that is what’s planned to significantly improve long-distance train travel in California. It’s certainly better than what exists today.

As the 5th largest economic power in the world, the state years ago decided it was time to somewhat catch up with the transportation times and get “high-speed rail” going from the northern part of the state to the southern. The rail plans have been developing for years and overcoming barrier after barrier, and an initial 130-mile section of the California “bullet train” network is being tested around the Madera and Bakersfield areas. But as time has progressed, so have some costs.

Well, the range for the Los Angeles—San Francisco AMTRAK high-speed rail estimate has been sitting between $63.2 billion and $98 billion, but after some extra costs, the current base cost estimate is $77.3 billion. That’s a bit more than 2012 estimate of $68 billion. To put that into deeper perspective, though, back in 2008, 52.7% of voters believed the projected budget would be $40 billion.

Californian High-Speed Rail

The new Californian high-speed rail map.

After a continuous series of negative publicity, the Californian high-speed rail project released a draft 2018 Business Plan on March 9th [PDF]. It acknowledges that costs on some lines have increased by billions of dollars.

According to Curbed, the Californian rail project awkwardly recommended that it couldn’t exactly tell how much the complete project would cost since. “Costs are uncertain and construction could end up either cheaper or more costly than expected, but more costly is likely: The plan sticks to the previously reported low-end estimate of $63.2 billion for the LA-SF corridor but also provides a high-end projection of $98 billion. $77.3 billion is the present ‘base’ estimate. ‘These cost ranges, which are detailed further in this chapter, are based on assumptions, preliminary design information and on our current assessment of the risks and uncertainty for each project section.'”

Californian High-Speed Rail Budget Concentrates On San Francisco

The Silicon Valley to Central Valley Line (CHSRA) is hastily focusing on the San Francisco terminal after finally realizing that the San Francisco–Bakersfield line had stronger ridership potential and higher commercial value than the shorter San José–Poplar Avenue line.

All of this, as a reminder, is for trains that won’t run until 2027. It requires approximately 224 miles of high-speed-rail infrastructure on two different lines, one in the Central Valley and one connecting San Francisco to Gilroy.

“The draft claims that the much-criticized cost overruns in Central Valley were anticipated two years ago and says it happened because of hastiness to meet deadlines: ‘The current cost estimate for the Central Valley segment, $10.6 billion, reflects the realization of risks, identified in the 2016 Business Plan. […] There were many unknowns remaining, and setting fast-track schedules to meet the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) spending deadline increased risk.'”

Making Sense Of The Californian High-Speed Rail Budget

Planning for a train line, let alone a high-speed train line, is a decade-long goal. While Europe, Asia, and some parts of the world enjoy regular, reliable daily high-speed train services and can generally just upgrade trains and tracks from time to time, the USA sadly lacks behind. At the moment, “high speed” is considered 80 MPH, effectively rendering almost all of our cars “high speed” according to AMTRAK.

It is 2018 and we’ve been hearing about the famous Los Angeles to San Francisco high-speed train for a decade or so. Of course, the budget will skyrocket as time goes on. No one can predict the increasing cost of life and all the barriers that slow down projects we try to put on the ground. In the meantime, bets are still on the table to find out who will still be here to enjoy this train once it does come, and perhaps has to compete with Boring Old Hyperloops.

Californian High-Speed Rail

*Come on AMTRAK. You’ve given us the wild and exuberant Metroliner on the Boston to Washington D.C. line. Although that poor dog tried its best to keep contact with the aging rails and infrastructure, even your venerable E60 had to continuously be downgraded in speed because, although it had the power, its weight damaged tracks. But speed is something you’ve dabbled with. And almost all modern societies have regular trains that travel 160 km/h (100 MPH) — since the ’50s — and truly high-speed trains are running today in excess of 350 km/h (215–220 MPH) in China, Japan, and Europe. 

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About the Author

Nicolas was born and raised around classic cars of the 1920s, but it wasn't until he drove an AC Propulsion eBox and a Tesla Roadster that the light went on. Ever since he has produced green mobility content on various CleanTech outlets since 2007 and found his home on CleanTechnica. He grew up in an international environment and his communication passion led to cover electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, renewable energy, test drives, podcasts, shoot pictures, and film for various international outlets in print and online. Nicolas offers an in-depth look at the e-mobility world through interviews and the many contacts he has forged in those industries. His favorite taglines are: "There are more solutions than obstacles." and "Yesterday's Future Now"

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