California's high-speed rail project advances though cost jumped to $128B

The California High-Speed Rail Authority Board received an update on its high-speed electric rail project on Thursday as it moves forward in the first phase.

The high-speed rail system aims to serve four million residents in the Central Valley.

Fifteen years ago, Californians approved a $9 billion bond to fund the state's portion of the $33 billion required for the 500-mile system, connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Dan Richard chaired the California High-Speed Rail Authority from 2011 to 2019.

"I think it's, without question, gonna be harder, take longer, and be more expensive," said Richard.

Since then, the cost has escalated to as much as $128 billion, with no trains having traveled a single mile yet.


Costs climb again for California's high-speed rail project

The project's price tag has steadily risen since voters first approved nearly $10 billion in bond money for it in 2008, when the total cost was pegged at $40 billion.

Construction of significant structures, including concrete columns to support tracks in the Central Valley, is nearing conclusion, and funds are now available to begin track installation.

This month, the California High-Speed Rail Authority expects to start receiving proposals from manufacturers to demonstrate their capacity to produce the trains.

Early next year, eligible manufacturers will be invited to submit bids for the production of six high-speed train sets, capable of traveling at 200 miles per hour. The initial prototypes are scheduled to undergo testing in 2028, with passenger services operating on the 170-mile stretch between Bakersfield and Merced.

"I would say that can happen within eight or ten years. And that will start producing revenues while we're building out the rest of the system," said Richard.

Some Republicans in Congress have long sought to ditch high-speed rail projects, but have been unsuccessful in their attempts.

"I certainly think that this president would not tolerate that," said Richard.

Closer to home, Caltrain initiated its electrification project five years ago, partly funded by the high-speed rail authority, and is nearly ready to introduce new, eco-friendly electric trains.

"Overhead contact system, which is gonna provide power to the trains, should be finished up early next year. We're currently doing a lot of testing on our train sets. Each one of those has to go through a thousand miles of test runs before they can go into revenue service," explained Caltrain Public Information Officer Dan Lieberman.

Service is slated to begin in the fall of the following year, with additional stations opening.

"They be clean, green and even a little bit serene as they're a little quieter than our current diesel fleet," Lieberman emphasized.

These fast and efficient Caltrains are expected to reduce travel times by 25% or more.