California fixes high-speed rail route Jul 2008
Shani Wallis, Editor
California High Speed Rail Map
- Last week, on Wednesday July 9, 2008, the California High-Speed Rail Authority approved alignment of the last open section of the project's route from the main north-south corridor in the Central Valley into the Bay Area and downtown San Francisco.
- Of the options considered, the Pacheco Pass alignment, is confirmed for this final logistically, geologically, and politically complex section. According to the Authority, the selected alignment is "the fastest and most environmentally responsible option, minimizing impacts on wetlands and on San Francisco Bay." It avoids the need for another bridge or tunnel crossing of the Bay and also eliminates a system stop in Oakland taking instead the southern route from the Central Valley from Merced through the Hambleton Range in extensive tunnelling beneath the Pacheco Pass, to a station at Gilroy in the Santa Clara Valley, north to another stop at San Jose in the South Bay and up the east side of the peninsular, with a stop at Palo Alto or Redwood City in Silicon Valley, and into tunnels for approach to dedicated underground station platforms at the new Transbay Terminal in San Francisco. The decision on Wednesday completes the Final Program Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS) analysis to confirm the overall 800-mile statewide route, and opens the next development phase for project level environmental clearance and preliminary engineering to prepare for final design and construction under what is likely to be a DBOM - design, build, operate and maintain Ð procurement strategy. Along the total 800-mile route, some 30-50 miles is planned in tunnel. Major excavations are planned for twin tube tunnels beneath the Temecular Pass north of San Diego, through the mountains that circle the Los Angeles basin and north into Palmdale, through the Tehachepi Hills north of Palmdale, and beneath the Pacheco Pass into the underground approaches to the Transbay Terminal.
- For the most part the proposed new line will run along side existing track in established rail corridors, with tunnels carrying the route through undeveloped areas.
- In speaking of the developments, Rod Diridon Sr., the state governor's appointee to the board and past Chair of the High Speed Rail Authority, said that 22 county authorities through which the route passes are in favor of the project as are the governor, the state's council of mayors and its association of city supervisors. Governor Schwarzenegger and San Francisco City Mayor, Gavin Newsom, are particularly outspoken in their support of what is described by Mayor Newsom, as "essential for the economic future of the Bay Area as well as the future of the state in terms of our competitiveness." Governor Schwarzenegger, who has run hot and cold on the project in the past, said: "If you think right now our trains in America are running the same speed as 100 years ago. That's not progress. I think we can do much better than that."
- The majority of the route through Southern California and the Central Valley to Sacramento runs in the same corridor as the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway. In the Bay Area, the agreement is to share the corridors of Caltrain and other commuter rail services. Only Union Pacific (UP) is said to be not keen to share its corridor "even if we rebuild their lines through the shared sections," said Diridon, "but this is only for a small percentage of the route, maybe less than about 5%, and for this we will have to negotiate."
- Amid major city support, only one, Atherton on the San Francisco peninsular, is opposing the project, not wanting high-speed rail through its community without a stop and saying that proposed elevated tracks through the town would damage the quality of life.
- On the East Bay, supporters are disappointed that the Altamont option, through the Livermore Valley, via the Altamont Pass to Oakland and eastern Alameda County and across the Bay into San Francisco, was rejected. High- Speed Rail however says it is committed to improving regional rail commuter service in partnership with local and regional agencies and transit providers, and in particular to connecting passengers from the East Bay and Oakland areas to the high-speed system via the Altamont Pass.
- With all segments of the project now possessing a valid certified environmental analysis, the Authority issued last week a request for proposals for project level environmental clearance and preliminary engineering of the five route sections. This will lay the foundation for proposed DBOM procurement. "This is not decided yet but in May and June we had more than 20 responses from the international community to our invitation for expressions of interest," said Diridon. "This will be the largest construction project in the history of the United Sates and interest from international construction community as well as from system and rolling stock suppliers and capital investors is there."
- This is also good news since the project's master plan calculates more than one third of the estimated $40- 50 billion cost coming from private investors under its proposed public-private partnership (PPP) procurement. Another near $10 billion is to be decided by California voters in November when Proposition 1 on the state, federal and presidential election ballot papers asks for a 'yes' 'no' vote on a general obligation bond measure (i.e. not a tax increase measure) to raise $9 billion for building the high-speed train system and another $950 million to build improvements to connector rail services. "Proposition 1 requires a simple majority vote for approval," said Diridon, "and the citizens side of the Authority is stepping up the campaign to get voters to agree the measure." The balance of the funding, about a third of the multi-billion investment, will be requested from the federal government, in part from existing Federal Railway Administration funding sources and from new grant allocation programs designed to support specifically high-speed rail and intercity rail projects across the country. "Two bills are currently progressing through the legislature to create a framework for raising tens of billions of dollars in tax credit bonds over the coming years," said Diridon. "These will provide a direct means of funding high-speed systems that doesn't exist currently at the federal level."
- When opened, by the year 2030, the 800-mile long network is forecast to carry more than a 100 million passengers per year at speeds of up to 220mph (350km/h) and on trips of two-and-a-half hours from the heart of San Francisco to the center of Los Angeles and creating along the route the opportunity for growth and development of communities in the Central Valley that are currently poorly served by air and other modes of transport. The projected advantages towards reducing green house gases and protecting the environment into the future brings strong support to the project from the Sierra Club and other environmental protection agencies.