By Nathan Chen
Graphic Design Editor
California’s High Speed Rail project, first envisioned in 1996, is slowly becoming a reality. After California voters passed Proposition 1A in 2008 to allocate 9.95 billion dollars to the rail line, the California High Speed Rail Authority (CAHSRA) is using the money to construct phase 1 of the plan. CAHSRA is relying on additional finances from the federal and state government to fund the 119-mile central section of the planned route from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
The project hopes to reduce travel time from SF to LA to under three hours with trains running at an average speed of over 200 miles per hour. Phase 1 will route from SF through Merced, Fresno, and Bakersfield to LA. Phase 2 will add service to Sacramento and San Diego. In total, the routes will cover 800 miles. CAHSRA’s official website states that the ”California high-speed rail will connect the mega-regions of the state, contribute to economic development and a cleaner environment, create jobs, and preserve agricultural and protected lands.”
The current construction of the Merced to Bakersfield section is well underway, with many grade-separation projects completed or in progress. Grade-separation is when roads or train tracks are separated to different heights, reducing potential collisions and wait times. A train box underneath the Salesforce Transit Center was built in hopes that eventually, high speed rail tracks will terminate there instead of the SF Caltrain station. Caltrain in the Bay Area received 714 million dollars of the high-speed rail funding to complete their electrification project, installing poles and electric wires above tracks. The high-speed rail system will use the Caltrain corridor and follow designated speed limits once on Caltrain tracks.
The project has not gone without controversy. Opposition from state lawmakers grew as representatives in the Bay Area and LA expected benefits to their communities from this project, but have not yet received any. Some California Assembly members are withholding funding until CAHSRA changes their current plan to make a functional line between Merced and Bakersfield. Representatives want construction to start from SF and LA, and then connect in the middle. Construction unions and rail enthusiasts demand that the high-speed rail line be finished, no matter the method.
CAHSRA, California Governor Gavin Newsom, and the state assembly hope to secure designated funding for California’s high-speed rail line in the infrastructure bill Congress is currently trying to pass. The estimated cost to complete phase 1 ranges from 69 to 99.8 billion dollars. However, the line will reduce carbon emissions from cars and planes, especially since the busiest domestic flight route is between SFO and LAX. To move the same projected amount of people as this rail line, upgrading highways and airports could cost between $112 and $199 billion.
Although the forecasted finish date is set for 2033, California’s high-speed rail line promises to bring a fast, environmentally-friendly way to travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
(Sources: California High-Speed Rail Authority, NBC Bay Area, Los Angeles Times, Almanac News)