California has a new blueprint for its maligned High Speed Rail system. With a reduced price tag of $68 billion, proponents of the system hope that the new business plan will help restart the first-in-the-nation system.
“Our revised plan makes high-speed rail better, faster and cheaper,” said High-Speed Rail Authority Chairman Dan Richard at a news conference in Fresno. The revised plan will enhance local rail service immediately and, in the long term, cut total project costs by $30 billion.”
Part of the immediate delivery of services is the recently announced partnership with Caltrain that was announced March 22. That deal has enabled Caltrain to move forward with electrifying its rail lines sooner than originally planned, which would allow the commuter system to convert its current diesel fleet to a modern, electric fleet. According to Caltrain, that would stabilize its struggling finances and improve system schedules.
“Electrification is an essential improvement that is critical to the future of the system,” said Executive Director Mike Scanlon. “This is an enormous step forward that prioritizes these improvements and delivers early benefits to the Caltrain system, its riders and surrounding communities.”
According to a press release distributed by the High Speed Rail Authority, this improved business plan will cost $68.4 billion, a $30 billion reduction over the previous plan. Of that, six billion dollars in funding has already been identified for the first segment of the Initial Operating Section, including $3.3 billion in federal funding and $2.7 billion in voter-approved Proposition 1A bonds.
The new plan, which is described as a blended approach, and has accommodated some of the concerns of local officials.
“The revised plan shows that the Authority has listened and heard the concerns of many individuals, elected officials, and community leaders over the past several months and incorporated suggestions that will make for an improved plan,” said High-Speed Rail Board Member Jim Hartnett.
However, even offering more immediate delivery of service to local governments hasn’t proven enough for some opponents of High Speed Rail.
Fresno City Council Member Lee Brand was quoted by KFSN ABC30 as saying, “The real question is always been what is it going to cost? Is it going to pay for itself? Is the state going to sink in a sea of debt it’s drowning already?”
However, according to the new plan, the cost of the project hasn’t just dropped by $30 billion, bur according to the press release, the Authority says that no operating subsidy will be required.
But for the officials at Caltrain, the benefits are immediate and appreciated. Their plan “represents the first step in what will eventually be a great leap forward for transit on the Peninsula,” said Caltrain Executive Director Mike Scanlon.
A partial list of people who support the blended approach can be found at the Caltrain website.