Message from Executive Director
This month’s newsletter contains two articles that focus on two key documents that are rapidly moving the high-speed rail (HSR) project forward – California High Speed Rail Program Draft Revised 2012 Business Plan and the Final Environmental Impact Report/Statement: Merced to Fresno (Final EIR/EIS). We will follow up this newsletter shortly with several articles in the May edition of The High Speed Rail Advocate, with a focus on the politics of the project in Sacramento and around the state.
Executive Director, Californians For High Speed Rail
Feature Article: Revised Business Plan Lays Out Thoughtful and Realistic Vision for HSR and Entire California Rail Network
By Daniel Krause
The California High Speed Rail Authority’s (Authority) California High Speed Rail Program Draft Revised 2012 Business Plan is a revolutionary step forward for California’s entire rail network. The plans for HSR and other rail improvements contained in the Revised Business Plan represent a bold future for California and are what Californians For High Speed Rail (CA4HSR) has been characterizing as the state’s “low-risk alternative.” Now we must convince our friends in the Legislature to start focusing on the incredible benefits of the plan, which far outweigh all the risks we predominately hear about in legislative hearings.
The Authority has truly demonstrated a deep responsiveness to a wide range of stakeholders with the Revised Business Plan, which is very encouraging. It reflects many of the recommendations we submitted in our comment letter for the Draft Business Plan, which was critical of several components, and in our joint letter, which advocated for early investments in the bookends. Additionally, there are several great new ideas in Revised Business Plan that just make sense, and we applaud the Authority and the Governor Brown for bringing these forward.
There are three major shifts in strategy contained in the Revised Business Plan from that of the Draft Business Plan, dramatically increasing the utility of HSR and California’s rail network in the near-term while also significantly reducing the cost: 1) Early investments in the “bookends” to construct reduced-scope “blended” corridors; 2) Completion of 300-mile Initial Operating Segment (IOS) in 10 years by utilizing Cap-and-Trade funds to guarantee timeline; and 3) Early investment in an integrated Northern California Rail System and commitment to running an interim Amtrak service along the IOS.
Early Investments in the “Bookends” to Construct Reduced-Scope “Blended” Corridors
The Revised Business Plan commitment to scale back the project design in urban areas and to fund initial HSR improvements in the short-term is rapidly rebuilding support for the HSR project. The key to this increased support is the fact that existing commuter rail and Amtrak services will benefit from early investments in HSR infrastructure, dramatically increasing the utility of the HSR program to millions of rail passengers. Additionally, by reducing scope and speeding up the improvements, the cost is significantly reduced. The design adjustments will save billions in baseline construction costs, while frontloading approximately $2.5 billion in the urban corridors will save additional billions by reducing escalated costs from inflation.
It should be pointed out that opponents are suggesting these early investment in urban corridors might be illegal. CA4HSR is confident that the Authority is on the right track, as investments being made now are in fact HSR infrastructure that will eventually be used by HSR trains. The side benefit is that commuter rail systems and Amtrak benefit in the near-term. Proposition 1A is clear that investments in a “usable segment” can be utilized by other passenger rail operators.
Completion of 300-mile IOS in 10 years by Utilizing Cap-and-Trade Funds to Guarantee Timeline
The Revised Business Plan commits to building a 300-mile Initial Operating Segment (IOS) between Merced and the San Fernando Valley in 10 years. The draft plan had anticipated a shorter IOS with much less utility and a much longer timeframe for completion. This new strategy not only saves costs by moving up the completion date for the IOS to 2022 (along with a 2028 target date for the entire Phase 1 from 2033), but also generates another revenue source based on early profits from initial HSR service. Much of these profits will be directed into accelerating new track from the Central Valley to San Jose. Helping to fund this segment with initial profits is a small price for HSR operators to pay for access to lucrative long-term profits. And here again, opponents are still claiming the ridership is not valid and too low. CA4HSR strongly believes the Authority, in an effort to cover their bases, has estimated ridership so conservatively that actual ridership numbers will prove to be far higher, producing even more revenue from the IOS.
CA4HSR also believes that once the IOS is actually under construction and more realistic ridership numbers are estimated by private rail operators (i.e higher), private funds will begin to flow in for the track to San Jose, further accelerating the Phase 1 schedule. It is quite likely that that the Bay-to-Basin phase will be completed at the same time or soon after the IOS is completed.
Early Investment in an Integrated Northern California Rail System and Commitment to Interim Amtrak Service along IOS
While we are very excited about the early investments in “blended” corridors and the acceleration of the IOS, the real intellectual power of this Revised Business Plan is an enlargement of vision that encompasses the entire California rail network. The commitment to invest in upgrading Amtrak and ACE lines north of Merced is a groundbreaking idea and vastly increases the “utility” of the initial $6 billion investment in the Central Valley. The proposal creates a 3-branch, integrated rail system in northern California consisting of the following lines:
- Merced-Sacramento via the Bay Area branch of Amtrak’s San Joaquin Line;
- Merced-Oakland via the Sacramento branch of Amtrak’s San Joaquin Line;
- Merced-San Jose via the Altamont Commuter Express corridor.
Upgrades along these corridors will save at least 15 minutes to the Bay Area and Sacramento from Merced while increasing capacity so trains can run more frequently. This may not sound significant until you combine these improvements with plans to run Amtrak service on the new 130-mile segment of HSR track that will be built with the secured $6 billion, which will save an additional 45 minutes, totaling at least one hour in reduced travel times between the Bay Area/Sacramento to Southern Central Valley and Los Angeles.
All these improvements, along with population growth will vastly increase ridership above the million annual riders we see today on Amtrak’s San Joaquin line. This is an important point. With significantly more people riding trains in the Central Valley due to the $6 billion investment in new HSR track, the utility of this first leg is very significant and worthy of support for our leaders in Sacramento.
Central Valley Report
Final EIR/EIS Released for Merced-Fresno Section – Support at Authority board meeting on May 2nd in Fresno
Following on their recent decision to adopt the CA4HSR-endorsed “hybrid” alignment between Merced and Fresno, the Authority released the Final EIR/EIS for the Merced-Fresno section. As expected, this decision brings great progress, but also brings opposition from those directly impacted. Since the alignment swings around the City of Madera, some farmland will be impacted. However, the benefits are twofold: 1) a savings of hundreds of million dollars; and 2) avoiding impacts on a far greater number of people residing in Madera. We look forward to formal adoption at the May 2-3 CHSRA board meeting and the Record of Decision/Notice of Determination soon after. There will likely be lawsuits, but we are confident things will continue to move forward.
If you are a Central Valley resident, please consider attending the Authority board meeting on May 2 in Fresno hearing and show your support for the Final EIR/FEIS. Though it is a two-day meeting, the public comments will take place on May 2.
Fresno Convention Center
Exhibit Hall 3
700 M Street
May 2 (10:00 am) and May 3 (9:00 am)