The electrification project is supposed to increase passenger capacity, reduce travel time and cut diesel emissions on the 50-mile route from San Jose to San Francisco. Eventually, the bullet train would use the same electrical system and the same tracks, creating a rationale for the high-speed rail authority paying a large chuck of the cost.
The electrification project will cost nearly $2 billion and replace at least some of Caltrain’s diesel locomotives with electric trains that can accelerate faster, thereby reducing travel times.
The bullet train project plans to share tracks and the electrical system with Caltrain, though exactly when it would begin operating is unclear. The $64-billion project faces a more than $40-billion shortfall to build the future system from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
The Bay Rapid Transit System cost billions to build; a 2015 state audit said replacement value would be $21 billion. Then there is the $2 billion project to electrify the CalTrain commuter line between San Jose and San Francisco.
And when it is done, we all will benefit, not just commuters and businesses in the Bay Area. Like the L.A. subway and BART, an improved CalTrain will ease gridlock, enhance economic activity, and reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. The same will be true of high-speed rail.
Disparaging California’s high-speed rail project as an overpriced boondoggle is a kind of received wisdom by now.
Self-styled protectors of taxpayers carp. Powerful congressional Republicans go out of their way to undermine the $64 billion project. It’s the “crazy train,” or the “train to nowhere.” Tesla founder Elon Musk says a hyperloop would be a smarter alternative. Advocates of driverless cars say they will be the answer.
But rail is not crazy in Europe or in Asia. And Fresno, Madera, Merced and Stanislaus counties, home to nearly 2 million Californians, are not nowhere. They are, however, too often forgotten.
The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board, which opposed the 2008 ballot measure that authorized high-speed rail, long since has come to see the life-changing potential of a transportation system that connects the San Joaquin Valley to Silicon Valley. It’s not too complicated to see the short and long-term reasons why.
Federal safety standards for high-speed rail have been delayed as the Federal Railroad Administration determines how to release new rules while adhering to President Donald Trump’s order that agencies eliminate two regulations for every one they issue.
The FRA’s chief safety officer, Robert Lauby, said his agency’s regulations are “complete or ready to be issued,” but regulators need guidance on how to proceed under the new White House. The FRA does not have an appointed administrator or deputy administrator in place.
The proposed high-speed rail rules released in November would create a new tier of safety standards that allow passenger rail service at speeds up to 220 mph along lines shared with commuter and other rail. Currently, Amtrak’s Acela is the fastest train operating on lines shared with slower trains; it is approved to travel up to 150 mph, but does so on just a small segment of track.
Lauby said the rail industry wants the regulations released, calling them “well-liked” because they will provide cost-savings and were developed in coordination with rail and affected industri
Slow and Uncertain
California’s high-speed rail project received a project-specific approval from the FRA, but even that project has placeholders referencing proposed rules in its procurement documents for new trains, Frank Vacca, chief program manager for the California High-Speed Rail Authority, told Bloomberg BNA. Vacca said they expect the regulations to be in place before California needs to finalize its contracts.
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