FRESNO—The much-anticipated bullet train project is inching its way to the finish line.
Over 119 miles of the Central Valley leg is under construction from Madera to Wasco, with 1,700 workers dispatched to 21 active construction sites.
Approximately 1,200 workers are Central Valley residents.
“We’ve made a lot of really good progress in the Valley,” said Annie Parker, a spokesperson for the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
Federal funding dictated the project would start in the Central Valley. In this area, the trains will travel in excess of 200 mph.
Parker said the estimated travel time from Fresno to L.A. will be 90 minutes. Riding from the Central Valley to San Francisco will take about ten minutes less.
On Feb. 15, newly appointed Chief Executive Officer Brian P. Kelly and Chief Operating Officer Joseph Hedges visited high-speed rail construction sites in Fresno County.
The California Bullet Train project is the largest high-speed rail project in the U.S.
The East Coast has a system that goes up to 110 mph, and smaller high-speed projects are under construction in Texas and Florida.
“There’s nothing of this scale being done right now,” Parker said.
Phase one of the project includes railway from downtown San Francisco to Los Angeles’ Union Station, with stops in San Jose, Gilroy, Chowchilla, Fresno, Bakersfield, Palmdale and Burbank.
Phase one also includes the Central Valley to San Francisco leg.
The estimated completion date for this phase is 2029, according to the 2016 business plan published by the Authority.
A 2018 update to that plan will be released later this month, but Parker adds the projected completion date from 2016 is still pretty accurate.
Preparation has started in the Bay Area, but construction is not yet underway.
So how will the train get residents in the Central Valley from point A to point B?
Routes are not finalized, however, a straight shot from San Francisco to Los Angeles will exist. Residents will also be able to get from Fresno to San Jose with little to no stops.
The Authority is considering budget tickets for routes with more stops.
The total number of stops allowed in the project is 24, however, Parker said the project likely won’t max out that number.
While some stops will require stations to be built from the ground up, like the one in Fresno, others will utilize established stations by sharing ports and, in some cases, railway with other transportation agencies.
For example, the route from San Jose to San Francisco will use pre-existing CalTrains track to connect the two cities.
Plans to create extensions from Merced to Sacramento and L.A. to San Diego, as well as coverage throughout San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties will be part of phase two.
Another day, another dollar.
Rumors of the expanding budget for the bullet train, the largest California railway project in 50 years, have been swirling.
“We are looking at our costs going up from $7.8 billion to $10.6 billion [to finish construction in the Central Valley],” Parker said.
Chief Project Officer Roy Hill announced the increase at the January Board of Director’s meeting.
He cited five main causes for the increase: higher railroad related costs, an increase in acquisition costs for additional parcels needed, fees paid for not acquiring the parcels sooner, a rise in third-party costs and higher than expected costs for utility relocation.
Concerns of needed tunnels increasing the budget were previously reported, but Parker said the opposite is true.
The Authority has revised its plans to build one large tunnel instead of five smaller tunnels in one area of the project.
“Having one long tunnel lowers some of that cost,” Parker said.
Federal funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which had a deadline to spend by Sept. 30, 2017, was used mainly for Central Valley construction. Additional funding has come from Prop 1A and California’s Cap and Trade program proceeds.
Once an operating section is up and running, the Authority will look to private investment for funding.
“There are a lot of really good opportunities for businesses, especially if businesses want to have facilities in the Central Valley,” Parker said.
She said the project has already received interest from Silicon Valley businesses where the bullet train can be used as a resource for commuters.
Disney has also shown interest.
Once it is operational, the bullet train can no longer receive subsidies for funding.
Follow the project at BuildHSR.com.
Another railway project
An Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) connection in Ceres is moving forward with a completion date of 2023.
The new connection will expand local transportation services, taking traffic off of highway 99 and connecting with trains to Silicon Valley and Sacramento, said Chris Kay, spokesperson for ACE.
By 2027, the plan is for extensions to take railways to Merced where it will connect with high-speed rail.
Funding for the Ceres route comes from SB1, a transportation funding package passed in 2017, and its partner bill SB132.
Funding beyond Ceres has yet to be identified.