UPDATE: 1:00pm (PT) – Here I am signing off for the afternoon. I will try to comb through any questions until tomorrow at noon. Thank you everyone, this was fun! Great questions all around and thank you Reddit for hosting!
Hi Reddit! This is Meg Cederoth, and I’m the Director of Planning and Sustainability at the California High-Speed Rail Authority. We’re excited to be hosting our second AMA! Proof it’s me here. Read on for more details and Ask Me Anything!
It’s happening! As of April 2021, here are some major updates right off the bat:
• In 2008, Californians voted to develop a statewide high-speed rail system connecting the State’s major cities.
• Why: An environmentally clean, fast, and safe high-speed rail system will transform how people move around the state, put people to work building the system, spur economic growth and new industries, and help achieve our state’s ambitious environmental goals. The system will improve air quality by shifting people from cars and planes to clean trains running on 100% renewable energy.
• Location: The first phase of the system will connect San Francisco to Los Angeles and Anaheim and a second phase will add extensions to Sacramento and San Diego. In all, 8 of the 10 largest cities in the State will be connected. Map
• Speed: Trains will be capable of reaching speeds up to 220 miles per hour while making the trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles in under 3 hours.
• Status: California High-Speed Rail broke ground in 2015 and now has 35 active construction sites spanning 119 miles in the Central Valley between Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern counties. This includes construction of numerous viaducts, overcrossings, undercrossings, and more. With around $8 billion invested and more than 5,500 construction jobs created, the Central Valley will demonstrate the viability of the project and serve as the backbone of the high-speed rail system.
• Statewide: In Northern and Southern California, the Authority is working on getting these parts of the system shovel-ready to extend from the Central Valley to the Bay Area and Los Angeles Basin. Work is advancing on environmental clearance and the “bookend” projects that we have committed funding to in the Los Angeles Basin and the Bay Area. See status here.
• Green: We are the largest Envision Platinum project to date. We have recycled 97% of all the materials from construction, and much more (see Sustainability Report here)
• Education: Masters in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
• Previous jobs: Consultant at WSP USA, Sustainability projects across the US and globally, as well as corporate sustainability initiatives. Worked as Sustainability Manager, later Sustainability Director for the California high-speed rail project. Barista, prep cook, counselor, editor and dog walker feature in my distant past.
• Example Projects: South Capitol Street Corridor (Washington, D.C.), Anacostia Waterfront Initiative (Washington, D.C.), Sustainable Urban Infrastructure Guidelines (City of Chicago), Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (United Arab Emirates), California High-Speed Rail
• Hobbies include: Hiking, yoga, biking, gardening. Have lived in Washington, D.C. and Chicago, Morocco, Germany, and the UAE. I speak clunky French, rusty Arabic, and German like a toddler.
You can ask me anything, but I am most knowledgeable about: Sustainable infrastructure; Corporate sustainability; Station Communities and urban planning; Transportation planning; Climate change and greenhouse gas mitigation; and Running the train on renewable energy.
*Disclaimer: Due to anticipated volume questions, we may not be able to answer all your questions. Thanks for your participation! All opinions expressed are my own and not that of my past or current employer.
**This is a conversation in English, but we welcome comments in other languages.
How will the latest infrastructure plans from Washington expand or accelerate your high speed rail rollout?
We cannot emphasize how important it is to have a reengaged federal partner. A big transformational project like this can only be done in a spirit of collaboration and partnership. Specifically in the President's proposal, we see billions of dollars potentially available in proposed competitive grants. Our current business plan outlines our timetable for the sections of the project if funding is identified. So we're not contemplating any specific accelerations at this time. We're just keeping our head down and doing the work.
As someone who frequently travels between LA and SF, I am trying to understand what the value of the HSR is. I regularly use the both the LA Metro system and BART/Muni in SF and was excited when I first heard of HSR plans in CA. But this doesn’t seem like the right solution. Can you convince me otherwise?
The proposed HSR will take 2 hours, 40 minutes to do from SF to LA (with driving, going through station, etc, I estimate 4h door-to-door) for an estimated ticket price of $86. A flight takes 55 minutes (with driving, airport times, etc, it typically takes me 2h 30m door-to-door) and I usually pay $65 for tickets. With TSA Pre and CLEAR you only have to show up at the airport 25 mins before departure; with a train I’d probably risk 8 minutes before departure. I can’t see me or any of the regular business travelers I know using the proposed HSR.
Why would we allocate $86bn for a slower, more expensive solution?
When voters approved it, the projected cost was $33bn. However, most people believed that the HSR Authority was not telling the truth on cost. It has since skyrocketed to $86bn.
Our cities need subways and other forms of public transportation. We could re-allocate the $86bn to the cities to build out local public transportation. Wouldn’t giving that money to the cities be a drastic improvement in sustainability? (And the amount is large enough that there obviously is a tradeoff!)
Also, given the HSR Authority’s history of untruthfulness on the cost of the project, why should Californians believe the current $86,000,000,000 figure will stick? Especially since other agencies like LA Metro have proven to be able to build on-time and on-budget and are more responsible stewards for the resources we’ve worked so hard for.
If it were high enough speed to be useful—like a maglev or hyperloop—I’d take it every day of the week. But as-it, it seems like a scam, taking money from the projects we need for sustainability and allocating them to projects to enrich contractors.
Thank you for the question! In addition to door to door travel time (which can vary widely based on your proximity to an airport vs. proximity to a downtown HSR station), it is important to also consider consistent travel time between those two major markets. On top of that, compared with a plane journey, your trip on a high-speed train involves more productive time, such as more time on your laptop for work, or a smoother overall journey for a good nap. The Los Angeles – San Francisco air corridor is the busiest air corridor in the country. In fact, it is one of the busiest air routes in the world. But with that activity comes delay: according to the Bureau of Travel Statistics, from 2012 to 2019, an average of 20% of arrivals to LAX and 25% of arrivals to SFO experienced a delay. HSR will not be subject to the same types of delays due to the dedicated right-of-way being built for the system. High-speed rail addresses a critical issue of capacity: shifting trips from flying or driving to high-speed rail postpones the need for additional capacity increases at the busiest and most congested airports as well as roadways. Around the world, countries that have initiated high-speed rail service between two destination cities—such as San Francisco and Los Angeles—have seen the type of mode shift we would expect, 30% or greater from the air market. Also, HSR provides an environmentally responsible alternative to travel between LA and SF. In the first 50 years of operation, cumulative reductions of tailpipe emissions are projected to be up to 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide avoided. The fact is that the cost of inaction on climate change will result in costs that outweigh the cost of mitigation measures. We can’t afford not to act on climate change. Check out some of these studies which are just a few that highlight the need for action as soon as possible:
Yes, as we have refined design we have refined our cost estimates; that is normal for project delivery. As we advance the detail of design, we will gain a greater understanding of the total cost for delivery of full Phase 1 system to Californians. And yes, certainly cities need investment in local transit. State funding from several sources, and new proposed federal funding for transit, can help with capital expansion and operational improvements. In addition, the Authority is working with regional partners to implement a statewide rail modernization plan that will invest billions of dollars in local and regional passenger rail lines to meet the state’s 21st century transportation needs. However, the Authority’s principal mission is to connect the state’s megaregions to the Central Valley. By connecting the growing Central Valley, the Authority is meeting Governor Newsom’s challenge for the state’s regions to rise together.
Why does it take so long to finish the project? compared to other developed countries like France, Germany, Japan, they at least build at a reasonable timeframe. For now, the most important section which connect LA to Central Valley and Bay Area to Central Valley is still in environment impost assessment stage. Is there any way to accelerate the project like additional Federal funding or Private partnership? Only finish the Central Valley section by 2030s is not acceptable.
If we went back to France in the 80s or Spain in the 90s, they too probably felt their project was going too slowly! Building out new, dedicated HSR lines does take time, and at least in their cases their existing passenger rail networks were more robust than ours.
Here in California, we are really proud of being at the forefront of environmental sustainability and determining impacts of construction progress. But that does take time. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is a worthwhile but often lengthy process to determine the impacts to communities and land as a result of development. We also are subject to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). These reviews are valuable though! It means we work with and connect communities, rather than just going around or through them. Happily, in terms of streamlining the process, in 2019, the Authority signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Federal Rail Authority to assume the responsibilities as lead agency under NEPA. This allows the state environmental review responsibilities under NEPA for the Phase 1 system. The Authority will be able to accelerate project delivery while protecting the environment, by conducting more efficient environmental reviews and approvals of the environmental documents required to advance the High-Speed Rail Program.
Another element to consider is a slightly different rail market and supply chain which introduces some delay, but is worth developing! Just compared to Europe, California does not have as well of an established passenger railroad and supply chain system that feeds the project delivery process. However, the Authority is doing a lot by creating and growing this industry and expanding the rail supply chain so future project segments will be both faster and cheaper.
We agree that we want to advance as much of the system as quickly as possible. The Authority is actively engaging with the federal government to seek additional funding for completion of the project. And we have also engaged with private sector interests to understand what aspects of the project delivery are appropriate for the private sector to engage in, and what the Authority can do to improve the certainty of project advancement, better define project configuration, and refine cost estimates that reflect realities on the ground. This is one of the reasons the 2020 Business Plan focuses on advancing design work in each segment statewide once each segment’s environmental work is completed.
From what I've read, it seems like new high speed rail in California is a bit of a 'Lucy holding out the football to Charlie Brown' situation. What makes this time different?
I'll assume you're talking about cost estimates. The alternative is to not be open and transparent about how our estimates change. This project is a massive, once-in-a-generation undertaking, and adjustments shouldn't be surprising, but they should be well-managed and reflect the best information available. Since 2018, our CEO Brian Kelly has been adamant on presenting a range of costs, clarity about the level of certainty around certain costs, and making big changes to agency to be both streamlined and accountable. He has also focused the Authority on delivering what it can, as soon as it can, with the money in hand. He's patient and committed. So, more like Schroeder doing his best with the piano he has, rather than Lucy and her football.
This project, like high-speed rail systems globally, has always been about building out in blocks. Starting with the Central Valley system, which is home to more than 3 million people; Fresno has a larger population than Atlanta and New Orleans; the Valley has some of the worst air quality and highest rates of Asthma; we're already removing or avoiding more emissions in *construction* than we're creating. And our purpose-built infrastructure will be the only place in the US that we'll be able to test and certify our trainsets at the speeds approved by voters in 2008.
How will this project cooperate with amtrak and other existing rail systems?
Another great question. Many of the country's most popular train routes are already operating right here in California. Looking at you Capitol Corridor, Caltrain, Altamont Corridor Express, the Amtrak San Joaquins, Metrolink, LA Metro, and the Pacific Surfliners!
High-speed rail in California is envisioned to be the backbone of an vital and interconnected rail and transit network. We have in fact made hundreds of millions of dollars of preparatory investments in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Los Angeles Basin, which we call "bookend" projects. This includes pass through tracks for Los Angeles Union Station, and the electrification of the Caltrain corridor.
See factsheets here on these sorts of funding efforts:
Short term, when we're operating between Merced and Bakersfield at the end of the decade, we obviously expect and plan for seamless services in both cities and have an MOU with the San Joaquin JPA to work out the details of that early service.
I've read that the high-speed rail system will be powered by 100% renewable energy. How will that work and what mechanisms will you have in place to make sure the train is entirely green powered?
The Authority is developing a solution that will utilize a combination of solar generation along the route, large scale grid level battery storage and agreements with utilities to provide only energy from renewable sources. This will ensure that 100% of the energy used by the system will come from fully renewable sources.
Do you expect Federal government support to increase and if so, do you expect the pace of construction to increase?
Yes, California's high-speed rail program will benefit substantially if this plan is enacted. The significant new investment coupled with the emphasis on new connections and electrification point the way towards a renewed federal-state partnership for our program. Our CEO recently presented an update on federal items to our Board of Directors and his comments can be viewed here. We are keenly looking forward to additional details in the weeks to come.
How can we change Californians negative attitude towards public transportation?
Hi u/kJer, looks like you posted the same question twice. Copy/pasting my response in case you missed it:
<<I think that attitudes and perceptions of public transportation are already changing in California, especially for younger generations who use a variety of modes. Electric scooters were not on the curriculum when I was in grad school, but they are all over our streets now. Our infrastructure has been so focused around cars and I think people are beginning to realize how detrimental that is, not just from an environmental perspective but also due to a lack of convenience and cost.
To deeply shift attitudes around public transportation we need it to be focused on the user: safe, efficient, accessible, and competitive with other modes (like our cars) and those are all aspects of what High-Speed Rail will do for the transportation network in California. The project provides a competitive and unique interregional option while also improving local transportation around our station sites and with our regional partners. Two examples of this include partnerships at Los Angeles Union Station and San Jose Diridon Station where the Authority is contributing funding and working with local stakeholders to make physical improvements to the stations and create multimodal hubs for local communities in advance of High-Speed Rail service coming online.>>
When do you think construction will begin on the tunnel to the sales force tower?
That project is being run by the Transbay Joint Powers Authority. My colleagues in Northern California are part of a multi-agency team working to bring the tunnel project to shovel-ready status in the next two to three years. We are one of six partner agencies involved in that effort and are very focused on making sure that as high-speed rail gets to San Francisco we can go straight to the Salesforce Transit Center. If you want to learn more about that project, I recommend you tune in to the Executive Steering Committee meetings that focus solely on that project.
Is it still true that the infrastructure being designed between Gilroy and Burbank is capable of sustaining a maximum speed of 250 mph?
Great question, we will not run trains at 250mph, but we design them so that we can test and commission the system at higher speeds so that we comfortably run at 220 mph. And yes, between Gilroy and Burbank is where we have the dedicated (i.e., not blended) corridor. There are a few areas where the achievable speed with be lower due to geographic limitations (think mountains) mainly through the Tehachapi and San Gabriel mountains. In these areas the max top speed only reduces slightly (between 180-200mph).
I am a supportive of the California High Speed Rail and although there has been a lot of controversy and/or issues, I still support the high speed rail. But, I have a question and comment.
First, how many miles of way (I don't think there are tracks, but is the railway, highway, or however you call it where the trains will pass) has been completed? I hear that the authority has completed or working on119 miles. That means that the authority has completed 119 miles of railway (with or without the track) where the train will pass through the central valley.?
Also, I have a comment regarding the YouTube channel. I think that if you are more active on YouTube and create more content (with someone talking) would help in creating a good image an educating about what is happening with the project as well as the benefits and other projects the authority may be working.
I hope your answer soon!!
Thank you for your support!
As part of our construction of the initial 119-mile segment within the Central Valley, the Authority has under construction and completed 80 miles of guideway so far. We are on track to complete the 119 by 2023. This guideway will serve as the foundation for the track that will be eventually laid, once we award our Track and Systems Contract.
As far as the YouTube channel, we’re always working on ways we can create more content to help educate people on different aspects of the project. We’ve actually got something along those lines in the works, so please stay tuned (pun intended) for some new stuff, including more drone footage of construction progress. We're also working on more of our videos that interview staff so you can get a better sense of just some of the expertise we've got on the project.
What is the process for picking the specific type/model of train that you guys will end up using and when can we expect to see that pick?
There is a time for trains, and a time for track.
We’ve not gone out to bid for our trains yet. Before we seek bids on trains, we need a contract for the track & systems on which they’ll run. So that contract is out for bid now.You can find out more about it here.
We will not be purchasing locomotives and cars like the traditional commuter trains that currently exist in North America. Instead, we will be purchasing Electric Multiple Unit (EMU) high-speed trains. These trains have distributed power across the trainset with no locomotive, so they are purchased as complete trainsets. The trains we will buy do not couple and uncouple as traditional locomotive and car sets do.
So, we would not buy locomotives or cars, but just trainsets which are designed and required to stay together as a unit. You can find cost estimates in the Revised Capital Cost Basis of Estimate Report, see table 29 on page 33, among other sections in that document.
Is there any way to speed this up, or is it going to be "in progress" forever? I know politicians care about CAHSR only as a way to keep construction workers employed until retirement, but some of us want to ride the thing before we die. At least finish Phase 1 and let the Sacramento extension languish.
I want to ride this train too. Respectfully, I have to disagree with your premise. This isn't some "make work" effort. This is one of the largest most transformational infrastructure projects in the entire country. That means it's a huge lift to make it a reality. And technically even the Interstate Highway System is still "in progress." An individual homeowner will often spend as many as 30 years paying off a single property. Meanwhile, we have over 1,700 parcels in hand in the Central Valley and have made incredible progress in under 20 years since voters approved bond funds in 2008.
This is all steady progress toward Phase 1. We've 119 miles under construction; we've over 171 miles environmentally cleared (a major milestone for project delivery); we estimate all 520 miles of Phase 1 between the SF Bay Area and the LA Basin, via the Central Valley, will be environmentally cleared in 2023 (even more major). We estimate we'll be testing our trains mid decade, and running a service between Merced and Bakersfield by the end of the decade. We've created an estimated $10.5 billion in economic impact at least. We're hard at work. Thank you for your patience.
Does Joe Biden's infrastructure project allocate any funds toward your project?
We’re thrilled to see a strong priority for rail, jobs, investment in disadvantaged communities and electrification -- all things California High-Speed Rail touches. We’re encouraged by the focus on an ongoing stream of revenue for rail – something this country has not previously had. Our CEO recently presented the latest to our Board of Directors and his comments can be viewed here. We look forward to additional details in the weeks to come.
I have heard a some comments from Brian Kelly (CHSRA CEO) regarding the vast improvement in communication between this federal administration compared to the previous administration. What kind of communication is ongoing with the current administration compared to the prior experience and how does that assist the timeline and efficiency of this project?
We here at the Authority cannot overstate the importance to this project of our reengaged federal partner. A big transformational project like this can only be done in a spirit of collaboration and partnership.
For example, in February we announced that we had submitted the final state match to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding grant. That meant we completed the matching funding requirements of the 2010 grant 22 months ahead of schedule.
And just last week, our CEO Brian Kelly announced that on April 19th, the FRA approved another $577 million in submitted state funds match for ARRA, bringing the approved total to almost $2.2 billion, most of the total to be matched.
We're also in ongoing settlement negotiations with the FRA about nearly $1 billion that was previously obligated to the project in a fiscal year 2010 grant, and which the most recent federal administration attempted to de-obligate. We sued to prevent those funds being shifted elsewhere. And we are now negotiating a settlement with the Biden Administration.
In short, we're communicating constantly! And it only helps to make this transformational project a reality.
Hi Meg! I was super excited to see CAHSR's recent commitment to using 100% ZEV for on-road site fleets. On a related note, do you have any projections for what percent of electricity powering the train will come from renewables?
100%! We are currently developing a solar generation and battery storage solution that will in conjunction agreements with utilities provide only renewable energy to power the entire system
When can we expect to obliterate the suburbs?
Ha! Any minute now. Just kidding. But we are incentivizing downtown-focused urban planning through our project, such as our focus on transit-oriented development around our stations. Catalyzing infill development is a priority we are working on with our local community partners.
What was your reasoning to start the HSR project in the Central Valley? I would assume that starting the project somewhere else, such as the Bay Area or SoCal, would let more people belive in the future of this project, and maybe also earn some profits while doing so.
Also, the finishing dates for the HSR have been changing for the worse from the beginning of the project. When will we get a truthful finishing date?
The decision to start work in the Central Valley was based on the grant requirements of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). The Federal Rail Administration (FRA) directed the Authority to start in the Central Valley for two reasons:
A nice, straight, 119 mile segment in the Central Valley means we’ll be able to the speeds we need for testing, much easier than in cities.
The Authority’s completion dates for the Phase 1 System are estimated based on full funding for the project. Unfortunately, the project has never had full funding. In light of that, we do our best in each Business Plan to identify a completion date based on the information to hand. Certainly, when full funding is secured for all segments of the Phase 1 system a completion date becomes even more clear.
Is there a consistent plan for landscaping the stations/stops?
Would be 1,000,000% great if you mandated sustainable, California Native plants.
I'm so glad you asked. We do have a few requirements for station landscaping, including using native, drought-tolerant, and fire-resistant plants (many California natives are drought-tolerant and fire-resistant anyways), AND we are limiting the use of pesticides and fertilizers. 1,000,000% great indeed!
Recycling 97% of materials from construction is impressive. Does this make the project cost more (in the short term, in the long term, etc.)? And more broadly, is there a way to calculate the environmental benefits from your project's sustainability efforts?
It is impressive! It is a fantastic achievement for any project, particularly one at this scale. In looking at construction information received to date the requirement has not led to cost increases. Think of it this way: we have to pay for demolition in order to clear land for the system. Then the choice is to pay for tipping fees at the landfill, or to send the material to a recycling center. Reinforcing recycling is a much better choice. And, concrete and steel are commodities that can, and have, been regularly reused in construction.
Broadly, we calculate the environmental benefit in terms of the greenhouse gases reduced or avoided through operating the system: 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. But we also look at business as usual construction behavior for California and identify how the requirements we have set improve against that. So, because we require cleaner vehicles for construction, we have avoided more than 150,000 pounds of criteria air pollutants. We can calculate that because we have a tool our contractors use to collect construction site information related to recycling, water use, energy use, vehicle use and more so we can track this data and make sure that our construction sites are meeting our sustainability requirements. This is one way we're able to quantify the benefits of the project in real time and make sure we're holding construction to the highest standards.
How would you compare and contrast the different projects America has that are (or are close to) full high speed rail?
This is tough as they are all such different systems, with different histories, constraints and objectives.
The Acela/NEC is doing a great job on an old railroad alignment trying to provide a relatively high speed service but this approach results in compromises and in the longer term they need to undertake a major overhaul to provider faster more frequent and more reliable service - but they are electric services so that's a major bonus!
Florida Brightline has also done an outstanding job in bringing passenger services back to a large section of the state, but it is still constrained by existing right of way, a number of grade crossings and the use of diesel locomotives. While these engines are modern Tier 4 emissions compliant they are still diesel and have a limited top speed of 125mph so will never be truly 'high speed'.
Texas HSR will be a modern and true high-speed system like California's, but there are differences in our approaches. The Texas system is based on the Japanese Shinkansen and will be a self-contained system which will be unlikely to connect to the rest of the national rail network. Conversely, the California approach is based on the European model and allows services to run off the high-speed network and utilize the existing railroad network to serve more passengers.
The key that we should celebrate is that they are all improvements over personal vehicles / air travel. We should be focusing on how to improve and develop them all!
Why the CAHSR decided to detour via Palmdale instead of follow a more straight, shorter alignment between Bakersfield and Los Angeles?
Why the proposed extension to San Diego would not be on a main line extending from Los Angeles, but is instead on another branch, making it impossible to stack the demand for more frequent service?
When only the initial segment along Central Valley open for operation, will through service via other existing right of right be operated to enable connection into other cities?
The Authority has looked at multiple alternatives to connect the southern Central Valley to the Los Angeles Basin over the course of corridor planning spanning nearly two decades. In the 2005 Statewide Program EIR/EIS, the Authority defined a broad corridor between Bakersfield and Los Angeles, which considered a range of alternatives traveling down I-5, along SR 58 through the Antelope Valley, and some hybrid alternatives. After further study, the Authority selected the SR 58 route through the Antelope Valley to serve the population in North LA County, avoid seismic risks associated with tunneling through the intersection of the San Andreas and Garlock faults, and avoid impacts to multiple parks along the I-5 alignment. Additionally, as other rail projects have advanced since the early environmental work, Palmdale has the potential of becoming a key hub for Southern California rail connectivity to Las Vegas via the High Desert Corridor (HDC) and other developing rail projects, including Metrolink and Brightline West.
Proposition 1A, passed by California voters in 2008, defines two corridors for HSR service south of Los Angeles: one from Los Angeles Union Station to Riverside to San Diego, the other from Los Angeles Union Station to Anaheim. In order to respect the will of the voters and serve communities in the eastern portion of the greater Los Angeles region, the Authority is planning for a Phase II extension that will travel east from Los Angeles Union Station before turning south to reach San Diego.
When the initial segment becomes operational between Merced and Bakersfield by 2029, it is anticipated that this Central Valley HSR service will realize the benefits of connectivity at a new station in Merced with the Altamont Commuter Express (ACE) as well as in Merced, Fresno, and Bakersfield with the Amtrak San Joaquins. The Bakersfield station will be served by Amtrak Thruway bus to Los Angeles and other destinations, just like it is today.
At one point, I read that a major reason for delays on the HSR was different interest groups bringing lawsuits against the project to stop it. What's the status of of the legal issues against the HSR?
Generally, yes, the Authority has, and is currently, dealing with different types of lawsuits. Litigation comes in different forms and some can cause delays and added costs to the project or its components. We can’t speak to what you read, or when, but we’re continuously improving right-of-way acquisition processes and incorporating lessons learned as the project matures, while simultaneously advancing construction commitments. We certainly get that some private property owners will be affected by construction and we’re committed to working collaboratively with affected property owners. We’ve developed a webpage dedicated to communicating this process. It is important to note that property owners who believe they have suffered a loss may file a claim with the State of California Government Claims Board.
In the past, some groups and individuals have also filed litigation in relation to an environmental review of a particular project's section; that litigation has since been resolved. More recently, in May 2019, the Trump Administration de-obligated a $929 million fiscal year 2010 grant, and California filed a legal suit to stop this action. The project is still very clearly happening and this past March 2021, we worked with the Federal Railroad Administration and the Department of Justice to have that matter stayed to facilitate settlement discussions with the hope of resolving the dispute.
How can we change Californians negative attitude towards public transportation?
I think that attitudes and perceptions of public transportation are already changing in California, especially for younger generations who use a variety of modes. Electric scooters were not on the curriculum when I was in grad school, but they are all over our streets now. Our infrastructure has been so focused around cars and I think people are beginning to realize how detrimental that is, not just from an environmental perspective but also due to a lack of convenience and cost.
To deeply shift attitudes around public transportation we need it to be focused on the user: safe, efficient, accessible, and competitive with other modes (like our cars) and those are all aspects of what High-Speed Rail will do for the transportation network in California. The project provides a competitive and unique interregional option while also improving local transportation around our station sites and with our regional partners. Two examples of this include partnerships at Los Angeles Union Station and San Jose Diridon Station where the Authority is contributing funding and working with local stakeholders to make physical improvements to the stations and create multimodal hubs for local communities in advance of High-Speed Rail service coming online.
Have the Authority begun thinking about the stations in each community as agents of change for those communities near the stations?
Why yes, indeed! And we have relished collaborating with each community on their vision for change.
The Authority has been working with many communities on Station Area Plans that specifically envision how the stations can catalyze new, more intensive and walkable types of development. Merced, Fresno, Bakersfield, Tulare County Association of Governments (TCAG) at Kings/Tulare, San Jose, Millbrae, Gilroy, Palmdale, and Burbank have all partnered with the Authority in the last several years to develop plans to evolve the land use in their communities and take advantage of high-speed rail. A recent example is Palmdale, whose City Council adopted a Specific Plan titled the Palmdale Transit Area Specific Plan or PTASP in December 2020. The PTASP makes land use and circulation updates that envision a future downtown with higher densities and mixed-use developments.
Other Station cities have also implemented plans to jump-start development around the station, including: Fresno, Bakersfield, and San Jose. Burbank is currently working on a Station Area Plan that will propose land use and circulation changes around their station.
How will you solve the last mile issue?
It is a fun riddle to 'solve' and I would say we are focused on the best available and even emerging technologies for this.
A number of strategies will be part of the solution: micromobility, including bike share and scooter share; providing bike parking on the station sites; enhancing existing infrastructure by providing ADA compliant shaded sidewalks; coordinating public transit at stations; allowing taxis, Transportation Network Companies (TNC) and ridesharing applications, and convenient pick up and drop off locations near the stations; and providing safe parking nearby. Additionally, we plan to be flexible with the station site so that future advances in technology can be accommodated on the station site. Rental cars, car sharing, and other existing automobile opportunities will also be part of the solution.
No place is the same! Each station will have a mix of these solutions based on the existing conditions and local context (in case you missed it, the valley is HOT while San Jose has a little more temperate climate). We also will be working closely with local jurisdictions as autonomous vehicle technology advances; we hope to include and implement those transportation solutions as appropriate in different station locations. Transportation technology has undergone a sea-change in the last few years, and we anticipate even more changes in the future, so we hope to deliver station access solutions for first mile and last mile to align with the latest technology and opportunities.
How does a huge construction project like this deal with climate change? In addition to the green elements in your current work, are you using methods that prepare for future changes to the climate?
I'm really glad you asked this question. The California High-Speed Rail project is focused on reducing greenhouse gases and mitigating climate change, but the Authority is also concerned with preparing for how changing climate can impact our project. Our project is a resiliency strategy for the state since we will be moving a lot of people safely and quickly, and making our stations accessible through a range of modes (walking, biking). And we're doing several different things to prepare for the future and make our project as resilient as possible. We are developing a climate policy demonstrating our commitment to climate change mitigation AND adaptation. We conducted a review of climate change projections over the coming century to understand how these changes could affect our system and our riders. We convened an internal committee to review these projections and talk about ways to streamline review and use of climate data in our day-to-day work. And we've actually incorporated climate change hazards as another consideration in our design requirements and risk management process, so that we can be sure these risks are adequately assessed and responded to across the project. All of this work has just been summarized in a Climate Adaptation Plan for our staff - which we plan to release a factsheet about in just a couple of weeks!
What kinds of measures has California High Speed Rail put in place/considered to reduce its impact on local wildlife? Are these measures unique to California, and were you able to learn best practices from other countries?
I was able to travel high speed rail in Japan and Germany, and I’m looking forward to this being here in my home state.
The Authority works in close collaboration with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Army Corps of Engineers, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and other resource agencies to reduce, minimize or eliminate adverse impacts to wildlife. For example, our work with the USFWS and CDFW has included agreement on the design and development of undercrossings to promote wildlife movement across the high-speed rail corridor. Another example has been the development of design standards to reduce collision and the risk to electrocution of California condor, bald eagle and golden eagle protected under state and federal law. These measures do reflect best practices and are not unique to our work here in California.
As a taxpayer in Florida, why should CA get more money per capita from the feds than FL?
Hello to sunny Florida from sunny California! You know, Florida was actually offered money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in 2009 for high-speed rail, from the same pool of money that went to our project. They forewent the opportunity to leverage those dollars. Meanwhile, in general, air pollution knows no borders. The car and plane trips we will convert into high-speed rail trips powered by 100% renewable energy will reduce air pollution and emissions that will have an impact beyond California's borders. Your Florida federal tax dollars go to a lot of things that don't directly impact Florida, in the interest of common goods.
Can you at all talk about the political decision to shift funding priority away from the central valley and towards San Francisco and Los Angeles shared portions (aka, booked projects, thus funding their own rail systems), rather than aggressively building a dedicated HSR system?
The Authority is focused on its mission to deliver a dedicated high-speed rail in compliance with the Safe, Reliable, High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century (Proposition 1a 2008).
You might be thinking of when, in 2019, the Authority’s Board of Directors tasked Deutsche Bahn USA with conducting a study comparing the impact of high-speed rail investment in the Merced-Bakersfield corridor to other comparable early investment options in the San Francisco to Gilroy and the Burbank to Anaheim corridors. And in late 2020, an independent review of that study was complete and presented to our board which found "no fatal flaws." You can watch the presentation of this independent review during the February Board meeting here.
The Side-by-Side Study concluded that the Merced - Bakersfield line yields the greatest benefits compared to the other two corridors based on the following:
And while we aggressively build the HSR system, we are also continuing to invest in projects within Northern and Southern California with the following amounts and projects:
Thank you so much for doing this! As an early supporter of HSR my biggest worry now is that by the time it's finished fully autonomous EV cars will be the norm and the incentive will not be as high to take rail when taking a personal automobile is just as convenient. I've even read that fully autonomous EVs can be networked together to essentially form road trains (driving really close together which reduces congestion and fuel because of drafting). Is this a concern for the long term HSR business model?
Mmmm. Interesting question. The idea of autonomous vehicles has been around for decades, but in reality, we are still a very long way off from wide-spread autonomous vehicles. Currently there are no fully autonomous vehicles available on the market and while significant effort and money is being invested in the technology, we still have a long way to go.
Once they are available, the transition to the fully autonomous vehicles will take time: there are currently hundreds of millions of vehicles in the US.
Using the transition to EV as a proxy, the first fully autonomous vehicles are likely to be expensive initially and therefore, at the beginning, only accessible to a small proportion of the population. Furthermore, autonomous vehicles cannot operate at speeds comparable to HSR (everyone would need to be driving a fast autonomous vehicle for all the vehicles to go fast, and the roadways would likely need redesign to support high speed autonomous vehicles). So, HSR operates in a very different scale (speed, capacity, distance, existing technology).
Another question: I was reading that the usable segment requirement had resulted in a fair amount of land speculation in the early days of Central Valley acquisition -- in that CAHSR would identify the land they wanted to build on, and people would snatch up that land while the segment was being litigated.
Are there any plans or solutions CAHSR can implement to prevent this issue when acquiring land for Stage 2 segments?
To be honest, I'm not aware of the land speculation you're referring to. The Authority goes through a thorough process to engage with property owners when negotiating for land, and right-of-way preservation is an important priority once environmental approvals are complete. Additional details about this process are available here.
Is there a focus on implementing transit oriented development near the future stations of the HSR and if so, what kind of development specifically?
Absolutely! Station Area Plans and local land use plans are important documents that set the stage for future developments. We have been working in partnership with cities throughout the state to develop these plans. The specific kind of development will depend on the local context, and will likely include a mix of uses, including housing, hotel, conference, office, retail, and public amenities. These developments will be guided by both public and private investments and market conditions at the time specific development projects are proposed.
How much disgustingly over budget is this mishandled project now so far and how much more over budget will it be to complete?
Through June 2020, project expenditures of $7.2 billion generated a total of approximately $10.5 - $11.4 billion in economic activity for California. You can find out more about the economic benefits of these investments on our website and get the latest news on expenditures from the Finance & Audit Committee.
If at Millbrae station new buildings are constructed on a parcel BART recently returned to the city, what will HSR do since there will no longer be enough room for additional surface level tracks?
We are aware of the development in Millbrae. That development still requires additional land that the developer doesn’t own and has other challenges with moving forward. There is time for us to advance our work to achieve environmental clearance and resolve these conflicts to make sure that our station and any surrounding development can coexist.
Just curious: how would the High-Speed Rail between NorCal and SoCal stay competitive or provide a viable solution for quick transits? Just curious how this option would be vs alternatives we have, such as buses that sell cheap tickets and food/beverages.
In short: we see this mode succeeding all over the world, with economies, densities, and travel demands just like those of the communities we're working to connect here in California. Why don't we deserve the same options? No bus will ever be able to match our 200+ mph speeds. Planes are fast in the air, but most people discount the rest of the journey time on the ground getting to and waiting at the airport. According to the Bureau of Travel Statistics, from 2012 to 2019, an average of 20% of arrivals to LAX and 25% of arrivals to SFO experienced a delay. HSR will not be subject to the same types of delays due to the dedicated right-of-way being built for the system. Basically, high-speed trains have an ideal balance of costs—in time, money, and emissions—to make it a very attractive option to Californians looking for choices to move around and between their communities. Plus, we expect to have both snacks and Wi-Fi. Thanks for your patience. We look forward to welcoming you aboard.
Are you sharing track with Freight and if you are and only have stops at major cities, how will trains manage to share the track and ensure that trains won’t be stuck behind slower rail? Is it planned to build additional passing loops?
We are not sharing track with freight, but we are traveling within freight rail corridors. We are constructing intrusion protection barriers to protect our high-speed rail tracks from closely located freight tracks in the same corridor.
There's been some controversy with Democratic legislative attempts to defund the electrification of the Central Valley portion of the highest speed rail, do you think this is a good idea? Especially considering the air quality problems in the CV?
Not to delve too deep into the politics of it, but as someone who is obviously a supporter/ believer in high-speed rail, I think that the benefits of bringing a clean electric public transportation system to an area of the state living through some of the worst air quality conditions in the nation is an issue that almost anyone who supports positive environmental change can get behind.
While we’ve heard the interest from some members of the legislature in “defunding electrification” and instead running traditional diesel trains on the new infrastructure, there are just so many reasons (environmental, fiscal, policy, etc…) why doubling down on another source of diesel emissions in the Central Valley just isn’t in the spirit of the State and the Legislature’s environmental/ air quality goals. This isn’t even to mention the increased degradation/ reduced infrastructure lifespan due to the running of slower heavier trains, the increased cost of going back and installing systems needed for eventual electrification, all the while not providing the transportation benefits to the region that an electrified service would.
Additionally though, and this is maybe the most important point, slower diesel trains wouldn’t create the travel time savings necessary to realize the mode shift needed for substantial GHG and emissions reductions. In short, people don’t get out of their cars for slow trains.
Hi Meg! I often hear demand and density as the biggest roadblocks for creating an expansive HSR network in North America. Is that really the case? Or is it an issue with perception?
Interesting. Density is not always destiny for high-speed rail systems. And demand responds to travel time certainty and convenience (a journey you want to take in a time you can rely on). HSR is an incredibly effective transportation tool for the 100 to 500-mile journey and there are a lot of places throughout North America where it can provide a valuable transportation alternative to cars, planes, or slower rail.
North America certainly has different density characteristics than other parts of the world but there are regions within North America that are very well suited for high-speed rail. California particularly has density and spatial patterns and demand that is ideal for this type of system.
For example, the 520-mile Phase 1 system between the San Francisco Bay Area and the Los Angeles Basin, via the Central Valley, would connect 6 (6!) of California's largest cities, and 2 of the top 10 largest cities in the whole United States! For context, Fresno is larger than Atlanta or New Orleans. The Los Angeles – San Francisco air corridor is the busiest air corridor in the country, demonstrating how much demand currently exists between these two markets. In fact, it is one of the busiest air routes in the world. These are some important factors that show just how much demand and density there is to justify the system here in California.
I was in my late teens when they just announced the project. I’m in my 30s now. Should I expect it to be up and running by the time I turn 60?
By current estimates it should be earlier than that. Currently we expect the entire 520-mile Phase 1 system between the San Francisco Bay Area and the Los Angeles Basin, via the Central Valley, will be environmentally cleared by 2023, which is a huge milestone. Then we expect to be testing our trains on the purpose-built infrastructure in the Central Valley by mid-decade and running a service between Merced and Bakersfield by the end of the decade. So, one decade, not three.
If the funding was available, we estimate that the Silicon Valley to Central Valley line of the system would open in 2031, and that the whole system would open in 2033.
Look, I want to ride this train too. This is one of the largest most transformational infrastructure projects in the entire country. That means it's a huge lift to make it a reality. We have over 1,700 parcels in hand in the Central Valley and have made incredible progress in under 15 years since voters approved bond funds in 2008. We're just going to keep doing the work. We thank you for your patience and look forward to welcoming you aboard.
Hi Meg, was curious if there’s a plan to have updated timelines somewhere easily viewable on HSR webpage, to keep construction dates honest. It’s so hard to find any dates or projections for when retail service will begin, can you address this lack of information?
Great feedback. We definitely strive to keep improving transparency and accountably. Have you seen that page on our homepage by any chance?
To your question, we do link to the 2020 Business Plan on our homepage and earlier this month we submitted it to the Legislature, reaffirming our plan to deliver a 171-mile Merced-Fresno-Bakersfield interim electrified service line in California’s Central Valley.
Chapter 4 of the 2020 Business Plan summarizes the timeline and beginning testing of the electrified high-speed system in 2025, certifications of trains by 2027, and our intent to put electrified high-speed trains in service by the end of the decade.
How long will it take for the fares paid by passengers to repay the taxpayers' expenditures? And why should people in the other 49 States pay for something from which they will realize absolutely no benefit?
Similar to systems around the world, our farebox recovery revenues will cover and address operations and maintenance costs and not previous capital expenditures. Economically speaking, high-speed rail in California does have a positive impact on our country. Companies from 42 states and Washington D.C., have worked on the program – contributing construction, planning, engineering, financial and other services to the project.
Hi Meg! I've been a long-time supporter of California's High-Speed Rail Project. When Prop 1A passed the initial plan was to build out of the Central Valley to Southern California and to "close the gap" of passenger rail service that has never been established in California. A few years later, the Authority changed its plan to serve the Silicon Valley to Central Valley markets with the Valley-to-Valley service plan. I've always questioned if changing the focus of the first construction segments towards the Bay Area was a good idea, especially given that over 60% of the State's population lives in Southern California and that the passenger rail gap would still exist if the Valley-to-Valley segments were built first. I believe it would make a lot more sense to construct the Merced to Palmdale section of HSR infrastructure first and do a blended system with Metrolink to get direct train service to Los Angeles Union Station and other Southern California markets. Building towards Palmdale first would also enable opportunities for direct service to Las Vegas with the construction of the High Desert Corridor and Brightline West's plans. Would the Authority ever reevaluate their plans to prioritize building out of the Central Valley towards Southern California first to close this critical passenger rail gap and bring HSR service to more people faster?
Well, as you have been following the project closely, you are attuned to how the bi-annual business plans illustrate evolved thinking over time. Attuned with your thinking, we want to get as much done as soon as possible to get true high-speed rail service connecting California. Since 2018, our CEO Brian Kelly has focused the Authority on that: delivering what we can, as soon as we can, with the money in hand. Using building blocks, like high-speed rail systems globally, is a part of that. The good news is, given the progress on Caltrain electrification (a project of which we are a proud funding partner), we believe, with proper funding in place, passenger service between Silicon Valley and the Central Valley could begin sooner than could service between the Central Valley and the Los Angeles Basin. That shorter timeframe for construction and lower price tag might be more attractive for Federal investment. And the sooner we can get such a service up and running, the sooner we could have a positive cashflow. See our 2020 Business Plan for more information, especially Chapter 5 subsection "Building the Silicon Valley to Central Valley Line" starting on page 103.
That said, we are committed to transparency and accountability, and our business plans are updated every two years. If a strategic recalibration occurred, because of differing funding conditions or new developments, updates of the Business Plan would reflect those considerations. Let's keep pushing forward.
Has CAHSR commissioned audits or even just advice from high speed rail agencies in countries with extensive systems? From the view of someone who isn't involved with the project, it seems like a lack of local and even national expertise could be a factor of the cost overruns and construction delays.
There is a lot of international experience involved in the project, focusing mostly on the rail systems design, delivery, operation and maintenance, as well as the station design and sustainability work. This includes both individuals who have worked on the French, German and British rail systems, and also teams from Network Rail and Deutsche Bahn who are the national rail operators in the UK and Germany respectively, and who bring significant knowledge and experience to the development of high-speed rail in California. The Authority has also been a member of, and participated in lessons learned exchanges, with members of the UIC (International Union of Railways).
We also frequently have exchanges (zoom webinars have been a boon for this!) with teams working on systems in the UK, Sweden and elsewhere.
Recycling 97% of materials from construction is impressive. Does this make the project cost more (in the short term, in the long term, etc.)? And more broadly, is there a way to calculate the environmental benefits from your project's sustainability efforts?
Hi u/Vexgullible, looks like we got this question earlier. Copy/pasting my response in case you missed it:
<<It is impressive! It is a fantastic achievement for any project, particularly one at this scale. In looking at construction information received to date the requirement has not led to cost increases. Think of it this way: we have to pay for demolition in order to clear land for the system. Then the choice is to pay for tipping fees at the landfill, or to send the material to a recycling center. Reinforcing recycling is a much better choice. And, concrete and steel are commodities that can, and have, been regularly reused in construction.
Broadly, we calculate the environmental benefit in terms of the greenhouse gases reduced or avoided through operating the system: 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. But we also look at business as usual construction behavior for California and identify how the requirements we have set improve against that. So, because we require cleaner vehicles for construction, we have avoided more than 150,000 pounds of criteria air pollutants. We can calculate that because we have a tool our contractors use to collect construction site information related to recycling, water use, energy use, vehicle use and more so we can track this data and make sure that our construction sites are meeting our sustainability requirements. This is one way we're able to quantify the benefits of the project in real time and make sure we're holding construction to the highest standards.>>
How did you get into your profession? Do you have any tips for a young person who is interested in sustainability as a career?
Hi, well, I got into planning from parental influence, and then infrastructure, specifically transportation planning after graduate school; I had a boss who pointed out how helpful it is to be thinking critically about social, environmental and financial issues in the earliest possible project development moments. Education-wise, sustainability professionals reflect an interesting cross section, but good research skills, a basic (or even better and advanced) understanding of science and the mechanics of natural systems and the built environment are key. Definitely look for opportunities to work on a range of projects and overseas; while there is a lot of innovation in the US, but policy and practice advances are happening all over the world.