It appears that the plan to provide train service that would run between Fullerton and North Las Vegas is as good as dead. The Las Vegas Railway Express (LVRE) was still $1 million short for this route, stating that there was no guarantee this money would be available to the company. The second quarter report from LVRE indicates that the plan to raise $100 million to launch the service was dropped. In doing this, the company lost a $600,000 deposit to Union Pacific, which owns some of the tracks between California and Nevada. The LVRE is now planning on putting efforts toward restarting Amtrak service between California and the Las Vegas area with the addition of casino-style train cars to the route. Amtrak, however, has said that no plans are in place.
Next week, the CAHSR Authority Board will select an alignment for the Fresno-Bakersfield segment of the high-speed rail line. Staff recommends selecting an alignment that includes numerous bypasses, including an eastern bypass of Hanford, and parallels the BNSF railway (the current route of Amtrak San Joaquin trains). Curiously, the segment would go through Wasco and Shafter, communities that have warmed to HSR even though no station will serve either town. A route into Bakersfield that consolidates two route variations and avoids the most impacts with the Kern River was also recommended. The preferred alignment would cost $7.1 billion, a $500 million savings over following the BNSF railway in its entirety, and would take 34 ½ minutes to traverse. A staff report is now available. Should the Authority Board select the preferred alternative, the compilation of the final environmental document may commence.
As design and construction moves forward for the state high-speed rail project in Fresno, opponents and property owners continue to express resentment at the prospect of seeing the project actually happen before their very eyes. Much of the resentment is borne from previous muddled attempts by the CAHSR Authority to communicate about the project to Central Valley residents and businesses, a problem even current CEO Jeff Morales admits has contributed to increased opposition. Proponents believe that the project will give a shot in the arm to the local economy in the short term and provide better connections to economic opportunities in Southern California and the Bay Area in the long term.
Even though the state high-speed rail project is years away from reaching the Santa Clarita Valley, real estate agents are already expressing concern as to how the proposed routes would affect house sales in the area. Realtors are obligated to disclose project plans to prospective buyers, which in turn could reduce the value of the home or even render it un-sellable. Community members continue to advocate for a tunnel through the area, even though the CAHSRA Authority ruled it out per ongoing environmental study. Fortunately, the Authority has met with local leaders to discuss the project, with hope that a resolution is reached.
Meanwhile, the CAHSR Authority revealed the bidding prices for the first leg of the project. The joint venture Tutor Perini / Zachry / Parsons came in with a $985 million bid. The highest bid came from California High Speed Ventures (a joint venture of Kiewit Infrastructure West and Granite Construction) at $1.54 billion. Officials estimated that the first leg of construction, from Fresno to Madera, would cost between $1.2 billion and $1.8 billion. The Reason Foundation will have none of that, however, as their own analysis states that (surprise, surprise) the project will cost more to build, take longer to travel upon completion and require operating subsidies from taxpayers.
Governor Jerry Brown embarked on a trade mission to China, where he was seeking funds for the state high-speed rail project, which is still short on money to the tune of $55 billion. Brown was amazed at how China built much of its HSR system in only a span of a few years. CAHSR Authority Boardmember Dan Richard asserted that certain Chinese companies are already expressing interest in the California project. However, given the spate of negative press the project continues to receive from vocal critics, Brown must return to California with results… preferably in the form of cash. Of course, it doesn’t help that one of the leaders in bringing HSR to China was recently charged for accepting bribes.
After reviewing the California high-speed rail project, the federal Government Accountability Office concluded that the ridership and revenue projections were reasonable. However, the agency also noted that the CAHSR Authority, which is responsible for managing the project, has adopted only some of its recommendations, to which the GAO warned that the Authority risks incurring cost overruns and delays if advice is not heeded. However, former proponent Quentin Kopp won’t hear any of that, for he is now against the current project on account of its perceived change of scope, including the blended plan through the San Francisco Peninsula. Former Congressmember Lynn Schenk has also changed alliances precisely because of this development. How can HSR succeed with friends like these?