The first section will connect San Francisco to Los Angeles by 2020, and the minimum operating time of the express train between the two cities will be 2 hours and 40 minutes, Wall explains. In addition, Prop 1-A also set the maximum number of stations in the state at 24. “The reason for that is if we were to exceed that number of stops, it would no longer serve as an interregional system it would be considered a more regional or a commuter system.”
Six months ago, the authority was directed by the Federal Railroad Administration to begin the project in the Central Valley, which includes the cities of Fresno, Bakersfield and Merced.
“In December we brought a couple of alternatives to our board of directors and the decision was made to begin construction essentially right smack dab in the middle of the central valley. In the middle of December we got another funding award of $616 million and we matched that with the state bond dollars it was over a billion, Wall explains. “We were able to extend construction to over 120 miles that connected Fresno to Bakersfield. Now, potentially with the reallocation of Florida’s funding, which we’re awaiting the award, we could extend it again. What we’ve told our board of directors and what the staff presented to them potentially with just half of Florida’s funding, we could connect from Merced down to Bakersfield, which is 180 miles.”
Currently, the California High Speed Rail Authority is in the process of compiling Draft Environmental Impact Reports for the Central Valley. Two separate impact reports will be compiled; one for the stretch of track from Merced to Fresno and the other for the stretch from Fresno to Bakersfield, Wall explains.
“It’s broken up like that because those are quite lengthy segments of geography. They had to be broken up like that so they could really be studying down to the hydrology, the biology, the cultural resources and the landmarks. They are broken up like that so that it’s feasible to get in there and really study what the impacts are and how they can be mitigated. So we have had these processes public for quite a few years.”
Walls says they anticipate taking the environmental reports to the public for comment this summer, which will include a few public hearings that will allow people to testify. The public comments will then be delivered to the board of directors in early 2012 and they’ll make a decision on any issues that come up during the public hearings. Finally, construction packages would be put together for bid. A bid should be awarded in mid-2012 and construction would start in the fall of 2012.
Subsequently other sections, the L.A. area that is below the valley and the Bay area sections that are above will roll out shortly after. In the next two to three years after the Central Valley sections have been cleared, Wall explains.
“Looking back six months, we didn’t have a decision on where construction would begin or how we would allocate the initial funds. Looking ahead six months, we’re going to be making decisions on exactly where the tracks will be and how construction packets will be laid out and subsequently awarded,” Wall says.
Despite the rejection of funds for rail projects in Wisconsin and Ohio, other Midwestern states are seeing some action.” Illinois is very much in the lead and they’ve currently got the track machine out replacing the track north of Lincoln on the Chicago to St. Louis project. So that’s exciting,” says Rick Harnish, Midwest High Speed Rail Association executive director.
“They just put in an application for federal funds for Rolling stock. So the initial grant that they got covered track, signally, gate crossings and rolling stock, and most of that work’s underway. They also put in for a combined pool of equipment with Wisconsin, Michigan and Missouri.”
Although Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker put in a shared bid with Illinois for upgrades to the Hiawatha line connecting Milwaukee to Chicago, it was not one of the projects awarded money in the most recent announcement.
Projects that were awarded portions of the recent $2.02 billion announced by LaHood on May 9 include the Illinois – Chicago – St. Louis Corridor. The project received $186.3 million to construct upgrades on the Chicago – St. Louis Corridor between Dwight and Joliet, Ill. with trains operating at 110 mph for more than 220 miles of track. This investment will reduce trip times, enhance safety and add more seats on the corridor, increasing the number of people who can conveniently travel by train.