When asked about the use of renewable energy for HSR, Mukholkar said in Saudi Arabia, there is plenty of sun. “I don’t think I saw clouds in 365 days.” There, they use solar for charging the batteries in remote places. Kick said Siemens has promoted a zero-emission HSR train system for California and it has a concept for the system. Kunz added that in the Netherlands, the rail system will be 100 percent wind power. He also said that in China, many of the stations have solar panels on the roof. “Rail and renewable energy are coming together,” he stated.
California High-Speed Rail Authority Chairman Dan Richard spoke about what has been going on over the past year for CHSRA and answered some lingering questions about the project. He said, “We made a lot of progress in the last year, but we can’t forget the visionaries that put this idea forward first in California.” He added, “It’s our time now to implement those visions.”
The last time he spoke at a USHSR conference was in May in San Francisco, Calif. While there was some progress and they had a business plan to move them forward to implement the project, they didn’t have the people to deliver this project; they didn’t have a CEO, deputy CEO, chief engineer, or any head people to lead the people in the various regions. “There was a fear that we were going to push to get the money to move forward and there wouldn’t be anyone to deliver the project.”
Now, with Jeff Morales, former CEO of Caltrans, as CEO, he has moved quickly to fill out the senior ranks of the authority. Richard said, “We cannot tolerate a kind of Big Dig experience with the nation’s largest infrastructure project. This is a very sacred responsibility. We have to move forward and build this system right.”
An Integrated Transportation Network
The plan today is focused on integration, Richard said, which he also said is a fundamental shift in the thinking between last year and now. In the past, because they were excited about the technology, he said, they lost sight of the other meaning: what they’re doing in California.
While they expect the system to stand on its own financially once it’s built – and their bond holders demand that there’s no public subsidy – the system is very much one part of an integrated transportation network. It will be delivering passengers to other systems and those systems will deliver passengers to the HSR. Richard said, “We hope we will be dumping millions of passengers annually into their system in Union Station, and it’s the access point for passengers to come to us.
“It makes all the systems work better,” he reiterated. “It’s not just about building a fast choo choo; it’s about raising all boats.”
Choosing the Route
Ongoing questions about the route choice were raised and he acknowledged that it has become the train to nowhere, so people wanting to attack the project had an easy target. Though he was quick to point out, it’s not to nowhere, “It’s a very important part of our state.
“HSR is different than BART; it is not to serve within the communities, it is to connect our communities across the state.” He also said that the line is connecting the fastest growing region of the state with the most populous part of the state.
As for starting in California’s Central Valley, the primary reason is that it is the fastest-growing part of the state and today they have no right of way, no land there. The growth rate is about 9 percent a year so that is the essential place to start: before more development occurs, before they have to tear down more buildings.
He was also asked why the alignment goes up the peninsula as opposed to coming up the East Bay. Richard said they had to go back and look at court requirements. The law requires that the HSR train connect not to San Francisco, but to the Transbay Terminal, which is in San Francisco. “That is in the law. If you come through the East Bay, how do you come to San Francisco?”
The other requirement in the bond act is that it has to get to LA within 2 hours and 40 minutes. He said you either go down and around and split in San Jose, or you would have to cross the San Francisco Bay from Oakland. He stressed, “For legal, engineering and environmental reasons, we believe this is the right alignment.”
Project Management for California HSR
The last question related to project management and was questioning that there are some of the same folks working on this project that worked on the Big Dig. Richard said a lot of time was spent talking about the role of the board as a governing body and there had to be a clear communication about expectations.