61.4 F
English English Español Español
December 9, 2023

High-speed rail, one step at a time

California has long been the leader in innovation, bold action and tackling projects that others wouldn’t dream of. The state highway system, BART and the Golden Gate Bridge stand out as prime examples of challenging projects that were seen through, and today benefit millions. The vision for high-speed rail is no different.

While I have been following the high-speed rail project at a high level for years, it is only recently when I became chairman of the authority’s board of directors that I became acutely aware of the benefits this project presents for the state of California.

High-speed rail at its core holds fundamental, economic and environmental promise for the hardworking men and women who call California home.   

The authority has been in construction in the Central Valley since 2015, putting more than 2,600 men and women to work building the first 119-miles of high-speed rail. Bridges, viaducts, grade separations and other civic works that will make up part of the Phase 1 system are all underway.

When voters approved Proposition 1A in 2008, the bond measure that provided $9.95 billion to commence construction of a high-speed rail service connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles/Anaheim, they chose a transformative mobility option for themselves and for future generations.

In a state the size of California, high-speed rail service will make huge impacts. Travel times between the Bay Area and the Los Angeles basin will be reduced from 12 hours by conventional rail or seven to eight hours by car, to less than three hours by high-speed rail.

The service promises to link California’s major economic and population centers by connecting the cities of the Central Valley with the coastal regions of Northern and Southern California and beyond.

While our federal partners have disengaged, this is not indicative of the past working relationship we’ve had with them. We remain committed to fighting what we believe to be an unwarranted attack on the state, and remain hopeful that at some point they will re-engage in what has historically been a positive partnership in large scale transportation projects.

While the federal disengagement is not ideal, the authority is moving forward.

The analysis done by the authority’s Early Train Operator shows the best option for early interim service in the Central Valley is to develop a line between Merced, Fresno and Bakersfield, and provide faster travel and greater connectivity in and beyond that 171-mile stretch, with better connections for travelers to the Bay Area, Sacramento and the Los Angeles Basin.

The authority must live within its means. That means completing a segment it can fund with available revenue, and getting trains on the ground to show Californians what high-speed rail service in California can do.

The High-Speed Rail Authority will expand the entire system as envisioned, connecting a revitalized Central Valley to the Bay Area and Southern California as more funding becomes available.

This is the building block approach described in the 2018 Business Plan adopted by the authority one year ago.

To that end, the authority is investing nearly $1.4 billion in the corridor between San Francisco, San Jose and Merced. That includes completing environmental reviews and contributing $713 million to the Caltrain Electrification Project, with regional partners in high-priority environmental reviews and early mobility projects to pave the way for future high-speed rail connections.

Concurrently, investments are being made in Southern California as well.

The authority continues to pursue the best option to begin early service in the only part of the state where we are under construction on truly high-speed rail assets—the Central Valley. This is the right thing to do because, candidly, it is time to get high-speed electric trains operating in California.

Let’s get on with it.

Lenny Mendonca is chair of the High-Speed Rail Authority.

This author byline indicates that the post was contributed by a member of the community.

Please leave a comment


  1. Editor: I wrote this in 2007, and Mark Derry published it in your newspaper. Subsequent events have shown my prediction to be accurate–CAHSRA has us on the Road to Serfdom, taxing motorists out of our cars so that they can try to make their pig fly.
    Attorney at Law
    8339 Church Street, Suite 112, Gilroy, CA 95020
    Post Office Box 154, Gilroy, CA 95021-0154
    Telephone (408) 848-5506; Fax (408) 848-4246
    E-Mail: [email protected]
    Fax (408) 842-2206 August 24, 2007
    Email: [email protected], [email protected]
    The Dispatch
    6400 Monterey Road
    Gilroy, CA 95020

    Re: Bullet Train: Tourists’ Panacea, Taxpayers’ Hell

    Dear Editor,

    The proposal to build the Bullet Train in California is proof that socialists have taken-over our government. Based on past cost overruns, the price tag on this extreme boondoggle is about $75-$80 billion in today’s dollars. Paid back interest on these bonds will also burden our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will billions more. Annual operating losses will exceed those of all Lite Rails combined. Fares won’t cover 1% of operating expenses, estimated at $1 billion/year. Bond debt will bury us.

    Technology exists to build it, but how do we pay the construction costs, and operating costs?
    It’s technologically incompatible with existing railroads, so it will need BART-like right-of-way.
    Eminent domain power, included in the legislation creating it, ensures that it will plow through Gilroy and Morgan Hill and any other place, regardless of opposition. But it cannot cross the UPRR’s tracks because the Class I railroads’ eminent domain trumps Bullet Train’s eminent domain power, according to UP’s top commerce counsel on the West Coast. Tourists will ride it, but enjoy a 99% taxpayer subsidy for rides that will cost more than those on the Concorde Supersonic Jets. Local small business owners will pick-up the tab, maybe getting 10% back from tourist dollars if we’re lucky.

    In 1970 Congressmen stood up in Congress and proclaimed that Amtrak would be “self-sufficient in three years.” Yeh. By 9/11/01 taxpayers had thrown about $30 billion in subsidies down that black hole, but did we have adequate airport security?

    In 1863 General Granville Dodge, who was later UPRR’s top civil engineer, and who discovered the Sherman Pass over the Continental Divide, was summoned to the White House. He later said that he told the President that the government should own and operate the transcontinental railroad. Lincoln, who as a young member of the Illinois Legislature had seen government owned railroads in Eastern and Midwestern States go bust and shutdown operations in the 1830’s and 1840’s, said no. He said that private enterprise must do it, although the government would assist with development incentives (my words, not his). They did it. And what did taxpayers receive in the deal? They got about $460 million (measured in 1940 dollars) more than the value of the land granted to the railroad corporations because of Section 22 in the original Interstate Commerce Act (lower freight rates for government shipments).

    A hundred years ago the Progressive Movement, led by William Jennings Bryan, sought nationalization of the railroads and other industries, but their passion was rejected by voters.

    When the railroads were nationalized in 1917 during the Administration of Woodrow Wilson, government genius so botched-up shipping that rail traffic came to a standstill. That experiment failed, just as Lincoln predicted it would. In the Transportation Act of 1920 the railroads were de-nationalized, and came to be the envy of the world’s nations today; the backbone of our nation’s commerce.

    Instead of making taxpayers pay for Bullet Train, like we pay for County Transit, Caltrain, Amtrak, Lite Rail, etc., etc., while motorists are paying 100% of their own transport costs, seeing our politicians rewarding transit wastefulness, why not use the unlimited power of capitalism? Have you been on I-5 lately to see the uninterrupted 24-7 tonnage flowing North-South in California? I appeared before the Bullet Train commission five times over the last decade and told them that if they put enough UPS, Fedex and Postal Service tonnage on their trains, then they would not need to ask the taxpayers for a dime. Did they listen?

    Like Amtrak’s promoters, their pie-in-the-sky predictions show that they did not listen, nor did they learn from history, either United States or world history in the last century and one-half. So, hold on for the ride, and warn your children and grandchildren, our leaders will strap taxpayers to the rocket to Hell. We’ll be paying unimaginable sums to attempt what Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and the USSR failed to achieve, despite all their promises to their citizens that socialism could bring utopia. If they fund it with gas taxes, be prepared to see $10/gallon for gas at the pumps. They’ll tax motorists out of their cars, leaving them to ride our Trojan Horses, and bike or walk the rest of the way.

    Caveat Viator!

    Respectfully yours,
    Member, Executive Committee, Debtor-Creditor-Bankruptcy Section, SCCBA
    Member, Legislation Committee, Transportation Lawyers Assn.
    Member, Association for Transportation Law, Logistics & Polic
    Candidate, American Society of Transportation & Logistics
    Winner, AST&L’s Best Research Paper Award 1997
    Past-President, Gilroy-Morgan Hill Bar Assn.
    Post-Doctoral Student, Transportation Law & Policy


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here