California lawmakers gave the green light to start building the nation’s first dedicated high-speed rail line, a $68 billion project that will eventually link San Francisco and Los Angeles. The state is now authorized to sell a portion of a $10 billion bond that voters approved in 2008. But that only covers a fraction of the cost. Where will the rest of the funding come from, and what other hurdles remain?

Michael Cabanatuan, transportation writer for The San Francisco Chronicle
Joe Simitian, California state senator (D-Palo Alto)
Elizabeth Alexis, co-founder of Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design
Jerry Hill, California state assemblymember (D-19th District)
Daniel Krause, co-founder and executive director of Californians for High-Speed Rail

  • Rhet

    Why spend money on a developing another way to burn fossil fuels? Isn’t that putting the cart before the horse environmentally? Why not spend money on developing green fuel sources? Researchers have just discovered a way to create hydrogen gas from water using a photosynthetic enzyme, for instance. I’d rather see governments put money into that effort than into boondoggles like getting people from SF to LA by way of a superfluous new mechanism.

    • Ted Crocker

      Exactly, Rhet.  Developing the type of fuel sources you are talking about are what Cap & Trade was intended to be used for, not a project like HSR that merely moves the smoke stack.  And even if the electricity were being generated from sources other than dirty fuels like coal, it will be decades before HSR is built and can take advantage of it.

      • Abu

        Just wait…once it is built, HSR will be used as an excuse to build new nuclear plants.

        • James Leno

          replied to wrong comment

  • Bob Fry

    This has to be one of the most idiotic things California has done in decades. HSR is last-century tech.

    * There is no over-demand now or in the future for the LA-SF route. If there were, airlines would add a few more flights, problem solved.
    * The environmental and right-of-way lawsuits will tie this thing in knots for years.
    * The fences and walls–on both sides!–needed to protect HSR will be hugely expensive, ugly, and simply a huge scar on the landscape.
    * Not only will it be enormously costly to build, the subsidies to run it will be equally costly.
    * Why not try HSR first on routes of proven demand, like Sac-East Bay, or LA-SD?
    * The gross exaggerations and outright lies about HSR should have been a clue this thing will never work.
    * Business travelers can now make day-trips via airlines between SF-LA, something impossible with HSR. HSR will still require a rental car at either end, same as an airline trip. Meanwhile non-business travelers will still prefer to drive and have their own car.  HSR solves a problem that doesn’t exist.
    * Self-driving autos WORK NOW from several institutions and universities and are a far superior method of travel. Why not spend a tiny fraction of HSR’s cost and make those practical?
    * If we need more north-south capacity, why not spend a tiny fraction of HSR’s cost and make Hwy. 99 a true interstate? Or simply add a lane to I5?

    Annual payments on $6 billion dollars just approved (assuming 5% interest and 20 year repayment period) is almost $500 million a year! Meanwhile GJB and the Leg are whacking state workers, welfare, universities and schools and demanding new taxes. If this isn’t insanity I don’t know what insanity is.

    Now I just heard on the radio the HSR salesman say HSR operations will pay for themselves. I also heard one of the guests say to to lower costs, they cut Sacramento out of the plans! HSR and its supporters are on LSD or something stronger.

    • James Leno

      Internal Combustion is 19th century tech too. Adding more cylinders in the 20th century just made it use more fuel. For example, what are some of the latest offerings from Detroit today? Musclecars…redesigned from 50 years ago.

      There are a certain number of flights per day one airport can handle. “Adding a few more flights” is not as easy as it sounds. Every local flight you add takes a cross-country or international flight away. That’s why California is dotted with several north-south airports right now (conveniently located far outside of city centers, I might add).

      Business travelers can make SF-LA day trips…if they pay a premium, or if they plan weeks in advance. No need to do that with HSR. You just buy your ticket and go. Plus, airports have rental cars at either end already. HSR stations will be right downtown, where all the people, businesses, and transit already exist.

      Self-driving cars are being developed, and they are coming. But if we adopt one technology over another, we could get caught in a VHS-Betamax situation. HSR is a tested, standardized, mature technology that’s already here. All we have to do is build it. 

      Adding lanes to I5 or 99 would add capacity, but it would not add speed. Plus, it would do nothing to cut down on our oil dependence (in fact it would increase it). HSR does both simultaneously.

  • Stan Bringer

    High speed rail is not for me. I will never be able to ride the train to LA. It is important to start building the high speed rail tracks from SF to LA. It is for the future! Yes it will be expensive. Yes it will take several years to complete the program. 

    What if the Naysayers in 1930s had had their say? There would be no Golden Gate Bridge!

    We need to start thinking about ten, twenty years ahead.
    We all need to get behind the High Speed Rail program.

    Stan Bringer
    Fremont, CA

    • Jennifer

      Great point.  We need this for the future.

    • Binky

       Hey I’ve got an idea. Let’s build the high speed rail along the fault lines, then invest in whatever company will clean up the mess when the inevitable quake causes a high speed rail disaster.

  • Laura Macias

    There WILL be FOUR tracks from San Francisco to San Jose for “passing” tracks along the route. Here in Mtn View, our small, twelve-square mile city has been identified as a four track burdened city that bisects MV completely.There is NO guarantee of grade separation which means pedestrians, cyclists and cars will have to literally stop in their tracks.
    Agree with Sen Simitian, nice vision, wrong plan.

  • Stefanie Schur

     I am a big fan of high-speed rail, and believe it is the best solution for regional transit.

    BUT, mediocre-speed trains in a meandering scenic loop is a complete failure of the original vision that most people supported. The project now needs to be scrapped and sent back to square one.

    A successful project needs to be based on a direct spine between the Bay Area and LA. “Bay TO LA Non-Stop” needs to be PHASE 1 of any project that will be successful. TWO STATIONS AND LOTS OF STRAIGHT TRACK. That’s the first step on a path to success.

    Phase 2: Extend to San Diego
    Phase 3: Extend to sacramento
    Phase 4: Central Valley connection loop

  • Abu

    The California High Speed Rail saga reads like a chapter, straight out of John Perkins’ “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man”.

  • Arthur

    Will the new Caltrain electrified rail cars use the same platform height as the high speed rail cars, so that a blended system will even be possible?

  • LT

    I ride the capitol corridor from Berkeley to Santa Clara. It takes about 1hr:15minutes to cover that distance. Why can’t we spend money on improving the existing infrastructure, make these trains faster and reduce the intra-city commute time and thereby increase ridership. The timeline of the high speed rail seems too slow. 

  • Andy Why

    How much thought was given to routing the Bay Area connection through the south side of Livermore, where the geography is FAR more conducive to a Central Valley connection than the 40-60 (?)+/- miles of coastal mountains southeast of Gilroy? Can the route be changed?

  • Jennifer

    I live in San Mateo and am very supportive of the High Speed Rail.  I appreciate the work that has gone in to improve the plan hope.  There IS a demand for this service to LA.  Could you let us know more about the bond, i.e., how to invest?

    • Bob Fry

      You buy these bonds like any state or public bonds…you cannot buy them yourself directly. You must have an account at certain brokers and buy through the broker, Edward-Jones for example.

    • Eric

      I have some Greece bonds I’d like to sell you.

  • Alex W.

    HSR is a great idea. This is a bad implementation. I am completely against this approach. And did I just hear Daniel Krause say that we might effectively make money while building this scheme? What a scam. He even sounds like he knows he’s lying too.

    A listener just made an excellent comment about how to get around after using the train. We need to expand our inner-city infrastructure before creating these main veins. You want to dump some funding into transportation? Do it on public transit in the major cities. Make BART work for the entire bay area!

    I swear, when this prop. passed it was done by voters who looked at the title and checked yes… Let’s drop this infatuation and put our money where it’s really needed.

    How about investing in electric vehicle charging? Or as I said above, BART?

    • Bob Fry

      Self-driving autos are the future. Not enough space here to explain why, but they are coming and the benefits are enormous and the costs modest…far, far less than HSR.

  • E. Kavanagh

    That wasn’t the answer I wanted to hear about cars and LA.  What I wanted to hear was that I could put my car on the train here in San Francisco and then be able to drive around LA–just like the Paris London Eurostar.  The idea that I won’t need a car in LA in the next century is probably ridiculous.

  • Erik

    I’m fully in favor of high speed rail. I took the train from Venice to Milan last week, and it is far superior than the rental car (that we’d had until that point for town-to-town transit) or plane. If there were HSR, we’d take it to take it to visit my in-laws multiple times/year.


  • Alex W.

    I do not have a difficult time visualizing how rail will make a difference in my life. I’ve used Amtrak to get to Chico CA from the bay area. It’s a nightmare. Fix that, then I’ll agree to give you money to make shiny new train. I am very fond of public transportation, trains make a lot of sense to me. In my vision of the future we have systems that actually work.

  • Fred

    I’d rather have slower transportation that lets me enjoy the views. How about a restart of the idea of a Pacific coast rail between SF and Santa Cruz?

  • KWeazy

    The real problem for public transportation is the last mile. People will not get out of their cars until this problem is solved. I feel money would be better spent on monorails and other smaller systems to link the existing transportation system to the places where people want to go.

    • juliusaugustus

      How is that different than an airplane 

  • David

    I’m curious what Ms. Alexis would like to see happen regarding high-speed rail. Does she want California to start over and draw up an entirely new plan, or is she opposed to high-speed rail in general? If we don’t build a high-speed rail network now, then when? For opponents there will never be a right time. If the United States had always listened to opponents of large infrastructure projects, the Golden Gate Bridge would never have been built, we would not have an extensive federal highway system, and we could go on and on.

    • Bob Fry

       Those projects, and many others like the State Water Project, the CSU/UC systems, etc. have returned many times their cost in indirect benefit to our society. HSR, by contrast, is solving a problem that simply does not exist: under-capacity between SF-LA. And should such under-capacity occur in the future, it can be fixed far more cheaply by other means: adding a few more flights/day. Adding another lane to I5, or making Hwy 99 a true interstate. Or my favorite and I think very realistic, self-driving autos, which will convey enormous benefits at very little cost compared to HSR.

  • Mrsjhenson

    Those who don’t believe that people will use rail are suffering from an ability to emerge from the Calfornia car culture.  If an affordable, efficient rail service exists it WILL be used. As services in Europe amply demonstrate. When my relatives travel from England to France or Germany, they take the train. It’s faster and far less stressful that going by car or air. And when one factors in all the costs, rail costs are comparable. We  live in the East Bay, and often take BART to and from SF airport. Especially during commute hours. Why  drive, when BART has comparable costs, is faster, and far, far less stressful than the nightmarish trip on Bay area freeways?

    • Mrsjhenson

      Correction. That “ability” should, of course, have been “inability.”

  • Mrsjhenson

    As for the comment made on the program about lower incomes in Fresno….. That is because it is almost impossible to work in Fresno and commute to better-paying areas such as SF. If a fast train service existed, increased incomes would be attainable. Incidentally,  think it’s important to offer reduced prices to regular travelers. In London, an annual rail season ticket, or loan for one, has often been offered as an incentive to potential employees.. I’m still surprised that there are so few financial incentives for regular travel on BART.

  • Rail_advocate_SF

    I just want to support the people who are advocating for the high speed rail in the face of all the naysayers who would have made me give up! Anyone who has travelled in europe and asia will know first hand what an advantage rail is, especially with plane travel becoming more and more dehumanising. I dont understand what’s not to support with transportation that will let you go to the city center (instead of an exurb) and reach  there 5 min before and travel in comfort. I for one have and will pay more to take a train than a plane if the travel times are roughly comparable. So what if the construction company makes money if we are left with a super-useful product- go high speed rail and get americans kicking and screaming into a civilised way of travel. Those who complain about “scar on the landscape” just look out the highway with its fast food chain strips, that’s no eye balm! 

  • Mark Zdeblick

    HSR is profitable in Japan only because they have extremely high tolls on the highways. two weeks ago, i was in Southern Japan driving in to Osaka and noticed that a 2 hour stretch of road led to  a 8,800 yen toll… the equivalent of $110.

    So if you wonder how a future California legislature will pay for both the construction and operation of this boondoggle, remember that they can make tollways out of all the highways between any two cities…

    • Skeptic

      That’s not such a bad idea…more people would use the more efficient  transportation method (trains…from a people/unit energy metric) if we charge a toll on roads. I like how you think!

      • utera

        No, japanese society and frankly their entire country is just not comparable, they don’t deface everything in their public space like we do, our trains high speed or not will end up with scratched up windows and the rest of the horrible mess that afflicts the rest of our public transport system.  And of course their island is tiny, and even tinier once you realize most of their population is highly concentrated in just a few areas. 127 million in an area the size of montana.  It is not comparable to our situation.  this type of tax to kill is just a slightly different take on the republican “starve the beast” tactic, and both are despicable and only stand in the way of progress.

  • A B

    40,60,80 Gigabucks, whatever…60G$ buys:
    >2.4M Priuses, or
    >pays the entire tuition for 1M UC Berkeley undergrads, or
    >builds 30 Solar thermal plants (sorry deserts…you lose) to power 4.2M homes. 
    >Or 461M Harry Potter Hogwarts Express G-Gauge Lionel Trains sets to play with.
    We can’t afford to waste money on the HSR train set. The ridership, over the first 10 years, will cost tens of thousands for per rider. No way!

  • Slappy

    This proposed rail goes through the valley, which includes Merced, Bakersfield and Fresno. FRESNO? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? The valley has absolutely nothing to offer LA or SF in terms of culture or education, and is the largest collection of ignorant trash in California. Running the train through this area would provide these people with a means of traveling to SF/LA and contaminating these cities, and their surrounding regions, with even more crime; God knows the Inland Empire has enough trash as it is.

    Don’t believe me? Look at happened when BART rails were extended into Daly City, CA. 

    • Beth

      Mr J9 you obviously dont know that Fresno and other central valley towns have colleges and university and more college graduates who work in agriculture, and other science fields.  Not to mention you have some nasty attitudes per folks outside of where you live.

  • utera

    Yea this is a horrible idea, people don’t need to commute between la and sf. We have tech now for video conferences and the rest, this is really last century thinking. Furthermore I don’t care how much matching dollars we get from the government, its like if a broke person were lusting over a buy one get one free sale when they had no money for food. Our fundamentals aren’t being paid for, how much is ca university tuition now? Do tell? That is the kind of problem they should solve before building a train no one needs and frankly can’t be done for anything close to budgeted or in a way that makes sense because all the special interests and considerations will slowly chip away at the line until it becomes a horrible joke.

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