California has finally broken ground on the USA’s very first high-speed railway following several years of political and legal wrangling.
Like HS2, the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s planned high-speed corridor has been in and out of the courts since it was approved by voters in 2008. Ultimately, the project’s benefits have silenced its staunchest critics and ground was finally broken in downtown Fresno on 6 January.
Officials signed a piece of rail to celebrate the milestone, including California High-Speed Rail Authority board member Lynn Schenk who has been described as ‘the mother of high- speed rail’ for carrying the high-speed rail bill through Congress.
Phase one of California’s first high- speed rail line will connect Los Angeles and San Francisco. In the future, the state hopes to build an 800-mile route linking the Californian capital, Sacramento in the north and San Diego in the south. Since 2008, the project has overcome a number of hurdles. Last year, a judge invalidated bonds worth $8 billion needed to start construction and told the authority it had to reproduce its funding plan. This decision was later overturned.
The process of procuring North America’s next-generation high-speed trains hasn’t run smoothly either. The California High-Speed Rail Authority had hoped to jointly procure the new trains with the USA’s national passenger operator, Amtrak, which is looking to bring high- speed units to the Northeast Corridor between New York and Washington. The two organisations quickly found, however, that they would struggle to find a single design that could meet the specifications of both routes and have subsequently launched separate procurement processes.
The authority plans to order 95 new 220 mph trains. In tender documents, the body has specified a single-deck electric multiple unit (EMU) based on proven technology which has been in commercial service for at least five years.
Construction is now underway and will continue in California’s Central Valley for the next five years. Phase one is scheduled for completion in 2029.
High-speed rail is at the heart of a wider rail modernisation programme in California. The Caltrain Modernization Program will electrify the 150-year-old Caltrain suburban rail route on the San Francisco Peninsular.