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Governor: Construction On Calif. High Speed Rail To Begin In 2012

Above: An artist's rendering of the high-speed rail.

Aired 1/19/12 on KPBS Midday Edition.


Tom Umberg, Board Chair, California High Speed Rail Authority


Gov. Jerry Brown puts a big push behind the state's troubled High Speed Rail project. In his State of the State speech, Brown put his full support behind the plan to build a high speed rail system in California, and he urged the legislature to get on board.

But the many critics of the project point to the growing price tag and risky financing as a reason to pull the plug on the idea. We'll talk to Tom Umberg, board chair of the California High Speed Rail Authority. View and interactive map here.

Brown Moves To Revamp CA High-Speed Rail Project by Juliet Williams, Associated Press

Gov. Jerry Brown said Friday that his appointees to the board overseeing California's embattled $98 billion high-speed rail project will fix its problems and offer a revamped business plan after the rail authority's director and its board chairman resigned a day earlier.

The Democratic governor told reporters in Elk Grove, a Sacramento suburb, that he will not join the "defeatist crowd" that believes the project is impossible.

"We're going to build, but we're not going to be stupid. And we'll listen to the critics, and we'll fix things and we'll do the right thing," Brown said. "We're not going to go overboard. We're going to be very careful and build incrementally as we go."

Story continues below.

The voter-approved plan to build a high-speed rail line linking the Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay areas has faced mounting criticism since it was revealed that its total costs have more than doubled and the state has no stable funding source.

Lawmakers from both parties have raised serious questions about the plan to start construction in September on the first segment in the Central Valley, in part because the line would not connect major population centers.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority submitted a new business plan to the Legislature last month that boosted the estimated price tag for the entire system linking Anaheim to San Francisco from $43 billion to $98 billion and moved the completion date from 2020 to 2034.

The authority needs legislative approval to start building the initial stretch of track in the Central Valley.

California's legislative analyst and an independent peer review panel have also questioned the project's viability. At the same time, public opinion polls have shown voter support waning.

Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point, has introduced legislation that would effectively kill the project. During a news conference this week, Harkey said it could double California's debt and become a drain on the budget.

"California does not need a shiny new heavily subsidized toy with no confirmed ridership when we have real shovel-ready infrastructure jobs in every community awaiting funding," she said in a news release.

The authority's chief executive, Roelof van Ark, and its board chairman, Tom Umberg, announced their departures Thursday. Dan Richard, one of two people Brown appointed to the rail board last summer, is expected to take over. Richard spent 12 years on the board of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system.

When asked if the shuffle signals his intent to revamp the entire project so it is more palatable to the public, Brown said only that he is "putting my own stamp on state government, slowly but surely."

California voters approved $9 billion in bonds for the high-speed rail project in 2008, when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor. In December, a Field Poll found that voters now would reject the rail bonds by a nearly 2-1 margin.

Brown said he is not one of the many people who want to "turn off the lights" in California.

"We will make mistakes, but we'll correct them and we'll learn as we go along," he said. "We've got to think big and not kind of shrink back in some kind of Lilliputian anxiety because the world isn't quite as comfortable as we might like."

The authority is asking lawmakers to approve selling $2.7 billion of the voter-approved state bonds to match $3.5 billion in federal money that would be used to build 130 miles of track between Chowchilla and Bakersfield.

The report by the California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group said the state should not authorize the bonds.

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Avatar for user 'Pizzaguy'

Pizzaguy | January 19, 2012 at 12:22 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

Success of the european systems is partly due to the fact that the train is linked to a variety of intermodal transportation that allows riders to proceed to most parts of a city within an hour of arriving at the destination.

What kind of infrastructure is being considered to make the train more attractive to prospective riders? Let's make the train take people to where they really want to go!!!

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Avatar for user 'esarmen'

esarmen | January 19, 2012 at 12:28 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

Can comments be made on how many people would be employed by this HSR project for initial construction and sustaining maintenance? There should be many hundreds to thousands of skilled jobs due to this project.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | January 19, 2012 at 2:04 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

When will short-sighted politicians realize that not every project in our country should be a quick return pig-fest for greedy parasites?

This is an investment in our future, something that will benefit our state long-term.

The problem is that nobody wants to make the sacrifices today because they won't see a quick return.

Why would a politician want to use lots of money to begin something that will likely see benefit after they are out of office when they can use that money for quick return pet projects in their districts that will yield votes for them I. The short-term?

And lots of cranky older tax payers hate this project because they see it as expensive and causing lots of chaotic construction to build something they probably won't see the benefits of in their lifetime.

One reason our country is falling behind globally is because nobody cares about the future. Everyone wants things now, and nobody is willing to sacrifice a little to bring about a big project like this that will see lots of benefits to the future of our state.

The problem is made worse by Republican political activism that want to see everything "privatized". A country does not build huge, solid, long-lasting infrastructures on the basis of quick profit. We do it based on long-term vision and investment. We need to wake up and realize that public works projects are not "evil" just because they don't turn a quick profit for greedy developers or quick political capital for sleazy political hacks.

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Avatar for user 'kmassie'

kmassie | January 19, 2012 at 2:54 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

In Proposition 1A there is $950 million set aside for intermodal connectivity to do exactly the types of things you are talking about. In LA they are spending between $30-40 billion to improve local transit to do the same. In San Francisco, officials want spend $4 billion to construct the Transbay Transit Center to link high-speed rail to commuter rail, bus service and light rail.

California High Speed Rail Authority.

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Avatar for user 'kmassie'

kmassie | January 19, 2012 at 3:20 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

Building the HSR system will employ thousands of California construction workers. Construction of the Initial Construction Section in the Central Valley will create 100,000 job-years over the next five years and one-million job-years over the next 20 years.

Please note - jobs for the CHSRA and many other agencies are figured in job-years. A job-year is one year of work for one person. So one person on a job for ten years is ten job-years.

Once fully operational, the San Francisco to Los Angeles Basin phase is expected to create 4,500 job-years for people who will service and maintain the infrastructure, trains and equipment.

California High Speed Rail Authority

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Avatar for user 'rdg1847'

rdg1847 | January 19, 2012 at 10:23 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

While I favor alternative transportation systems to our current overburdened freeways, there is at least one system on the horizon that would be much more user friendly, link the entire state, and do it for a FRACTION of the cost of the proposed high-speed rail project. What's more, it's being developed right here in California.

Since September 2009, NASA has been working with SkyTran, a California-based start-up company located at the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field. The company is working to develop its innovative 'personal rapid transit' system based on "active magnetic levitation" technology (for more information, go to, or view SkyTran videos on YouTube). In place of trains that stop and start on a pre-determined schedule, SkyTran's system would provide on-demand, non-stop service using individual vehicles that seat 2-3 people. According to SkyTran officials I spoke with, vehicles would travel at 150 mph between urban centers, with onboard wi-fi service. While slower than the bullet train, the absence of multiple stops along the way would allow vehicles to complete the L.A. - S.F. trip in the same time as the bullet train...and the tickets would be a good deal cheaper, too.

Admittedly, SkyTran is still a work in progress, endeavoring to build its first test facility, and any public system needs to demonstrate its safety before serving the masses. But as the public becomes more comfortable with the technology, shorter local lines, once proven at slower speeds, could quickly expand to longer distances at higher speeds, and a more comprehensive, seamless network than the bullet train will ever offer. I suspect that at least as many operation and maintenance jobs would be created with this system as we would see with high-speed rail.

The alternative appears to be to commit to spending $98 billion on high-speed rail, and hope enough people will ride it. In light of the newer, cheaper, and more effient techology, I just think we can do much better than that.

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Avatar for user 'Derek'

Derek | January 20, 2012 at 7:09 a.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

"its total costs have more than doubled"

That is FALSE. The cost has risen from $35.7 billion (2009$) to $65.4 billion (2010$).

KPBS, please do your own homework next time. Stop spreading rumors.

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Avatar for user 'astrofan'

astrofan | January 20, 2012 at 1:26 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

kmassie, "Building the HSR system will employ thousands of California construction workers. Construction of the Initial Construction Section in the Central Valley will create 100,000 job-years over the next five years and one-million job-years over the next 20 years."

And they're be 100 million people riding it a year and no more traffice jams, and it will cost $100 round trip LA to San Fran and...

I want some of what kmassie's smoking.

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Avatar for user 'al_mac_62'

al_mac_62 | March 6, 2012 at 4:47 p.m. ― 5 years ago

These ridership estimates are incredible, typical liberal pipedreams. 9000 boardings per day in Bakersfield? Really. This is the CA version of the Big Dig, and if you support it you are insane.

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