California: The last hope for high-speed rail

Posted on April 13, 2011 by Alex Roman - Also by this author

It would be nice to not have to discuss federal funding for a change. I mean, wouldn't you like to wake up one day just knowing that there is a high-speed rail system on its way or that your bus or train was going to be at its stop or station instead of being cut? Yeah, me too.

The bad news continued to roll in late last week, when a government shutdown was narrowly averted thanks to U.S. House and Senate leaders negotiating a deal to fund government operations through the remainder of FY 2011, reducing spending by $38.5 billion from FY 2010 levels. The continuing resolution (CR) is good until Friday, giving Congress time to finalize a bill before a vote.

The bill includes a total subcommittee discretionary budget authority allocation for Transportation, Housing and Urban Development of $55.5 billion in FY 2011, a reduction of 18 percent from FY 2010 numbers. It also eliminated FY 2011 funding for the high-speed rail program, which was funded at $2.5 billion in FY 2010, and rescinded $400 million from FY 2010, thus eliminating the possibility that Florida's high-speed rail funds will be redistributed.

Yesterday I had a chance to visit the California High-Speed Rail Authority's Request for Expressions of Interest (REFI) Industry Forum in Los Angeles and there was tons of optimism in the air. Without Governors grandstanding to reject "wasteful" high-speed spending, California continues to move ahead with its high-speed rail project and is preparing to award $5.5 billion in contracts for the first leg of its system, which is set to be completed by 2017.  

During the REFI Forum, the Authority's plan was to bring together private sector representatives and provide an overview of the project, an in-depth look at the procurement process, and opportunities for potential prime and subcontractors to discuss the project, as well as for small businesses to become "certified" and learn more about participating.

Judging from the crowd of close to 2,000 people, the event was successful and quite positive for high-speed rail proponents that are concerned about the diminishing federal investment. It seems that California has a plan in place to make high-speed rail work, complete with a referendum passed by voters to fund approximately one-third of the project costs, federally guaranteed investments and private sector investments. The Authority is hopeful that the model of cash positive high-speed rail systems around the world, will allow it to operate at a profit.

If all goes well, California will end up being the first state to successfully implement a high-speed rail system and do so without too much further concern about the investment made by the feds, which must be nice. At the very least, California, some two-plus years after high-speed was labeled as the "future" by President Obama, is the last hope for true high-speed rail to become a reality somewhere in the U.S.   

In case you missed it...

Read our METRO blog, "What would a government shutdown mean for transit?" here.


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