Update on the Bullet Train

From the project's Northern California Regional Director

Road 27 grade sep in Madera County, part of the HSR spine. Photo: CAHSRA
Road 27 grade sep in Madera County, part of the HSR spine. Photo: CAHSRA

As Mark Twain might have said had he witnessed the past couple of months, the reports of the death of California’s statewide high-speed rail system are greatly exaggerated.

There’s been a good deal of confusion regarding the future of the project in the Bay Area. The confusion is much fueled, it appears, by misunderstanding following Governor Newsom’s State of the State Address.

As Northern California’s Regional Director of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, I want to provide an accurate update on the status of the project in the Bay Area and Northern California.

The direction laid out by the Governor is similar to what the Authority had put forth in our 2018 Business Plan. Where we are building today in the Central Valley, the Governor wants us to finish the entire 171-mile Central Valley stretch to connect the three largest cities, totaling nearly one million Californians, and provide new economic opportunities to the region as we get trains rolling.


Beyond the Central Valley, we will continue the planning and environmental clearance efforts from San Francisco to Merced–this will take the next two years. The next milestone in this process will be our Board of Directors identifying preferred alternatives for the San Francisco to San Jose and San Jose to Merced project sections in September of this year. We are also continuing to pursue an agreement with the Union Pacific Railroad that would allow us to utilize the existing rail corridor from San Jose through Morgan Hill to Gilroy while extending electrified Caltrain service to Southern Santa Clara County. By advancing the environmental clearance and project development efforts in Northern California we will be prepared to utilize any new federal, state and/or private funding that may become available to complete the system in Northern California and connect to the Central Valley and eventually to Southern California.

In addition to our work in advancing planning for the system, we also intend to fulfill our commitments to the investments already underway in Northern and Southern California that will become parts of the system over time but provide immediate benefits today. In Northern California, this includes the $713 million for the Caltrain Electrification Project and $84 million for the 25th Avenue Grade Separation Project in San Mateo. And we will continue to collaborate with regional partners on planning for the Gilroy, Diridon, Millbrae, and San Francisco Stations.

I was recently reminded of what of BART’s legendary General Manager B.R. Stokes said when advocating for funding that transformative project: “Build it now; it will never be cheaper.” Today’s arguments around costs are as old as the oldest mass transit dreams spoken in California. With that in mind, we’re moving steadily forward to make high-speed rail a reality in the Bay Area and all of California. We see clearly a future when high-speed rail is as much a part of the California lifestyle and our regional economic structure as BART is today for the Bay Area while the furor over costs and funding are long behind us.

In the last few weeks, we have seen folks up and down the state re-express their desire and commitment to connecting the different regions of the state using high-speed rail to tie our economies and communities together. Folks from across the state are fervently looking for a solution to our transit and housing crises. Their voices have carried far and wide. This public discourse will only help our pursuit of future funding for completing not only our Northern California project sections, but those routes that will connect the Bay Area to the other major business and recreational areas of this vast and diverse state, making us all one California.

Boris Lipkin is the Northern California Regional Director for the California High-Speed Rail Authority

  • mike_kennedy

    This is such a fluff piece with no actual deadlines for connecting SF to LA. Can you just outsource it to the Chinese, they build a high speed track like this in less than a year.

  • th3gtr0

    They’re not subject to rigorous environmental review and public input processes, and the government owns all of the land. You can find deadlines in the latest Business Plan on the Authority’s website, albeit they’re really dependent on identifying additional funding.

  • les_2

    CAHSR should implement an HSR South plan and an HSR North plan (maybe go so far as a reorg of CAHSR into CAHSR South and CAHSR North). These plans would be easy to achieve given the small incremental financing available and the politics at hand, and yet would be greater revenue generators (especially early on) than simply an LA-SF concept. As stand alone entities, the two would both be money makers, and any ridership generated from a North and South connection would be an additional bonus.

    System South alignment


    System North alignment



    I’m very concerned about foreign and out-of-state rail ownership (Virgin, Softbank & Brightline) especially if Rick Scott is involved (anti-CAHSR Senator). Please be weary. The most I would give him is a line from the border to Barstow and that’s it. You never know if CAHSR will want to run trains to Vegas or want to lease out a line to same.

    I never verified the SETEC route being LA-SJ at 2:hr:10:min and a 1 seat ride (prop 1). The CAHSR may want to do this or parts of in addition to Pacheco?

    There are potentially 1.5 million people who could transfer from San Jouquins to stations located at Sacramento, Stockton and Modesto.
    There are more than one million people located between Richmond and Castro Valley who could transfer from Capitol Corridor or BART to an Oakland HSR station.
    There are 100s of thousands along ACE who could transfer at a Tracy station.
    2 million plus residents of Las Vegas metro.
    1 million plus in Riverside and surrounding area.

    https://www.mercurynews.com/2018/05/24/bart-reject (Open in cognito)

  • Robert Tupilo

    Kill this thing – no one outside CA should pay a nickle for this POS

  • Robert Tupilo

    I think the whole CA train thing is fantastic. You should go for it. I will learn more about the carving out of mountains and the taking of private property. Just be sure to do this on your own dime – not mine as I do not directly benefit.

  • Roger R.

    They’re not. California is a donor state…and the wealthiest state in the nation by far. In fact, we’re wealthier than France and many other nations with built out HSR systems. It’d be nice, however, if the rest of the US states would stop siphoning off all our income taxes and actually allow us to build basic transportation systems that we need as our population grows. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_and_territories_by_GDP

  • Robert Tupilo

    Funds are fungible. I thought I read there was about $4 Billion or so coming from the Federal Gov’t for this project. Granted a part of that (I don’t know how much) emanated from CA.

  • Kevin Withers

    Per Sen Wiener, there is a new bill forcing cities on CAHSR route to 1) zone for rail and 2) assigning them their quota of miles of track that must be built.
    Due to the need to address equity rebalancing, the track laid in wealthy areas is required to be bumpier than track installed in sensitive communities.

  • Also we need to raise the gas tax until it covers 100% of the cost of the roads instead of only 61.8%. If you truly believe that the user should pay.

  • keenplanner

    As well they should, as the feds fund highway projects that I don’t use. It’s always people without passports who don’t understand the importance of HSR.

  • Roger R.

    It’s actually $3.3 billion, which we get for a 20 year project (and Trump has tried repeatedly to claw it back, btw). But we donate $13 billion or so *per year* more than we get back. Here’s some data from Politifact:
    “The LAO also cites figures from a March 2016 report by the Pew Charitable Trusts. It found the federal government spent nearly $356 billion in California in fiscal year 2014, for salaries and wages, grants, contracts, retirement benefits and other benefits. That same year, California paid about $369 billion in total federal tax — or about $13 billion more than it received — according to the Internal Revenue Service Data Book, 2014.” https://www.politifact.com/california/article/2017/feb/14/does-california-give-more-it-gets-dc/

  • keenplanner

    How many miles of HSR will be built in China, France, even Uzbekistan, while California twiddles its thumbs?
    This is such an important piece of the mobility plan for California’s growing population. Soon the major N/S highways will be overwhelmed, and HSR is much cheaper and infinitely more environmentally friendly than adding thousands of miles of paved lanes and more runways at the major airports.
    And please, set a performance goal. HSR promised SF-LA times of 2.5 hrs. Please don’t let this get watered down and delayed by idiots, as has happened to the Geary BRT.

  • keenplanner

    Environmental docs are fickle and often unnecessarily slow and expensive. The state could contextualize this project to speed it through the CEQA reviews, as it does with TODs. It’s too bad that CEQA docs don’t factor in the tons of Carbon Dioxide that HSR will prevent by taking cars off the highway.

  • murphstahoe

    Or worse yet, the N/S highways will be underwhelmed when we decide to price carbon to effectively attack climate change, and nobody can afford to drive

  • th3gtr0

    I don’t know about environmental impact reports (EIRs) being fickle. A lead agency needs to have a Record of Decision and an EIR approved by the CA State Clearinghouse before it can move ahead with the adoption of a plan or with construction of a project. Otherwise, it risks getting sued and losing for not properly conducting an environmental review of a project that may cause physical change to the environment.

    Also, here’s a link to the Air Quality Technical Report of the Final EIR for the Fresno to Bakersfield Section. It’s on the Authority website. Tables 7.9-1 to 7.9-4 may contain what you’re looking for in terms of CO2 emissions. The EIR is about 20,000 pages long (I haven’t read through it and probably never will).

  • Robert Tupilo

    It’s more complex than that. Notwithstanding recent tax law changes which have only just begun, CA residents have to a huge degree been able reduce it’s federal tax burden due to the enormous, reckless, and out-sized (my words) state and local taxes used as federal tax deductions.

  • Daniel Carroll

    On the other hand, within a dozen years the majority of cars will be electric. The technology is advancing at an accelerating pace.

  • Daniel Carroll

    But even with the deductions Californians pay more than they get back. We subsidize other states and feel hard done by when the tax laws are changed to make it even worse for us.

  • Kevin Withers

    Wealthier than France?
    The size of ones’ economy isn’t “wealth”.

    Reality check: Despite simplistic annual GNP aspect, California is 1.3 trillion dollars in debt.

  • Sean Hussey

    The future is exciting. In 30 years,* you will be able to take HSR from SF to LA, then rent an electric car to drive there or use the subway system they are continually expanding down there.
    *All 30 year predictions are tentative.

  • Sean Hussey

    More than 10% of Americans are Californians, so more than 10% of federal money should go to California.

  • KJ

    They should prioritize linking BART (in the East Bay) with ACE, as this will be the quickest way to access HSR. The planned Union City “Dumbarton” connection could link all of the systems.

  • murphstahoe

    142.86 billions of gallons of gas annually in the US. That’s 17,124 billion million joules of energy. A solar panel might make 1.3 billion joules per year. We’d need 13,172,000,000 solar panels to replace the gas we burn.

    If we don’t figure out how to put in that many panels, or wind farms, etc… then we would have to dramatically increase the amount of coal we burn to produce electricity. Which doesn’t really reduce carbon emissions net net.

    There are 250 Million cars in the US, the vast majority of which are ICEs. To replace the fleet with electrics, we’d need to acquire the materials to build 250 million batteries.

    Electric cars are great! But they don’t scale to replace our current way of life without trade offs.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Not sure how you arrived at this conclusion. The median car in the US is 12 years old. It takes a dozen years to turn over the fleet. If electric cars were 100% of sales right now, half of cars would be electric in 12 years. However actual market share of electric cars is currently less than 2%. 98% of the cars sold today run on fossil fuels. There is no reasonable basis to predict that the majority of cars will be electric in 2031. There is not even a reason to believe they will have a majority market share at that time.

  • A bridge too far

    They will never tackle the Altamont pass range in the north, heading into Livermore or the southern grapevine pass into the LA area. Over 50% of the state are poor immigrants who couldn’t afford the $100+ ticket price anyway unless you quadruple their welfare. Yeah, that’s the answer.

  • A bridge too far

    Unless and until ALL TRUCK SHIPPING of every item we have in every grocery store and, car garage, retail outlet, building materials is stopped there is no need for another railroad. EVERYTHING we eat and use everyday must be TRUCKED IN. EVERYTHING.

    RAIL is old technology. Stop building this disaster.

  • Robert Tupilo

    I wish it were that simple. Of course fed funds go all over the place (overseas, Washington, etc.) But by no means should it go to a intrastate project that is decades behind schedule and over 3x the original voter-approved estimate.

  • Sean Hussey

    Over 50% of Californians voted for it to be built. ($100 Billion plus)
    There was no vote by the people on the Afghanistan War. ($2,400 Billion plus)

  • Osman Hossain

    It is going to be faster.

  • Osman Hossain

    When is going to complete.

  • Daniel Carroll

    I made one error in my statement: Within a dozen years a majority of the new cars sold will be electric. Nobody is going to take away your ICE powered car, but the customer will look at the situation and the majority will go electric. Battery cost has been dropping precipitously. Quite a bit of progress has been made removing cobalt from the batteries, the big cost. Lithium is common and is a very small part of the cost of a lithium-ion battery. Range is now over 200 miles on most new cars and some are over 300. Electrics have better performance. Charging stations are starting to pop up all over. Charging time is also falling rapidly and in any case is irrelevant to many drivers as it is done at home overnight. The *present* electrical network could charge half the cars in the US with the addition of smart meter control (by price) of charging. My electric meter already has the transponder to talk to a charging station at my home and control energy use in my neighborhood in the middle of the night.

    For all these reasons the governments of a dozen countries have informed the manufacturers that no new ICE powered cars will be allowed after 2040. The manufacturers have shrugged as they were expecting this to come soon after 2030.

  • Lordocasl

    You must be a republican.
    I can tell because it always about you.
    If you don’t benefit it must be bad.
    I won’t benefit a bit, but I can’t wait till it’s built for the good of the people.
    And you WILL ride it when it’s complete, and bitch and moan all the way, because that’s what you do.

  • Lordocasl

    California paid about $369 billion in total federal tax — or about $13 billion more than it received — according to the Internal Revenue Service Data Book, 2014.

  • Lordocasl

    California paid about $369 billion in total federal tax — or about $13 billion more than it received — this was 2014, I’m sure it much more now.

  • letsspendmore

    As Merle Haggard sang, “when they find out how to burn water, the gasoline car is gone, and airplanes fly without any fuel and sunshine heats our home. We’ll all sit around drinking free Bubble Up, eating that rainbow stew. ” And I guess riding that high speed rail between the middle of no where and the end of the line.

  • No need to burn water in cars. Electric cars are now a reality.

  • “At $77 billion dollars, construction of a high speed rail system from San Francisco to Los Angeles and Anaheim is certainly an expensive project. But it will cost a fraction of what the state would have to spend to achieve the same level of mobility for a population expected to reach 50 million people by the year 2030. To move an equivalent number of people would cost $170 billion in new freeways and airport runway expansions in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, assuming those projects would have both the necessary public support and environmental clearance. And while others have said we should wait for newer technology, high speed rail is a safe, reliable and cost effective system of transportation, proven around the world.” –San Francisco Examiner

  • Richard Bullington

    The HSR in China is almost all — not entirely to be sure — but mostly, on flat land. They aren’t planning a bullet train to Lhasa.

  • Niagara6025

    As a Kansan, I can only admire from a distance California’s vision and progress. When I travel to California I nearly always take advantage of your excellent commuter rail system as it is much preferable to struggling with congested highway traffic. This adjustment to the high speed rail plan is appropriate. Build the easy part first and stick with the plan for 220 mph, then work on extending to Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. Las Vegas will be beating a path to connect to your system.

  • MattS123

    California isn’t wealthy at all. All of the wealthy people have been moving out of the state. Even Hollywood packed up and sent most of their jobs to Canada. Soon only poor people and illegal aliens will live in California.

  • Bassoon Reedman

    This article drips with the viewpoint of someone whose paycheck requires taxpayer money to keep flowing, with no results required.
    Willie Brown, former SF mayor, San Francisco Chronicle – July 28, 2013
    “News that the Transbay Terminal is something like $300 million over budget should
    not come as a shock to anyone. We always knew the initial estimate was way under the
    real cost. Just like we never had a real cost for the [San Francisco] Central Subway or
    the [San Francisco-Oakland] Bay Bridge or any other massive construction project. So
    get off it. In the world of civic projects, the first budget is really just a down
    payment. If people knew the real cost from the start, nothing would ever be approved.
    The idea is to get going. Start digging a hole and make it so big,
    there’s no alternative to coming up with the money to fill it in.”

  • Jeffrey Baker

    True, but they did build a HSR to Urumqi over a pass which is similar in scale to Tejon Pass. I don’t know if they face seismic hazards in Xinjiang like we do here, but the USGS web site shows quite a number of earthquakes there.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Hrmmm no. Don’t get your demographic data from Fox News. California enjoys net domestic in-migration from the other states among people with high income. California attracts more domestic migrants making more than $200k than any other US state or territory. It is literally the #1 destination for wealthy Americans moving between states.

    “California has had net out-migration among most demographic groups, it has gained among those with higher incomes ($110,000 per year or more) and higher levels of education (graduate degrees). ”

    It’s actually smart+rich people who move to California. Surprise!

  • crazyvag

    SETEC route is kinda neither here nor there. Obviously it can’t follow the existing ACE corridors because it’s very constrained, owned by UP, slow/windy, so you’ll need to RoW. But new RoW won’t be going through towns, so it can’t really be used by ACE either. And that’s before you factor in NIMBY.

  • crazyvag

    Well, In Fremont, ACE doesn’t cross BART near a BART station and BART doesn’t cross ACE near an ACE Station. So both systems would need extra stations which would bu used only for transfers.

    In East Bay, Pleasanton NIMBY voted against linking ACE and BART – even with BART tunneling under the town. I’m not sure what else you can do there.

  • zoom314

    And with the EIS embargoed by the trump DOT in bad faith, it’s better to complete what We’re obligated to build and get it done before sometime in 2022.

  • zoom314

    The hard part separating is the Hydrogen from the Oxygen, after that burning would be somewhat easy by comparison.

    But why bother, electric auto charging is being setup in more and more places every day and can be done at home for a few bucks, though chargers cot between maybe $200 and $1,100, the more Amps the faster the charge if the car allows with a level2 charger(240vac), level3 chargers(480vac) cost about $0.20 a minute to use and can charge up to 80% of a battery in about 30 minutes or so, though Tesla3’s had a software upgrade to to charge 75 miles of range in 5mins.

    EV’s are only a part of the solution, HSR and public transit are important too, going to the airport in the CV means going to SF or to Burbank to get on a Major Airliner since those don’t land or takeoff in the Central Valley, one might get a 737 to land there, but it would never be able to takeoff as the runways are too small and there aren’t any towers at general aviation airports.

  • zoom314

    After when Democrats are in charge of Congress and the WH, more funding possibly in 2021.

  • zoom314


  • zoom314

    No property is taken, it is bought with something called MONEY

    Don’t drive on roads that I pay for thru excise taxes then since I do not directly benefit from your roads either.

    No excise taxes go to HSR, SB1 does not do that, HSR is under construction and HSR legally does not need upgrades, only 3 existing passenger railroads get excise tax money.


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