Aug 22, 2022 - News

High-speed rail to San Francisco gets environmental clearance

High speed rail construction near Fresno
High-speed rail construction in Fresno. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

The California High-Speed Rail Authority Board last week approved the final environmental impact report for the bullet train's proposed route between San Jose and San Francisco.

What's happening: Thursday's vote means that 420 miles of the train's 500-mile route from San Francisco to the Los Angeles area have cleared environmental hurdles, allowing rail officials to "begin advanced design work," the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Details: Under the approved plan, the high-speed train would share electrified Caltrain tracks between San Jose's Diridon Station and the Fourth and King Street station in San Francisco.

  • Eventually, the San Francisco station would move to the Salesforce Transit Center.
  • There are also plans for an SFO/Millbrae stop.
  • The route could open as soon as 2033.

The intrigue: In earlier plans, rail officials considered laying separate high-speed tracks through the Peninsula, "but that effort was abandoned years ago due to opposition from homeowners in the affluent region," the Chronicle notes.

  • Speeds from San Jose to San Francisco could reach 110 mph, which is faster than Caltrain's 79 mph.
  • When traveling through less populated parts of the state, the train is expected to reach upwards of 220 mph.

Why it matters: The project broke ground in 2015 in the Central Valley. But for the bullet train to fulfill its promise of connecting people throughout the state to higher-paying jobs, it will need to complete sections to major cities, including SF in the north and LA in the south.

Yes, but: While the environmental approval shows positive momentum, the project still faces major challenges. Namely, as the Chronicle writes: "California hasn't figured out where it will get up to $25 billion needed to build the San Francisco and Silicon Valley bullet train extensions."

  • Without more funding, the project, which skeptics have dubbed "the train to nowhere," would likely be constrained to the state's interior, running from Bakersfield to Merced.

Driving the news: In 2008, California voters approved almost $10 billion to build a bullet train that could transport people between San Francisco and Los Angeles in under three hours.

  • Initially, the bullet trains were expected to start running in 2020, with a project price tag of $33 billion.
  • Now, 2029 might be the earliest the trains leave their Central Valley stations, and estimated costs have ballooned to at least $105 billion.

What's next: Fundraising.

  • Currently, California is seeking an additional $8 billion in federal funding, which could happen given the passage of President Joe Biden's infrastructure bill last year that set aside $108 billion for public transportation.
  • The state could also go back to California voters to approve more funding, the Chronicle said.
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