Now that Proposition 1A passed in California, officials are faced with the task of getting the high speed rail project off the ground.
The greatest challenge at this point is finding sufficient funding to jumpstart the project, said Quentin Kopp, chair of the California High Speed Rail Authority.
“Well we have much money to obtain but we have laid the foundation financially,” Kopp said.
The Prop 1A bond measure will provide some of the funding for the project, but other financial means are necessary, he said.
The entire system will cost an estimated $45 billion to construct. Prop 1A provides $9.95 billion in bond financing, but the state will have to secure the rest.
The high-speed rail authority hopes to have financing for the project secured by 2010, at which point they can begin construction on the main corridor between San Francisco and Los Angeles, Kopp said. Ideally, the entire high-speed rail should be fully functioning by 2025.
High-speed rail officials are aware that none of the stages of the project will come easily.
“Of course there will be problems – this is a gigantic project, the largest in the history of the state of California,” Kopp said. “But I think this portion is feasible.“
Part of the financial challenge of this project will be gathering funds from the private sector – a legal requirement for the project to proceed – but large-scale government support will aid in this process, he said.
“If I’m a private investor and I see the government producing about 75 percent of the project cost, that makes me more willing to risk my money,“ Kopp said.
Other organizations involved with the project remain optimistic about the progress that has already been made.
“We have great momentum and we are already working in Washington D.C. seeking the federal funds that this project requires,” said Jo Linda Thompson, executive director for the Association for California High-Speed Trains, a lobbying group.
Another part of the current process is to upgrade and renovate existing rail systems in California, Thompson said.
“Upgrading existing rails – that gives us within the next three years a good push – this upgrade will eventually feed into the high-speed rail system,” she added.
At this point, partly due to the struggling economy, there is very little state money available for public works projects, Thompson said. This makes it difficult to find private investors willing to put up money for the project.
“[This project] is a new approach to financing. Our project is the biggest and probably one of the first attempts to generate more dollars by leveraging state dollars,” she said.
The project needs three main sources of funding: one-third of the funding needs to come from the state, one third from the federal level and the last third from private investors, Thompson said. Each piece of this project needs to have those three sources of funding.
“Our goal this year is to go out and find those dollars,” she said. “We are making the attempt very heavily at the federal level.“
Existing high-speed rail companies in California are anticipating funding and eventually renovation to their transit systems.
Capitol Corridor, a rapid transit system running from the Sacramento to the San Jose area is anticipating a portion of funding, said Luna Salaver, public information officer for Capital Corridor. Using systems already set in place reduces the amount of engineering that needs to be conducted.
“As long as you have strong, solid connections with other transit systems then people are more likely to use them,” Salaver said.
It is useful and efficient for the new high-speed rail to have connections where there are already existing transit hubs so they don’t have to replicate all the stations, she added.
The high-speed rail would also be a great alternative for environmentally conscious people looking to reduce their carbon footprint, Salaver said.
“We have had a 16.8 percent rider increase from last year alone [on Capitol Corridor trains],” she said. “One of the top five reasons cited for why people were riding the trains was to reduce their carbon footprint.“
For more information on the California high-speed rail project, visit cahighspeedrail.ca.gov.
CAITLIN COBB can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.