The CHSRA's recent application to the US Department of Transportation for federal HSR stimulus money may wind up causing construction on the HSR project to begin not in the Central Valley as was originally planned, but in the Bay Area and Southern California, as this article from the Valley Voice explains. Keep in mind though that this doesn't mean the Central Valley is being left behind, but only that construction will commence slightly later, and that the Valley is still the key to the whole system:
High Speed Rail Authority spokesperson Kris Deutschman said it is true that both the northern and southern segments of the rail system are further along in the planning stage than the Central Valley, but what actually gets built first is yet to be determined. At one time, it was believed the Valley segment would be one of the first constructed.
However, earlier this month, the Authority approved a list of shovel-ready construction projects likely to qualify for $8 billion in federal stimulus funding for high speed trains.
According to the Authority, one of the project elements selected was the entire Los Angeles-to-Anaheim and San Francisco-to-San Jose corridors, where the Authority is expected to have completed the project level environmental documents this year and qualified and selected design build teams to begin construction of the sections by the 2012 deadline.
The Authority also selected a second stimulus project that would be the identification, selection and negotiation of right-of-way acquisition in the Merced-to-Bakersfield section, including the system's planned maintenance facility, but not the rail system.
That Merced-to-Bakersfield ROW is key because that's where the all-important train testing will occur:
Georgiana Vivian, with the Authority, told members of the Tulare Sunrise Rotary Club that because of the federal stimulus funding, the projects first considered “shovel ready” must be built first. Right now, the San Francisco-to-San Jose segment is by far the farthest along, with the Los Angeles-to-Anaheim segment second.
Vivian said construction on the Central Valley segment may not begin for another seven years, but Deutschman said that does not mean that portions of the Valley line could not be built sooner and there is a key reason at least a portion of the Valley line is important.
“We need to test trains on long stretches of flat land and the Valley would be best for that,” she said. Vivian said the timetable is to begin testing trains by 2015 and that the Authority must test the trains and tracks for three years before passengers can be carried. That means the earliest riders will be able to get aboard the high speed rail is 2018.
I think what Vivian meant to say was that construction on the full buildout of the Valley segment might not happen until 2015 or 2016, but that a test track will be built much sooner. As I understand it, that's about the same as what occurred with BART, where an East Bay test track was built in the late '60s even though the first segments of the system did not open until 1972, with the full buildout (as of the 1970s) not occurring until 1974.
The article also examines the status of a Visalia-Hanford station (the CHSRA is studying it but isn't committing to anything yet) and notes that Castle Airport near Merced is likely to be the location of the primary maintenance hub, with two smaller maintenance facilities "at either end" of the line (i.e. somewhere in the Bay Area and somewhere in SoCal). As to what we can expect from the stimulus:
Deutschman said the Authority should hear by the end of June if it is going to get any stimulus money, but it is confident some will come. When asked how many dollars the high speed rail might get, she replied, “All I'm hearing are billions.”
That sounds about right, given what we've heard from Ray LaHood. Just how many "billions" it'll be is an open question. I'd like to see something in the vicinity of $3 to $4 billion.