Californians voted to lay down tracks for a high-speed rail nearly 10 years ago but with each delay or funding deficit, it still feels like a distant dream. Only four months into 2018, on the heels of filing their taxes, Californians received even more bad news.
In the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s 2018 business plan, released in March, sat an uncomfortable update: The bullet train would be delayed another four years, until 2033, and it’s lacking enough funds for the roughly $30 billion needed to complete the first phase between San Francisco and the Central Valley.
The whole project is now estimated to cost at least $77 billion — nearly double the original estimate.
A decade of these delays combined with ballooning costs has called the project’s feasibility altogether into question by some, including two leading Republican candidates for governor. The Mercury News wrote an editorial in January about how the state shouldn’t sink any more money, or at least launch an independent review.
“It makes no sense to continue wasting billions on a high-speed rail system that will probably never be completed and certainly will never live up to its billing,” read the editorial.
Earlier this month, the paper’s wish came true. The U.S. Department of Transportation announced it would audit nearly $3.5 billion in federal grant money slated for the high-speed rail. The office did not offer a timeline for when the audit would be completed.
While the U.S. government digs into the delayed train, the good news is that San Francisco’s complementary projects are more or less on track, according to San Francisco County Transit Authority spokesperson Eric Young.
The Salesforce Transit Center is expected to open its doors this summer to house SFMTA, AC Transit, and other regional bus lines. Once Caltrain and the high-speed rail roll in, operating costs will come down and stay within the $2.26 billion revised budget.
The first electric Caltrain cars are expected to arrive in July 2019 and to have electric service by April 2022. Plus, it’s expected to stay within its $1.98 million budget.
Extending Caltrain to downtown, however, is coming up short for its $3.9 billion estimated price. If the high-speed rail faces a significant delay and prevents collecting revenue from passengers, funding construction in time for the extension’s expected service date of 2029 could also be impacted.
Still, a poll released in March by the Public Policy Institute of California found that the high-speed rail has not lost popularity. Even with the updated cost, 53 percent of respondents said they still favor the project — an increase from 48 percent in last year’s survey.
In a few short years, Caltrain riders can take the electric train to the Salesforce Transit Center on Folsom Street, but it may be another 20 before you can take a three-hour train to LA.