For just $714 million, riders will be able to get from SF to San Jose in a mere 45 minutes under the umpteenth iteration of the high-speed rail plan.
The California High-Speed Rail saga is kind of like the Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown gag, except that Charlie Brown and Lucy are now both about 85 years old and still doing the exact same gag over and over. Last we heard from the so-called bullet train project that would connect the whole state, SFist reported in February 2019 that the project might not happen in our lifetimes thanks to myriad lawsuits, political battles, and of course mind-boggling cost overruns. But like President Trump’s magical thinking that COVID-19 will “just disappear,” the California High-Speed Rail Authority thinks that decades worth of complicated hurdles may disappear too, as the Chronicle reports that the San Francisco-to-San Jose plan is back on for the hilariously beleaguered rail project.
We kid about the 85 years old thing, the plan actually goes back only 24 years, to 1996. The California High-Speed Rail Authority was created back then, yet the project stayed stuck in the mud even after voters approved a $9 billion bond in 2008 to get the thing built. But NIMBY neighborhoods on the Peninsula objected to having it come through their towns, cost overruns went berserk, and lawsuits piled up. The new announcement is for a pretty modest connection from San Jose to San Francisco that would take only 45 minutes each way (a small piece of the larger statewide puzzle), at a cost of $714 million according to Railway Track & Structures. Though a California High-Speed Rail Authority official tells SFist that the $714 million is just that agency's contribution to the electrification of the rails, and not the segment's overall cost.
But does California even have that money, given the more than $50 billion budget deficit created by the coronavirus crisis?
“The funding picture always evolves,” rail authority regional director Boris Lipkin told the Chronicle. “We’re taking the steps and doing what we need to do to bring high-speed rail to Northern California.”
This plan would use the Caltrain tracks, which would be souped up to support electric trains, but would call for the displacement of “as many as 62 homes and 202 businesses” per the Chron, as well as “The Brisbane Fire Station, Millbrae Station Historic Depot and San Jose’s Templo La Hermosa church.”
Should you care, the Chronicle also describes the speed of the train, potential ticket prices, and building timelines. But all of this is mere aspirational daydreaming, considering Trump canceled funding last year, resulting in yet another lawsuit that is far from resolved.
“They don’t have the money,” former High-Speed Rail Authority board chair Quentin Kopp told the Chron. “It is a hoax. It is not real.”
How oblivious is the California High-Speed Rail Authority to COVID-19 and how it massively complicates ambitious infrastructure projects? The authority has scheduled three public comment sessions in late July and early August, all of which are in-person and list no Zoom or online streaming options. You can, however, submit your comment via email to [email protected] and just kind of hope someone reads your email.
Image: California High-Speed Rail Authority via Wikimedia Commons