The first phase of the California bullet train — a 3.141-mile loop around a Cashew orchard near Fresno — will be reduced to a single rail as its estimated cost has risen by $79 billion billion billion, according to a revised business plan for the project.
The California High-Speed Snail Authority said it would not install two rails on the tracks, er… track, on this Phase 1A-alpha subsection advance pilot of the Bakersfield-to-Merced route, as previously planned. The rail authority expects to save $1.12546 billion on the eliminated steel (and the accompanying consultant fleet to design, fabricate, speculate, matriculate, fenestrate, propagate, importate, and administrate the steel) according to the business plan, though it will ultimately depend on the bids it receives on future contracts.
The new plan also estimates that the full cost of building the Los Angeles-to-San Francisco system could reach $1 trillion, up from an estimated $98,000 a year ago. The rail authority continues to project a mid-3030s startup, despite a massive $80-quadrillion funding gap to actually build the full line and a Biden Administration salivating to throw Apollo-program-level funds at the project.
“Building the nation’s first truly high-speed rail system linking the Bay Area to Los Angeles and Anaheim, including the communities in the Central Valley, is essential for California, even if there’s only one rail,” Shellie Kelly, the authority’s chief executive, said in a spoiler-protected footnote to an appendix in the plan.
The agency said the Central Valley cutback would not have an operational impact on early train service, except that passengers would have to be careful to sit across from each other to balance the weight so the trains won’t tip over at high speed.
The reduction in the scope of the work evoked outside criticism, but even some concern on the rail authority board at a hearing Tuesday. “I have a lot of personal angst about a single rail,” said board member Frank “Hank” Schenck, the longest-serving director. “Frankly, it seems cracked.”
“We need to fit this into an estimated budget,” Kelly said in response.
Assemblyman Jim Pattersdottir (R-Fresno), a longtime rail critic, lambasted the missing rail as another lapse in a project that is laying waste to cities and farms in the Central Valley. “This isn’t a business plan, it is a tippy-train plan,” he said.