High-Speed Rail

High-speed rail agency to meet Tuesday in Sacramento

An artist’s rendering depicts a high-speed train rushing through downtown Fresno.
An artist’s rendering depicts a high-speed train rushing through downtown Fresno. Special to The Bee

Industry ideas on developing the first operational stage of California’s bullet train through the San Joaquin Valley will be among the highlights of the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s meeting Tuesday in Sacramento.

Almost three dozen firms from across the U.S. and around the world responded last month to the agency’s request for expressions of interest in the project, which envisions a 300-mile route for high-speed trains through the Valley and into Southern California.

The Merced-Burbank segment, projected by the authority to cost more than $31 billion and open in 2022, would be the first portion of the statewide project to carry passengers.

Ultimately, the authority is planning a $68 billion Phase 1 system connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles, by way of the Valley, by 2028 with electric trains capable of traveling at up to 220 mph.

The agency already has awarded contracts for its first two construction segments linking Madera to the Tulare-Kern county line; a third contract is expected to be awarded in January 2016 to extend construction to the Shafter area northwest of Bakersfield. A fourth contract would likely encompass construction of the railbed and installation of tracks over the length of the three Valley segments.

In a memo to the board, rail authority CEO Jeff Morales said the prospect of a steady stream of cap-and-trade money from the state’s greenhouse gas-reduction program, “combined with previous appropriations of state funds and federal grants, has opened the door for significant private sector engagement, including financing, to be part of the package” for the balance of the Merced-Burbank stage and beyond.

A key provision of Proposition 1A, a $9.9 billion high-speed rail bond measure approved by California voters in 2008, was that private-sector investment would represent about one-third of the capital needed to build the statewide rail system, along with state and federal funds. For years, a crucial complaint by critics of the rail project has been a lack of tangible private-sector interest and investment to accompany state and federal money.

“Over the past two years, (we have) engaged in discussions with over 30 private sector firms or groups of firms interested in participating in a range of program delivery activities, from providing train sets and signaling systems, to building the infrastructure and financing the project,” Morales said.

But those discussions have led to no firm commitments; the authority hopes that getting formal feedback from the industry will open the door to more substantial possibilities for tangible private-sector participation.

Also on Tuesday, the rail agency is expected to award a five-year contract worth more than $30 million to HTNB Corp. for construction management on its rail segment from the Tulare-Kern county line to northwest of Bakersfield. HNTB, based in Kansas City, Mo., with seven offices in California, was chosen from among three consulting and engineering firms for the contract.

The company and its subcontractors will oversee the work of a yet-to-be selected contractor for the 22-mile stretch, which is estimated to cost between $400 million and $500 million. Would-be contractors to design and build the segment have until Oct. 16 to submit their bids.

The agency’s Finance & Audit Committee, which will meet prior to the full board, will receive progress reports on the first two construction segments in the Valley. That will include an assessment of how the slow pace of right-of-way acquisition in the Valley is affecting the overall construction schedule and the steps the authority is taking to accelerate the process.

High-speed rail meeting

  • What: California High-Speed Rail Authority board of directors meeting
  • When: 8:30 a.m., Finance & Audit Committee; 10 a.m., full board meeting
  • Where: State Department of Health Care Services, Conference Room 72.165, 1550 Capitol Ave., Sacramento
  • Details: Committee and board meeting agendas are available at http://hsr.ca.gov/
  • Online: Both the committee meeting and board meeting are open to the public, except for a closed session to discuss litigation issues. The 10 a.m. board meeting will be webcast live with a link at http://hsr.ca.gov/Board/live_meeting.html