BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A new report in March 2023 from the California High-Speed Rail Authority shows the bullet train project will cost even more and take even longer, as pushback from some lawmakers mounts.
The project ultimately seeks to connect San Francisco to Los Angeles in under 3 hours.
“I have lost faith in this project years ago,” Assemblyman Vince Fong said (R-Bakersfield).
But in the face of opposition, skepticism and restlessness, as cost and time rises, California High-Speed Rail officials urge patience.
“This is an innovative system of the future. But innovation takes time,” California High-Speed Rail Authority Public Information Officer Augie Blancas said. “Innovation takes a lot of hard work and I think you can see the men and women that are out here each and every day making this happen.”
It was about four years ago Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled his updated plan for the bullet train, which included building the 171-mile Central Valley segment connecting Merced to Bakersfield first. Now, Blancas says more than 30 sites across 119 miles from Madera to Kern counties are in progress every day.
“Across 119-miles of construction, a number of high-speed rail overpasses, high-speed rail viaducts, train bridges are already completed, just to get to that next phase, which would be the tracking system, laying down the track,” Blancas said.
At the Wasco viaduct construction site, for instance, the structure that will allow the proposed future bullet train to pass over the existing BNSF freight train line is 95% finished and Blancas said it is expected to be done by summer.
But, according to Blancas, the portion that will bring the rail into Bakersfield is still just in the design phase.
By Merced Avenue in Wasco at what the High-Speed Rail Authority is calling the Merced Avenue Grade Separation, construction is underway on an overpass to take cars over the SR 43 and future bullet train rail.
Officials say this will improve safety for drivers by allowing cars to avoid an intersection where the road currently crosses with the already existing BNSF railway.
It comes as the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s March 2023 update report shows the cost of the Central Valley starter segment will cost between $28 to $35 billion, up significantly from the estimated $22.8 billion when the plan for the 171-mile starter segment was unveiled. The new date estimated for when passengers should be able to ride the train was pushed until 2033.
“Things like inflation has impacted the project,” Blancas says.
The report cites plans for elevated train stations in Merced and Bakersfield contributing to increased costs as well. With the project deeper in the red, authorities say they are hoping to secure more federal funding, while Republican opposition is only growing.
“When are we going to stop wasting money on this?” Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) said while speaking at the CAGOP convention earlier in March.
“Report after report, business plan after business plan, has identified structural flaws that make this project unworkable,” Fong said.
The entire project is now expected to cost $128 billion dollars.