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California High-Speed Rail Faces Skepticism As Preliminary Construction Begins

California High-Speed Rail / Flickr
 

California High-Speed Rail / Flickr

Preparatory work has begun on California’s High-Speed Rail network after years of legal fights and delays. But the project is facing the same skepticism and challenges as other big infrastructure ventures in the past.

Soil tests have been run, buildings have been cleared and designs are being finalized with the help of federal funding.

“We’re clearing the area," says California High-Speed Rail Authority President Dan Richard. "A number of buildings have been demolished. There’s been soils testing and sometime in the next two months, we think the design for some of the first key bridges will be finished and that that construction will start.”

Richard says similar systems in Europe and Japan have proven to be self-sustaining.

“High-speed rail systems around the world, once you build them, once the capital is spent to build them, they’re all generating positive cash flows," says Richard.

But that capital so far has been hard to come by. The state has identified $9 billion of the $68 billion it estimates the project will cost. And congressional Republicans have vowed to block any more federal funding, saying it’s costly and unnecessary.

The project is also trying to overcome legal challenges and a skeptical public. Andy Kunz with the U.S. High Speed Rail Association says the other systems had plenty of detractors at first.

“And then people focused on it and they got one little piece built and then everyone bought in at the point because they realized, oh yes this does make sense," says Kunz.

A California appeals court recently overturned a lower court ruling that blocked the state from selling high-speed rail bonds. Those bonds could be available in the next few weeks.

 high speed railCalifornia High-Speed Rail Authority