California High-Speed Rail Authority Seeks Additional Funding for Construction of Merced-Bakersfield Rail Section

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THE California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) has applied for a further $US 450m of federal funding for the project to build 274km of new railway between Merced and Bakersfield (Merced-Bakersfield Rail Section) in the Central Valley as the first part of the state’s future high-speed network.

CHSRA has submitted a $US 446m bid to the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (Crisi) Programme, where awards are expected to be announced this autumn.

The federal funding would be used to build 12.8km of the Merced – Madera section. CHRSA says that it would also contribute to utility relocation as well as civil engineering, track and systems work to connect this section with the 190.4km from Madera to Poplar Avenue north of Bakersfield that is currently under construction.

Other costs for final design and right-of-way acquisition are being partly funded by the $US 3.1bn Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Programme grant awarded to CHSRA in 2023, the largest single federal grant made to the project since it began in 2009.

The remaining $US 4m of the latest CHSRA application for federal funding would expand training programmes for students in the Central Valley through a partnership with Fresno State University. It would also continue to fund the Central Valley Training Center in Selma, where 196 students have graduated to pursue careers in building trades since 2020.

Current State of Affairs Regarding the Project

As civil works continue on the 190.4km between Madera and Poplar Avenue where there are now over 25 active construction sites, advanced design is in progress on the Merced – Madera and Poplar Avenue – Bakersfield sections, totalling 83.2km.

CHSRA has obtained full environmental clearance to build California’s entire high-speed network, running for 672km from San Francisco via San José, Madera and Bakersfield to Burbank, Los Angeles and Anaheim.

“California’s transformative high-speed rail project will continue to improve the communities it serves, says CHSRA CEO, Mr Brian Kelly.

Congress is investigating California’s $128 billion high speed rail project, demanding the California High Speed Rail Authority provide information on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s “justification for continuing to fund the California High-Speed Rail project.”

California’s high speed rail project has finished environmental clearance for the entire downtown Los Angeles to downtown San Francisco phase, pending a board vote in the coming days. Now, the question remains whether the state and federal governments will fund the $128 billion project and how, especially as the state faces a $7 billion budget deficit this year even with the governor’s current proposed spending cuts.

Initial Cost of the Merced-Bakersfield Rail Section

The initial 171-mile segment connecting Bakersfield and Merced in California’s sparsely populated Central Valley will cost an estimated $33 billion. DOT’s recent $3.1 billion grant fulfills less than half of the Bakersfield to Merced segment’s $7 billion funding gap. With the nonpartisan, state-funded Legislative Analyst’s office projecting multiyear budget deficits at continued spending and taxation levels, it’s uncertain where the remaining funding for this segment — which is expected to carry passengers on just 6.61 million trips per year.

Also read: Commencement of Construction for high speed Rail Between Las Vegas and California

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