What’s happening with high-speed rail in California?

FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – The groundbreaking for California’s high-speed rail system was in Fresno in 2015 when then-Governor Jerry Brown and then-Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin officially started the construction on the project. Seven years, one governor and two Fresno mayors later, high-speed trains are yet to run.

But those working for the California High-Speed Rail Authority say progress is being made.

“I’ll push back on the ‘less action’ because progress hasn’t stopped, even in the midst of the pandemic,” said the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s Augie Blancas. “At this moment we have about 35 active construction sites here in the Central Valley. We dispatch about a thousand workers each and every day onto those sites.”

The Central Valley section of the high-speed rail effort is the first part of the multi-phase endeavor. The Central Valley construction zone is 119 miles long and has a number of visible projects under construction, including the San Joaquin River Viaduct (on Highway 99 on the border between Fresno County and Madera County) and the Cedar Viaduct (on Highway 99 and Cedar Avenue, south of Fresno).
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Blancas says the project has so far provided 8,000 construction jobs since work on the high-speed rail began. To those who suggest that work is not being done, Blancas says progress is moving forward – even if you cannot see it.

“They might not be visible, but reassured that work is happening across all the 119 miles.”

California’s high-speed rail project is the first of its kind in the nation – but it is taking longer than expected. A state-produced fact sheet published in 2015 promised that “by 2029, the system will run from San Francisco to the Los Angeles basin in under three hours at speeds capable of over 200 miles per hour.” The current plan is that the 171-mile link between Merced and Bakersfield will have trains running on it by the end of the decade.

Blancas said that a new project like this will inevitably bring about some unexpected issues and challenges with its construction.

“If you’ve ever renovated a house, renovated a bathroom, having to deal with some sort of home project like that, you’re going to run into some challenges, you’re going to run into some hiccups, and you’re going to run into some delays and with a project like this we’re going to face those similar challenges.”

The plan is to ultimately link San Diego to the Bay Area, but funding will need to be secured to make sure that happens. However, the money has been secured to complete the Central Valley section between Merced and Bakersfield.

“There is a need for a high-speed rail system,” said Blancas. “There is a need for an alternative transportation system other than a car or flying an airplane.”

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