With the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) Board scheduled to consider tomorrow how it will spend the $3.312 billion in federal and state funds currently available for the project, all indicators point to a 66.4 mile segment in the Central Valley.
Assuming the segment from Borden to Corcoran is completed on budget, however, it will rank as one of the lowest-cost high-speed rail projects ever built on a per mile basis. Look at this capital cost comparison of international HSR projects completed in the last 20 years (adjusted to 2010 dollars)*:
Granted, it is impossible to do a precise apples-to-apples comparison due to variations in key cost inputs such as land and labor across countries. Obviously, too, a tunnel is going to be more expensive than an alignment cutting through farmland in the sparsely populated Central Valley.
At the same time, as the first project of its kind in the United States, the CAHSR does not benefit from the economies of scale and other efficiencies that ordinarily result from, say, a coordinated nationwide program of HSR projects, as in Japan or France, making its low (estimated) cost all the more remarkable.
This analysis is not likely to silence the critics. That said, if the project is successfully completed within budget, it would constitute a tremendous bang for the buck, while boosting the CHSRA’s credibility as a competent steward of taxpayer dollars.
* Adapted from UK Commission for Integrated Transport, High-Speed Rail: International Comparisons (2005). Excludes trainsets, financing, and project management costs. Since the CHSRA cost estimate for the 66.7 mile segment presumably includes project management, an adjustment of -8.7% was made to the total $3.312 billion cost, reflecting the percentage attributed to this cost category by CHSRA for the entire Phase I project (San Francisco to Anaheim.)