California is laying the groundwork for the nation’s first true high-speed rail system with a goal of linking Los Angeles with San Francisco in 2 hours 40 minutes. The California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA), a state agency, calls the 800-mile system “the largest infrastructure project in the nation.” Indeed, it is the only high-speed rail project in the U.S. ready to break ground, and has the potential to ignite a nationwide revolution in new passenger rail projects.

California has demonstrated bold leadership for high-speed rail development in the United States. The process undertaken by the state to make high-speed rail a reality has resulted in an implementation plan that means passengers will be traveling on the first 220-mph high-speed trains in the country within the next 10 years. The project has, of course, encountered murky waters, as most large infrastructure projects of this kind do. Yet, it has continued to move forward and an exciting model has been established for future high-speed rail projects to follow.

California has set the standard for high-speed rail development in the United States by establishing steps that other states can follow. These include a ballot referendum for voter approval, the development of initial plans by the state, the awarding of federal funding to begin construction, the development of a more detailed construction and implementation plan, and finally legislative approval (in progress). Click here to learn more about these steps and the background of the project.

The State of California is committed to high-speed rail out of necessity. Experts estimate that without high-speed rail, California will need as much as $171 billion – for an additional 2,300 lane-miles of highways, 4 runways, and 115 airline gates – to meet the state's transportation needs.

“California’s population will grow by 60 percent over the next 40 years,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. “Investing in a green, job-creating high-speed rail network is less expensive and more practical than paying for all of the expansions to already congested highways and airports that would be necessary to accommodate the state’s projected population boom.”

The project is expected to generate 1.25 million job-years of employment and as many as 400,000 permanent new jobs as a result of economic growth over the next 25 years. It is projected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 3 million tons per year.

The state plans to launch this transformational initiative this fall with $6 billion in state and federal funds to build an all-new high-speed rail corridor between Fresno and Bakersfield and integrate it with upgraded existing rail services in northern California. This "blended service" approach will better connect existing systems with the newly constructed tracks, providing service connections to destinations beyond the initial construction segment. This will ensure immediate benefits are incurred, while providing a platform for future infrastructure improvements and high-speed rail build-out to San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The California High Speed Rail Authority recently released a revised 2012 draft business plan that clarifies how the initial construction segment in the Central Valley is the critical first step toward a statewide system and how travelers will see benefits sooner rather than later. The new plan also gives top priority to closing the existing gap between the Central Valley and the LA Basin. Click here to learn more about plans for the different phases of the project.

Like other successful high-speed rail networks around the world, the initial phases of California’s system will be built with public sector funds. When the system is operational, ridership will drive revenues that, in turn, will attract further private-sector investment. Projected ridership and revenue are considered sufficient for the initial system to operate at break even or better.

In terms of construction cost, according to the newly revised 2012 draft business plan, the "blended service" approach, when fully complete in 2028, will cost $68 billion – adjusted for inflation over the construction period.