Promising "improvements" to the state's controversial bullet train plan, the new head of the project told a Senate hearing in Silicon Valley on Tuesday he now believes building high-speed rail would cost less than the alarming estimate of nearly $100 billion.
"I believe the number's coming down," Dan Richard told a packed auditorium Tuesday night. "Obviously the $98 billion was sticker shock for a lot of people."
Using existing tracks like Caltrain and speeding up the construction schedule would bring down the costs of the project, Richard said in defending the much-criticized plan that Gov. Jerry Brown has appointed him to revive. He also promised quicker upgrades to Bay Area and Los Angeles commuter lines that would share the track and upgrading the initial leg of track in the Central Valley.
Richard said the project's first segment in the Central Valley -- dismissed by some as a $6 billion "train to nowhere" -- will be tweaked to offer more "immediate benefits," but he offered no specifics.
He also vowed to spend some $750 million in state funds in the next few years to help electrify the Caltrain line and $1 billion for similar commuter rail upgrades in Southern California, laying the foundation for bullet trains in those regions. The state's new plan will call for launching train service sooner by breaking the 520-mile line into "bite-sized" segments that can be built quicker. Previous estimates had delayed full service between San Francisco and Los Angeles to 2034.
Also mentioned was the fact that the revised business plan should be out within the next two weeks.
It remains to be seen whether the cost and completion time reductions will be due to substantial changes or whether it is just going to be a sleight of hand change such as redefining the blended plan as the full build. Being somewhat cynical and, quite frankly, rather distrusting of the Authority at this point, my money is on the latter.