Lentis/California High Speed Rail


The proposed California high-speed rail (CHSR) passenger transportation system will operate at up to 220 miles per hour [1] and is intended to span Sacramento to San Diego, connecting 24 locations, [2]with fares from San Francisco to Los Angeles costing $80 to $90[3]. The CHSR is expected to provide fast, convenient, and safe transport; a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions; and increases in employment and market access. Funding and support for the rail have become highly politicized and partisan, due to the project’s immense scale and cost.

Topographic map of proposed route in July 2014


A generally accepted threshold for the definition of high-speed rail is a maximum operating speed of at least 125 mph. At a maximum speed of 220 mph, the CHSR will be the fastest in the United States, overtaking Acela’s maximum speed of 150 mph[4]. The fastest rail system in existence is the Shanghai Maglev, which runs as fast as 267 mph[5].

High-speed rail technology varies. California's system will be powered by electricity; its rolling stock will run on steel wheels along steel, standard gauge tracks[6]. The CHSR will run both on tracks that have been constructed specifically for it, and on existing tracks shared with traditional passenger and freight rail. Dedicated tracks allow for higher speeds because of less traffic and because they are designed to minimize curvature[7].



The CHSR is expected to significantly alleviate traffic congestion and the associated temporal and monetary costs. It will bypass California's congested roads, and run more than three times faster than the state’s maximum highway speed limit.

In 2014, Los Angeles had the second worst traffic congestion nationwide, causing a total delay of 622,509,000 hours, or 78 hours per person[8]. This extra motor vehicle operation time caused fuel consumption of 195,491,000 gallons, or 33 gallons per person. These time and fuel expenditures combined for a total cost $13.3 billion. Furthering the case for the CHSR are San Francisco and San Diego, which join Los Angeles in the top 20 rankings for traffic congestion nationwide[9].

The CHSR would provide efficient transportation between urban hubs. The trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles takes six hours without traffic by motor vehicle, 11 hours by traditional rail, and 90 minutes by flight. The trip via CHSR would take as little as two hours and forty minutes [10] and no longer than three hours[11], with a 2015 cost of $80 to $90 per ticket[12]. Though the flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles is faster, the average fare is $140[13], so the CHSR may provide a more efficient option when considering fare, airline security, baggage fees, and flight delays.


In 2012, California had 2,857 highway-related fatalities[14]. Considering the safety history of both railroad and highway transportation, it is reasonable to project that the CHSR will provide a safer alternative to motor vehicle transportation.

In 2013, the United States had 32,719 highway-related fatalities, and 706 rail-related fatalities. Of the rail fatalities, 432 were associated with trespassers[15].

From 1999 through 2008, the average death rate per 100,000,000 passenger miles was 0.72 for automobiles, .05 for buses, .05 for railroads, and .01 for airlines[16]. Thus, automobile compared to rail passengers were 14 times more likely to die in an accident.

The high-speed rail systems of France and Japan have provided billions of rides over more than 30 years without a single accident fatality[17].


The CHSR would significantly reduce California’s transportation-related CO2 emissions. In 2013, California’s transportation systems emitted 170 million metric tons of CO2, and were the second leading cause of CO2 emissions in the state [18]

From 2020 to 2040, the CHSR is projected to reduce transportation-related CO2 emissions by up to 10 million metric tons[19], which would save up to $2.7 billion[20]. By 2040, the rail is projected to reduce motor vehicle usage by 10 million miles per day, and to reduce air travel by up to 180 flights per day[21].

If the CHSR project is successful, it could inspire other regions to adopt high-speed rail. Considering the impact of transportation systems on greenhouse gas emissions, widespread adoption of high speed rail could become an important factor in the solution to a greater problem: climate change. Seven of the warmest years in history have occurred in the last 20 years. With 2015 being the warmest year in history[22]and climate change denial becoming a thing of the past, transportation systems that are both fast and favorable for the environment may see greater demand.


Over the next 20 years, construction of the CSHR is projected to create approximately 60,000 jobs[23].

For businesses, the greater regional connectivity resulting from faster and cheaper transportation will result in and greater access to labor, customers, and clients; this will lower costs and increase productivity[24]


Statewide Rail Modernization Map

Phase 1Edit

Phase 1 will construct approximately 520 miles of track between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It will also reach in-between cities including Merced, Fresno, Bakersfield, and Burbank. [25] Construction has already begun and has the following milestones [26]:

By 2018 Construct track from Merced to Bakersfield
By 2022 Construct track from Bakersfield to Burbank
By 2027 Construct track from San Jose to Merced
By 2029 Extend track to San Francisco and Los Angeles

Phase 2Edit

Phase 2 will extend the total track length to 800 miles, reaching from Sacramento to San Diego. While the route has been planned, financing and milestones have not yet been agreed upon. [27]


A budget has only been agreed upon for Phase 1, which is estimated to cost $68.4 billion [28]. Discounting the U.S. Interstate Highway System, CHSR is the most expensive public works project in U.S. history, costing over three times as much as the next most expensive public works project, the “Big Dig”.

As of December, 2015, only approximately $15 billion has been secured for Phase 1. These funds come from the following sources:

California Proposition 1A: High-Speed Rail ActEdit

Proposition 1A (“The High Speed Rail Act”) was a California State Proposition passed in 2008, which apportioned $9.95 billion of government bonds towards CHSR. The proposition passed with 52.7% of the vote [29].

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009Edit

As part of the financial stimulus package from the federal government in response to the economic recession in 2009, the White House awarded approximately $2.4 billion towards CHSR. [30]

Department of TransportationEdit

During 2010 to 2011, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded an additional $3.3 billion towards CHSR. These funds were collected from states who considered creating a high-speed rail system, but rejected federal funding for it. [31]

Future Cap-and-Trade ProfitsEdit

California uses a cap-and-trade system to regulate emissions of pollutants. In June 2014, the state agreed to use 25% of future cap-and-trade profits for CHSR. They estimate that for 2015 to 2016, this will yield approximately $1 billion. [32]

Public Opinion and Peer ReviewEdit

Political FactorsEdit

As the plan for California High Speed Rail has evolved, it has become an increasingly partisan issue. Jerry Brown, the current Governor of California, has shown strong support for CHSR, along with most Democratic politicians in the state. [33] However, some detractors of the project claim that Brown is using CHSR as a political maneuver. As a result, some see CHSR as a stereotypical “Big Government” project that is likely to fail. [34]

In contrast to Californian Democrats, most Republicans in the state are in strong opposition to the CHSR. The main reasons for opposition are consistent with platform of the GOP: skepticism of success for large public works projects, desire to spend less taxpayer money, and preference for “small-government”. [35]

This is especially true among congressional Republicans, who, as part of the U.S. Congress, determine the U.S. federal budget. Since a significant fraction of California’s funding for HSR comes from the federal government, Republicans in Congress have great influence on the success of the project. Kevin McCarthy, Republican Congressman for California and House Majority Leader, has publicly said he would block further funding for the project. [36]

Public OpinionEdit

Public opinion regarding California High Speed Rail is mixed. Californians who identify with Democratic or Republican parties typically follow each party’s respective views on the project.

California has been using Eminent Domain to acquire land in the Central Valley for the railway. Farmers in this region are not in favor of this practice, and as a result, not in favor of the railway. They claim that they’re not receiving fair compensation for their land and some farmers plan to sue the California government to receive more compensation. [37]

Elon Musk has also expressed concerns about the CHSR. His perspective, however, is that the rail is not technologically advanced enough. In 2013, he published a conceptual Hyperloop train which could theoretically travel at 600 MPH, going from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 35 minutes. The Hyperloop train would use a linear accelerator design to achieve these speeds and is estimated to cost $6-8 billion.

Peer ReviewEdit

In 2008, the Reason Foundation, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, and Citizens Against Government Waste together published “The California High Speed Rail Proposal: A Due Diligence Report”. The report responded to the CHSR project proposal and its conclusions doubted the success of the project. Specifically, they felt that the project was unlikely to reach its goals for train speed and ridership. Further, they predicted that the project Phase 1 budget would continue increasing and would spiral out of control. [38]

The California legislature created the California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group to analyze the project plan. The group also came to similar conclusions as the Due Diligence Report. They concluded that the project specification predictions are highly unlikely to come true and the individuals who created them had a lack of experience in large-scale public works. Additionally, the review group doubted the likelihood of securing long-term funding for the project. [39]

Brief History of Modern High Speed Rail in the U.S.Edit

In 1964, the first modern high speed rail, Shinkansen, was opened in Japan. Meanwhile, both German and France were developing their high speed rail technology and increasing rail speed.

Following the success of Shinkansen, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the High Speed Ground Transportation Act of 1965. Four years later, Metroliner trains were put into service connecting New York City and Washington D.C.

In 1992, the U.S. Congress authorized the Amtrak Authorization and Development Act to focus on Amtrak's service improvement on the segment between Boston and New York City of the Northeast Corridor. The new line was named “Acela Express” and replaced Metraliner trains in 2006.

In January 2010, following the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the Obama Administration awarded funding to 13 high-speed rail projects benefiting 31 states, including California high speed rail.

As of 2015, the Acela Express is the only high speed rail line in operation in the U.S. However, due to local speed restrictions in urban areas and at old bridges and tunnels, Acela Express cannot operate at its design speed. The travel time between Washington D.C. and New York City is only reduced by 30 minutes comparing to regular trains.

High speed rail is highly adapted in Europe and East Asia. In the list of High Speed railway Lines, top ten countries with longest high speed rail distance are all in these continents, followed by the U.S. at No. 11 (Acela Express Route).


California high-speed rail represents California’s desire for a more sustainable future and is an attempt to address growing concerns about pollution and the scalability of transportation infrastructure. California is a large state with diverse economic zones, and regardless of one’s politics, the people of California want an efficient way to travel throughout the state--they disagree on how much society should invest in the project.

Whether CHSR will ultimately succeed is difficult to predict because it sits in the middle of two opposing forces. On one side: California could greatly benefit from a high speed rail; on the other side: the enormous scale of the project makes every aspect of it (e.g. funding, acquiring land, construction, etc.) difficult to complete. Further, since CHSR is a publicly funded project, any mistakes are scrutinized by the public and used as political cannon fodder.

Many states have expressed interest in creating their own high-speed rail systems. The outcome of CHSR will significantly influence the future high-speed rail for the rest of the U.S.


  1. http://reason.org/files/california_high_speed_rail_report.pdf
  2. http://www.hsr.ca.gov/About/index.html
  3. http://www.kcra.com/news/what-will-it-cost-to-ride-highspeed-rail-in-california/30565756
  4. http://www.amtrak.com/servlet/ContentServer?c=Page&pagename=am%2FLayout&cid=1246041980246
  5. http://www.railway-technology.com/features/feature-top-ten-fastest-trains-in-the-world/
  6. http://www.hsr.ca.gov/docs/programs/construction/HSR_13_06_B3_PtC_Sub1_CHSTP_Design_Criteria.pdf
  7. http://www.hsr.ca.gov/docs/programs/construction/HSR_13_06_B3_PtC_Sub1_CHSTP_Design_Criteria.pdf
  8. http://d2dtl5nnlpfr0r.cloudfront.net/tti.tamu.edu/documents/mobility-scorecard-2015.pdf
  9. http://d2dtl5nnlpfr0r.cloudfront.net/tti.tamu.edu/documents/mobility-scorecard-2015.pdf
  10. https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/rail_california.pdf
  11. http://www.sfcta.org/delivering-transportation-projects/california-high-speed-rail-project
  12. http://www.kcra.com/news/what-will-it-cost-to-ride-highspeed-rail-in-california/30565756
  13. http://www.kcra.com/news/what-will-it-cost-to-ride-highspeed-rail-in-california/30565756
  14. http://www.rita.dot.gov/bts/sites/rita.dot.gov.bts/files/publications/state_transportation_statistics/state_transportation_statistics_2014/index.html/chapter2/table2-1
  15. http://www.rita.dot.gov/bts/sites/rita.dot.gov.bts/files/publications/national_transportation_statistics/html/table_02_01.html_mfd
  16. http://static.mgnetwork.com/rtd/pdfs/20110610_deathrates11.pdf
  17. http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/26/opinion/freemark-high-speed-trains/
  18. http://www.arb.ca.gov/cc/inventory/data/data.htm
  19. http://www.hsr.ca.gov/Programs/Green_Practices/environmental_benefits.html
  20. http://news.stanford.edu/news/2015/january/emissions-social-costs-011215.html
  21. http://www.hsr.ca.gov/Programs/Green_Practices/environmental_benefits.html
  22. https://www.climate.gov/sites/default/files/GlobalTemps_WarmestYears_2015_large.png
  23. http://www.hsr.ca.gov/docs/about/business_plans/BPlan_2012EIR.pdf
  24. http://www.transportworks.org/evidence-base/agglomeration-effects
  25. http://hsr.ca.gov/Programs/Statewide_Rail_Modernization/index.html
  26. http://www.hsr.ca.gov/Programs/Construction/about_construction_package_1.html
  27. http://hsr.ca.gov/Programs/Statewide_Rail_Modernization/index.html
  28. https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2015/01/05/california-to-break-ground-on-68-billion-high-speed-rail-line/
  29. https://ballotpedia.org/California_Proposition_1A,_High-Speed_Rail_Act_(2008)
  30. http://www.hsr.ca.gov/About/
  31. http://www.hsr.ca.gov/About/
  32. http://blogs.sacbee.com/capitolalertlatest/2014/06/budget-deal-gives-25-percent-of-cap-and-trade-money-to-high-speed-rail.html
  33. http://www.latimes.com/local/politics/la-me-bullet-groundbreaking-20150107-story.html
  34. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdfQ3_VcY2U
  35. http://thehill.com/policy/transportation/228638-calif-breaking-ground-on-gop-opposed-high-speed-railway
  36. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdfQ3_VcY2U
  37. http://www.latimes.com/local/politics/la-me-bullet-land-take-20150314-story.html
  38. https://reason.org/files/1b544eba6f1d5f9e8012a8c36676ea7e.pdf
  39. http://www.cahsrprg.com/documents.html