Monday, June 24, 2013
SACRAMENTO -- State bullet train leaders recently approved the start of construction for California's $69 billion high-speed rail line, choosing the cheapest but least qualified firm to build the first leg. The California High-Speed Rail Authority asked its staff questions for more than an hour, but ultimately said it was confident in choosing a Southern California firm that promised to save the state at least $100 million. The board voted 6-0 to select a developer group led by Sylmar-based Tutor Perini to lay the physical groundwork for the first 29 miles of track between Madera and Fresno, with work starting as soon as late summer. CEO Jeff Morales is expected to sign the formal contract with the developer in coming weeks following final negotiations. Tutor Perini's $985 million bid beat the state's initial $1.2 billion estimate and the bids offered by four competing firms from around the world, which ranged from $1.09 billion to $1.54 billion. But state rail officials graded Tutor Perini's technical score as 68.5 out of 100, last among the finalists, whose quality scores ranged from 69 to 92.4. Still, all five firms passed met the authority's basic standards for quality. "The questions really boil down to, can the successful bidder do the job, and will they do it within the confines of the contract as contemplated by the authority?" said board member Jim Hartnett, of Redwood City. "The questions that I had were answered to my satisfaction." High-speed rail opponents raised questions at the meeting about possible cost overruns and the financial health of Tutor Perini. But the company's CEO, Ron Tutor, told reporters the criticisms of his firm are "all nonsense" fanned by the media "to create controversy that doesn't exist." "Like most of the uneducated opinions you hear where we can't rebut them, they're not based on anything factual or real," he said. "We've built more large civil works programs in this state than anyone else, virtually all of them successfully and without the cost overruns they all allude to." Before construction can begin, the state must still clear a few last-minute hurdles. Those include buying up properties along the rail route and winning clearance from the federal Surface Transportation Board, which is expected to rule on the project in the next two weeks.
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
There have been plans developing since 2009 for a high-speed rail alternative to the often discussed magnetic levitation train to Southern California. The plan has been targeting using private funds, and will create up to 3,000 jobs during construction and prompt the displacement of some desert tortoises, representatives of the Federal Railroad Administration and an environmental consultant have proposed. Nevada Senator Harry Reid has also been a promoter of the train. It has been targeted to be called the DesertXpress, and would connect Las Vegas to Victorville not Anaheim, as the California Nevada Super Speed Train Commission proposed. The DesertXpress would operate at a speed of 150 mph which is half that of maglev (Anaheim Train). A one-way ticket would cost about $55. But DesertXpress Enterprises believes its project is more viable than the prior alternative, and DesertXpress could be funded through long-term debt and equity financing, as well as a public loan. DesertXpress will be electric and proposes a second phase to connect the train either diesel or electric-based to a nexus of public transit north of Los Angeles in Palmdale, Calif. The draft environmental impact statement has not initially included a study of the Victorville to Palmdale leg. Representatives of DesertXpress estimate that construction of the 180-mile project at $3.5 billion to $4 billion, whereas they predict the alternative 260-mile maglev line at $16 billion to $52 billion. The commission, however, recently pegged the maglev project at about $12 billion. DesertXpress would share existing transportation corridors, mostly Interstate 15. For example, an 85-mile stretch from Yermo, Calif. to Mountain Pass would be built in the freeway median and alongside it.. A span of the train could be built along the Union Pacific Railroad into the Las Vegas area, north of Jean. And a section of I-15 in the southern Las Vegas Valley could be built over the median. A potential Las Vegas station could be near I-15 and Flamingo Road consultants have indicated. A maintenance facility could be built near I-15 and Wigwam or I-15 and Robindale Road. A train from Long Beach to Vegas was used before in 1955 and taken out of service by 1966. It was a standard train of its time, but a direct express. Is there enough potential traffic between Victorville and Las Vegas? Or will the bulk be gamblers and resort seekers. It will certainly create a lot of activity and speculative land activity if this project truly takes off. Most of this land east of San Bernardino is open space, and habitat for endangered species.