On January 6, 2015, the California High-Speed Rail Authority (the Authority) achieved a significant milestone – the groundbreaking of the only high-speed rail system in the United States.  Gathering at the site of the future train station in downtown Fresno, federal, state and local government officials, as well as hundreds of student, community, transportation, business and labor leaders celebrated the start of construction for the largest infrastructure project in the United States.

California Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. commented on the importance of the high-speed rail as an investment in the state’s transportation infrastructure to limit congestion Californians must endure as the state grows, while reducing vehicular emissions and related adverse effects on California’s climate and air quality.  “There’s also a really big barrier that puts a limit on how many cars [California can accommodate],” noted Governor Brown, “that’s called congestion. You can only have so many lanes. You can’t keep paving over prime agricultural land. You can’t take property off the tax rolls any more than you have to.”  Given the transit capacity and greenhouse gas reductions the project will provide, Brown further noted of the $68 billion high speed rail investment: “the project is not that expensive! We can afford it! In fact, we cannot ‘not afford’ it, as we look at building a future that really works.”

High-Speed Rail Authority Board of Directors Chairman Dan Richard delivered remarks highlighting the monumental importance of the rail line as an investment in the future of California, stating that it “will forever improve the way that Californians commute, travel, and live.”

The transportation and economic benefits of the high-speed rail program include:

  • Provision of equivalent transportation capacity to construction of a 16-lane highway running from San Diego to San Francisco, while using much less private property;
  • A significant economic boost for the Central Valley, where small local businesses and construction crews are already carrying out work on the rail line and will be responsible for a majority of construction work;
  • The generation of an estimated 20,000 jobs annually for five years; and
  • The addition of an estimated 66,000 jobs annually for 15 years during construction of the entire system, and a yield of approximately 2,900 permanent operation jobs when the project is completed.

The project’s environmental benefits were also touted at Tuesday’s ceremony, including:

  • Estimates of significant reductions in vehicular emissions, as well as improved air quality, by 2029 with Phase 1 of high-speed rail service projected to reduce  NOx ,SOx, particulates, and carbon dioxide emissions in an amount equivalent to taking 17,700 to 53,000 cars off the road;
  • Greenhouse gas reductions by 2029 totaling between  575,000 and 1,000,000 equivalent metric tons;
  • The use of clean, low-emission (Tier 4) construction equipment to build the rail lines; and
  • Permanent preservation of thousands of acres of agricultural land and sensitive habitats.