California's ambitious high speed rail (HSR) project is increasingly taking shape, thanks to continued federal and state funding and executive-level encouragement from pro-transportation Governor Jerry Brown and the Obama administration. Now is the time for interested private sector parties to step up their involvement in the procurement process for what is slated to be the largest infrastructure project in the country.

California’s High-Speed Rail Authority is developing an 800-mile high-speed rail system that will operate at speeds of up to 220 miles an hour, with routes stretching from San Francisco to San Diego. The project is estimated to cost at least $43 billion. California is funding its HSR project through transportation bonds approved by its voters, along with federal grants and private participation. To date, California has received nearly one third of the approximately $10.5 billion in federal dollars allocated and stands to eventually increase its share of federal dollars to as much as $27 billion with the Administration’s latest HSR efforts.

California has the country’s largest and most advanced HSR project, with construction set to start next year in the Central Valley. The state has available to it approximately $9 billion in funding from state bonds and $3.6 billion from the federal government. Private investors will play an integral part, and the federal government may provide additional billions over the next six years. As recently as December 2011, the state received additional federal funds previously allocated to other states, and California stands ready to award $5.5 billion in contracts for the initial phase.

On February 9, 2011, the California High Speed Rail Authority, the state agency in Sacramento with jurisdiction over HSR implementation, issued its first “Request for Expressions of Interest” (RFEI) from prospective vendors and interested parties — including construction and engineering firms, design and maintenance companies, private investment banks and funds, and other interested parties. This RFEI presents a significant opportunity for interested parties to provide direct written comments and input to the agency, and allows interested bidders to voice their needs and concerns going forward.

The RFEI allows private bidders to provide immediate written input into not only the first California HSR RFP, but also over future RFPs (for additional CA HSR projects and lines), including related to technical, design, financing, construction, maintenance, and operations requirements. This RFEI thus presents an excellent opportunity for any interested companies and individuals to present their capabilities and particular needs to the CA HSR agency before the formulation of its initial Request for Qualifications (RFQ) and RFP in 2011.

Written responses to the RFEI are due to the California High Speed Rail Authority by March 16, 2011.

The initial backbone route will extend from North of Fresno to Bakersfield, and subsequent train routes will connect the San Francisco Bay Area to Los Angeles and points South. The initial segment will require spending billions to build two new stations, acquire rights of way, construct viaducts, prepare sites, do grading, restore vegetation, build rail bridges, realign roadways and relocate current railways and utilities. Private funding, through Public-Private Partnerships (P3s), will be an integral component of California’s HSR projects.

On February 8, 2011, the Obama Administration announced its intention to invest $53 billion in high speed rail over the next 6 years. While Congress may yet have its say in the ultimate spending of these federal dollars for such projects, California is at the moment full steam ahead.