13.5-Mile Tunnel Drives Up Cost Estimate For Bay Area High-Speed Rail Link

The price of California’s beleaguered high-speed rail project has just risen again, and with rising inflation and rising construction costs, we can expect it to continue to rise until construction is actually complete.

According to the latest environmental documents For the high-speed line, released Friday, the Merced to San Jose railroad section is now valued at $19 billion, up 40% from the last estimate. And the biggest driver of spending for this segment is a planned 13.5-mile tunnel through a mountain at Pacheco Pass, which is part of the “preferred route” for the rail line as is.

Things could still change, and the Sierra Club still plans to sue to push for high-speed rail to come to the Bay Area over Altamont Pass. but the Mercury News reportsofficials are moving forward with the plan for the 119-mile segment as it is, despite a total lack of funding as of now.

“One of the reasons why we want to push the design forward [of the segment] Also, we need to get a better picture of the exact costs,” said Boris Lipkin, regional director for rail transportation in Northern California, who added that the $19 billion figure is a current worst-case scenario.

This 13.5-mile tunnel, if built, would become the longest railroad tunnel in North America, surpassing the 9-mile Mount Macdonald Tunnel in British Columbia.

There are many unknowns when it comes to getting drills through Pacheco Pass. The mountain is made up of a mixture of shale and metamorphic rock, and while geologists will be surveying the area to give the railway authority a better sense of potential costs, not everything will be easy to predict.

Darrel Cowan, a professor in the Department of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington who studied the Diablo Range as a Stanford graduate student, told the Bay Area News Group in 2020 that drilling becomes tricky.

“You’re drilling through soft shale and then you hit a huge block,” Cowan explained, saying you could compare the metamorphic deposits to big nuts in a pie — which in reality could be the size of a house and a lot bigger than the drills itself. There is a chance of getting stuck—and the project needs to anticipate that eventuality.

The preferred route via Pacheco Pass was chosen because it was considered the least expensive and least disruptive option. The route will take the rail line south from Diridon Station in San Jose to downtown Gilroy and southeast through the pass to Los Banos and another 55 miles east to Merced.

The 174-mile Central Valley section of the high-speed line under construction since 2015, includes 35 different construction sites and will ultimately connect Merced to Bakersfield. Business plans for the past few years have called for rail service to begin on part of this route by 2025 – but can we really believe that will come true?

The entire railroad linking San Francisco with Los Angeles was estimated to be completed by 2031, but in reality operations will likely begin in smaller sections by that date if it ever finds all its funding. Lipkin told Bay Area News Group this week that a better estimate for full service on this Phase 1 segment will come “later in the 2030s.” Phase 2, which adds a route between Sacramento and Merced and Los Angeles/Anaheim and San Diego, comes some time later.

As recently as October, legislators in Sacramento discussed whether to hire a company to design and build the line’s electrification system — with some lawmakers starting to talk about diesel trains being a necessary stop-gap if that whole project can’t be funded.

The estimated cost for the entire project has jumped from an early (probably low) estimate of $33 billion to $98 billion — and that was before this latest “worst-case” estimate for the San Jose link, after Mercedes. But all US rail projects are notorious for going well over budget.

Before: The Sacramento legislature is holding up the high-speed rail project…again

13.5-Mile Tunnel Drives Up Cost Estimate For Bay Area High-Speed Rail Link Source link 13.5-Mile Tunnel Drives Up Cost Estimate For Bay Area High-Speed Rail Link

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