California moving toward awarding $1.65 billion hi-speed rail contract

Written by David Lester, Managing Editor
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Although the California hi-speed rail project has had a bumpy ride so far, state officials are on track to award a $1.65 billion contract to design and construct the tracks and system for the first segment of the line.

The scope of the contract would include designing and building rail infrastructure along 119 miles in the Central Valley as well as maintaining it for up to 30 years.  Bidding is open to U.S. and international companies.  A U.S. subsidiary of the German rail company Deutsche Bahn AG has already been awarded a $30 million contract for the early operation of the trains.

While the $1.65 billion is just a drop in the bucket for the $79 billion it’s estimated to cost to build a high-speed rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the winner of the contract would design and build all of the necessary infrastructure, including track and systems, signal systems, automatic and positive train control, along with platforms, overhead electrification systems and voltage stations.  The state has already begun work on civil projects in the Central Valley, including new viaducts and separating roadways from areas for track necessary to prepare for the complete system.

California’s goal is to finish the track between the Central Valley and San Francisco before building toward Los Angeles.  According to Frank Vacca, the project’s chief program manager, the winner of the contract to build the 119 miles in the Central Valley would likely win similar contracts for the entire system from Bakersfield to San Francisco. “This contract envisions the successful bidder is guaranteed Bakersfield to San Francisco,” he said.

 

For the state to meet a 2022 deadline associated with a funding agreement it has with the federal government, parts of the contract are essential.  The Trump administration and California are in the middle of a legal fight over the money after the administration pulled almost $1 billion in federal money earmarked for the project.

Companies that have already signed contracts for other parts of the hi-speed rail project could be prevented from competing for this project under certain conflict of interest issues.  Board member Daniel Curtin is concerned about this. “Losing the experience of those who are building our project now on the grounds that that’s going to give them a heads up on the next part of the project actually sounds counterintuitive to me,” he said.

Vacca, the chief program manager, said those contractors could still be eligible for other elements of the project. He said the conflict of interest provisions are required by law.

Links in this article are to the website of KCRA-TV, the NBC affiliate in Sacramento.
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