California’s ambitious high-speed rail project, beset by delays and rising costs, is poised for a green jump. The California High Speed Rail Authority recently announced that the long-awaited high-speed rail system will be powered entirely by solar energy. This decision is in line with the project’s original goal of providing an environmentally friendly alternative to highways and flights.
The California high-speed rail project was approved in 2008 with an estimated cost of $33 billion and a planned opening date of 2020, and was initially supported by former Presidents Obama and Biden. However, the project is far from complete in 2023 and has already cost approximately $19.8 billion, with the total cost expected to be $128 billion. Despite the criticism, the California High-Speed Rail Authority remains committed to providing a transformative transportation solution for the state.
Switching to solar energy means a renewed focus on sustainability. Powering the high-speed train requires an impressive 44 megawatts of energy, theoretically generated by 552 hectares of solar panels. The on-board batteries will store 62 megawatt hours of energy, allowing the train to reach a top speed of approximately 354 km/h. The rest of the energy is used to cope with extreme weather conditions and ensure uninterrupted operations.
The authority has begun negotiations with several utilities to secure a large $200 million utility system that would be owned and operated by the authority. This will provide a reliable and sustainable energy source for the high-speed train.
The project will be implemented in ten phases and will connect passengers from San Diego to Sacramento via major cities such as Los Angeles, the Central Valley, Fresno and San Jose. There are currently 191.5 kilometers of track under construction, with the first phase focusing on the route between Merced in San Francisco and Anaheim in Los Angeles.
One of the project’s financing challenges was that environmental approval had to be obtained to build the roads, as the project passes over extensive private land. Negotiating agreements with landowners and local authorities and complying with environmental standards cost $1.3 billion.
Despite the obstacles, the California High-Speed Rail Authority remains committed to fulfilling its mission. Brian Kelly, CEO of the authority, defends the route chosen for the project, saying it is important to connect a historically underfunded area with a population of about 4 million people. Additionally, the route connects six of the state’s ten largest cities, promoting economic growth in the region.
In an optimistic update, Margaret Cederoth, the authority’s director of planning and sustainability, announced that work to implement a renewable energy source could begin as early as 2026, matching the planned opening date of the first section of the railway in 2030.
Despite the challenges, choosing solar energy represents a bold step toward a more sustainable and environmentally friendly transportation future in California. With determination and innovation, the California High-Speed Rail Authority is working to overcome obstacles and deliver a transformative transportation system that delivers what it originally promised.