The eagerly anticipated high-speed train of California is slated to be powered by solar energy, as per the California High-Speed Rail Authority. The ambitious project of the Authority has had a turbulent journey so far. The swift locomotive, aimed to bridge 1287.5 kilometers within the state, was referred to as “a bullet train that stands as one of the costliest per mile and one of the least swift globally” by Elon Musk. It was supposed to mark the onset of a ground-breaking new transportation system, uniting the US west coast with Vancouver in Canada, and extending eastwards to Las Vegas before progressively weaving across the entire continent. This endeavor received backing from Presidents Obama and Biden.
Sanctioned in 2008, the project carried a projected cost of $33 billion USD (€30 billion), with a proposed inauguration date in 2020. As of 2023, the system is far from completion, having incurred $19.8 billion USD (approximately €18 billion) thus far, with an estimated total expense of $128 billion USD (€116 billion). Nonetheless, last month, a decade and a half post its initial approval, the California High-Speed Rail Authority disclosed that the upcoming system would now operate entirely on solar power, staying true to its original commitment of being a green alternative to highways and air travel.
To fuel this colossal train, 44 megawatts of power, theoretically produced by 552 acres of solar panels, would be needed. Batteries onboard would aim to conserve 62 megawatt hours of energy. A substantial chunk of this power would be utilized merely to drive the train, expected to hit maximum speeds of approximately 354 km/h. However, a significant portion would also be necessary to help the vehicle navigate the harsh Californian climate and maintain operations in case local utilities falter.
As reported by Margaret Cederoth, the Authority’s director of planning and sustainability, they are currently negotiating with multiple power providers to procure a $200 million USD (€181 million) utility-scale system, which they intend to own and manage. Through 10 stages of execution, the system will eventually facilitate passengers’ journey from San Diego to Sacramento, with transit via Los Angeles, Central Valley, Fresno, and San Jose.
At the moment, 191.5 kilometers of track are under construction. The first phase emphasizes the 836.8-kilometer stretch between Merced in San Francisco and Anaheim in Los Angeles. The second phase aims to enhance existing links between the locales in anticipation of the vehicle’s deployment. Recent times have witnessed considerable funding obstacles emerging for the project, resulting in extensive criticism. Numerous critics have queried the route’s plan, specifically its passage through California’s Central Valley.
Brian Kelly, CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, asserts that connecting this region was crucial for the project’s approval. Despite housing approximately 4 million residents, the Central Valley is typically overlooked for funding. Besides linking six of the state’s ten most populated cities, fostering economic growth in this area was paramount to the project. Regarding funding issues, Brian concedes, “We’ve known there’s a funding gap since the project’s inception. What I’m certain of is this: The sooner we construct it, the less costly it will be.”
The delays and skyrocketing costs were partially driven by the environmental approval needed to lay the track, which crosses miles of private property. Negotiating compensations with landowners and local governments, as well as ensuring the project adheres to environmental standards, alone cost $1.3 billion USD (€1.2 billion). Nonetheless, Margaret Cederoth, the Authority’s director of planning and sustainability, informed Forbes that work on a renewable energy source could commence by 2026 to guarantee its readiness to fuel trains by 2030, the aimed launch date for the railway’s initial segment.