...unit of the Spanish construction firm. But he acknowledges future financing could prove challenging. “These are very expensive structures to build, maintain and operate. You don’t want to put too much burden on the fares, so the general public can use them as a reasonable price,” says Bravar. “Usually there is reasonable aid coming from the government.”

California Dreamin’

California’s $2.25-billion share of the high-speed-rail stimulus funds was $2.45 billion less than what the state applied for to jump-start construction on an 800-mile, $46-billion Los Angeles-to-San Francisco project, but a welcome down payment. “We didn’t really think we would get the entire amount, but we put everything we possibly could into the application by the deadline, so [the government] would have a big menu to choose from,” says Mehdi Morshed, California High Speed Rail Authority executive director.

Federal monies will be used to leverage $9 billion in state bond funds already approved by voters, local and private funds, and up to $17 billion more in federal transportation funding expected in future years.

The ARRA grant allows the authority to allocate the money toward property acquisition, engineering, environmental work and track laying in any of the four corridors submitted: Los Angeles to Anaheim, Fresno to Bakersfield, Fresno to Merced or San Francisco to San Jose. “This is a very good outcome because it gives us the flexibility to use the funds on whichever projects don’t run into roadblocks and can make the September 2011 deadline to complete environmental approvals,” Morshed says. Design-build contracts could open for bid in the next two years, he adds.

Parsons Brinckerhoff, San Francisco-based URS Corp., Millburn, N.J.-based Hatch Mott MacDonald, London-based Arup Group and HNTB Corp., Kansas City, are among the 80 engineering firms already working on preliminary design.

“We can now complete preliminary engineering by 2012,” says HNTB’s Gertler. He foresees a possible scenario in which California and Florida award design-build construction projects and then use public-private partnership arrangements to support operation and maintenance.

Derailing Dangers

Dedicated corridors such as in California and Florida will involve building new alignments specifically for high-speed rail. But in other areas, such as the Midwest, which received $2.6 billion as a regional initiative, “higher-speed” trains running at average speeds of 110 mph will share track with freight trains.

“We are very pleased. This is the best news we could have hoped for given the extreme competition for rail funding,” says Brian Weiler, director of multimodal operations at the Missouri Dept. of Transportation. The money will fund shovel-ready projects, such as improvements to existing track used by freight trains and Amtrak, and also longer-term plans for routes using 220-mph trains between core cities, such as Chicago to St. Louis.

“There will be a lot of technical and operating challenges,” says Clifford Eby, PB’s eastern group transportation manager and a former Federal Railroad deputy adminsitrator. “Some locations have a high density of freight,” he says. “Operating slots will be needed.” He also notes new requirements enacted in 2008 that require all Class 1 freight railroads to implement anti-collision technology by 2015.

Adequate staffing and resources will also be a challenge. “Lack of new talent is an issue,” says PB’s Carol. But he notes the appeal of an emerging industry sector. “If a 25-year-old engineer is looking for a future, this is a game-changer right now.”