A revised draft business plan released yesterday by California’s High-Speed Rail Authority outlines a new work schedule to accommodate for Covid-19 delays to completing a Merced-Fresno-Bakersfield interim service line through the Central Valley. Substantial completion on the first 22-mile segment (CP4) led by California Rail Builders is now expected in about 15 months. Construction packages 1, (Tutor-Perini/Zachry/Parsons) and 2-3 (Dragados/Flatiron) and will be extended into 2023 with trains to be tested starting in 2025, and in service between Merced to Bakersfield by the end of the decade.

Costs for the three construction packages are up by $330 million over the current budget of $12.4 billion. Because of the risk and uncertainty that lays ahead, HSRA is proposing a “considerable” increase in contingency budget. 

Kyle Simerly, a spokesperson with the California High-Speed Rail Authority, says the pandemic has affected “virtually every aspect of the organization and program.” That includes delay of the adoption of a final 2020 Business Plan by nearly a year to provide more time to assess risks, conduct further project reviews, provide more opportunity for public comment, and to accommodate necessary legislative oversight. Nearly 250 workers have had to quarantine.

Cap-and-Trade revenues from auctions available were reduced by $288 million. Many California courts either closed or severely reduced their hours, which delayed filings and court dates, slowing right-of way acquisition schedule as a result.

The procurement process for the Track and Systems contract has been delayed “by several months.” To mitigate cost risks and improve construction efficiency, HSRA is proposing to change the timing, approach to construction and phasing of the track installation.

However, some significant progress was made last year. In November 2020, HSRA hit an all-time high of 1,208 daily workers dispatched to 35 open job sites in the Central Valley, almost doubling the number of workers dispatched at the start of the pandemic.

At the same time, environmental reviews and regional infrastructure projects are continuing in Northern and Southern California.

 “The uncertainty surrounding the depth and duration of this pandemic will continue to present us with numerous risks to be recognized, managed and mitigated,” Simerly says.