ENR interviewed California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Jeff Morales in his Sacramento office after the state Legislature approved the project. Highlights from the interview follow.
Everyone is curious: Why is the high-speed-rail project starting in the Central Valley?
The Central Valley is the state's fastest- growing region, with seven million people already living there who need an alternative to driving to the major cities in the north and south. Land there is only going to get more expensive. Also, to be able to go through certification and testing for the high-speed trains, we need to build a 100-mile stretch where the trains can be tested in the U.S. for the first time at their full speed of 220 miles per hour—and that's only possible in the Central Valley.
What do you think persuaded legislators to say yes?
There were three groups of legislative supporters. Some have the vision of high-speed rail and see the project's importance in blazing the trail. Some see the implications of how it rethinks the regional rail system of California, and others have confidence in the package.
The authority's revised business plan suggests no taxpayer subsidy will be needed. Please explain.
What key steps will the authority take in the next year or two?
We will build our organization, work to resolve the legal challenges and get the first contracts under way in order to show progress. Also, we will build connectivity through regional projects and partnerships. We're on the verge of a real rail renaissance.