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In the continuing melodrama naysayers like to call “The Train to Nowhere,” the California High-Speed Rail Authority is prepping for its first construction contract award followed by an early 2013 ground breaking.

With the governor’s signing of Senate Bill 1029 last week, the initial investment of $6 billion (via state bonds and matching federal funds) will get the project kick-started. But from there on out, funding will continue to be a sticky issue.

(FYI, Engineering News-Record will feature a Q&A with the authority’s new CEO, Jeff Morales, in its July 30 issue.)

In all, the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles project will contain four construction packages, with each one awarded to one of five prequalified teams. These teams are California Backbone Builders (a consortium of Spanish construction firms Ferrovial Agroman and Acciona), California High-Speed Rail Partners (a consortium consisting of Fluor Corp., Skanska and PCL Constructors), California High-Speed Ventures (Kiewit Corp., Granite Construction and Comsa EMTE of Barcelona), Dragados/Flatiron/Shimmick JV and Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons JV.

The first part of Package 1 (Merced to Fresno) will consist of track construction from Madera’s Avenue 17 to Fresno’s American Avenue, a distance of between 23 and 29 mi, depending on final alignment. It will include at-grade track construction and some aerial structures plus trench sections and one short tunnel, according to the CHSRA business plan. It will also include 17 or 25 grade separations and one to three bridges, also depending on the final alignment. This phase’s cost will be between $1.2 billion and $1.8 billion. The contract will be awarded in December and completion is set for Sept. 30, 2017 (at 5 p.m. SHARP! Just kidding…).

In order to get SB 1029 passed, the governor had to supply some regions and communities with transportation funds to upgrade their facilities to mesh with the new high-speed rail system. In Southern California, for instance, the bill provides LA Metro with $115 million for a 2-mi light-rail connection among Metro Gold, Metro Blue and Metro Exposition systems for a one-seat ride within Los Angeles County to Union Station (the SoCal HSR terminus).

In Northern California, the bill provides Caltrain with $706 million to install an electric rail system on its 77-mi system, Caltrans’s Amtrak Capitol Corridor with $47 million for track improvements, and $145 million for track and station upgrades at BART’s Millbrae Station. It also gives $61 million to the controversial Central Subway project in San Francisco, which will tunnel 1.7 mi from Caltrain’s terminal at Fourth and Townsend streets to Chinatown.

Down the road, funding challenges to stay within high-speed rail’s final-final $68 billion budget will include unplanned for parcel acquisitions, unplanned tunneling due to lawsuits and, well, lawsuits in general (from Central Valley farmers, businesses and homeowners to prevent the authority gobbling up their land).

One major HSR project not covered by the state or feds, though, is the tunnel from San Francisco’s Caltrain station at Fourth and Townsend streets to the new Transbay Terminal (yes, another tunnel!); this one, according to a San Francisco Chronicle story, will be paid for by the city. It is estimated to cost at least $1 billion. But, the city has a bit of a window before worrying about that tunnel to the NorCal terminus, since SF-LA service won’t be up and running before 2028.