A rendering of the California bullet train passing Mission Bay in San Diego. Courtesy California High-Speed Rail Authority

At last, construction will officially get underway Tuesday on the first 29-mile segment of the $68-billion California bullet train project.

The milestone will be marked in Fresno by a groundbreaking ceremony that will serve as what the Los Angeles Times called a symbol of the significant progress the project has made against persistent political and legal opposition.

Map of bullet train route in Southern California.

The high-speed rail system will eventually encompass over 800 miles of rail, with up to 24 stations, linking San Diego to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento.

In the last two years, the California High-Speed Rail Authority has prevailed in a series of court challenges to the project, won a federal exemption from state environmental rules, secured several key legislative victories that improved its future funding and made a politically savvy bet to move up by several years the inauguration of service in Southern California, The Times reported.

But the groundbreaking will also serve as a reminder of the enormous financial, technical and political risks the project still faces.

Rail officials haven’t yet lined up funds needed to complete the initial system over the next 14 years, The Times reported. Additionally, construction is starting two years later than the state had promised; acquisition of private property is going slower than expected; and rail officials have yet to finalize legal agreements with two of the nation’s most powerful private freight railroads, which are concerned about how a bullet train network will affect their operations.

Political supporters, mostly Democrats, see the start of construction as a validation of their vision to make California a high-speed rail leader and say the project is being well managed, according to The Times But their mostly Republican opponents warn that the state is plunging deeper into a costly, flawed endeavor unlikely to be completed.

Gov. Jerry Brown, who has made the high-speed project one of his highest priorities, will preside over Tuesday’s groundbreaking at the future site of the downtown station in Fresno. The concept for a California bullet train originated in Brown’s first terms as governor.

— City News Service contributed to this report

Show comments

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.