California tests market for $5.5bn HSR contract

The state’s high-speed rail authority has issued a request for expressions of interest in the design and construction of the initial 120-mile portion of the state’s planned 800-mile high-speed rail network. Thanks to federal and state support, California already has the $5.5bn needed to build the segment.

The single largest infrastructure project in the US is opening its doors to private investors.

The California High Speed Rail Authority, the organisation in charge of delivering the state’s $43 billion, 800 mile-long high-speed rail network, is formally requesting ideas from the private sector on how to design and construct its initial $5.5 billion, 120-mile segment.

California's High-Speed Rail:
set for departure on initial
construction segment

The so-called request for expressions of interest is a chance for small businesses, corporations and investors of all sizes “to tell us exactly what roles they hope to play in making high-speed rail travel a reality in California”, Roelof van Ark, the authority’s chief executive officer, said in a statement.

The authority issued a similar request in 2008, but this time, things are different.

“We really have a much more concrete project to take to the private sector this time,” said Rachel Wall, a spokesperson for the authority. She said more planning, engineering and environmental work has been performed on the project.

Since 2008, the authority has also secured $3.6 billion in federal funding for the project, Wall said. That funding was a mix of grants the authority received under the 2009 stimulus bill, additional stimulus dollars redistributed from states which declined their high-speed rail stimulus grants and high-speed grants included in the government’s latest budget.

Matched with state resources, Wall said that the authority has about $5.5 billion in funding commitments that can be used toward the initial 120-mile segment, which should make the authority’s request a serious proposition to private investors: “We’ve got $5.5 billion in hand – tell us how you want to participate in this project”, Wall said.

“We're anticipating thousands of responses,” she added.

The request also gives respondents the option of proposing ideas for the entire phase one of the high-speed rail network, which encompasses 520 miles linking San Francisco in the north with Los Angeles in the south. That includes the 120-mile initial segment, which the authority hopes to begin building next year and complete by 2017.

Subject to availability of funds, the whole phase one is expected to be complete by 2020.

Responses to the request for expressions of interest are due 16 March. Participation in the request is not a prerequisite to participating in the project, but all respondents will be invited to a forum in the spring at which the authority will meet with respondents and discuss private sector interest in the project. The responses will also “shape the procurement process going forward”, the authority said in a statement.

A formal request for qualifications for the initial 120-mile segment will be issued this spring, followed by a request for proposals in late 2011.