Masters Thesis

California High-Speed Rail: An Analysis of Policy and Project

The California High-Speed Rail (CAHSR) is among the most ambitious infrastructure augmentation and construction projects of the 21st century in the United States. The effort to construct an 800-mile high-speed rail track connecting California’s two largest metropolises through mountainous terrain presents a series of mega-projects including tunnels and massive viaducts. The 2008 California High-Speed Rail Authority (CAHSRA, “Authority”) Business Plan estimated the project to have a final cost of $33 billion and to complete the entire length of the first segment (including track and stations) from San Fran cisco to Los Angeles by 2020. However, as of 2020, the price of the completion of this total route has been re-estimated at $87 billion. Instead, the State now focuses on completing a 119-mile segment between Bakersfield and Merced with no future date determined for completion of the entire line and a “pay-as-you-go” approach. These budget delays and schedule overruns have become characterizing and divisive features of the proposed system. This paper endeavors to understand through in-depth research the policies and project management techniques that have contributed to high-speed rail in California’s current state and to generate substantial hindsight to prevent recurrence in future public infrastructure projects. The primary documents reviewed and synthesized in this work include the California High Speed Rail Authority’s biannual business plans, reports to the California Legislature, documents from the Government Accountability Office and independent auditor feedback.