The Central Valley: Where High Speed Rail Begins

California’s rail future: Under construction

The nation’s first 220-mph high-speed line is under construction in California’s Central Valley.

This critical spine of the state's high-speed plan is the first big step toward achieving a San Francisco to Los Angeles trip of less than three hours, and it offers immediate benefits over multiple connections.

Home to three major universities, 122 community colleges, six of California’s 10 largest cities, and roughly three million people, the Central Valley is a great place to prove the power of 220-mph high-speed trains.

Why start in the Central Valley?

The ultimate goal is a robust statewide network of high-speed trains, but that can’t be achieved all at once.  An intitial segment in the Central Valley will have the highest impact.

  • An extensive network of trains and buses is already in place to link the line to a multitude of cities and towns throughout the state. This spine will help connect and integrate into the other systems, adding value to all public transit.
     
  • It is flat enough to build long stretches of 220-mph track without the tunnels that will be required to reach into the Silicon Valley and Los Angeles basin.
     
  • Construction of this spine is already well underway. It’s completion makes the rest of the network possible.

Once the Central Valley Spine is constructed and operating, we believe residents and legislators alike will see its value and be motivated to invest in the rest of the system.

Here’s the plan
A new station will be built a Bakersfield.

The California High Speed Rail Authority is building a 171-mile segment of electrified, 220-mph high-speed line from Merced to Bakersfield.

When it’s completed, high-speed trains will make 18 daily roundtrips—or more than twice the 7 daily roundtrips that Amtrak operates today.

The travel time will be cut in half, from just over 3 hours to roughly 90 minutes.

New stations will be built at Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings-Tulare and Bakersfield that allow easy transfer to connecting trains and feeder buses.

 

Connecting services will get a huge boost.
75% of Amtrak passengers connect to a bus at Bakersfield.

The Central Valley line is driving—and will benefit from—a series of important upgrades to connecting rail and bus systems.

At the north end, the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) is being extended from Stockton to both Merced and Sacramento. And, the Amtrak San Joaquins will see more daily departures from Merced north.

The connecting buses will also have their services expanded to match the 18 daily roundtrip high-speed trains.

Huge impacts from electrifying from Bakersfield to Merced

The Central Valley line will have ripple effects across the entire state. It will drive up demand for all train and transit options, drive down costs, and boost revenues.

Recent estimate show that ridership and revenue will roughly double, even as the state’s contribution to ongoing operating expenses will decline by $20 million per year.  That savings can be invested in better service on other routes, which will create a cascading effect of better, expanded services systemwide.

These benefits—more ridership, more revenue, and lower costs—will build the political will to fulfill California’s long-term goal of connecting the Bay Area to L.A. by a train trip of less than three hours.

Immediate Impact

Construction on the Central Valley line—which is scheduled to open in 2028—is already making a big impact by driving key changes to transportation policy.  For example, it is:

  • Forcing changes to outdated federal regulations. For example, railroads can now run light trainsets that are safer—and start and stop faster—than heavier trains.
  • Allowing planners to learn lessons that can be applied to high-speed rail projects across the North American context.
  • Creating and supporting a supply chain for domestic high-speed rail manufacturers.