The California High-Speed Rail took another important step toward becoming reality Thursday after the governing body’s board of directors began the process of obtaining possible vendors for the state’s most ambitious transit project in history.

The High-Speed Rail Authority’s Board approved the release of a Request for Qualifications, which clears the way for the Authority to obtain and screen vendors as well as establish a pool of possible manufacturers for the project’s trainsets.

Interested companies will need to submit a statement of qualification to the Authority to attest they can meet the demands of the project if ultimately selected as the winning bid.

Statements of Qualification will be due by November and the total pool of vendors will be whittled down by the first quarter of 2024, the Authority said.

“Our action today allows us to deliver on our commitment to meet our federal grant timelines to start testing,” said Board Chair Tom Richards. “This is an important milestone for us to deliver high-speed rail service in the Central Valley and eventually into Northern and Southern California.”

Rendering of a train car for the California High-Speed Rail project.
Rendering of a train car for the California High-Speed Rail project.

The Authority is looking to obtain six trainsets that are capable of operating at speeds of 220 mph and tested at speeds as high as 242 mph. Two prototypes will need to be delivered by 2028 to allow for testing and trial runs and the additional four will need to be delivered by 2030.

“These trainsets ensure that we are procuring the latest generation of high-speed trains for this first-in-the-nation project,” said Authority CEO Brian Kelly. “We look forward to working with members of the industry as we strive to develop a market for high-speed trains in the United States.”

The manufacturer who is chosen to receive the High-Speed Rail contract will be be responsible for designing, building, integrating and commissioning the trainsets, as well as maintaining them and their spare parts for 30 years. The manufacturer will also be responsible for testing and maintaining a driving simulator.

The California High-Speed Rail is tentatively planned to open in 2030, operating the large middle section in the Central Valley which will connect Merced to Bakersfield along a 171-mile track.

Construction on the project officially began in Fresno in 2015 after decades of discussion and voter approval for initial funding in 2008.

High-speed rail
Rendering of the signature arches of the San Joaquin River Viaduct north of the city of Fresno. (California High-Speed Rail Authority)

The Authority said it hopes to have service going by 2030, but transportation advocates and supporters of the project have urged the governing body to accelerate that timeline, possibly having the entire track from the Bay Area to Los Angeles up and running by 2028.

Despite clamoring from advocates and overall enthusiasm for the project, the Authority stresses that there’s simply not enough funding to get the project completed any sooner.

Still, Thursday’s procedural step is an important one and continues to solidify the Authority’s confidence that the project is past the “point of no return” and will be completed in the next decade.

Construction is currently underway along 119 miles of the proposed 171-mile track across the Central Valley. There are more than 30 active construction sites in the state, and the 422 miles of the program’s design has received environmental clearance.

For more on the responsibilities the contract will entail, click here. To see the latest progress on the construction of the California High-Speed Rail, click here.