The US is set to get its first dedicated high-speed railway – built by Network Rail Consulting (NRC).
The British company has been awarded a £57.5m contract in the development of a new 220mph service in California, which will connect trains from Los Angeles to San Francisco in less than three hours, with later branches to Sacramento and San Diego, according to Railtech.com.
Primarily a tourist route, the Amtrak service takes a minimum of nine hours and 30 minutes to traverse just 348 miles between Los Angeles and San Francisco, which the new route hopes to slash.
California’s High-Speed Rail Project will be the nation’s first truly high-speed rail system, and aims to be operational by the end of 2030. The goal is for train testing on the first 119-mile, electrified track to begin in four years.
NRC chief executive and global managing director, Nigel Ash, said: “Having been involved in the development of the California High-Speed Rail programme since 2015, we’re delighted to have the opportunity to continue our support to the California High-Speed Rail Authority to help deliver this important investment that is poised to be one of the most transformative infrastructure programmes in US history.”
NRC was established in 2012 to “demonstrate British expertise overseas and be an international ambassador for Britain’s rail industry”.
While Network Rail is funded by the public purse, NRC’s operations are funded from fees earned.
According to its website, NRC has successfully delivered more than 150 consultancy contracts for government, public and privately-owned organisations, with operations currently active in Australia (Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane), the Middle East (Riyadh) and North America (New York, Toronto, Boston and Washington, DC).
The California high-speed development forms part of a wider revolution in US train travel.
For a country that considers its finger firmly on the pulse of much technological innovation, high-speed rail travel has failed to take flight with cars, buses and airplanes the preferred method of transportation for most residents and tourists.
Until now. In December 2023, President Joe Biden announced $8.2bn (£6.5bn) in new funding for 10 major passenger rail projects across the country.
In addition to California’s newly announced Los Angeles-San Francisco route, other projects include a route between California and Nevada known as Brightline West, significant upgrades to frequently travelled rail corridors in Virginia and North Carolina, and upgrading and expanding capacity at Chicago’s Union Station, one of the country’s busiest rail hubs.
According to the official release, the investment marks “the largest investment in [US] passenger rail since the creation of Amtrak [over] 50 years ago”.
Brightline West, which the government claims will serve more than 11 million passengers annually, will comprise a 218-mile line connecting Las Vegas and the outskirts of Los Angeles, where passengers can transfer onto suburban services.
Travelling at 186 mph, the route has an estimated journey time of two hours and 10 minutes – less than half the time of the five hours it takes to travel between the two metropolises by car.
The ambitious project is hoped to be up and running in time for the Los Angeles Olympics in July 2028 to the tune of an estimated $12bn (£9.4bn).
Speaking at the Conservative Party conference in October, Mr Sunak said that the project’s costs had “more than doubled”.
He said: “I am ending this long-running saga. I am cancelling the rest of the HS2 project and in its place, we will reinvest every single penny, £36bn, in hundreds of new transport projects in the North and the Midlands, across the country.”
Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said that the decision to scrap the route treated local people as “second class citizens when it comes to transport”.
A subsidiary of Network Rail manages the HS1 infrastructure, supporting high-speed services between London St Pancras International, Stratford International, Ebbsfleet International and the Channel Tunnel, as well as Eurostar services to the Continent.