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Initial Choices: High-Speed Rail To Pick Its Early Operator

California High-Speed Rail Authority

The Board of the California High-Speed Rail Authority is expected to vote on an awarding a contract, likely to a European company, to be the line's early train operator. The contract is a small fraction of the total cost of the rail line but represents a significant step toward making the bullet train a reality. Valley Public's Radio's Joe Moore and Jeffrey Hess discuss what the High-Speed Rail Authority is looking for and who has the inside track.

Why does Deutsche Bahn seem to be the company with the best shot?

They have run and overseen the German high-speed rail for some time. The way they are portrayed is they have a lot of experience but because of the way they have done their rail line, they are not as flexible as some other companies. But they are the company that some think could deliver on a big priority that the California line which is to make a profit or at least run without a state subsidy, which is a requirement in the proposition that approved the line originally.

Who else was involved?

A Spanish company, an Italian company, and a Chinese company were also finalists. Each brought different skills and backgrounds. The High-Speed Rail Authority is looking at more than just whether or not the line will function without monetary help but also the political and culture fit for a company that could potentially have a big advantage in the long term operational contract.

So, the initial operator will run the trains and the day to day functions, is that all?

Some of the other things they will be doing is they will have a say in where the heavy maintenance facility will be built. That is where the trains will be maintained. That is a big one. They will also have a say in the literal design of the trains. How the trains operate. The thinking here is if you are handing control over to a company, you want that company to be comfortable with the technology you are asking them to work with rather than the other way around. The High-Speed Rail Authority says it doesn't want to be dictating operations to the company.

Why are so many companies competing over such a short-term contract?

There is a lot of advantages to whatever company is going to be selected long-term if they are going the be selected as the initial operator. This contract is only 6 years. Long-term they are looking at a 25 or 30-year contract later on. Whoever operating initially will have a big advantage if they have proven the can run the rail line successfully.

Jeffrey Hess is a reporter and Morning Edition news host for Valley Public Radio. Jeffrey was born and raised in a small town in rural southeast Ohio. After graduating from Otterbein University in Columbus, Ohio with a communications degree, Jeffrey embarked on a radio career. After brief stops at stations in Ohio and Texas, and not so brief stops in Florida and Mississippi, Jeffrey and his new wife Shivon are happy to be part Valley Public Radio.