Building the Future: America’s First High-Speed Rail System

Image of a streamlined train rushing speedily down the tracks. The image is slightly motion-blurred.

Have you ever watched a train rumble by on the tracks and wished it would go faster? Well, if you live in California, you’re in luck. There, a group of amazing people are working on building the nation’s first ever high-speed railway system.

To learn more about this incredible project, we spoke to Scott Jarvis, the chief engineer for the California High Speed Rail Authority. He’s in charge of the delivery of the high-speed rail system, so he has a hand in all facets of the project. This means he oversees the planning, the design, and the construction of the system, including everything in between.

Screenshot image from our interview with Scott Jarvis.

Click a button to watch our interview with Scott Jarvis:

“The overall mission of the project is really to connect the communities of California and, more important, the people of California,” Scott said. “We really see it as a game-changer.”

Scott told us that the California High Speed Rail System will connect northern and southern California together. Phase one of this multi-phase project will span from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It will involve about 520 miles of track, and the trip between the two cities will be just three hours long. (The final system will stretch from Sacramento all the way down to San Diego—or at least, that's the plan.)

Of course, the trip won’t be just between San Francisco and Los Angeles. There will be other stops along the way—up to 24 of them—in cities like San Jose, Fresno, and Burbank.

Scott told us the project has been in the works since 2008. It got a huge boost in 2012 when the California legislation passed funding for the project. This shifted the project from planning to development.

Once Scott finished filling us in on all this information, we asked him how he came to work on the project and how he got into the transportation industry to begin with.

“I have a career in transportation,” he told us. “I’m a civil engineer and ultimately became an engineering manager. I spent the majority of my career with the state department of transportation.”

Scott got a job with CalTrans, the California Department of Transportation. He told us a little about his role there, saying, “Through that career I spent a lot of time in project management, delivering projects through the state system.” This means he was in charge of the projects through all their different stages, including planning; environmental testing and research (any major project has to look into the environmental impacts of their product); design; and the final construction phases.

Working on all those projects gave him a wide and varied skillset. That skillset caught the eyes of the upper management of the High Speed Rail project. As he told us, “In early 2013 I got a call from High Speed Rail management and they asked if I would be interested in talking to them.”

He accepted the job and here he is today.

We asked Scott how he got into civil engineering in college. He told us, “I didn’t start out in college as a civil engineering major. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I knew I liked math and science.”

He added that one of his biggest sources of inspiration was his high school physics teacher who helped pique his curiosity about science. This led him to think he wanted to major in science, but he soon realized that physics didn’t offer him as many job opportunities as he wanted. He also realized he was more interested in the practical applications of science and math rather than the theoretical equations often involved in physics. Engineering seemed like the right place to take advantage of that interest.

He chose civil engineer because it involves engineering big stuff like bridges, dams, rail systems, highways and tunnels.

We asked him if he had anything to say to students considering transportation as a career. He did. “If you look at the basic needs of society, transportation ranks pretty high on the list. Most people get out of their house and travel, somewhere, every day.”

Working in transportation—no matter what the mode—means making products that millions of people use every day. They’re important, and, as Scott said, “If people are thinking about a career and they want one that is really going to have a big impact on society and the quality of life, you can’t beat transportation.”

He also wanted to encourage students to play to their strengths. “Everybody has skills in different areas,” he said. "So just be yourself. Develop your skills in the area that you’re passion about and in the area you’re gifted in and things turn out in the long run."

We think that’s pretty awesome advice.

Erin Skoog
Fast Forward: Volume 2 Issue 6 - Rail