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How can California meet the needs of High-Speed Rail?

How can California meet the needs of High-Speed Rail?

The Mineta Transportation Institute ( has published Estimating Workforce Development Needs for High-Speed Rail in California, a report assessing the overall employment, education, and training needs associated with building and operating the California High-Speed Rail (CHSR) network.

The report also seeks to develop insight into how these challenges can be addressed by all levels of the California education system. Principal investigator was Peter Haas, Ph.D., with assistance from Paul D. Hernandez, MPIA, and Katherine Estrada, MPA. The 160-page report is available for free PDF download from

“Much public discussion has focused on how high-speed rail may or may not provide real and long-term employment,” said Dr. Haas. “However, given the high profile of national and state commitments to high-speed rail, it is essential to have a comprehensive analysis that discusses the education, training, and related needs that will be created during the build-out and operation of the California HSR network. By estimating the required people power, skills, and knowledge, this report identifies those workforce development challenges and offers some solutions.”

The report addresses four specific questions:

  What types of workers will the CHSR network require at various phases of the project’s life over the next 15 years?
  How many of each type of employee are needed over the life of the project, and how do those estimates change over the life of the project?
  What specific skills and knowledge does the CHSR workforce require?
  What is the existing capacity for training and educating this workforce, and how must it adapt to the challenges posed at each stage of the CHSR?


The comprehensive document notes that workforce development is intrinsically tied to the CHSR network build primarily because of the initial reasoning behind developing the network. The system was proposed in part, according to the report, because it has the capacity to jump-start the California economy insomuch as it buttresses the construction workforce with procurement bids. It also will inevitably have direct impact on industries outside of construction, including those associated with the design, operation, and maintenance of the network, through the infusion of technology into the system.

The report also includes sections on estimates of workforce and employment development needs, and an assessment of existing capacity for HSR workforce development. These sections delve into several key factors, including critical issues of HSR technology; an employee estimates summary; education impacts by phase; workforce development needs during the peak phase; the capacity of community colleges, trades training, and higher education; the interplay of university and industry; the possible means of achieving workforce goals; and several other factors.

The majority of the employment estimates use “personnel years” – similar to using “labor hours” to estimate a project – which is the most accurate way to estimate workforce needs. This is standard industry practice because it enables the most precise calculation of the amount of labor necessary to complete a given project.

“Rather than continuing to speculate on workforce development impacts, it was necessary to provide a public document that presents fact-based research,” said Dr. Haas. “This report does not address the general needs of rail construction, which are already known. Rather, it gives particular attention to specific skills and training requirements necessary to build and operate the technology-rich, 220-mph high-speed rail.”

Some of those requirements include natural disaster detection capability; intrusion prevention and detection; specific communications, electrical, and energy management systems; advanced train control, signaling, and collision prevention; noise and vibration management; national traction power systems; maintenance for rolling stock and systems; and many other particular requirements.