|Central Valley (in green) will be operational first.|
But they're going to start in the middle, i.e., the Central Valley, where the labor and land are cheaper and environmental obstacles less restrictive. After the expenditure of an estimated $6 billion, HSR will be operational between Fresno (pop. 350,000) and Bakersfield (pop. 500,000) in 2017.
This may be engineering-wise but politically foolish. IMHO, it would have been more astute to build out from population centers, say the SF Bay Area (pop. 7 million) to Gilroy or Greater Los Angeles (pop. 17 million) to Bakersfield first. Serving the long-range commuter would accumulate political capital for problematic future funding requests amounting to tens of billions of dollars.
Just to make clear, your humble observer is not in favor of the HSR project. It's expense ($65 billion in today's dollars and $90+ billion, including inflation ) is only defensible under the wildest pie-in-the-sky scenarios. When one looks at the sad history of California construction overruns in projects like the Bay Bridge extension, San Francisco airport, and BART, it is even more improbable that the final cost will be justified, and it won't matter much whether it was built top-down, bottom-up, or middle-out.