Is it time for high speed rail in California?

September 25, 2008 7:14:28 PM PDT
Has the time finally come for high speed rail to roll into California? The November ballot includes Prop 1A which would begin financing for construction of a statewide high speed rail system.

A High Speed Rail Authority animation shows what the trains might look like, moving up and down the state of California at more than 200 miles an hour. The plan is to link Sacramento and the Bay Area to Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego, with stops all along the way.

"San Francisco to LA in two-and-a-half hours," says High Speed Rail Authority Chairman Quentin Kopp.

Kopp says the electrified system will help clean our air by getting people out of cars and airplanes. The aim is for a ticket price half what airfare would be.

Authority board member Rod Diridon says it would begin to bring the U.S. onboard with the rest of the world. Japan's bullet train has been around for more than 40 years and France's system just logged a rail speed record of 356 miles an hour.

"Every other industrialized country in the world has this system, except the United States. Even Mexico and Argentina and Morocco have high speed rail in construction," says Diridon.

Prop 1A would authorize a $10 billion bond, but the total price tag is more like $30 billion. Kopp says the plan is for the feds to kick in a third of that, and the private sector another third.

"These systems all make money. None of these systems receives governmental taxpayer subsidies because they attract passengers, they attract ridership," said Kopp.

Supporters also point out worldwide there has been only one fatality on any high speed system -- that was in Germany where an old bridge was to blame -- versus about 43,000 vehicle deaths a year in the U.S. alone.

Opponents from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association think the bond money would be better used to repair our existing transportation infrastructure.

"We need to fix our transportation system in California first before we go shoveling tens of billions of dollars into a new transportation system to meet hopeful future travelers," said Adrian Moore of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers.

And the Jarvis taxpayers are critical of the funding plan.

"I think the deficiencies of the planning are so serious that it's very likely the project will fail to attract the private funds that they say they will receive," said Joe Vranichi of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers.

"Their arguments are in many instances untrue, they're speculative, hyperbolic and I can't wait to debate their executive director in a couple weeks," said Kopp.

Other critics include the Peninsula cities of Menlo Park and Atherton, and the Planning and Conservation League (PCL), an environmental group, who have joined together in a lawsuit against the plan.

The cities are worried about the short-term impacts of construction and the long-term effects of high speed trains zooming through their quiet towns, without stopping.

"They're talking about not wanting the high speed train system to go through their towns because it might make noise. Well, it's going to be less noisy and less pollution than the CalTrain system going through their town now," said Diridon.

PCL is a part of the lawsuit because of concerns over the environmental impact report of the route through the Pacheco Pass.

"We don't think they've done a good job evaluating the project they're proposing," said Garyy Patton of PCL.

Kopp calls the lawsuit flimsy.

If passed, the aim is to build the San Francisco to Anaheim section first, with trains rolling on that route by 2018.


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