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Air Quality

Published on July 7th, 2012 | by Andrew


Green Light for California High-Speed Rail Network

July 7th, 2012 by  


A plan to build a high-speed rail network in California is moving ahead, as state legislators voted to raise $4.5 billion in capital by selling municipal bonds approved by voters. The muni bond sale includes $2.6 billion to build the first 130-mile stretch of the high-speed rail network in California’s Central Valley, according to an AP report.

Passenger rail, in contrast to freight, has been on a long-term decline in the US, even as high-speed rail networks in Europe, Japan, and China are in their second or third generation. California’s high-speed rail plan, though contested by opposing lawmakers, is a step in the right direction, proponents argue — one that will create infrastructure, jobs, and state revenues, as well as alleviate air and road congestion and reduce CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions.


Saved in the Nick of Time

“No economy can grow faster than its transportation network allows,” AP quoted a statement by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood applauding the result of the state legislature’s vote. “With highways between California cities congested and airspace at a premium, Californians desperately need an alternative.”

The initial, 130-mile section of the “bullet train” network will link Madera and Bakersfield. Overall, the project envisions high-speed rail links between Los Angeles and San Francisco at a cost of $68 billion.

The “yes” vote comes in the nick of time, as an additional $3.2 billion of federal funding for the high-speed rail project was due to be taken off the table. California Governor Jerry Brown has been supporting the high-speed rail and other infrastructure projects, which he has said will help create jobs in a state with higher-than-average unemployment.

With California weighed down with a large budget deficit, state republicans were strident in their criticism, saying that the money could be used for other purposes, such as keeping schools open, and avoiding other budget cuts. Business leader members of the Bay Area Council, in contrast, cheered the “yes” vote.

State senate leader pro tem Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento likened the project to the building of the network of dams, reservoirs, and canals in the late 1950s that helped pave California’s growth path — a bill passed during the term of Gov. Brown’s father, then Gov. Pat Brown.

Passage of the bill also includes $1.9 billion of funding to improve regional rail networks. Included is a project to electrify the Caltrain San Jose-San Francisco commuter rail line, as well as making improvements to Metrolink commuter lines in Southern California.

“Not only will California be the first state in the nation to build a high-speed rail system to connect our urban centers, we will also modernize and improve rail systems at the local and regional level,” California High-Speed Rail Authority chairman Dan Richard was quoted as saying. The Authority is to manage the high-speed rail network project.

The news comes on the heels of word that progress is also being made on a plan to build a high-speed rail network in the Northeast.

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About the Author

I've been reporting and writing on a wide range of topics at the nexus of economics, technology, ecology/environment and society for some five years now. Whether in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa or the Middle East, issues related to these broad topical areas pose tremendous opportunities, as well as challenges, and define the quality of our lives, as well as our relationship to the natural environment.

  • Solana_vida

    Financial suicide. It costs 45 cents per mile per passenger, not including security cost. It makes more sense to buy 2 mln electric vechicles and give them out to people. The same amount of money spent, much higher environmental impact.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Did you include the cost of adding lanes to the highways?

      • Solana_vida

        It is a short commute that causes most of the traffic. Most of the pollution also occurs during those short trips. High speed train does not address this issue. By replacing 2 mln cars with zero emission vechicles you do solve the problem.

        • Bob_Wallace

          If you say so.

          However, when I’m trying to get somewhere and get bogged down around cities it becomes very clear that we’re going to have to do something to either reduce use of highways or build more highways.

          Try driving down 101 from northern CA to SF and dealing with the Santa Rosa traffic jamb.  I think they’re up to six, perhaps eight, lanes now and it still slows to a creep.

          HSR would take some of the ‘drive on by’ folks off the highways, leaving existing lanes for the shorter drive folks. 

          The population of California is going to increase.  It may increase even faster than expected as people flee drought and excessive heat in other parts of the country.  Making highways through cities wider is tough.  You’ve got to kick people out of their houses.

          HSR would also replace a lot of air travel.  Train stations tend to be in the center of the city, not out in the boonies like airports.  There’s no “get there two hours early so you can get your junk fondled” stuff.

          Take away the commute to/from the airport, the security delays, the waiting for baggage times, and you can go as fast or faster on HSR for moderate distance travel.  And do it with electricity.

          • Akbweb2

             Bring back trolleys and trams!

          • Bob_Wallace

            Sort of. But trolleys and trams eat up road space.

            I’m a big fan for Bangkok’s Skytrain. A dedicated people mover stuck up over the road system, able to zip from one end of town to the other with stops in between.

            No traffic jams. Really quick. And electric.

          • they can eat up space or they can share lanes/space. but they also are documented to shape development, drive development that drives more pedestrian/bicycle activity, more transit, and thus less traffic.

          • Solana_vida

            101 has a train alternative, and it does not address the issue. Bullet train will provide a much more expensive alternative. Will it solve the problem? My intuition tells me that, most likely, not. Plus, remember, that it will be completed not tomorrow, but 10 years from now.

            The bottom line: there is no long term plan, just a cool idea of spending somebody else money. I am just curious what will be the interests for those bonds, considering that California already has the lowest rating.

          • Bob_Wallace

            101 has a train alternative, and it does not address the issue.”

            That is not a credible argument.

            Furthermore, how many years do you think it would take to widen the freeways and expand airports?  That sort of thing happen overnight?  With 0% interest bond funding?

          • the 101 train alternative is beautiful, but it is certainly not what you want to ride if you want to get somewhere fast.

          • and there’s actually a lot of research on the “build more highways” strategy that shows it doesn’t take long at all for those new lanes/highways to fill up — they induce driving and auto-oriented development that is the root problem.

            but anyways… some are going to hate on rail until they’re blue in the face.

        • trains drive denser development and more transit-friendly cities. if you have to drive to another city, are you going to then switch to public transit? if you take a train, are you going to waste your time and money driving?

    • remove the insane traffic externalities in the state and i think you’d have a diff opinion.

  • Scienceguyorg

    People I have coffee with were complaining about this today, for them it is all about the money. I said that I think we have to think about the future also. One person had just been on a trip that included California and they could not believe the gridlock of cars.

    • Akbweb2

       Every time I visit a major city, I’m amazed, and amazingly frustrated, at the gridlock…How can people put up with it? I couldn’t imagine having to sit through that day in, day out as commuters do!

      All the wasted time, energy, the frustration that builds up, the unnecessary, unhealthy pollution! What’s that worth?

      • my master’s was in city planning, but the basic point is so painstakingly obvious that i really wonder about humanity’s ability to tackle big problems:

        if you have a lot of people in a relatively small space (in other words, a city) and you try to move most of them around in a big vehicle of their own, you’re going to end up with horrible traffic. Americans, for the most part, don’t seem to get this at all. and, to be honest. after being in Europe for ~4 years, many Europeans don’t either — they’re just blessed with cities build on the human scale more.

    • it’s amazing how we compartmentalize things. one second complaining about the insane traffic in CA, the next second complaining about a rail plan that could remove that headache from your life.

      and so common.


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