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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