Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

One of these days, someday, maybe …

Out in California, state government is going to be making some crucial transportation decisions.  Yes, $10 billion is a lot of money. It’s about a month of war in Iraq. It would probably fund Amtrak’s entire national system for five years. Here is an interesting argument for just waiting till some undetermined miracle occurs, or money falls from the skies, or highway and airline congestion gets so bad, travelers just say “to hell with it.”

Sadly, this is an editorial in the Sacramento Bee.

Whichever route is chosen, the Legislature should not ask voters to decide on a $10 billion high-speed rail bond on the November 2008 ballot. California has too many other pressing transportation infrastructure needs, including conventional rail, which would deliver much needed congestion relief sooner. Moreover, strategic investments in conventional rail could benefit any high-speed rail system in the future.

The worthy goal is that bullet trains would travel at speeds up to 220 mph, making the travel time from downtown San Francisco to Los Angeles just under 2½ hours. But those who question why California can’t have sleek, fast, modern bullet trains like those in Europe and Japan need to understand that high-speed rail abroad emerged from efficient and successful conventional passenger-rail service. Before the state borrows billions to build high-speed rail here, California needs to do all it can to enhance what’s already in place.

There are signs that that is beginning to happen.

Over the last decade, ridership has soared along the Capitol Corridor, the intercity train service that runs between Auburn and San Jose, and the Pacific Surfliner running between San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles and San Diego. Locally, Capitol Corridor passenger counts have increased by almost 14 percent over the last 12 months, with trains carrying 1.4 million passengers annually. Ticket revenue is up a hefty 20 percent over last year.

Capitol Corridor now offers 32 trains on weekdays, but delays and disruptions are still too common.

Capitol Corridor alone has four capital projects ready to go that would improve reliability and increase speeds. Those fixes would cost tens of millions of dollars, not billions.

By investing in those more modest rail improvements, California will create a solid foundation for eventual construction of high-speed rail.

The comparison with other more advanced nations is poor. Those countries also had to build right-of-way and infrastructure dedicated exclusively to the use of HSR. It was very expensive. This is what we sometimes call a commitment. It will take a political courage, but California is a progressive state.

Sacramento is reasonably close to Oakland and the Bay Area, so they may not feel the need for HSR connecting California from north to south.

Prediction: the people are way ahead of the politicians and journalists on this one.

Filed under: Regional USA Passenger Rail, United States High Speed Rail

One Response

  1. Adron says:

    Ya know. This sounds like the trans con situation. People wanted the Government to step in. The fact is, the system actually got kicked off by people and companies saying “to hell with the feds and the Government”, and they got started on it. Still to this day, if one does enough research, they’ll realize that the majority of the trans cons where paid for by private funds. Even after that, the Government “land” and “loans” where more than paid back.

    If California really wants to see this thing get kicked off, someone should dig up some real investors that are truly brave. I understand, with the sad state of passenger transportation in our subsidized transit state, finding an investor might be hard. But in the end, there is a lot of money to be made and a lot of possibilities that could happen. Getting private investors is the most sure fire way to truly get this thing done! ASAP.

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