Trains For America

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Environmentalists still not “getting” CA high-speed rail

If you’re in an environmentalist, what’s not to love about high-speed rail? It takes cars off of the roads, consumes less fossil fuel (and is zero-emissions ready when our power grid is), encourages urban living, and will eliminate the need for many short-haul plane flights, which are huge emitters of carbon. So why are the Sierra Club and the Planning and Conservation League, two environmental groups, not jumping behind the California High-Speed Rail project?

Because they believe that the rail authority’s choice of the more rural Pacheco Pass for the final route will induce more sprawl than the Altamont Pass alternative. Forget the fact that area residents have always had a highway to sprawl out along if they wanted to, and that trains stop right downtown and can encourage walkable development. Robert Cruickshank has, as usual, done a very good job outlining the flimsy nature of these groups’ arguments, so I won’t bother going into any more detail here.

The main point here is one I’ve made before. This is the time to effect change in our nation’s transportation policy. Change for the sake of citizens, the environment, and the economy. However, if environmentalists and rail advocates don’t find the will to work together at this critical juncture, nothing will happen and both groups will continue to find themselves impotently struggling against the status quo, secure in their positions on the fringes of the political realm.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, United States High Speed Rail, , ,

America needs California High-Speed Rail

In case you haven’t been reading Robert Cruickshank’s excellent California High Speed Rail Blog, California has the country’s most important rail plan going on the ballot for its initial bond funding measure this November. The route has been finalized, construction priorities more or less worked out, and it even has Arnold’s endorsement. The stage is set for a big victory for America’s railways in November (regardless of what happens in that other race).

And yes, I said America’s railways, not just California’s. The project is already high profile, and once the San Francisco-LA spine gets built, you can bet it will attract more attention. This is precisely because the project is so ambitious. Like the French TGV, it will operate on its own electrified high-speed right of way, with its own new rolling stock. If the project succeeds, lawmakers and citizens from other parts of the country won’t have to look to Japan and Europe to see a “true” high-speed train serving the public. When travelers go to California and see HSR in action, they’ll go home and start saying “I’m sick of high gas costs and expensive airline tickets… why can’t we have a train like this in my state?”

Certainly not every state needs to have a system as groundbreaking as CAHSR, but California’s project would go a long way towards making people realize that rail can be a practical solution, not some pie in the sky ideal or archaic technology with only a whimsical value. If California rejects the funding measure, and the line doesn’t get built, the movement for high-speed rail will lose much of its wind. The CAHSR project is the epitome of what America needs right now, and if California can’t be forward thinking enough to build it, no one else will be there to lead the charge.

So, basically: Yes on prop 1!

Filed under: United States High Speed Rail, , , ,

State projects (Ohio, California) energized by passing of HR 6003 in House

Last Wednesday the House of Representatives passed HR 6003, which, in addition to increasing Amtrak’s budget, frees up grants for rail projects designated as high-speed. While President Bush has threatened to veto this forward thinking legislation for the benefit of his buddies in the oil, air, and auto industries, the bill has now passed both the House and the Senate with veto-proof majorities.

Although the House version, which has the language pertaining to high-speed rail, still needs to be reconciled with its Senate counterpart, states are already looking forward to the boosts their projects might receive if this legislation becomes law. California, which, as readers of this blog know, has been a focal point recently in the battle for fast trains, sees itself as one of the beneficiaries, but it’s not the only one. The Cleveland Plain Dealer says that planners of Ohio’s proposed rail system see hope in federal funds.

“This is a huge step,” said Stu Nicholson of the Ohio Rail Development Commission. “A bill like this could make the difference between a plan and a project.”

Ohio began working on the hub plan more than a decade ago with a mission to improve both passenger and freight rail service.

The plan includes more than 1,200 miles of track and 46 stations. The seven corridors would connect to planned or existing networks in neighboring states and southern Ontario

With the federal government hesitant to invest directly in high-speed trains, it’s good to see that regional projects are getting ready to take advantage of federal funds. This may be how America sees it own high speed rail network getting built: region by region, state by state. Let’s just hope that other states will catch on to this trend and not be left behind.

Ohio rail project site: here

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

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