High Speed Rail Drama: A Victory for California

California has done it again. In the re-appropriation of Federal high speed rail funds, California received an additional $624 million in funding for it’s high speed rail program. Crucially, this announcement means that the first segment of the CAHSR program, a line from Fresno to Corcoran, will be extended to Bakersfield. This extension will largely silence many critics who were already calling this segment a “line to nowhere.” Fresno and Bakersfield have a total combined MSA population of 1.7 million, and a segment from perhaps Merced to Bakersfield could be considered the minimal operating segment and actually run revenue service. At the very least, Amtrak California’s San Joaquins line could use the line to massively reduce travel time in the corridor.

The political ramifications of building the initial segment of CAHSR in the Central Valley are actually quite positive. By building a greenfield (entirely new right of way) line in the Central Valley rather than focusing funding on improving commuter rail services in the Los Angeles and Bay Areas, the California High Speed Rail Authority is essentially guaranteeing the future completion of the system – political desire will come from both the LA and San Francisco areas, forcing the eventual connection of this Central Valley segment with San Francisco and Los Angeles. Equally important is ensuring the continued support of the state and federal governments in completing spur lines to Sacramento and San Diego, and even potentially connecting to the planned Desert Xpress privately-funded HSR line between Victorville and Las Vegas. Far in the future, a high speed line from Sacramento to Eugene, Oregon could be feasible and connect all the way up to Vancouver, BC.

I am strongly confident that the approach the CAHSRA has taken to building high speed rail in California will be successful. In my past occupation, I was able to meet many of the people behind the Authority, and I can tell you that they mean business. The Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco, the eventual northern terminus of the initial line, is already under construction and will be a shining example of what high speed rail stations can do for economic development and urban renewal in California and indeed the entire US. Furthermore, I am convinced that once California’s initial HSR segment from San Francisco to Los Angeles opens, and likely turns a profit, politicians in Sacramento and Washington will become convinced that high speed rail, in the right markets, is a wise infrastructure investment. Many people thought the Interstate Highway System was destined to be a failure before it was built. The vastly improved mobility of freeways pales in comparison to the benefits of high speed rail. Just look at Paris and London – two cities on approximately the same scale as Los Angeles – San Jose – San Francisco. The air market between these two cities died off quickly with the opening of the high speed rail line and subsequent openings of further high speed segments on the Britsh side have made the service even more popular.

I cannot stress how important high speed rail is for the future of California. Wisconsin and Ohio’s loss is our gain here in California, and as soon as the EIR/EIS is complete, CAHSR could begin construction within 12 months. That means two years from now, or even slightly earlier, the shovels could be hitting the dirt in Fresno and Bakersfield. I know I’ll be there to ride on the first train, and will be a regular user of CAHSR when the Los Angeles – San Francisco segment is complete. I hope that day arrives sooner rather than later. I’m tired of the TSA microwaving my body so I can get on a highly polluting aircraft for the short one hour flight home. I rest my case.

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About Karl Tingwald

Civil engineering student at the University of Southern California with a severe transportation compulsion.

Posted on December 13, 2010, in High Speed Rail, Los Angeles, Transbay Transit Center and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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