Who Needs High Speed Rail?
Art courtesy of John
Kandel, Special to Fog City Journal
July 3, 2007
Margaret Okuzumi, Executive Director of BayRail Alliance, a non-profit
dedicated to improved passenger rail infrastructure in Californias
San Francisco Bay Area in her May 22, 2007 California Progress
Report editorial stressed, A future without HSR [High Speed
Rail] looks untenable in terms of additional pollution, gridlock,
environmental destruction and cost to California. One persons
Realistically, in lieu of HSR not yet being given the green light
to proceed, wouldnt the $40 billion, the projected cost
of building the entire 700-mile statewide High Speed Rail system
not be better utilized on: Increasing frequencies and improving
schedules on all Amtrak "California" corridor trains;
improving existing and purchasing new rolling stock; purchasing
new, more fuel-efficient and far less-polluting locomotives; improving
track, roadbed and signaling with areas of double and even triple
track (incorporating freight by-passes like the ones in place
at the Martinez and Oakland Amtrak stations); and on marketing
and safety? Should it not also be impressed upon Californians
that efforts be focused on building new and expanding ancillary
transportation services such as existing commuter rail and mass
transit (bus and rail) feeder systems?
Therefore why go the high speed rail route at all?
Okuzumi argued high speed rail is a necessary element in meeting
Californias future mobility needs. In support of her contention
she wrote, In lieu of high-speed rail, the state would need
a combination of more than 2,900 new lane-mi (4,667 km) of highway,
6 new runways, and 68 new airport gates to meet the projected
travel demand. Altogether the various piecemeal costs of building
these highway and airport expansions amount to at least twice
as much the cost of building high-speed rail. To this we can add
the costs that result from increasing our greenhouse gas emissions
and from worsening our health and air quality.
However, the longer the delay in approving and beginning construction
of High Speed Rail, the more likely costs will skyrocket further
increasing the likelihood that CHSR, which is expected to be the
Golden State's biggest public works project since the building
of the aqueduct will run into a roadblock.
In 1993 when an Executive Order from the Governor and
Senate Concurrent Resolution 6 (SCR6) established the California
Intercity High Speed Rail Commission to develop an HSR plan with
service between northern and southern California within 20 years
(distribution of the California Intercity High Speed Rail Commission)
was put forth, the amount of money expected to complete the then
proposed 700-mile statewide HSR project was $20 billion. Today,
the cost to complete the same 700-mile network is projected to
be $40 billion, a 100 percent increase. This, of course, taking
into account full build-out by 2020, and barring substantial cost
Weighing in on the pollution and health impacts, Steve Lowe,
in his May 17, 2007 Oakland Tribune letter wrote:
Everyone who understands how much pollution the airline
industry generates (on top of the [sic] all the autos, trucks,
construction machinery, etc., up and down the State) ought to
be in full support of near-zero polluting High Speed Rail on just
that basis alone (to say nothing of the millions to be saved on
PSA's lobbying against it).
And while we're on the subject, isnt is imperative that
impacts such as these and others be taken into consideration when
it comes to both short- and long-term transportation planning,
in order that generations that follow, in their respective futures,
arent then bogged down dealing with the same pressing and
pronounced environmental, health and transportation issues that
San Franciscans and the majority of Californians are confronted
Now add to this what The Road More Traveled - Why the
Congestion Crisis Matters More Than You Think, and What We Can
Do About It authors Ted Balaker and Sam Staley contend,
and that is that prosperity is tied to mobility and if mobility
improves so too will prosperity, and the ends seem to justify
the means for the need for high speed . . . rail, that is.
So while the debate continues and California and America stay
stuck at the High Speed Rail station and starting gate, it will
be left to people like Okuzumi, Lowe, State Assemblymember Fiona
Ma and others via the media and through additional means of
advocacy to push for state HSR.
Fresnan Mike Starry, who with his son recently returned from
Europe, boasted of the virtues of HSR (and metropolitan-based
rail systems) when he declared in the June 20 Fresno Bee,
that At one-third the cost of highways and providing 450,000
jobs, high speed trains would transport 100 million Californians
by 2030, the year the states population is projected
to be in the neighborhood of 50 million people strong.
Every day of additional delay is just one more day ensuring
that California High Speed Rail fails to get off the ground. And
if I understand the gravity of what's involved construction-wise,
much of it will be exactly that.
Alan Kandel is immediate past Fresno Magazine Associate Editor
(2006-2007), Editor Emeritus of Lifesaver Quarterly, California
Operation Lifesaver, Incs. statewide newsletter (1992-1994)
and Associate Editor Emeritus of California Lifesaver (1994-1998),
retired Central California co-chair of California Operation Lifesaver,
Inc. (1995 to 1999). Kandel has written extensively on transportation
topics as diverse as high speed rail, mass transit and railroad
safety in terms of its public and agricultural impacts.
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