Home   Google ARCHIVE SEARCH: Date:

Who Needs High Speed Rail?

Art courtesy of John Mattos

By Alan 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 California’s 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 person’s opinion obviously.

Realistically, in lieu of HSR not yet being given the green light to proceed, wouldn’t 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 California’s 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 overruns.

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, isn’t 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, aren’t 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 with today?

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 state’s 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, Inc’s. 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.

Editor's Note: Views expressed by columnists published on FogCityJournal.com are not necessarily the views or beliefs of Fog City Journal. Fog City Journal supports free speech in all its varied forms and provides a forum for a complete spectrum of viewpoints.




The Hunger Site

Cooking Classes
in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires B&B

Calitri in southern Italy

L' Aquila in Abruzzo

Health Insurance Quotes


Bruce Brugmann's


Civic Center

Dan Noyes

Greg Dewar

Griper Blade


Malik Looper






MetroWize Urban Guide

Michael Moore

N Judah Chronicles


Robert Solis

SF Bay Guardian





SFWillie's Blog



Sweet Melissa