All Aboard to the Future of High-Speed Rail, America
Today, at a train depot in Fresno, California, Governor Jerry Brown, who was just sworn in yesterday for his fourth and final term, officially broke ground on the state's High-Speed rail line, a $68 billion, multi-year project to cut in half the time it takes to get from LA to San Francisco by interstate.
The first phase of the project, which aims to see electric bullet trains racing down California's Central Valley at speeds up to 220 mph, will be just 29 miles in length and needs to be completed in the next 1000 days to retain it's federal cost-sharing dollars.
Starting two years behind schedule and still facing stiff political opposition from the state's Republican-controlled house, the project has two key factors going for it, according to Will Kempton, the director of Transportation California: the Governor's unflinching support and a steady stream of dollars flowing from the state's cap-and-trade program, expected to generate as much as $1 billion a year.
Besides opposition from Republican legislators and despite a 2008 public referendum that approved some $9 billion in bonds, the project has reportedly secured right-away on only about 20% of the land it needs for phase one, and rumor has it that few of the alleged 101 acquired parcels are contiguous.
Columnist James Fallow, writing in The Atlantic cites four reasons why he supports the project:
(1) Unlike China, America seems biased against large public infrastructure projects, argues Fallow. "America is direly short on infrastructure… so when there's is a real chance to build something valuable in America, I start out in favor of it," he writes.
(2) The residents of central California need this project, he reasons. Of the five poorest metro areas in the United States, three of them are in the central valley.
"Most dynamic analyses of the effects of the rail project indicate that it would bring new jobs to a region that most needs them, while chewing up less farmland than normal sprawl and freeway expansion would destroy."
(3) As the most populous state in the country, 30 million Californians need a more efficient, less environmentally destructive way to move north and south. Building more roads and runways "will be more destructive of the state's finances, its farmland, and its environment than a rail system," he contends.
(4) "There is an established track record of overestimating the problems of big infrastructure projects," Fallow observes. He points out that in contrast to big military projects that typically run over budget, well past schedule, and under deliver on their promises - think F35 fighter jet program - " … the opposite has been true of big national and regional infrastructure projects." What would America be today without just some of following big public works projects: the Louisana Purchase, the Erie Canal, the purchase of Alaska, the Transcontinental Railroad, the Interstate highway system?
It might be argued that California should wait until the Hyperloop is perfected when the 3-hour train ride could be cut to 30-minutes. But as promising as Elon Musks idea sounds, it's an unproven concept that may or may not work, and if it does could be decades away from implementation. Importantly, the Hyperloop could even possible use much of the right-away that will be created by the High-Speed track system.
It will be many years before we hear 'All Aboard', but it's important that California, that America, took this step today.
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