It’s about time (and speed): U.S.’s first fast, air-friendly train started

Construction on California’s much-anticipated high-speed rail project gets underway on Tuesday, Jun. 16, 2015 the official launching point being on an elevated bridge spanning the Fresno River, Raymond Road and California State Route 145 in Madera County. This comes more than five months after the project officially broke ground during a rail-signing ceremony on Jan. 6th in downtown Fresno. A main reason for major construction not moving forward sooner was due to an apparent lack of a sufficient number of land parcels and/or property being acquired. But, now that construction is commencing, as for the waiting-for-construction-to-begin phase, well, that part appears to now be history. Meanwhile, related preliminary demolition and acquisition work had been ongoing.

Currently planned is major building work to be carried out using the most modern and environmentally friendly construction equipment available. That equipment is said to be some of the cleanest-operating, anywhere.

Then there is the matter of operations. In the post: “California high-speed rail looks to renewable resources for electricity supply,” stated is: “Considering the scope of the state project, the supply of electricity needed to power trains will be enormous. On the plus side in one sense is that full build-out of the statewide electrified rail network is not projected before 2033 which should allow more than enough time to beef up energy infrastructure to meet demand. More good news is that the trains, through their dynamic- or regenerative-braking-process capabilities will themselves in essence be electricity generators or power supplies. The energy produced from the regenerative braking process from say a braking train going downgrade, can be transferred to another train operating on level track or as well to another going upgrade or this electricity can even be fed to line- or wayside electricity storage systems for use at a later point in time.”

Besides all that, and maybe most importantly of all, the electricity needed to power all trains will be from 100 percent renewable sources. What other major transportation infrastructure project, mile-for-mile, has the same advantage in the environmental-sustainability sense that California high-speed rail has?

An expected fast train offshoot is attendant or corollary real estate development cropping up around stations. This idea was explored in “Will California’s second-tier HSR cities reap big-city rewards sans certain big-city headaches?” and then later in “Revisited: Will California’s second-tier HSR cities reap big-city rewards sans certain big-city headaches?

In regard to the former and relatedly, here is an excerpt: “So, in the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) news release ‘High-speed rail study finds that remote cities benefit from connection to global hubs,’ provided is added perspective.

“Article author Alison Hewitt in this article opens with this thought: ‘Bullet trains fuel real-estate booms, improve quality of life and create other unintended consequences by sharply reducing commute times from smaller cities to large megacities, economists from UCLA and China’s Tsinghua University observed in a new study in China. A similar dynamic, they said, could play out as California builds its own high-speed rail system.’”

What the project promises when Phase 1 of the system is complete is direct, express, non-stop passenger train travel between California’s two biggest metropolitan regions – Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area – in under three hours. And, the soonest that is expected to happen is in 2028.

On the other hand, the infrastructure project, the state’s largest to date, still faces several challenges. There is remaining land still to be had to make way for the right-of-way. There are lawsuits pending. It is uncertain where the money to cover the entire $68.4 billion cost is going to come from. And, unknown as well at this time is when the project’s Phase 2 – the southern connection linking Los Angeles to San Diego and the northern link tying Merced to Sacramento – will be completed.

That all said, there is a lot more to this grand transportation endeavor than merely offering travelers a viable and competitive alternative to air, roadway and even conventional passenger train travel – which, it will. Who knows?! High-speed passenger rail travel in America might just become the conventional means of railway travel. That’s in the future, though.

Here is what is known for sure. California high-speed rail has been a long-time coming and it – at least groundwork-wise, anyway – is here at long last.

This high-speed rail system, the first such system to commence construction in the Americas, could be the start of something big, not just in the Golden State, but in the nation. Others like the planned Dallas-to-Houston Texas Central Railway, the Minneapolis-St. Paul-to-Rochester, Minnesota Zip Rail and the Las Vegas, Nevada-to-Southern California XpressWest (formerly the DesertXpress) appear at this stage also to be gaining speed and none-too-fast.

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