In the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s 2018 Business Plan, released Jun. 1st, pointed out is that California, now home to 39.4 million people1, had a transportation system that, at one time, was “the envy of the world.”2
Another of the state’s hallmarks is its standing as a leader among world economies – it has been ranked as having the world’s 5th largest.3
To maintain this competitive position, the Golden State’s transportation network cannot get bogged down. But, in some parts of the state, transportation already is.
In the 2018 Business Plan it was brought to light that, in the Los Angeles basin, for example, because of traffic congestion, each commuter forfeits, presumably, on average over 100 hours a year.4
Add to this another of the Authority’s observations, and this is, that state population is estimated to reach 51.1 million people by 20605, 11.7 million more people than live in the Golden State right now or the equivalent of adding what is currently the entire population of Ohio in the span of about four decades6, this based, I’m assuming, on the present rate of state population growth.
So, in order to stave off mobility meltdown, California must have a plan and fortunately, it does, a key component of which is high-speed rail.
Interestingly, the project during the first three years of construction (HSR started in the San Joaquin Valley on Jun. 16, 2015 on a viaduct over the Fresno River just beyond Madera city limits east of town) has been both highly praised and sharply criticized. The criticism that has been heaped has centered on costs, route choice, schedule considerations – both related to the time it will take to build and the amount of time it will take travelers riding express trains to get between Los Angeles and San Francisco, in this case a distance of 500 rail miles or thereabouts. It’s also been dubbed by detractors as “A train to nowhere.”
The United States does not have a true high-speed train system. Yes, it may be expensive to build, but what major infrastructure project isn’t? The current projections are that full build-out of Phase 1 (San Francisco-Los Angeles/Anaheim) slated to be completed in 2033, is estimated to cost $77 billion. A question: To meet envisioned or expected in-state travel demand, how many more roadway lane-miles and how many more airport gates and runways – not to mention added flights – will be needed and at what cost?
While it’s certainly conceivable that additional road- and air-travel provisions could meet anticipated demand, this would come with a cost of a different sort attached: further damage to the air, environment and public health. Incidentally, the Authority also notes that in 2010, a total of an estimated 361 million in-state interregional trips were made.7
High-speed rail provides an alternative. Take, for example, a car trip between Fresno and San Jose. In most instances, this takes three hours to complete the journey.8 With HSR and with trains running at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour, the time to connect the two cities will be cut to a third or, an hour or less in travel time, in other words.
Other benefits include a stimulus to local and regional economies – this is already being borne out with the construction aspect; a catalyst for promoting development around stations; and high travel impact, meaning the addition of high-speed-train travel will lessen the passenger load on the roadway and aviation networks. And, as with all infrastructure projects, jobs are created in corresponding construction work needed.
But, unlike other transportation infrastructure projects, once construction is complete a number of permanent jobs will be required in the areas of operating, service and administration.
As it stands, as this is being written, there are 20 active construction sites in the San Joaquin Valley and the work on such is being performed by some 2,000 workers. Slated to be operational four years from now – give or take, meanwhile, will be 200 miles of track in the San Joaquin Valley and the Bay Area’s Silicon Valley.
The whole point of building high-speed rail in California – anywhere for that matter – is for the purpose of providing efficient, modern, fast, reliable, convenient, comfortable, safe and environmentally friendly transportation. No other mode can make such a boast or claim – none except for possibly another rail system of HSR capability which utilizes electricity to power its trains generated from 100 percent renewable energy sources, if such a system already exists. Is there one?
Fortunately, state voters in 2008 had the presence of mind to pass a state ballot initiative to build California high-speed rail. It is coming up on 10 years since that ballot measure passed. And, for the record, efforts to get high-speed rail going in the state date all the way back to 1981.9
If you’re interested in learning more about America’s first true high-speed rail project, log onto hsr.ca.gov or https://buildhsr.com
- California High-Speed Rail Authority, 2018 Business Plan, Jun. 1, 2018, p. 5
- Ibid, p. 5
- Ibid, p. iii
- Ibid, p. 5
- Ibid, p. 1
- Ibid, p. 110
This post has been updated.
Image (upper): California High-Speed Rail Authority