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New rail line will allow trips between the Bay Area and LA in under 3 hours

California, a state of 37 million people, is fast growing and in many ways almost a country unto its own.  The state in many cases is the best-case scenario for high-speed rail in America, and thanks to voter approval, the state will be trying to implement precisely such a system, despite high costs.  The plan received a final green light via Senate ratification of a general funding bill [PDF] and will now begin.

I. The Nation's Largest Bullet Train Bid Takes Off

The project will build out high-speed lines between the San Jose/San Francisco are (southern California) and San Diego/Los Angeles (the Bay Area).  The first phase of construction will complete a line from Los Angeles to the central valley of California, while a second push will finish the connection to the Bay Area.

The project is expected to take up to 20 years to complete due to the massive construction effort needed, coupled with the expected hurdles such as suits from environmentalists and private property owners.

California High Speed Rail
[Image Source: U.S. DOT/State of Calif.]

But the payoff will be 2 hour, 40 minute commute between LA and San Francisco aboard a state-of-the-art 220 mph train.

The project is not without its dangers.  First and foremost, it is a very expensive bid for a state that is already cash strapped.  California is ponying up $4.6B USD, in return for $3.3B USD in grants from President Obama's Stimulus Bill.  The project will be financed by bonds, with $2.6B USD needed for the initial 130-mile stretch of track.


II. Ideological Divide

While voters in the state approved the bond plan, support in recent weeks sunk from 52 percent to 39 percent amid reports discussing the financial concerns.  The approval by the state senate was a close 21-16 vote along party lines.

At a time when many are calling for a return to conservatism in America, the sweeping expansion of one of America's largest socialistic institutions -- the government owned transportation lines (private-public rails, federal highways, state highways, etc.) is fodder for much debate. 
 
U.S. Federal Highways
Some conservative think tanks say we should be moving to privatize the federal highway system, not adopting broader socialism. [Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]

Advocates argue transportation routing is a non-excludable good and by its very definition a "public good", hence an ideal candidate for mild socialism.  Some critics have gone as far as to suggest privatizing the federal highway system and scrapping high-speed rail bids, as well.

Many believe the project passed only due to heavy eleventh hour lobbying by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, who swayed his party colleagues to overlook potential short-term fallout from their voter base.

III. Advocates Hail Victory as Job-Creator

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood comments, "No economy can grow faster than its transportation network allows.  With highways between California cities congested and airspace at a premium, Californians desperately need an alternative."

President Obama was a vocal supporter of the plan.

Obama speaking
President Obama and his DOT say the project, which mixes state bonds and federal funds will drive job growth. [Image Source: U.S. Aid]

Europe, China, and Japan all have high-speed rail systems.  However, rail in the U.S. is light in both speed and usage.  In theory high-speed rail systems have many advantages, including speed, congestion reduction, and cost.  However, U.S. rail projects have suffered from budget bloat and from the challenging of dealing with the U.S.'s sparser population outside its cities.

Critics are swift to point to failures overseas, such as China who recently was forced to slow trains along its burgeoning $1T USD line due to allegations of corruption and substandard construction materials.  However, Germany, France, and Japan all have very successful systems which service millions and have opened new economic opportunities.

President Obama and Governor Jerry Brown believe the new line will create jobs, and they're both eager to put their money where their mouth is.

IV. Critics Sound Off

State Sen. Tom Harman (R, Huntington Beach) conjured the spectre of the embattled $398M USD Gravina Island Bridge in Alaska, which was colloquially referred to as the "bridge to nowhere" in the 2008 presidential race.  He commented, "It's unfortunate that the majority would rather spend billions of dollars that we don't have for a train to nowhere than keep schools open and harmless from budget cuts."

The comment may seem a slight to Bay Area residents, but the rhetoric stems from the fact that the first phase of construction will only travel through the central valley region of the state, stopping short of the Bay Area.  The Bay Area will be connected in the second phase push.

State Sen. Tony Strickland (R, Moorpark), a Republican running for U.S. Congress in the fall, comments, "This bill is spending money we just simply don't have here in California."

California high speed train
California is racing ahead with high-speed rail, despite objections.
[Image Source: U.S. DOT/State of Calif.]

Indeed, the timing might not be ideal, but for better or worse Calif. is forging ahead with high-speed rail.  Amid a divided state government and equally deep ideological divides across the nation as a whole, all eyes will surely be on this bold experiment in transportation and union/state mixed socialism in years to come.

Sources: Calif. State Senate, Sen. Steinberg, DOT



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RE: What this article fails to mention...
By quiksilvr on 7/9/2012 2:44:03 PM , Rating: -1
Even worse, they're building it in California. I don't know about you, but we have a much higher need for this in states like Texas. A rail between Austin and Houston would be immeasurably convenient for the tens of thousands of students that go to UT Austin. Over 90% of that school consists of Houston residents. Or how about between DC and Manhattan? Or Phoenix and Vegas? I can think of a 1000 places where this would be more useful.

California with its ample parking and straight shot freeways between major cities is the last place I would think to put a train.


RE: What this article fails to mention...
By phatboye on 7/9/2012 2:55:20 PM , Rating: 4
You obviously never been to California or driven on it's highways which are grossly overcrowded and very narrow. Also California has the same problem as UT Austin where majority of the students at one college campus come from the opposite side of the state.

Still you aren't going to build a multibillion dollar high speed railway simply for one college campus. California's transportation issues are far greater than a single college campus.


RE: What this article fails to mention...
By FITCamaro on 7/9/2012 3:38:00 PM , Rating: 2
I just support no state getting federal funding for high speed rail since they don't have the authority to give it.


RE: What this article fails to mention...
By bupkus on 7/9/2012 3:39:20 PM , Rating: 1
But they certainly have the authority to start wars.


By bupkus on 7/9/2012 3:40:30 PM , Rating: 2
Edit: They meaning of course the Federal government and its funding.


RE: What this article fails to mention...
By FITCamaro on 7/9/2012 4:10:57 PM , Rating: 2
Are you actually trying to argue that the federal government does not have the authority to start wars?

If not they, then who exactly?

Article 1, Section 8 (on the powers of the federal government)

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

Like it or not Congress VOTED to go to war in both Afghanistan and Iraq.


RE: What this article fails to mention...
By omnicronx on 7/9/2012 4:34:04 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Are you actually trying to argue that the federal government does not have the authority to start wars?
I'm going to guess that was an attempt at a joke, and he is not serious..

quote:
Article 1, Section 8 (on the powers of the federal government)

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

Like it or not Congress VOTED to go to war in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
You do realize declaring war, and authorizing a war are not the same thing right?

So while you are correct that the Federal government surely has this power, I'm not sure why you quoted that specific text as the US has not actually declared war since WW2.


RE: What this article fails to mention...
By FITCamaro on 7/9/2012 5:25:39 PM , Rating: 1
The word used really doesn't matter. What does is that Congress voted for and approved military action. For a war to be illegal, it would have to be taking place in spite of Congress rejecting it.


RE: What this article fails to mention...
By Paj on 7/10/2012 11:06:01 AM , Rating: 2
Theres also the rest of the world to consider.


By FITCamaro on 7/11/2012 7:49:13 AM , Rating: 2
Not really.


By johnsmith9875 on 7/11/2012 9:46:52 AM , Rating: 2
Congress never asked us to go to war. The reason is simple, if the voter is asked to go to war, they will never be able to get permission.

This is why you will never see a war vote of the people. The rich industrialists and military industrial complex get their way, but don't want your vote.


By wookie1 on 7/10/2012 12:16:14 PM , Rating: 2
What does war have to do with high speed rail? This is a non-sequitor argument.


By foolsgambit11 on 7/9/2012 5:36:27 PM , Rating: 2
Source? They had the authority to create the interstate system, right? Or was that an unauthorized and unjustified encroachment of federal powers? What about Congress' power to establish post roads? A railroad is a road. What is the difference that makes a road a post road, in a Constitutionally limiting sense? Can you cite a SCOTUS decision to support that Congress can't establish a fund for infrastructure project like this, to be executed by the Chief Executive?


RE: What this article fails to mention...
By Reclaimer77 on 7/9/12, Rating: -1
RE: What this article fails to mention...
By omnicronx on 7/9/2012 4:46:14 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
California if you want a train, great. YOU build the goddamn thing and leave our tax dollars, those who don't live there, out of it.
We are talking about pooled funds, a large chunk of which comes from California. So whom may I ask, is 'our' in this context..

As according to your logic, maybe every single cent of the funds distributed to other states should now come back to California.. You know.. because they don't live where these funds are going.

Now this is not to say I support the program, but you really have to stop beating this dead horse.. I've been gone a year and you are still spouting off the usual generic complaint that you post about anything that involves pooled federal funds.


By FITCamaro on 7/9/2012 5:26:29 PM , Rating: 2
The highway fund is to build interstate highways and bridges. Not commuter rail.


RE: What this article fails to mention...
By Reclaimer77 on 7/9/2012 5:26:57 PM , Rating: 1
And you're still the collectivist shill you were last year. So we're all in our comfort zone I see :)


RE: What this article fails to mention...
By SPOOFE on 7/9/2012 6:03:00 PM , Rating: 3
But he's right: Other states benefit more from California than California benefits from other states. CA's economy going downhill is bad news because that's less Fed tax being redistributed out of CA and into, say, Ohio or something.


By ritualm on 7/9/2012 6:58:49 PM , Rating: 2
Pour the money into Michigan and it ends up being wasted. Detroit is beyond saving at this point, its entire muni government needs to be assassinated and replaced by people actually competent enough to run a city.


RE: What this article fails to mention...
By SPOOFE on 7/9/2012 6:01:36 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
Why the fuck should I help pay for California's shortsightedness

Because CA's been paying for yours for years. Check CA's return on every dollar of Federal tax taken out of the state; it's among the worst, if not THE worst, in the nation.

In other words, the rest of the country profits more from CA than CA does the rest of the country.

Note: This is not to say that the rail plan is any good. CA will not at all benefit from this high-speed rail plan. But the fact remains that CA remains at a net LOSS in terms of Federal tax dollars, so it's not like Fed money coming into the state is inappropriate.


By Reclaimer77 on 7/9/2012 6:36:49 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Check CA's return on every dollar of Federal tax taken out of the state; it's among the worst, if not THE worst, in the nation.


Hell does any state come out ahead in that deal? lol.

quote:
In other words, the rest of the country profits more from CA than CA does the rest of the country.


Sounds like "creative accounting" in play there. It's just not possible to tally up those kind of statements with 100% accuracy. There's WAY too many variables and intangibles.

And I don't accept the premise of your argument even if that was the case. That because CA pays more in taxes, building them a train is an appropriate use of Federal money. We're literally bankrupt as a nation, trains can wait.


By wookie1 on 7/10/2012 12:08:31 PM , Rating: 2
This is the problem with federal money funding state projects (well one problem, there are several others), states start to whine about how much one state "gets back" vs other states. States shouldn't get any back, because the fed tax money should only be used for national purposes. Of course that means much lower fed tax and power, so that will never happen. I don't have any sympathy if CA gets less in return than other states.


By SPOOFE on 7/9/2012 5:58:59 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
You obviously never been to California or driven on it's highways which are grossly overcrowded and very narrow.

YOU obviously have never been to California or you wouldn't be implying that this high-speed rail boondoggle would alleviate traffic concerns in the slightest. CA has traffic problems WITHIN ITS CITIES, not BETWEEN them.

The ONLY solution to CA's traffic problems is major overhaul of its (incomplete!) freeway system. Ironically, this overhaul is done because of the current political climate against "pollution"... pollution exacerbated by millions of cars idling in traffic!


By oopyseohs on 7/10/2012 6:28:40 PM , Rating: 2
As someone who lives in California and drives on its freeways daily, the problems you mention are more localized to the individual populated areas. There is traffic in Southern California. There is traffic in the bay area. There really isn't that much traffic on the freeways that connect them (5, 99, 101), unless there is a some kind of major accident on a remote stretch that takes hours to clear. I think there may be other reasons and benefits for this project, but from a strictly transportation standpoint, depending very much on ticket cost, this is a 2.5 hr trip that takes at most 2 hrs by plane (including arriving at the departure airport early).

Sure a train can hold more people than an airplane, but there must be hundreds of flights from LAX to SFO alone every day (not taking into account other major airports like ONT, SNA, LGB, SAN). In fact, I could very easily book a flight out of LAX to SFO right now for $140 that leaves in an hour and a half. Perhaps some people would prefer to take a train due to airplane anxiety or what not, but still


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