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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 lightfoot on 7/9/2012 5:19:09 PM , Rating: 2
how is this more susceptible?

Uhh... Speed?

Derail a slow-ass Amtrak train and people get hurt, a few may even die. Derail a 200+ MPH train and everyone dies.

It is like being able to crash an airliner with a "well-placed rock."

RE: What this article fails to mention...
By ritualm on 7/9/2012 6:54:53 PM , Rating: 2
Germany's ICE trains had a spotty safety record without any natural disasters wrecking its lines. One wheel broke and an entire train derailed, killing and injuring lots of people.

Japan's Shinkansen top out at 180 MPH, in a locale with very high risks of tropical storms and earthquakes potentially destroying parts or all of entire lines, yet it has zero fatalities for 40+ years.

Want to crash an airliner? Aim your laser pointers directly at the cockpits of the planes. You don't need RPGs at all.

What a joke of a post.

By Ringold on 7/9/2012 10:15:11 PM , Rating: 2
It's a little harder then that to take down an airliner, I'd argue FAR more difficult than a train.

A trains infrastructure is almost all 100% critical, and covers such vast ground that it can't possibly be protected. A single point of failure anywhere along the path the train will be taking in the immediate future is fatal.

A modern commercial jets path is, for the vast majority of its journey, well above the effective range of small arms fire, and can absorb a good bit of small arms fire regardless, due to the ability to glide and pilot training making partial flight systems failure more of an annoyance then anything else. The infrastructure the jet needs is some of the most heavily, and easily, guarded land in the nation. Further, there's virtually always two pilots in the cockpit, so the loss of one isn't a big deal, and even the partial loss of both, so long as the pilots can manage to engage the typically triple or quadruple-redundant autopilot systems, is also not a real problem. And if an intended destination is completely compromised? No problem, there's probably a dozen more within 15 minutes flight of various sizes.

Commercial aviation claims, proudly and with full justification, to be the safety means of transportation. Trains, hugging the ground and being so fundamentally vulnerable such as they are, will never match the safety of aviation in terms of fatalities per passenger mile, or most any other metric you'd want to use.

RE: What this article fails to mention...
By johnsmith9875 on 7/11/2012 9:33:28 AM , Rating: 2
There are hundreds of laser incidents per year in the USA with commercial airliners. 99% are just jokers who bought some of those dangerous gray market high power lasers.

All you need is 1% real terrorists with proper laser equipment and you will have blinded pilots and crashed planes.

Even the worst crashed trains have fewer casualties than a typical airliner crash. You won't ever see an Amtrak version of Tenerife (583 dead)

By Ringold on 7/11/2012 3:19:48 PM , Rating: 1
As a pilot, I can say with pretty good certainty that, if blinded, I would know my cockpit well enough to touch and activate auto-pilot without sight, unless the laser was somehow powerful enough to render me unconscious. Unlikely.

Every pilot knows down to their bones the first three rules of flying: fly the plane, fly the plane, fly the plane. Losing the Mark I Eyeballs is serious, but far from fatal, not when there's a co-pilot, and not when there's other staff just seconds away that can be called up with the squeezing of a single button, who any pilot competent in the plane he is flying could walk through an idiot off the street in how to push a couple buttons to activate the landing function of the auto-pilot.

I'm not exaggerating, either, or making it sound overly easy. Poke a couple buttons, maybe twist a nob a little, boom, auto-pilot engaged. The plane will land itself. Pilots of these sorts of jets aren't pilots; a much more accurate description would just be system operator.

And no, Amtrak will never have a 583 casualty count in one incident, but that's because Amtrak probably only carries 583 passengers a year. :P Seriously though, you know full well if a high-speed train ever flies off the tracks, it's game over for everyone aboard. Further, train wrecks happen all the time, minor or not, but several years separate major aviation incidents, despite the fact millions more passengers fly.

There's no comparison, not at all. You're presuming you're smarter then terrorists about the laser issue; if they thought it was that easy, and the odds are probably 100% that they've ATTEMPTED to do it, then they would've.

By Reclaimer77 on 7/11/2012 3:24:59 PM , Rating: 2
All you need is 1% real terrorists with proper laser equipment and you will have blinded pilots and crashed planes.


Do you know how small the eye is? So some terrorist is going to blind a pilot in a jumbling vibrating aircraft, traveling at high speeds, including being able to factor in the angle of deflection caused from the windshield?

I think someone has watched WAY too many movies...

"Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine." -- Bill Gates

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