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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 foolsgambit11 on 7/9/2012 7:42:46 PM , Rating: 1
No construction job is permanent. A career in construction is a series of temporary jobs. And you need to be less pedantic. 20 years, while not literally permanent, is, for all practical purposes, not temporary. If you're going to debate real world issues, you need to use real world sensibilities.


RE: What this article fails to mention...
By vol7ron on 7/9/2012 9:48:10 PM , Rating: 3
I think the article already hit it: "suits from environmentalists and private property owners"

It's the lawyers, politicians, and lobbyists that continue to "get paid". Sure there will be a construction boom that comes with lots of jobs. After all, someone has to lay the track, build the foundation, transport the materials, dig/cut/supply the materials, build the machines, lay the pipes, etc. But they won't make what the lawyers and the politicians hope to make.

Truthfully, I think this country could use a bullet train. It's long overdue and there needs to be better transportation along highways, BUT if the Federal Government is looking to contribute, I would like to see something that goes interstate, not intrastate. A train from LA to Vegas would make me happier for a train I'm never going to use. Still, why not increase the highway speed limits that the Federal Government gives kickbacks for. We've seen an interstate speed go up 10mph and traffic reduced dramatically - I shiver at the thought of what the autobahn might accomplish.

I would like to see a train go on the east coast, perhaps between Boston, NYC, Baltimore, DC, and Norfolk - you know, where business actually gets accomplished :) Not only is the land flatter, but it's easier to plan for a hurricane than earthquakes.


By othercents on 7/10/2012 9:18:17 AM , Rating: 4
I hope the government isn't using France, Germany, and Japan as indicators on how well the bullet train will do. Except for France the other countries are smaller than California, however they also have much denser population which means more riders. Example: There are 127 million people in Japan and California has 37 million. Also except for Germany the other countries were not built around the automobile. I know in most cases people in Japan don't have cars since they are not economical especially since everything is so congested.

I like the idea of a bullet train between key cities in the US, however in most cases you are only going to reduce the number of people flying. Most cities need a better public transportation system that will ease traffic issue in cities. The best bang for our buck will probably be an autobahn across the country. At least then you have a platform that can be replaced by rail in the future.


RE: What this article fails to mention...
By Reclaimer77 on 7/10/2012 10:57:31 AM , Rating: 3
Good point! We're all driving vehicles designed to cruise at 90+ MPH perfectly stable, but the freaking speed limits are still 55mph on average. That's absurdly slow.


RE: What this article fails to mention...
By abscode on 7/10/2012 1:27:13 PM , Rating: 1
Uhhhh... yea, if all cars where new... if all cars performed the same way... if all roads were designed to handle such speeds... if everyone kept their tires properly inflated and within wear limits... if everyone kept their brakes up to par... if everyone paid strict attention to their driving... if grandma's mind was 30 years younger...

My my, things sure get nuanced once we start to thinking about all the factors and stop thinking in narrow terms.


RE: What this article fails to mention...
By Reclaimer77 on 7/10/2012 2:09:54 PM , Rating: 3
I didn't say what speed would be acceptable, I just said 55mph was too slow in my opinion.

You can take your big bag of "what if's" and go have fun though. Life is an adventure, accidents sometimes happen, safety is not guaranteed. Don't be a nanny.


RE: What this article fails to mention...
By abscode on 7/10/2012 2:44:46 PM , Rating: 2
No nanny-ing, its just a complicated issue. Most of those are not fringe what-if's but majority issue.

For what types of roadways do you think 55 is too slow for? For every state, except Hawaii, the rural freeway limits are above 55. For a lot of urban freeways, around 32 states have limits that are 55 and/or below. For divided rural roads, around 20 states have 55 and/or below. In some of these cases, it can be higher, but includes the slower.

When I travel to the east coast (specifically, MD and DE), it drives me crazy that rural freeways are 65 and divided rural is 55. Perhaps they are lower than I am used to to account for seasons where the weather is colder and wetter -- also the times I don't travel to those parts.


By integr8d on 7/10/2012 6:55:42 PM , Rating: 2
In Los Angeles, the speed limit is 55 on the highways. But I think that's actually just the average speed because we're either going 15mph or 105mph. There really is no in-between.


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