High Speed Rail Project Has Mojo, But Expect a Bumpy Trip

4_27_10_hsr.jpgImage: Metro.net

In perhaps the strongest sign yet of just how politically potent the
statewide high speed rail project has become, a bid by a Republican
Assemblywoman to squelch the project has fallen flat (Assembly Bill
2121) and as a face-saving move the bill has been amended to merely
mandate the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) submit funding
reports
as it goes forward with the project.

As
I noted in a prior commentary, the buzz this project now generates
floors me. For the longest time it received scant attention or respect.

Now
if anything is it suffering from "too many cooks" as jurisdictions and
interest groups clamor to offer their two cents. The most prominent
example of this is the recent request of local transportation agency
heads
Art Leahy (of Metro) and Will Kempton (of OCTA) for CHSRA to
reconsider shared use options for the Los Angeles to Anaheim segment of
the project.

Leslie Pollock at the recent American Planning Association conference
outlined why many high speed rail supporters look askance at share use
being compatible with true high speed service.

But this may be a case where the locals have a good point. In
discussing this situation with local advocate Jerard Wright, he pointed
out to me this is a key corridor worthy of upgrades whether it is
served by full out high speed service and supplemental services or
perhaps a half hourly bullet train from Anaheim that services Los
Angeles and continues on the the Bay Area (and vice versa) along with a
more blended mix of upgraded existing Metrolink and Amtrak services. I
would imagine Leahy and Kempton would agree that is about the level of
service the coastal stub (the high speed line in Orange County will
only go as far south as Irvine) will require for the foreseeable
future. That factor would allow a less impactful plan for the corridor
of the sort local officials have put forward of late.

The good thing is all the stakeholders are now at the table and
talking. Not so long ago that wasn’t really happening. I keep noting
this is a huge project, on a scale comparable to the construction of
the state aqueduct. Our California civic culture is grappling with how
to deal this new and unfamiliar kind of challenge, which admittedly at
times results in zigs and bumps as the project goes forward. That is
the price you pay for being a pioneer.

  • I worry that term limits for our elected officials slow the pace of this project …. it is difficult to find strong advocates for such a long-term project in Sacramento when those elected folks have to start looking for their next gig every 3-5 years. We really had no idea how many unintended consequences would be triggered by term limits, IMHO.

  • Brandon

    While I support High Speed Rail in California (and elsewhere), I really think they are doing this in the wrong order. The first course of action should be upgrading the lines on the route with proven ridership. The Sacramento to San Francisco route is among the busiest corridors in Amtrak (which admittedly, isnt saying that much). If the train could take people in 45 minutes, why would anyone drive it?

  • Spokker

    You need statewide support. SF-LA is the most popular politically, even though segments like Sacramento-Bay Area or LA-San Diego are more worthy of upgrades.

  • Spokker

    By the way, the people who bust nuts for high speed rail are asking Congress for $4 billion. http://www.cahsrblog.com/2010/04/support-4-billion-for-hsr/

  • TransitPlanner

    The most important gaps to close first are L.A-Bakersfield (Grapevine) and Stockton-Bay Area (Altamont). L.A. – San Diego already has service. Cutting out the redundant L.A.-Anaheim segment saves at least $5 billion. There needs be be an inremental approach.