What Just May Drive High Speed Rail to Reality

9 16 10 uliAbout 10 years ago I attended a meeting of local activists held at the Southern California Association of Governments to hear a presentation about the proposed high speed rail network. This was back when few people were aware such an effort was underway. Attendance was heavily grassroots and environmentally oriented. Few present had knowledge of the project or the magnitude of the challenges it entailed. So after the slide show (this was pre Power Point) the questions were along the lines of was there any danger it would facilitate sprawl in the Central Valley, turning Fresno and Bakersfield into bedroom communities.

I finally decided to bring a dose of reality to the proceedings. To begin I noted what a huge undertaking it would be. Then noted any bond to help build it would need a well funded campaign. Bluntly I noted that this would mean the involvement of people willing to invest real money to make the project possible because they would have a vested interest in doing so, that they saw a way to profit from it — big construction companies, developers, building trade unions, equipment manufacturers. “You’ll be getting into bed with those folks. Make sure you are comfortable with this idea. Because the bullet train won’t happen out of warm and fuzzy feelings but cold hard self-interest” I concluded.Well, not that I am prophet but in this case pretty well I called it 100% correctly–when the bond finally reached the ballot in 2008 the heavy hitters of the sort I described all those years ago did indeed put up the money for the campaign to pass the bonds.  The sole exception as far as I can tell is developers, who until now have shown scant interest in the project and its potential impact. But that may be about to change as the Urban Land Institute is slated on Thursday Sept. 23rd to hold at the Anaheim Convention Center what it calls a landmark event: California High-Speed Rail TOD MarketPlace.

So now high speed rail has the attention of folks who are intrigued at its potential to facilitate money making opportunities. Just the sort of incentive to get bigshots on board and inject the project with a dose of political mojo.

Despite ourselves, we may end up with a statewide bullet train system. Isn’t life funny that way?

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