Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

California High Speed Rail Setback

It's a dark day for supporters of high speed rail in California. As reported here and elsewhere, the California High Speed Rail Authority has, by default (allowing the staff recommendation to stand) selected the Pacheco Pass ("Highway 152") alignment from the Central Valley to the Bay Area over the Altamont Pass ("Highway 580") alignment. (If you need a map of the alternatives, have a look at this PDF.) Basically, the CHSRA buckled under to political pressure from South Bay politicians who couldn't bear the thought of such a system being built without all trains being required to stop in San Jose.

I am not complaining just because the proposed Altamont route probably would have come near where I live in Fremont and therefore there's a chance I could have been close to a station. By the time this thing gets built, it seems unlikely I'll be here anyway -- I'll be lucky if I'm still alive by the time trains are actually running! The Altamont route picked up important Central Valley cities that will now be skipped. Oh, the CHSRA talked of other solutions for that area, but those are just talk and will result in no action.

The Altamont might have been longer, but it was easier to build, traversed less sensitive areas, and would have served more people. It apparently is easy for people to forget that high speed rail is more than just moving people between the end-points in the LA and Bay Areas -- it serves intermediate points as well. Just look at the three types of Shinkansen services in Japan: Kodama stopping services that stop most places; Hikari limited services that stop at some stations; and Nozomi super-expresses that make very few stops. All use the same high-speed equipment. (Some people seem to think that the slower trains are using slower equipment, which is not so; they just make more stops.)

An Altamont route would have required either trains splitting/joining to serve both San Francisco and San Jose, or alternate-city service, neither of which would have been that big a deal, I think, except maybe in this country where we mostly have forgotten how to run a railroad.

I was annoyed to hear politicians (or possibly the reporters who reported those politicians) saying things like "we don't need another bridge across the Bay." Yes, the Altamont route requires a bridge across the south end of San Francisco Bay. But there is already a railroad bridge there -- it's just not been used and has been waiting for rebuilding these past twenty years.

Make no mistake: this decision is not about serving the most number of people on a value-for-money basis. It's about the clout of South Bay politicians relative to those in the Central Valley, and to a lesser extent short-sightedness from other politicians, such as my own city, which I understand opposed the routing because of the disruption building a high-speed rail line along the existing rail corridor (which runs just south of where I live) would cause.

If the CHSR rail bond actually makes it to the ballot, I'll still vote for it, but I'm very unhappy with the decision. It's the wrong route, for lots of reasons, and people will curse this decision for many years to come if the system ever does get built.
Tags: high speed rail
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