Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee
kevin_standlee

High Speed Rail and Security Theatre

I've been reading a number of news stories and opinion pieces about the California High Speed Rail projects hesitating steps forward. We might really be able to vote on the massive bond issue this year. Given a chance, I will vote for it, even though I think the route they've picked is wrong. (They caved in to political pressure from San Jose and picked the Pacheco Pass route through San Jose, rather than the Altamont Pass route. In essence, San Jose's politicians said, "All trains must stop in our city, or we'll kill your project." This means the route will go through more undeveloped, sensitive areas instead of serving more built-up areas that could really use it -- it's more than just a mechanism for moving people between San Francisco and Los Angeles. But I digress.)

In reading some of the opinion pieces out there, some of the things I read that leave me shaking my head in frustration with my fellow humans:

One piece said, more or less, that if the ridership projections are correct, trains would have to run every fifteen minutes, and of course that would be technically infeasible; nobody could possibly run trains that close together. Presumably the writer has never actually looked at how trains run in the real world. And not just in countries that haven't mostly forgotten how to run a railroad like Japan. Right here in the Bay Area we have rail systems running on tight headways. There's certainly nothing earth-shattering about it.

Another piece claimed that the time savings you get by taking the train -- much of which is because you don't have to arrive two hours before your 40-minute flight in order to satisfy security theatre at the airport -- would be negated, because naturally you'll need to arrive just as early for your train trip, because passengers will have to be screened airport-fashion for your safety. The only way I see that happening would be if the airlines were able to twist the government's arm into requiring it. (You can't hijack a train and drive it into the side of a building.) And if you need this security theatre for high-speed inter-city trains, then why isn't it necessary to ride Caltrain or BART -- or AC Transit, Muni, Greyhound, or MegaBus for that matter?

On the other hand, I wouldn't be surprised if someone in the state legislature or the US Congress who never actually uses train travel his/herself figures that airport-style screening for intercity rail systems would be a good thing. After all, Don Phillips, who used to write on transportation issue for the Washington Post, wrote a few years ago in his column in Trains magazine that his editors were aghast when they discovered that you could get on a train without having to go through metal detectors and the same sort of mess that makes the airline travel experience so irritating.

When I see things published that seem so obviously wrong to me, I have to wonder if the people writing them genuinely believe these things. Alternatively, do they just have to find a way to object that doesn't sound like "I don't want trains near me" or something the writer knows will be seen as absurd on the surface, so they hunt around for things that are plausible sounding.
Tags: high speed rail
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