Full steam ahead for California HSR modeled on Shinkansen, TGV
- Published Saturday, February 21, 2009, by Agence France Presse (AFP)
Full steam ahead for California bullet train
SACRAMENTO -- One hundred and forty years after a transcontinental
railroad linked California to the world, trains are being hailed as
integral to the state's growth in the 21st century.
This time, state officials are preparing to spend billions of dollars
on high-speed rail lines modeled in part on Japan's Shinkansen bullet
train and France's sleek TGV systems.
Supporters say an 800-mile (1,200 kilometer) system of trains running
at up to 220 mph (350 kph) will cost about half of the 100 billion
dollars that otherwise would have to be spent on new highways and
They say it will reduce environmental damage, lessen the state's
dependence on foreign oil, create 450,000 jobs and give a huge boost
to California businesses. They envision a system, to be completed by
2030, that will carry 90 million passengers a year.
"We need a high-speed rail. Our rail system in America is so old, we
are driving the same speed as we did 100 years ago," said California
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"We should do what other countries do. All over the world we see
high-speed rail. We should do the same in this country, and
especially in this state."
With California's population expected to reach about 50 million
by 2030, proponents say transportation must adapt to the vastly
increased demands in the nation's most populous state.
"It would be difficult, if not impossible, to add that kind of
airport capacity and freeway capacity," Quentin Kopp, chairman of
the California High-Speed Rail Authority, told AFP in an interview.
"Plus, the environmental benefit is just as important, with 12 million
barrels of oil saved each year."
Critics call the plan an overpriced white elephant that will never
get completed. They say the system will be a huge financial drain
on a state already struggling to pay its bills, will have little
environmental impact and will not attract nearly as many riders as
envisioned by proponents.
And they say promises of a two hour and 38 minute ride from San
Francisco to Los Angeles are unrealistic.
"There is little likelihood that the passenger or revenue projections
will be met, that the aggressive travel times will be achieved, that
the service levels promised will be achieved, that the capital and
operating costs will be contained consistent with present estimates,
that sufficient funding will be found or that the system will be
profitable," said a report on the high-speed train system produced
by the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank.
Eleven nations now have true high-speed rail systems, but not the
United States. Amtrak's Acela train that connects Boston, New York
and Washington runs on conventional tracks for much of its route and
does not come close to 200 mph (320 kph).
The heart of the California system would be the line from San
Francisco to Los Angeles and Anaheim, the home of Disneyland. Kopp
said that phase will cost about 33 billion dollars and be ready for
service within about 10 years.
Lines stretching to San Diego in the south and Sacramento in the north
could be added by 2025 to 2030 at a cost of up to 15 billion dollars
more -- meaning the whole system will cost about 48 billion dollars.
But critics say the final cost of the system is likely to be as much
as 81 billion dollars.
And while supporters say the Los Angeles-San Francisco line will
generate an annual profit of 1.1 billion dollars, opponents estimate
that line will have annual losses of up to 4 billion dollars.
A state proposition passed by California voters in November provided
nearly 10 billion dollars in bonds for the system, which is still
being designed by engineers and hopes to break ground in 2011.
State officials expect 12 billion to 16 billion dollars from the
federal government, and remain optimistic those funds will be provided
-- in part from the Obama administration's 787-billion-dollar stimulus
The California League of Conservation Voters supported that state
proposition last fall.
David Allgood, the CLCV's Southern California director, said high-
speed trains would have many benefits for the environment, as long
as care is taken to limit damage caused by construction of the rail
"The advantages are great. It's more energy efficient and cleaner to
move people around on trains than in planes or cars," Allgood said
in a telephone interview.
"There are just too many people on the roads. High-speed rail will
save a lot on emissions."