WTS Transportation Academy Day 2.5: California High-Speed Rail

Continuing on from my previous post about the Metro Los Angeles session last week, I felt the Wednesday afternoon session about the California High-Speed Rail was deserving of its own post.

On Wednesday afternoon at The Depot at Santa Ana, former California High-Speed Rail Authority (CAHSRA) board chairman and Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle gave a presentation on the proposed project.

The California High-Speed Rail project, if built, will be United States’ first true high-speed rail line with the capability to travel up to 220 miles per hour along certain dedicated segments. At $43 billion, it also will be the most expensive infrastructure project in the nation’s history.

The 800-mile long line will run between San Francisco and Sacramento to San Diego, serving Central California, Los Angeles, Orange County and the Inland Empire in between.

Pringle started off his presentation by saying that as a proud conservative Republican, he supports infrastructure projects like high-speed rail. This was very striking as most conservatives and Republican lawmakers have come out strongly against this project with cost cited as the main reason.

Pringle posed three important questions people commonly ask when hearing about this project: Is it necessary? Can we afford it? What will be the impact?

When it comes to the question of necessity, he talked about how high-speed rail will bring forth economic and environmental benefits as well as serving as a more efficient transportation option.

It brings forth economic benefits as it will help create thousands of new jobs, spur new developments near stations and strengthen local and state economies through greater mobility. As for environmental benefits, high-speed rail can help take millions of cars off the streets and highways, significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

High-speed rail serves as a better transportation option as it helps people get from point A to point B in almost record time. CAHSRA estimates that a trip between San Francisco and Los Angeles will take approximately 2-3 hours, which is about the same amount of time or less than a typical flight between the two cities. It provides a better alternative to buses, cars and even airlines with security increasingly tightening up at airports while the high-speed rail system will be ideal for people who wish to travel with less stringent security.

As for the safety of the system, Pringle also pointed out that high-speed rail lines in Japan and Europe have never experienced a single fatality nor any major accidents. The recent accident in China involving its high-speed rail system was the result of poor engineering work and is considered to be inferior compared to systems in other nations.

In addition, high-speed rail trainsets on the California high speed rail will be lightweight, running through corridors that are completely grade-separated and utilize state-of-the-art positive train control system to prevent any major accidents or collisions.

Regarding concerns about the cost of the project, Pringle stated that only capital investments such as the construction of the line itself will be paid for by taxpayers along with private investments. Once the line is in operation, no tax dollars will go towards maintenance or operations. He once again pointed to examples of the high-speed rail systems elsewhere in the world where the systems are self-sufficient and does not use any money from the government for any of its operations.

Construction of the line is expected to begin next year in Central California, a mostly agricultural land where it is possible to place test tracks to test out the system before the system is built out in full to San Francisco and Sacramento to the north and Los Angeles and San Diego to the south. This is the only portion of the route where trains can run up to the maximum speed of 220 miles per hour.

Lastly, Pringle underscored the importance of building this line. Without the line, costly and unsustainable upgrades to the rest of our infrastructure will have to be made and those total costs will far exceed the cost of the entire high speed rail project itself. Not building the line will result in 9 additional runways having to be constructed in the state’s airports as well as adding 3,000 additional miles of freeway lanes. This will worsen the state’s infrastructure, the environment and the quality of life for residents.

During the Q and A session, I asked Pringle to elaborate more on what he stated earlier as a proud conservative Republican who supports this project despite most in his party fiercely opposed to the project and how he is one of the few Republicans to be supportive of this project. He told me that it’s really about who’s dumb and who’s smart about preparing for future challenges involving infrastructure. He also went on to say that people are really concerned about planning for the future and wish to see better transportation options as we go along.

I’m getting ready to wrap up this second and final week of the transportation academy mid-week. This week, we’ll be touring a Caltrans maintenance yard, a hydrogen fueling station and tour the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. Check back later for recaps on both!

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