Governor Schwarzenegger ‘s high speed rail proposal raises questions.

The Sac Bee has just reported that our governor is coming back to voters with his dream sheet of a high speed “bullet” train to run from Sacramento or San Francisco to LA and San Diego. So far I can agree with the concept. However lets’ peel the onion back a little further. The Sac Bee story, “High-speed rail backers hope adding private investors to bond measure will avoid delays” can be found here.

Before posing some questions for Juice drinkers let me state that I have utilized and enjoy high speed transit. We have taken the bullet train from London’s Waterloo Station to Gare Du Nord in Paris a few years ago. That 307 mile ride thru the “Chunnel” made one stop in Dover and takes three hours. the train has a maximum speed of 186 MPH. Max speed in the UK is limited due to the need to upgrade their tracks. Prior to that experience I rode the TGV from Paris to Zurich, Switzerland and most recently we rode the Mag Lev train to the new International Airport Terminal in Shanghai, China reaching 430 KPH. Said another way we covered 20 miles in seven minutes.

If Asia and Europe can invest in this form of transportation than we need to give it full consideration. However, I must question the governor’s plan as reported by the Sac Bee. The governor wants us to approve a $10 million Bond Measure this November. Quentin Kopp, chairman of the high speed rail authority, hopes “to leverage another $9 billion from federal matching funds.” OK. Even if that can be accomplished let’s look at the rest of the projected cost. “The entire project is estimated at $42 billion and would be completed by 2020.” Let’s assume that, unlike my city’s management of CIP’s, this project can be completed at or under budget. Governor Schwarzenegger, “show me the money.” The Bee reports that “Supporters then hope another $10 billion can be raised from private investors.” The key word being hope. And even if the private sector comes forward with $10 billion where do you expect to get the balance of $13 billion which ironically is virtually identical to our current red ink?
Setting aside the cost we also need to question the proposed rail system. Beginning in San Francisco the train will stop at the San Francisco airport, RedwoodCity/Palo Alto, San Jose, Gilroy, Fresno, Bakersfield, Palmdale, Sylmar, Burbank, LA Union Station where it forks into two directions.

Without indicating the rest of the stations east and south of LA the article reports travel time, at 200 MPH, from Sacramento or San Francisco to LA will be 2 1/2 hours. Let’s go back and revisit the 307 mile trip from London to Paris with one stop that takes 3 hours or the TGV train traveling at 186 MPH from Paris to Zurich that makes that 400 mile trip in 6 hours and 10 minutes. And we are to believe that the CA bullet train will make the above referenced 350 mile trip with 10 stops in less time?

The Assembly Transportation Committee is scheduled to hear compromise Bill AB 3034 next month. As it involves funding and a 2/3rds vote for approval I hope that those serving on the committee and, if it passes out, the entire legislature starts asking some of these basic questions before simply saying OK.

Juice readers. Those are my thoughts. what do you think?

About Larry Gilbert