This November, supporters of a plan to construct a high-speed rail network in California could have something many thought they’d never see: $9.95 billion in cold, hard cash.
If approved by a simple majority on the statewide ballot, California Proposition 1A would provide $9 billion to construct a high-speed rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and $950 million for other rail improvements in the state. Although a fraction of the total system cost, the money would provide leverage for federal matching funds (possible made available through a hypothetical Green-TEA) or private funds.
The proposed route is illustrated nicely through this interactive tool on the website of the state agency responsible for planning and building the new system, the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
The entire plan would connect the state’s major cities with modern trains traveling up to 220 miles per hour over a new, 800-mile rail network. Although some complain the system tries to do too much — provide express service as well as local service to smaller cities — and anti-rail ideologues have bludgeoned the plan with usual complaints, the proposal has been unusually resilient to criticism thanks to high gas prices, concern over global warming, and frustration with traffic congestion. The 12-year-old California High-Speed Rail Authority has made good use of the planning money allocated thus far, producing slick online maps, animations, renderings, and videos, that show brightly colored yellow and gold trains whizzing through un-built tunnels, stations, and transit oriented developments (strategically located throughout the state).
The agency has posted a number of videos to YouTube, and this somewhat stiff 10-minute promotional film has been viewed over 300,000 times:
Is all this too good be true? Fearing the worst, one rail supporter predicted in 2007 a failure of leadership, failure on the ballot, or public apathy would be enough to stall the plan. The bitter diatribe provoked some young commenters to respond. “You may have enjoyed most of your life but mine is just starting!” wrote a 16-year-old, who added, “if you’re going to sit at your computer preaching how high speed rail is never going to work maybe you could be more proactive.”
At a national level, much work remains to be done to improve inter-city passenger rail service. Despite isolated success stories (such as the subject of a previous post, the Downeaster), as a whole Amtrak faces serious financial and infrastructure obstacles. (Described in detail in a recent article in the Next American City magazine.) As for high-speed rail, no serious national planning effort even exists. The U.S. Department of Transportation plan itself doesn’t even propose an nationwide, interconnected network, and only a few activists have begun to consider what it might look like.
Then again, what could be better to convince a skeptical nation of the benefits of high-speed rail than a successful, functioning state system? For now then, we wait for the decision of California voters on November 4th.