SAN FRANCISCO—Californians will soon be asked to make a decision as to whether they wish to ride aboard a high-speed bullet train that zips over between the southern and northern parts of the state in a matter of only a few hours.
In November, Californians will cast votes on a proposition 1A on the Nov. 4 ballot, which would allocate funds to help start the construction of an 800-mile high-speed rail network capable of sustaining fast-speed bullet trains, moving across the state at a speed of up to 220 mph.
If the measure is approved, construction of the fast-speed railway system is expected to begin as early as 2011.
Currently, a trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles by bus or car takes more than six hours. A one way trip on a fast-speed train from San Francisco to Los Angeles will take only about two and a half hours and would cost about $55, according to the fast-train authorities. And the train could be so swift that it will speed from San Francisco to San Diego in only about four hours.
Similar bullet-trains have been in operation in Japan and Europe for a few decades, and high-speed trains have proven record of being the most reliable, safest, and cost-cutting transportation alternative. High-speed train systems currently operate and expand in Japan, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, England and China.
If built, the high-speed train system in California is projected to transport between 90 and 117 million passengers per year by 2030. Stations would include San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles, and San Diego.
Already, three of the top five most congested urban areas in the U.S. are in California – Los Angeles, San Diego, and the San Francisco Bay Area. Recent studies also suggest that California’s population will grow up to 50 million people in the next 20 years.
With traffic congestion increasing by 10 percent per year, rising fuel cost, and fears that local airports would reach capacity, state officials have for years toyed with the idea of the California’s high-speed network as a means of more affordable, ‘greener’, and reliable transportation alternative.
“Building a high-speed train in California will cost two to three times less than expanding freeways and airports to accommodate millions of new Californians by 2030,” said Judge Quentin Kopp, Chairman of the High Speed Rail Authority in a statement.
Backers and Opponents of the Proposition
The project would likely require adding tracks to the existing railway system. Opponents argue that the bullet-train project will need expansion and construction of additional train tracks which will need to be separated from homes and roadways along the fast-train route.
Some opponents fear that portions of the existing railroad are too narrow and cut through urban areas along the route, meaning that local residents and businesses alike can experience a drop in property values and have to endure noise and construction coupled with traffic impacts as the fast-train system is built.
California Chamber of Commerce and taxpayers groups announced that they are against the proposition saying that currently there are more important projects, and due to limited funds the state cannot afford high-speed rail, and that the project would push the state in even bigger financial hole.
Despite the fact that the State faces $17.2 billion budget gap, California Gov. Schwarzenegger said that he will back up the fast-speed train proposition as an important investment in the states’ aging transportation system.
"I commend the California Legislature and Governor Schwarzenegger for their willingness to place the highest priority on bringing a high-speed train system to California," Kopp said in a statement speaking in favor of the project.
Supporters of the bill believe that the project will reduce the emissions of greenhouse gas which are linked to global warming. Kopp and backers of the proposition 1A believe that the project will help the state meet the greenhouse gas reduction mandates, and that the bill will put California’s economy on the fast track to economic recovery by creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs.
"This choice for voters is overdue, and the Governor recognizes that high-speed trains offer a sound solution which is both economically and environmentally responsible. With no operating subsidies and no new taxes, a reliable 220-mile-per-hour electric high-speed train system will reduce our dependence on foreign oil by more than 12 million barrels per year and reduce greenhouse gases that cause global warming by 12 billion pounds annually,” Kopp said.
High-Speed Train Construction Funding
The total cost of the project is about $40 billion dollars, according to recent estimates by the California High-Speed Rail Authority, a state entity established in 1996 responsible for the construction and operation of a high-speed train system. The construction relies on three main sources: state and local funding, federal financing, and public-private partnership.
If approved by Californians, proposition 1A would allocate $9.9 billion to pay for construction of the San Francisco to Los Angeles part of the route. Another, approximately $950 million would go to extending and upgrading of the current rail systems as the existing San Francisco Bay Area Caltrain corridor has been chosen as the local high-speed route. By law, however, state funds will not be made available unless matching funds from additional non-state sources are obtained.
Second source of the funding for the construction is projected to come from the state – approximately $10 to $12 billion. Last year, the U.S. Senate passed a legislation that is still pending for approval, the legislation includes federal funding for high-speed trains.
Authorities also hope that the state and federal dollars will play a role in attracting up to $7 billion in initial private investments, in a form of public-private partnership which include ownership opportunities and project debt financing.