What is the Future of Rail in California if High-Speed Rail Does Not Proceed in 2012?

Posted on 07 March 2012

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By Daniel Krause
Californians For High Speed Rail

Killing the HSR project by deciding not to move forward this year will not only necessitate construction of pollution-increasing highway and airport expansions, it will dramatically alter how HSR will be built in the future in California. Since HSR will have to happen regardless if we move forward now or not, due to population growth and environmental realities, I thought it might be useful to consider how a delay in developing a HSR system will change the nature of HSR permanently in California.

It should be noted that the scenario I believe likely will be a greatly inferior one to the current proposal that prioritizes access to Central Valley cities. Rather than serving as a tremendous economic catalyst for our mid-sized Central Valley cities of Fresno and Bakersfield, as well as the growing Tulare County cities, these urban areas will continue to be isolated from the large economic engines located in Sacramento, the Bay Area, and the Los Angeles region by building HSR later. Additionally, environmental consequences will become much more severe by waiting to build HSR in terms of air pollution, global warming, sprawl/loss of farmland, and human health.

Minimal and Insignificant Improvements to the State Rail System for the Next 20+ Years

If we drop HSR now, after almost $1 billion in planning and a huge federal commitment of funds and time, our federal partners will have little inclination to work with California to improve intercity rail for at least 10-15 years. And why would the federal government want to work with California after being burned? In fact, in addition to the unspent federal HSR money California will have to return, the FRA will likely ask for a several hundred of millions in refunds of money we have already spent on planning as well as other costs associated with cancellation of the project. These refunds would have to come out of the state’s depleted general fund. This situation will leave us not only missing out on all the short- and long-term jobs and a further deterioration of our general fund, it will also cause the federal government to avoid funding California project for several years in the future as our governance system will be perceived as too risky to invest in.

After a decade or so, the federal government might be willing to fund small projects again, such as incremental improvements to Amtrak’s San Joaquin line. Such improvements will only come online within a 15- to 20-year timeframe and will only lead to minor time savings and to insignificant ridership increases (when compared to increases in transportation demand in the Central Valley). The 45-minute decrease in operating times that the Initial Construction Segment of the current HSR project will provide for the San Joaquin trains will not be achievable with these incremental sets of improvements. Additionally, we will be stuck with a bus connection to Los Angeles. This path is very underwhelming and will simply contribute to an ever-increasing congestion fiasco. Furthermore, the closing of the gap between Bakersfield and the Los Angeles Basin will simply not be affordable without a HSR project to leverage large amounts of funding. Ironically, our friends over at RailPAC criticize the HSR project because it does not start by closing this gap, when the HSR project is the only feasible way to close the gap.

HSR Will Eventually Be Built, but Will Likely Go Down I-5, Continuing the Isolation of Central Valley Cities

Even if we cancel HSR today, it will become clear to the next generation that HSR is an absolute necessity and pressure created by massive congestion will compel the state to finally proceed. However, I don’t see HSR gaining the political strength to proceed for at least 20 years, potentially upward of 30 years. Remember, it has taken us 30 years to get the point we are today after the last effort to build HSR in California between Los Angeles and San Diego was cancelled in the early 1980s. If the massive effort and political capital already expended in today’s effort to build HSR fails, the result will be gun-shy politicians for decades to come who will be unwilling to touch a new HSR project. Rather, the aforementioned San Joaquin upgrades along with commuter upgrades will likely be all the state political system will be capable of.

When the time finally arrives to start another effort to build HSR, the conception of how we configure the system will need to be greatly altered due to the terrible land-use trends that exist in the Central Valley in terms of land consumption for sprawl. Over the next 20+ years, notwithstanding the temporary slowdown in development due to current economic situation, sprawl will continue to encourage larger and larger urbanized areas near the ROW required to bring HSR to city centers. Due to this, land costs will explode and impacts on residential neighborhoods and businesses will greatly increase, making HSR a much more costly and politically difficult proposition. Additionally, the memory of a failed effort to bring HSR to city centers in the Central Valley will make it politically difficult to attempt to construct HSR to the cities.

This is why the likely scenario is that a rebooted-HSR project will likely go end up going down the Interstate 5 corridor, which is already being promoted by various organizations and individuals. To be clear, while I see this is the likely scenario if we punt now, I think it is a tragic scenario for the environment and for tying the rapidly growing population centers of the Central Valley to the economic engines of the state. I have always held that the I-5 corridor is an absurd alignment because it bypasses population centers of the Central Valley. It is essentially people-free. Downtowns will continue to languish, sprawl pattern of land-use will continue, and ridership will plummet on the HSR system. It will also hurt businesses that could greatly benefit by relocating to the Central Valley in search of cheaper land costs, rents, etc.

However, for all the reasons mention above, we will likely have to accept this vastly inferior HSR system if we hold off building HSR. HSR will happen but there are massive costs to system efficiency and economic development by taking a risk-adverse stance now and hedging on moving forward. There are also the environmental costs of waiting 25 to 30 years to build the project. While we dither today, we will still have dramatically increase plans to widen freeways and expand airports. There is simply no way to avoid this reality. Pollution will continue to increase, asthma rates will continue to soar, and many additional deaths from automobile accidents will occur because we let fear get the better of us today. The world rewards boldness, and if we lack courage now, our children’s or grandchildren’s generation will end up with a necessary but less effective and transformative HSR system in California.


Daniel Krause is Co-Founder, Executive Director, and Vice-Chairman of Californians For High Speed Rail (CA4HSR) – where this article originally appeared.  The following article was published in the March 2012 issue of Californians For High Speed Rail’s e-newsletter The High-Speed Rail Advocate. The entire newsletter is available on our website. The article also appeared on the California High Speed Rail blog.

why not expand in bicycle and motor cycle paths? Why not consider autos that are lasting rather than one that breaks down every 100,000 miles (if you're lucky). Why not have every large companys have their own buses to pick up workers and take them home? This will cut traffics. Why not consider living near your work? Why not have ma and pa stores in every corner? why not expand in small business rather than having a mall that require people to drive? It will improve their health and will cut medical cost.

If you truly want to make HSR necessary, why not raise the gas to $20/gallon during the weekdays to get people out of their cars and into public transportation and cut the prices on everything else and gas on the weekends and holidays. It may encourage the car-driving public to accept HSR and light-rail and other means of public transportation.

I just read your article about the future of high-speed rail.

There are four facts that you should know, despite all the financial issues, corridor issues and ridership issues:
1. Bullet trains do NOT go 220 mph. The maximum operating speed is 300 Km/h or 186 mph. Please Google it for your edification.
2. Because of #1, bullet trains do not comply with section 2704.09 of the California Bond Act: “The high-speed train system to be constructed pursuant to this chapter shall be designed to achieve the following characteristics: (a) Electric trains that are capable of sustained maximum revenue operating speeds of no less than 200 miles per hour.”
3. According to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), there are no bullet trains in the world that meet the FRA specifications for crash worthiness. Therefore, no European or Japanese bullet trains may be imported or used in the U.S.
4. In 2009, the Japanese government offered to build a bullet train from Dallas to Houston, using their money and their bullet train technology, of course. They set up Lone Star High Speed Rail LLC and named Judge Robert Eckels as President. But then they found out about the crash worthiness restrictions and tried to change the regulations to allow their train to be imported into the U.S. They finally abandoned the project.

So, even if you had:
Someone donating $98.5 billion to the project
Ridership was not an issue
Trains that could go 220 mph
Landowners who donated all the right-of-way
The track built
You would not have the passenger cars to put on those tracks.

It is time to stop, go back to the drawing board, and look at viable alternatives. One of those alternatives is magnetic levitation (maglev) trains, which was not allowed to be considered for the California project. Our company promotes the use of Maglev because it is the most viable technology that can carry us into the future. We are working with an aerospace engineering company to design and engineer the Maglev vehicles that comply with crash worthiness specifications.

There are many benefits of Maglev, but I will present only three:
1. Safety. This is our first responsibility and the number one reason for considering Maglev. Maglev is “grade separated” and is always elevated about 20’ above the ground and away from vehicle traffic, people and wildlife. Steel-on-steel trains use fencing to repel people and animals, which has proven inadequate and fatal.
2. Speed. Speed is everything in our global economy, and maglev is much faster than any 110 mph conventional or 186 mph “bullet train” system. The speed of our Maglev is over 300 mph, which is a huge attraction in itself. Without friction, the only resistance to movement is from air resistance, gravity and inertia.
3. Environment. Maglev is electrically powered, and we can walk, drive, and use the area beneath as normal without dividing communities. It does not uproot businesses, schools and churches. It mitigates damage to wildlife habitat and ecosystems. Maglevs are quiet: no engine or wheel noise, only the sound of air, and no train horns at crossings.

We have a U.S.-developed maglev technology, which is technically superior to any steel-on-steel system. This is a technology that can do what we need: safer, faster, less intrusive, and for much less money. In order for us to have high-speed rail within our lifetimes, we need to utilize innovative technologies.

Remember, the problems that precipitated this project continue to grow.

I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Rick Canine, President
Federal Maglev, Inc

331-fed-maglev 331-333-6245