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hopeless? try the Middle East

By enelson
Wednesday, October 24th, 2007 at 11:49 pm in Altamont Commuter Express, Amtrak, BART, Capitol Corridor (Amtrak), connectivity, driving, fuel, high-speed rail, rail, Transit vs. driving.

palestine-high-speed-rail-plan.jpgGetting up early this morning to attend a Metropolitan Transportation Commission meeting and opposing press conference about California’s high-speed rail enterprise (like the space ship), my brain nearly dripped out of my ears by the time it was over.

I had lost all context. I was starting to believe that someday, high-speed rail would actually get built and I should care if it did or it didn’t.

Struggling to fire a synapse long enough to put something on this blog, I found myself Googling aimlessly and suddenly, a light bulb ignited.

My previous brush with the concept of high-speed rail was in a concrete tunnel of sorts.

I was leaving the Gaza Strip, oddly enough, when I chanced to meet a man from the Rand Corp. He and his colleagues were hired to study and report on how one might make a future Palestinian state viable.

The answer: The Arc, a high-speed rail line!

Although the core of the Arc is interurban rail, the Arc is actually multiple infrastructures. Construction of the transportation line invites concurrent, cost efficient, parallel construction of other needed lines for electricity, natural gas, telecommunications, and water. A national park following the line of the Arc would provide needed recreation space within each city, and a path for hiking and biking between municipal areas. A parallel toll road would provide access for trucks and other vehicles for people and freight, linking the country to its economic gateways at a possible airport and seaport in Gaza.

Yes, when I said high-speed rail could be all things to all people, I wasn’t kidding.

It’s a way to get people from San Francisco to LA in 2 1/2 hours. It’s a boon to commuters in Tracy. It’s a gold mine for land owners on either end of the Pacheco Pass. It’s a way to make the Antelope Valley liveable.

If you subscribe to all of that, you should have no problem swallowing the idea that high-speed rail will also foster peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Perhaps it’s unfair of me to say such things about the good work of those brilliant folks at Rand. They started with the assumption that the political thing would be worked out, and then came up with a multi-faceted plan (way beyond transportation) to make the new Palestinian state work.

But still, there are some parallels between the Rand plan and that of the California High-Speed Rail Authority:

1. There are some big “ifs”

You can build high-speed rail in California IF voters approve a $10 billion bond measure on the 2008 ballot and find another $30 billion minimum from other sources.

Voters can approve the $10 billion bond IF the governor and legislature don’t take it off the ballot in favor of some other borrowing measure.

Palestinians will enjoy a half-hour trip from Jenin to Gaza City IF Israel agrees to let them have a state, IF Hamas and Fatah make up, and, generally IF peace reigns in the Middle East.

2. Cost estimates are in doubt

The California High-Speed Rail Authority estimates that it will cost in the neighborhood of $37 billion to build a comprehensive statewide system and fares will be so cheap that migrant workers will choose to ride the trains instead of driving.

Rand estimated that the Palestinian high-speed rail system would cost $6 billion (cheap labor?) and “foster a coherent, unitary, and, it is hoped, a cohesive economic, political, and social Palestinian entity.”

My money’s on the following the San Joaquin Valley tomato harvest at 220 mph.

Map from The Arc/A Formal Structure

for a Palestinian State at

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