I recently discovered that we progressive Californians are on a race into the future of high-speed rail travel.
Versus North Africa.
Yes, the tech-savvy nation of Morocco is planning to build its own high-speed rail line connecting Casablanca with Tangier:
“The project cost is estimated at 20 billion dirhams and will cut the journey between the two cities to two hours and 10 minutes instead of five hours and 45 minutes currently,” (Transport Minister) Karim Ghellab told reporters.
The high-speed train line would carry 8 million passengers a year after it starts in 2013, he added.
That time difference almost sounds like the Bay Area to L.A., car vs. our own HSR (which does not, I’m told, stand for “highly suspect ridership”).
But think of it! Only 20 billion dirhams! Why, our system is going to be twice as much, only in dollars and not counting the normal Big Dig/Bay Bridge signature public works project markup. Hopefully, by the time the contracts are let, the dirham and the dollar will exchage one-for-one.
Some people might be skeptical of the Moroccans’ plans, especially when they say they’re planning a spur to Marrakesh, famous to some well-traveled Bay Area retirees as the hashish capital of the world.
But I have it on good authority that the California High-Speed Rail Authority hasn’t been smoking any of that stuff, and that projections that ridership will eclipse California’s population and the service will be profitable are totally to be believed.
On the other hand, I’m also hearing the authority refer with wide eyes to the recent opening of the final leg into London of the cross-English Channel Eurostar. Wow! Cool! A new chapter in the history of high-speed rail!
The Eurostar has given new life to London’s St. Pancras station, according to the International Heral Tribune:
In an effort to bring a bit of Paris chic to a country known for shabby airports and public transportation facilities, the new station will include a 330-foot-long, or 100-meter, champagne bar – and no McDonald’s.
Remember, high-speed rail in California is going to have McDonald’s, because it will be cheap enough for your average farm laborer and not strictly the domain of Silicon Valley software and Web moguls.
But HSR’s detractors have a different view of Eurostar. To them, it’s a 300 kph trip to insolvency, billions in debt and some investors anxious to get out.
According to the Times of London, the project’s final link means Eurostar, with trains traveling more than 180 mph, are expected to turn a profit by the end of the decade. That’s got British officials talking about expanding HSR to other parts of the country.
The critical thing for the British and the French is that they’ve made it over the hump. They’ve gotten the thing built, and now it’s up to history to judge whether it was a good idea.
Photo from www.seat61.com.