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bullet trains for everybody!

By enelson
Thursday, February 7th, 2008 at 8:00 pm in Funding, high-speed rail, rail.


Having been inordinately busy of late, I’ve let moss grow on the blog. You may be forgiven for moving on with your lives.

But if you’re reading these words, you had faith and came back and I thank you.

It’s kinda like high-speed rail. You gotta have faith.

Either that, or a stop in your Central Valley burg.

I can blog about this because I frankly wasn’t paying attention when it came up before the High-Speed Rail Authority board as they met in Sacramento yesterday. I was there to learn about further maneuvering by proponents of the Altamont Pass route who are still smarting from the board’s decision to designate the Pacheco Pass as its favored alternative route from the Central Valley into the Bay Area.

No, when the subject of a high-speed rail station in the greater Visalia metropolitan area came up, I was out in the hall interviewing Stuart Cohen of the Oakland-based Transportation and Land Use Coalition. He explained to me that if Californians are to be convinced that it’s worth spending $40 billion on a new rail system in the state, it ought to be zero-emission.

That was my reason for hanging out in Sacramento, and the whole Altamont thing was kind of a surprise side show. Luckily for Cohen’s coalition, it had never agreed on which alignment would breed the least amount of sprawl or destroy the smallest amount of habitat.

Luckily, the Associated Press does not discriminate on the basis of geographic obscurity, so it did a storyon the Visalia HSR stop that was picked up by one of the Bay Area’s finest publications.

As the local pols and business types lined up to plead for the somewhat mythical 220-mph train to stop in their town, I thought, perhaps it can be all things to all people. You gotta keep the faith.

Martin Engle is not among the choir, however. He popped off an e-mail, as he is wont to do on a regular basis, saying just what he thought the board’s decision to humor the Visalians meant:

Apparently, according to the CHSRA, a rail stop in Visalia is now on the table.  That gets them all exited.  It would seem that the Directors of the CHSRA are going up and down the state dangling rail stops in front of the eyes of various towns (like the International Olympic committee does with cities around the world looking to host that quadrennial event). I wonder what the trade-offs are.  They haven’t settled on the Redwood City/Palo Alto choice yet.  That ought to be fun.

One of the few dissenting voices that showed up in Sacramento to cast a pall over the proceedings was a member of a certain railroad nonprofit whose card I left at home and who will have to remain nameless for now. He laid out a scenario whereby tracts of land get bought up near a likely stop and when that likelihood becomes clearer, the speculator sells at a huge profit, even if the bullet train never materializes.

Makes me think of how the nice couple who sold my a house in July walked away with an $80,000 profit. Sure, I’m disappointed that a year from now, it will be worth $80,000 less, but do I blame high-speed rail? No. I blame the high-speed mortgage industry.

The point is that the HSR Enterprise needs voters to approve a $10 billion bond in November if the system’s first leg from San Francisco to Los Angeles is ever to be built. Now there are a bunch of voters in Visalia who are more likely to vote yes.

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3 Responses to “bullet trains for everybody!”

  1. Guy Span Says:

    $10 billion is just for the Lionel starter set. The full cost, like Japan’s 1962 New Main Line, will not be known for years. And some spectacularly poor estimators will likely be involved such as Boston’s Big Dig engineers (Parsons and also Tudor) who only missed the Dig’s estimate by about $7 Billion dollars.

    I am in favor of the project, but I find that between the Pacheco alignment and the Governators strong opposition, this pig won’t fly. That’s a couple $100 million down the tubes for work that will have to be re-worked when we finally get around to actually build the darn thing.

    For now, High Speed Rail is a doomed side show headed for an inevitable funeral. In the words of a Southern Railway General Manager when passing a derailment site in the Georgia swamps and noting the corner of boxcar jutting above the mud, “Well, it’s dead, but it just hasn’t been buried yet.”

  2. david vartanoff Says:

    yes, land speculation was a huge part of railroad building in the 1800’s da capo al coda

  3. timote Says:

    The govenator can be bypassed by the initiative process, just as he has (attempted) to do several times.

    If the bond passes, it will happen. $10 billion is too much to throw down the drain.

    Save your obituaries for if the bond fails.

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