Friday, March 21st, 2008 at 8:30 pm in Misc. Transportation.
You know people are getting excited about high-speed rail when legislators from Palm Desert are turning up in Japan, as I learned in an editorial from the Desert Sun (www.mydesert.com):
Sen. Jim Battin, R-Palm Desert, and Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia, R-Cathedral City, are part of a delegation visiting Japan over the Legislature’s spring break this week. They are using campaign funds _ not public money _ to pay for the trip.
We’re having a hard time seeing how a trip to Japan will make them better state lawmakers or benefit their constituents.
That difficulty comes from the fact that both legislators, who are going to see Japan’s legendary Shinkansen high-speed rail system, are terming out and there’s little chance that either of them will have a chance to introduce any legislation on the subject.
Not to mention, their constituents would have to travel all the way to Riverside to ride high-speed rail if such a system ever gets built.
I’ve also heard about Bay Area legislators making trips to Japan and France to see what successful high-speed rail looks like, but knowing that the Bay Area would be the primary beneficiary of California’s high speed rail system makes such trips easier to justify.
The question weighing on the minds of bullet train aficionados these days is will California also have a fabled bullet train or just a bullet train fable?
Busily working on a Bay Bridge story today, I was forced to brush off a call from a California Public Interest Research Group rep. She wanted to see if I wanted to do a story on college students spending spring break on a whistle stop tour via car an bicycle to promote HSR.
I looked on the calendar to see where they were going to have informational meetings, ceremonial bike rides to planned station locations and the like.
Here we go … Monday in San Francisco at UN Plaza with Aaron Peskin. That’s a key spot, to be sure. OK, San Jose with the mayor and Rod Diridon, member of the California HSR board and tireless advocate. Makes sense. Sacramento, where the money is. Stockton, Fresno, LA, Anaheim, San Diego…
Absentmindedly, I looked for Oakland on the agenda.
Oh, right. There won’t be a stop here. Well, maybe they could bike to the ferry, and catch a ride to San Francisco.
And when you get right down to it, the same decision that cut Oakland off the high-speed map also assured that places like Stockton and Sacramento wouldn’t be getting much use out of the system any time soon.
The CalPIRG lobbying effort seeks to educate Californians about the system and November’s scheduled ballot measure that would authorize the sale of nearly $10 billion in bonds to get the $40 billion system started.
Yesterday, I received a particularly enjoyable commentary from Martin Engel of Menlo Park, the last person in the Bay Area who would ever vote for a high-speed rail bond measure.
He brought up the subject of education cuts:
The state has an $8 billion budget deficit.
Solution? Cut $5.5 billion from the school and college budget.
We’re cutting $5.5 billion from the state budget, but … we’re going to vote to pass a $10 billion bond issue to build a high speed luxury train?
Will this be the state with the high speed trains and the low speed schools?
Not that our school systems are in such great shape anyhow.
$10 billion as a down-payment for a train we don’t need.
What the hell are people thinking?
I responded that there’s little chance that the bond will pass, even if it doesn’t get removed from the ballot first to make room for another budget bailout measure.
Engel believes that voters will get a snow job “about this miraculous train that won’t cost anyone anything” except $50 a ticket.
But as cool as it might be to zip down to Bakersfield at 200 mph, I just can’t see it happening. Passing the $20 billion transportation bond required a unified campaign by the governor and legislative leaders to sell it to voters. In a year when those folks are pleading poverty, it’s just not gonna happen.
BBC Top Gear clip from Google video.