I was somewhat surprised to see that overnight, California’s high-speed rail enterprise had grown by 100 miles.
Quentin Kopp, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s governing board, penned an op-ed in the Sacramento Bee responding to the paper’s editorial raising questions about the authority’s baby.
To be fair, I’ll start by quoting the usual benefits:
High-speed trains use one-third the energy of air travel and one-fifth the energy of automobile travel. High-speed trains will reduce our dependence on foreign oil by 22 million barrels a year. Moreover, they’ll operate at a profit (just like the European and Asian systems), without taxpayer subsidy. And, the system wil be as safe as other worldwide high-speed rail systems, which haven’t incurred a single operational fatality.
California can’t build enough new freeways and airport runways to accommodate steadily increasing transportation demands…
But the problem for the $42 billion program of late is that the State Senate’s transportation committee put out a report saying the authority hasn’t expended enough energy examining the potential risks of borrowing the $10 billion down payment on the system that voters are being asked to approve on November’s ballot.
Kopp addresses this:
A comprehensive current risk management program to guarantee the state will not sustain unexpected project costs beyond its foundational investment represented by the bond measure is embodied in the authority-sponsored Assembly Bill 3034 which passed the Assembly 60-3 and will be heard in the Senate Transportation Committee this week.
AB 3034 contains the Department of Finance and gubernatorial staff recommendations to enable bond fund availability for the 800-mile route, including the Altamont Pass corridor between the Central Valley and Bay Area. It requires that 90 percent of the bond proceeds be spent on construction, mandates specified financing plans for each system segment before construction begins, establishes criteria for the most cost-efficient segments to be built as highest priority and removes any possible legal obstacles to private investment and federal funding.
Ok, but here’s the part that got my head spinning:
The California High-Speed Rail Authority has developed and continues to improve plans for an 800-mile system from San Diego to Sacramento.
I know that I’ve yet to win a Pulitzer, but am I such a sloppy journalist that I didn’t notice that the plan for the bullet train system was being expanded? Hadn’t I been there when Kopp’s own board gave its assent to the preferred alignment into the Bay Area? Didn’t I hear members of the board take pains to separate the rejected Altamont Pass route from the approved Pacheco Pass route, saying any help the Altamont got would be in the form of improved commuter service, not high-speed rail and nothing that could be confused for part of the statewide system.
There is language in the bill that would commit the authority to helping beef up the Altamont corridor’s rail transportation, but that murky vision included only vague possibilities of speeding up the Altamont Commuter Express or maybe helping extend BART to Livermore.
Now it would seem that an unflattering Senate committee report and some negative newspaper editorials from the Northern California communities left off the authority’s initial San Francisco-to-Anaheim plans have put Altamont back on the map, at least rhetorically.