Let's Debate: How can we make CA High Speed Rail work without the government waste?

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

I came across a well-written opinion piece on high speed rail which was published in the Sacamento Bee at the end of September. Writer Michael Setty who is the Administrative Director of the Train Riders Association of California pieced together an executable solution that could bring true high speed rail to our state with none of the high speed madness, special interest pandering or government waste associated with the California High Speed Rail Authority.

Whether you support HSR or not, any concerned citizen interested in this topic should read this.

After pointing out the negative consequences of routing HSR infrastructure through the small Central Valley and Antelope Valley cities, Setty suggests the current plan should be discarded and brings up this workable solution:

The state needs a much less costly plan, built around private investment, which benefits passengers now – not 20 years in the future. Here’s what (TRAC) proposes:
• Spend federal stimulus money to upgrade the existing Amtrak corridor between Sacramento and Bakersfield to 110 mph. That would provide fast service up and down the San Joaquin Valley, without noise to cities and disruption to agriculture that the current project would bring. The mission to connect these population centers to the rest of the state could be accomplished by spending a tiny fraction of the planned $6 billion.
• Use cap-and-trade funds to upgrade the San Diego-Los Angeles Amtrak corridor to 110 mph. These investments in the state-subsidized Amtrak system will provide significant improvements in mobility at an affordable cost. San Joaquin Valley residents would be able to board in Fresno, for example, and disembark in Los Angeles or San Francisco less than three hours later, without changing trains. Existing stations would continue to be served by Amtrak, with tickets that cost much less than high-speed rail.
• Create an open bidding process for private investment in high-speed rail. We believe that experienced operators should direct the development of new routes. Past interest by operators suggests that access from Bakersfield to Los Angeles via the Grapevine is far superior to the authority-proposed detour through the Mojave Desert via Palmdale. Similarly, operators are likely to prefer access to the Bay Area via Altamont Pass, rather than Pacheco, as that route would add significant revenue from Sacramento.

Coalition Concept: A high speed rail station in Murrieta.
Note: Concept only. Not endorsed by any public entity.
Back at home, The Transit Coalition continues to call for the advancement and improvement of high speed passenger rail service for the I-15 corridor between Los Angeles and San Diego via the Inland Empire in a cost-efficient manner. Top speeds should match the higher speed Amtrak services at 110 mph. Like HSR up north, this segment would also need to be funded by the private sector. Previous local feasibility studies document this.

Likewise the I-215 corridor that branches to Riverside and San Bernardino would be part of the plan as well which would funded by a combination of public and private sources.

High speed rail supporters, especially politicians at the state level must knock off the special interest lunacy and wasteful spending associated with this project. Otherwise mustering public support to construct a proven and cost-efficent method to move people quickly will be more difficult to sell. On the other side, CA HSR opponents should offer workable solutions to moving high volumes of people between city centers quickly.

With that, do you think TRAC's solution will work? If it can, why hasn't the state government adopted it? We need some straight answers.