By Carlyn Obringer
From Carlyn’s Column
As California begins planning for the 60-million population explosion expected by 2050, funding for high- speed rail appears to be off track, in a state lacking enough freeway space to accommodate such growth. Even though a bullet train speeding at 200 mph between Los Angeles and the Bay Area would help ease the Golden Stateâs transportation problems while combating global warming, under the 2007 state budget, the California High-Speed Rail Authority received little of the $106 million necessary for further research and infrastructure development. Consequently, the only hope left for high-speed rail is a $9.95 billion bond measure, entitled, The Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century, approved for the November 2008 ballot, which currently lacks full-throated Democratic support.
Since the energy efficiency of bullet trains is approximately six times that of a car or airplane, transferring travelers to a system taking only 2 Â½ hours between Los Angeles and San Francisco, a travel time comparable to flying from one city to the other, would not only reduce freeway and air-traffic congestion but minimize global-warming pollutants as well. Such a system would also enable Californians to continue to travel around their state, despite flight cut backs and fare increases resulting from rising energy costs. From a monetary perspective, some estimate that high-speed rail would deliver twice as many benefits to California taxpayers as it would cost, including an operating surplus of up to $2 billion a year by 2030. Despite the projectâs enormous promise, however, there still arenât enough Democratic state legislators on board to ensure sufficient funding.
The $9.95 billion bond measure slated for the November 2008 ballot would fund the first part of the project, but it has been displaced from the ballot by state legislators twice before, in 2004 and 2006, in favor of highway, school and flood control projects. While some Democratic lawmakers support high-speed rail, others remain uncertain, citing the size of the bond as potentially beyond Californiaâs bonding capabilities when taken in the context of all other bonds. As a result, the bullet train system is portrayed as an overpriced train set, rather than one of the state’s best weapons for fighting gridlock and pollution.
Time is running out if the State Legislature really wants to combat global warming. Lawmakers need to cut the rhetoric about how âgreenâ? the Golden State is and demonstrate Californiaâs commitment to fighting global warming in a meaningful way. The time has come to get off the fence and onto the bullet train. Further delay may prohibit California from ever reining in climate change and meeting its emission-reduction targets.