Tuesday, September 27, 2011

An Environmentalist's Look At California's High-Speed Rail Situation

This web-site, source of the article below, identifies itself as environmentally friendly.  By all rights, it ought to fully oppose high-speed rail, which is very environmentally un-friendly. 

We've identified many reasons for understanding the California HSR project as far "dirtier" than the rail promoters indicate.  Not the least of these is the ten years of construction which includes not only thousands of huge Diesel engine operations for all the construction equipment, but the manufacture of everything needed to develop this rail line. 

Rail supporters want to minimize or overlook issues like construction emissions, pollution and contamination.  They disregard the manufacturing and shipping processes all of which are enormously energy-intensive and put out tons of greenhouse gasses.

Andrew Meggison concludes his article with the inference that he continues to seek a "large and functional" high-speed rail system in the US.  However, he is not sparing in his criticsm of the California project and how it is being administered.  And that's certainly a step in the right direction.

The article pretty much speaks for itself.  Andrew gives credence to the opinions of those who object to the train project, including NIMBYs. He appreciates the destructive consequences of the train route "through the middle of one of the nation's most populous areas."  And he cites a litany of problems attributable to the mismanagement of this California project.  He calls the project "a real mess."

While we agree on all the challenges generated by the rail authority, we stop short of wishing for a "good high-speed rail project" believing that it's economically not possible.  And that, in California, is both undesirable and not necessary. That this project is a "real mess" is merely the straw that should break the back of high-speed rail in our state. 


Obama, High Speed Rail, and the State Of California
By Andrew Meggison

High speed rail is big business in other countries like China. America has been trying to get a high speed rail program in action for years with California being at the forefront of the planning. Now, it seems that lawsuits might be shutting down the California project for good, or at least delay the project until the funding evaporates.

The Senate Appropriations Committee, a Democrat controlled committee, amended spending legislation to direct $100 million to President Barack Obama’s high speed rail program next year. Oddly, the same appropriations committee recently approved a bill that did not include money for President’s Obama’s initiative. The amended legislation reallocates $100 million that had been earmarked for highway and other transit projects.

Of the $10.1 billion (yes BILLION) that Congress has directed to President Barack Obama’s high speed rail program since 2009, $7.59 billion has been distributed. The state of California is counting on the federal funding as the state attempts to build a $43 billion rail system to run trains up to 220 miles per hour between the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The funding is indeed currently available but the California high speed rail project still has been filled with problems. To say that it was easy to untangle all of the issues and negative implementations that have plagued the California high speed rail project would be in jest. To start, the California high speed rail project is going to cut through the middle of the one of the nation’s most populous areas. This means not everyone is going to want a train track in their backyards and these folks have voiced their opinions.

Opinions do matter; especially when publicly elected officials want to keep their jobs come the new election cycle. This leads to political pandering and legislative hang ups in the realm of local and state politics. Add to this engineering issues, environmental concerns, poor ridership estimates, racial issues, and the desire to use existing Caltrain cars and lines and one is left with a real mess that has halted the California high speed rail project.

Now there are lawsuits. Starting in the Bay Area, local Bay Area cities and a number of nonprofits are suing over the issues of the train route and also over a number of negative environmental studies. Moving to Southern California, the City of Palmdale has gone to court over concerns that rail officials will abandon a planned Antelope Valley line through the city and reroute the tracks up Interstate 5 instead. Off to the Central Valley, Kings County officials and residents are doing everything in their power to stop a 100 mile stretch of track from ruining thousands of acres of farmland located between Fresno and Bakersfield.

All the while the clock is slowly ticking – a federal stipulation on the almost $3.5 billion in stimulus cash that was given given for the project says that construction must begin in the valley. If rail officials cannot get this battle with Kings County sorted and the money distributed by September 2017, the government could divert the billions in funds to other projects.

If California is supposed to be leading the way for high speed rail in America the state certainly could be doing a better job. The idea of having a high speed rail line in California is great, but it is also expensive and given the economic hardship in the U.S. wasteful spending or money allocated to projects that are not moving is not smiled upon; especially when that money had been previously earmarked for existing highway projects.

Additionally, the world famous China high speed rail systems (the supposed model of high speed rail) has had its share of recent technical problems surrounding safety, ticket price gouging, and corruption—leaving a black eye on the face of the entire high speed rail industry.

Overall, it seems that if California does not get its act together, and quickly, the idea of having a large and functional high speed rail system in America may never come to fruition.

Source: infrastructurist.com

Andrew Meggison was born in the state of Maine and educated in Massachusetts. Andrew earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Government and International Relations from Clark University and a Master’s Degree in Political Science from Northeastern University. Being an Eagle Scout, Andrew has a passion for all things environmental. In his free time Andrew enjoys writing, exploring the great outdoors, a good film, and a creative cocktail.

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