When it comes to super expensive infrastructure projects that have no immediate need or impact on the average person’s lives, politicians get antsy. And when politicians get antsy, they start to talk about killing said project because there’s a lack of need or it doesn’t make financial sense when there are some many other priorities. It’s a circular argument that currently happening to the Bullet Train.
Under a new plan currently being negotiated between the High Speed Rail Authority and a number of regional transit agencies, the proposed high-speed linkage between San Francisco and San Diego would become much more closely integrated with local rail systems–Caltrain in the Bay Area and Southern California Metrolink.
Instead of creating an entirely new set of tracks running between San Francisco and San Jose, the California High Speed Rail Authority, working in tandem with local transit agencies, would make extensive improvements on the Caltrain tracks to make them usable for the state’s bullet train as well as significantly improving service on existing Caltrain lines.
The project would eliminate a number of rail crossings, provide for the installation of a new train-control system and, most significantly, electrify the rails themselves, a feature that’s long been on Caltrain’s wish list because it allows the agency to employ lighter, faster trains.
The plan would permit high speed trains to begin running in this densely-populated urban corridor up to ten years earlier than previously envisioned.
To get away from this short-term thinking, let’s ask some simple questions. Who doesn’t believe that California will someday be home to more than 60 million people? How much more expensive will this kind of rail project be in the future? How do you plan for infrastructure (water also comes to mind) that costs billions and is intended to solve a future problem? These are the kinds of questions Californians have to ask and answer as we plan now. 50 years from now we won’t need more and more freeways. A better way would be to figure out how rail transportation can fill a void for the medium distance trip, 50 – 250 miles, that we currently have only one solution for. I love my car, but would love the option of hopping on a bullet train to arrive in downtown Sacramento 45 minutes later.