Building HSR on the Installment Plan

Editorial by Noel T. Braymer

“An honest politician is one who, when he is bought, will stay bought”. Simon Cameron US financier & politician (1799 – 1889)
Since the midterm elections it is becoming clear that if people thought Washington was partisan, gridlocked and out of touch with what people wanted before the election, then you ain’t seen nothing yet. The issues most on people’s minds are jobs, a healthy economy and keeping their house.
In politics the game is to get as much government money for your supporters at the expense of your opponents and their supporters. Opposition from recently elected officials to Federal Funding for Passenger Rail Service in New Jersey, Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida has nothing to do with concern about spending too much taxpayer’s money. These politicians want to spend this money, only they want to take it and use it for highways. There is a need for highway construction. But this money by law is for Passenger Rail service. The Department of Transportation has told these states that if they don’t use this money for rail they won’t get the money. Instead it will be available for other states which will, such as California.
The reality for California is while there will be some money for High Speed Rail, there won’t be 40 plus billion available to build a passenger service between Los Angeles and San Francisco in the next ten years. As it stands there seems to be enough money to go ahead and build a HSR railroad in the San Joaquin Valley. Construction will be fairly cheap in this mostly rural area and there is broad local political support for the project in an area of high unemployment. The problem is not many people are going to travel in the Valley. Valley residents are more interested in going to the Los Angeles or San Francisco regions than shuttling back and forth in the San Joaquin Valley. How do we create a state wide rail service in about 5 year using available funding? The same way it has been done in Europe: running trains on both existing and HSR trackage.
Improved San Joaquin Trains will work as a stop gap between Oakland and Bakersfield: but what about Southern California? Metrolink operates the 76 rail miles between Los Angeles and Lancaster. The missing link is the 87 miles between Lancaster and Bakersfield. If we make it a high priority to extend HSR trackage south of Bakersfield to Lancaster we could run direct service between Los Angles and Oakland. This won’t be 5 or more trains an hour but it will be a more viable service than running trains just in the Valley. We should build over 200 miles of HSR track, between Lancaster and Fresno to get HSR for about half of the way between Los Angeles and San Francisco. This won’t give you running times of under 3 hours between Los Angeles and San Francisco. But it will give you much faster service in under 6 hours or so. It will create the traffic to bring in revenue and create popular support for finishing the California High Speed Rail Project.
For years Transportation spending has been considered a non-partisan issue. Most everyone travels and improved transportation improves the economy. There are a lots of jobs for rail construction and the development created by improved rail passenger service. People like to see their tax money spent on services that they will use. How do we get the attention of the politicians in Washington and Sacramento to let us use our tax money here for Rail? We must work at the local level to show broad support for rail service. We should prioritize our efforts to get the most out of limited resources by running the longest distance service possible using both existing and HSR trackage. We should build the most trackage first where construction costs are the lowest or have the greatest improvement in service. And we should build something now that will show the California taxpayers that they are getting their money’s worth.
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