Tag Archives: bullet train

Efforts to Derail Bullet Train Driven by Politics as Usual

by Steve Smith, California Labor Federation

Among the big political news this week was the release of the Legislative Peer Review Group’s report on the California high-speed rail project. The report recommends that the state freezes the project “at this time” until further assessment is done on its long-term feasibility. Problem is, the report was completed with minimal consultation with the California High-Speed Rail Authority, and ignored many of the details on feasibility included in the Authority’s recent business plan.

Opponents seized on the erroneous report to further their campaign to derail the project. While it might make good politics for some conservatives to oppose a signature program of the Obama White House, it certainly doesn’t make for good policy. Halting the high-speed rail project at this critical stage would jeopardize the entire project. It would put billions in federal funding at risk, and sap the state of an important engine to create desperately needed jobs.

The debate on high-speed rail – like so many other issues these days — has become overly politicized and isn’t on the merits. A group of conservative Republicans wants to put the issue back on the ballot, even though voters have already approved $9 billion in state bonds for high-speed rail. Even the peer review group, which is balanced and supports the concept of high-speed rail, got many pertinent facts wrong in its report.

With respect to the project, it’s time we got back to basics. Many countries around the world, including China, are showing that high-speed rail is an important component to the future of transportation. It’s clean, environmentally friendly, efficient, convenient and affordable. It alleviates traffic and air congestion while giving passengers an important option to meet their travel needs. In California, the project also offers an enormous opportunity to give our struggling economy a boost, especially in areas hard hit by the recession like the Central Valley. Over the life of the project, as many as 750,000 jobs would be created.

The project is supported by Republicans, Democrats and Independents. On its merits, it makes perfect sense. And the California High-Speed Rail Authority (HSRA), after early missteps, now has its act together and has delivered a detailed and transparent plan to bring the project to fruition. Gov. Brown has infused the HSRA board with seasoned experts, like Dan Richard and Mike Rossi, who bring years of experience in transportation planning and finance.


California Labor Federation Executive Secretary Treasurer Art Pulaski:

With California facing a jobs crisis and an urgency to upgrade our failing transportation infrastructure, further delay in breaking ground on high-speed rail is neither prudent nor responsible. Any project that’s the size and scope of high-speed rail is bound to encounter difficulties along the way. But rather than working to implement the vision of high-speed rail, the peer review panel suggests derailing the project at a critical stage, which is not a viable solution for California. Under new leadership, the California High-Speed Rail Authority is headed in the right direction. The Authority’s business plan addresses the myriad issues facing high-speed rail in a thoughtful and thorough way.

The main hurdle for high-speed rail right now isn’t the project’s feasibility. It’s that the project has been enveloped in politics as usual. That’s why it’s critical that the legislature take all evidence into account, listen to the experts and carefully analyze the Authority’s business plan, which answers many of the questions raised by the peer review group.

One such expert is the new CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority Roelof van Ark:

It is unfortunate that the Peer Review Committee has delivered a report to the Legislature that is deeply flawed in its understanding of the Authority’s program and the experience around the world in successfully developing high speed rail.   As someone involved in many of the successful high speed rail programs internationally, I can say that the recommendations of this Committee simply do not reflect a real world view of what it takes to bring such projects to fruition.

That’s not to say that ongoing issues, including long-term funding of the project, shouldn’t be addressed. But bowing to political hype to scuttle the project instead of carefully considering issues and finding solutions to work through them, would be a huge mistake.

The California labor movement supports high-speed rail because it holds more promise to transform our state’s economy, protect our environment and create a better quality of life for our families than any public works project in generations.

California was built by visionaries. It’s a proud tradition and important part of our heritage that we, as Californians, collectively embrace. Despite the challenges facing our state, it isn’t the time to shrink from the vision of high-speed rail. The bullet train can and must be built.


In the short term, the project will create thousands of desperately needed jobs to help lift our state out of economic morass. In the long term, high-speed rail will deliver a world-class, environmentally friendly transportation system that will transform our state. An investment in high-speed rail is an investment in our state’s future. The Legislature must grant voter-approved bonds so that work can begin on the project this year.

The Bullet Train: Where the hell is it?

For years we have been promised a bullet train that would make us the envy of the country.  We would be able to hop a spur somewhere up in NorCal and be in LA in a few quick hours.  While the wrangling might get a little dirty between SF and Oakland, with a possible additional spur going to Sacto, we could handle it up here…right Bay Area folks? Worst comes to worst, somebody has to connect to the bullet on BART.  No biggie.

And even better, projections indicate that the train would ultimately make a profit. Now, maybe Southwest Airlines might not dig on it, but our environment would sure love it. It would be a boon to the goals of AB 32 to reduce our carbon footprints.  And, most importantly, wouldn’t it be sweet to hop on a train and get between our major cities in a few hours? Seriously, that would be freaking sweet.

But it is now 2007, and we have no train. No construction for a train. No bond measure has even appeared on the ballot, let alone passed.  WTF, mate? Well, follow me over the flip for more from the SFBG’s Steven T. Jones

How cool would it be to get the bullet train?  Pretty darn cool:

All the project studies indicate this should be a no-brainer. San Franciscans could travel to Los Angeles in just a couple hours, the same time it takes to fly, at a fraction of the cost. And the system – eventually stretching from Sacramento to San Diego – would generate twice as much money by 2030 as it costs to build. The trains use far less power than planes or cars and can be powered by renewable resources with no emissions. The system would get more than two million cars off the road and single-handedly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 12 million metric tons per year. (SFBG 4-17-07)

The bond is still scheduled to appear on the ballot in 2008. Of course that doesn’t mean much, does it? It was also scheduled to be on the 2004 ballot, only to be pulled off the ballot.  Same thing in 2006.  So, why do you think this happened. I’ll give you one hint…umm…he’s a former professional steroid shooter bodybuilder:

Growing awareness of climate change has increased support for high-speed rail among legislators and in public opinion polls (among Democrats and Republicans), leaving only one major impediment to getting energy-efficient trains traveling the state at 220 mph: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

While posing for the April 16 cover of Newsweek with the headline “Save the Planet – or Else” and touting himself around the world as an environmental leader, Schwarzenegger has quietly sought to kill – or at least delay beyond his term – high-speed rail. (SFBG 4-17-07)

Now is not the time to choose cars over rail. Sure, we need improvements for our aging highway infrastructure, but we cannot choose it over roads.  It betrays the Governator’s true level of “Green-ness”.  The fact is that he still plays to his Hummer-driving base.

So, what are we to do about this? Well, time for us to start pushing for rail where we can.  Have you told your legislators that you want rail? Just give them a call, it’s a good start. But don’t give up there, raise the issue in Democratic clubs, with prospective candidates, et cetera. You know the drill…