High speed rail, the phrase invokes the majestic sweeping sleek trains of Japan or Europe, where customers travel in style and comfort at speeds around 220 mph.

It’s not something you envisage in North America when  you see the state of the current train system.

California is taking the concept to the ballots this year, if more than half of the population agree that the time is now, planning and construction will commence..
[ad#125-right]High-speed rail plan a key ballot measure

The system would be the largest public works project in California history – bigger than the California Aqueduct – and would cost $32 billion for the main line between San Francisco and Los Angeles and an additional $10 billion to complete the network by adding extensions to San Diego, Sacramento and Riverside County. The state is banking on getting about a third of the construction budget from state taxpayers, a third from the federal government and a third from private investors…

“This is our chance,” said Rod Diridon, a member of the High Speed Rail Authority. “We have a perfect storm of factors … the high and higher-in-the-future gas prices, the growing concern for global warming, the terrible condition of our highways, and compounding that is the congestion coming in and out of our metro areas. Those four factors make a perfect case for high-speed rail.”

The skeptic in me wonders how Californians, who so love their gas guzzling SUVs and motorhomes, are going to use this service. Another issue is that this relatively short next work of 800 miles of track will do little to reduce the majority of flights into and out of major airports in the region, as much of the traffic would be interstate or international. And with the first segment taking 7 to 10 years to be built, the infrastructure costs have no return in this time, and major projects are notorious for going over budget.

Is high speed rail the future? Or are travel distances going to reduce dramatically over the next 20 years as a result of peak oil?


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Published by Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada.