The Agenda

Philip Klein on HSR in California

The March issue of The American Spectator features a fascinating report by Philip Klein on California’s high-speed rail effort. Rather hilariously, as we’ve discussed in this space, California is first connecting two small Central Valley cities — with a combined population of 25,000 — with high-speed track, in the hope that California’s bigger cities will become more amenable to the project in the years to come. Had California tried connecting Los Angeles with San Diego with high-speed track, it would have a usable corridor regardless of whether the funds for extending the line to the Bay Area were ever allocated. Even this 65-mile Central Valley corridor is encountering stiff resistance from landowners, which should tell you something about how landowners closer to the state’s biggest cities will react to the prospect of new rights of way being carved across their property. 

Klein quotes an Oakland attorney who has been filing lawsuits on behalf of Bay Area residents:

“What my clients who support high-speed rail are concerned about is that the result of this project is going to be a poorly done project that will sour Californians, and perhaps the whole country, on high-speed rail,” he said. “If it’s done poorly, it will leave a sour taste in people’s mouths, like redevelopment in the 1950s, where people came in and said, ‘we’re going to do slum clearance’ and they tore down whole communities. And today, people cringe whenever anybody mentions redevelopment, because people remember that. And that’s what they’re worried about, that this will leave a lot of bad memories that will poison the waters for years to come.”

Then there are the sketchy estimates about the likely number of riders. I strongly recommend reading the article. HSR might be very attractive in the abstract, but HSR in California faces a number of decidedly unabstract obstacles that further reinforce my view that we’d be much better off enhancing mobility options for less affluent people living in the Los Angeles basin or in the Bay Area rather than a relatively small number of affluent people traveling between the two regions. 

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