One Anti-Rail Congress Is No Reason to Delay California HSR

Everyone who cares about U.S. high-speed rail is watching California right now.

Will construction begin on California HSR this year, or will decades of planning and billions in investment be squandered? Photo: Independent Voter Network

First there was the news of ballooning costs. Then Congress yanked nearly all the money for the Obama administration’s HSR program. Since then, whenever the project is mentioned in the media, it’s been accompanied by adjectives like “embattled” and “troubled.” Earlier this week, an advisory panel in California known as the Peer Review Group recommended the project be delayed.

James Sinclair at Network blog Stop and Move says these short-term setbacks shouldn’t be used to derail decades of planning, especially when construction is finally poised to begin:

What really bothers me about the peer review recommendation is that they seem to have no real grasp of the project timeline, and the funding timeline. And for a group of experts, that’s a problem.

Lets take a look at the real timeline: The current HSR planning actually began in the 1980s. The line is scheduled to be done in the 2030′s. That’s 50 years from start to finish…

And yet this peer review group is ready to throw things out because the current House of Representatives is hostile to rail and has blocked new federal funding… That makes no sense at all.

Construction is scheduled to begin this year, but nobody is expecting a train to start rolling until 2020 at best. That’s because it’s a huge, complicated project that is being done in segments and in phases. For example, while Bakersfield-Fresno is almost done with the engineering phase, San Jose-San Francisco is a few years away from being ready to go. Even if we had $50bn sitting around today, they couldn’t be laying track because the environmental and engineering reports aren’t ready, and there’s no magic button to speed of the mandatory process.

There will be no new federal money in 2012. We know that. And that’s ok. It’s sort of not needed in 2012. 2012 will see only the very start of construction, and there’s plenty on hand for that. There’s more than enough for 2013 as well. And you know what happens in 2013? A new house is elected, and with the way the politics in this country have been swinging over the past 5 years, one can imagine, indeed, one can expect, the house to swing left after the next cycle. And a left leaning house is more willing to support rail.

Ultimately, Sinclair says, allowing people who oppose HSR for political reasons to delay the project would be an irresponsible waste of taxpayers’ money.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Political Environment reports that a Wisconsin transportation committee, populated largely by construction interests, is pushing for new sources of revenue to support road projects. A St. Louis resident resolves to ride transit more in 2012 on NextStopSTL. And Bike Delaware expounds on the “sorry mate I didn’t see you” legal defense for negligent drivers.