Bullet train coming to California ballots
Governor Schwarzenegger is supportive, but a $16 billion state deficit may inspire voters to say 'no' in November.
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This year, the state has a budget deficit of $16 billion, which could dampen enthusiasm for the train, but the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the proposal sponsor, has secured promises of federal matching funds and funding from public/private partnerships, and a 30-40 percent profit margin.Skip to next paragraph
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Though critics say the plan simply mimics the great high-speed trains of Europe, Japan, and China – but without the proven need or demand – proponents say changing life and work styles require the state to embrace new transportation options.
"The whole definition of 'commuter' is changing," says Mehdi Morshed, executive director of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. "The old model is people going to factory jobs from 8 to 5 … now people are driving 150 miles from one place to another two to three times a week for work, recreation, travel, once-a-week meetings – this generation is changing, and so will the next."
Critics say the funding and profit-margin projections are smoke and mirrors, put out by politically sophisticated backers.
"To believe this makes economic sense, you'd have to be foolish," says James Moore, director of the transportation and engineering program at USC. In Europe, he says, the cost of gasoline is higher, so trains make more economic sense for longer trips. "In the US, autos cover shorter trips better and airlines capture longer trips – that doesn't leave room for high-speed rail to compete. The economic plan crumbles at the touch."
Economic, environmental impacts
But Governor Schwarzenegger is pushing the idea for several reasons, including creation of jobs, the lowering of greenhouse-gas emissions per passenger mile, and taking cars off the road.
And he says the revised economic model will appeal to voters.
"This is really going to happen this time," says Sabrina Lockhart, a Schwarzenegger spokeswoman.
Yearly grosses from the rail's starter line – from San Francisco, to San Jose, to Merced, Fresno, Bakersfield, and Anaheim – would be $3 billion according to the authority, producing $1.2 billion in payback profit to bond and private investors. The train would also go up to Sacramento and down to San Diego via Riverside.