In cash-strapped California, plans for a high-speed rail line are rebuked

In this file photo, Amtrak's Lincoln Service train passes Illinois cornfields as it speeds through a crossing en route to Chicago. A 68-page guideline released Wednesday, June 17, 2009, by the Obama administration gives an edge in the race for federal stimulus cash, to states like California and eight states in the Midwest that have cooperated closely to promote a network with Chicago as its hub. In California, at least, that network is suddenly at risk.

There's debris on the tracks of the White House's revolutionary railroad plan.

In April, with Vice President Joe Biden at his side, President Barack Obama called for the creation of a high-speed rail network with corridors in the Pacific Northwest, the Midwest, California, the Pacific Northwest, the Southeast, the Gulf Coast, and Pennsylvania, among other areas. Obama said the network, which would be funded in part by the $787 billion stimulus plan, was necessary to cut down on traffic congestion, reduce dependence on foreign oil, and encourage environmentally-friendly travel.

"My high-speed rail proposal will lead to innovations that change the way we travel in America. We must start developing clean, energy-efficient transportation that will define our regions for centuries to come," Obama said at the time.

As Monitor reporter Mark Clayton noted in May, "The idea is not to lay tracks coast to coast, but to zero in on densely populated regions such as the Midwest, California, and Florida, where short distances between cities would let fast trains compete with planes and cars."

In addition to opening new corridors across the country, the White House's blueprint would upgrade existing lines to accommodate faster trains, and improve the quality of the busy Northeast Corridor, which runs from Washington to Boston.

Not so fast

But in California, where a long-simmering budget crisis has exploded into a full-blown emergency, the rail proposal is being met with stiff opposition.The Associated Press reported Monday that residents of San Francisco and Los Angeles are raising concerns that the network would level trees and homes and adversely impact area businesses.

Obama's plan for California calls for a corridor that would link Sacramento, the San Francisco Bay area, Fresno, Anaheim, Los Angeles, and San Diego – an 800-mile system of rail lines.

"We're supportive of (high-speed rail), but we have some deep concerns over potential implementation," Patrick Burt, a city councilman from the town of Palo Alto, 30 miles southeast of San Francisco, told the Associated Press.

The Mercury News is reporting that residents of the area near Palo Alto are primarily concerned about the "noise and construction of concrete bridges and overpasses near [some] neighborhoods."

It's the economy, stupid

Meanwhile, the planned corridor has run into other, more pressing concerns. According to the Sacramento Business Journal, the wording in a new budget-balancing bill contains a line that would require further study before the rail network could be implemented:

The language was attached as a condition of the state spending $139 million to hire staff and engineering firms. High-speed rail backers, however, warn that such a study would delay their project beyond when it would be eligible for $1.3 billion in federal stimulus money they have been promised.

Full steam ahead, please

But many have argued that the high-speed rail network could help save California a bunch of cash. Although the plan is expensive, the Bakersfield Californian wrote in an editorial, "expanding roadways and airports would cost us even more. To provide the same transportation capacity, roadway and airport expansions will cost around $80 billion, according to state estimates, while the high-speed rail network will cost around $45 billion."

Who knows how the whole mess'll turn out? In the meantime, let's hear what Ozzy has to say:


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