Fiona Ma for State Assembly
News

California High-Speed Rail

Fiona Ma was nervous about getting on a train that was about to set a world speed record. Just before Easter 2007 in the countryside outside Paris, she saw the people lining the green and flowered route. The French were flying flags, waving, and cheering. Less reassuring were those of faith who crossed themselves as the new train accelerated past 200 miles per hour. The people blurred into a collage of spring time colors. The train vibrated much as when a jet plane roars down the runway and starts to ascend. Fiona hoped that this train would not leave the tracks.

At three hundred miles per hour, the train was still on the tracks, accelerating. Out the window, only one image was distinct. A plane that was filming the historic event flew along side the train. Surrealistically, Fiona and the eleven other dignitaries could see what was filmed from the plane on a screen inside the train. Another LCD displayed their world record - 357 miles per hour on a train. Everyone cheered. The train slowed over the next few miles. Fiona took a deep breath, exhaled, and smiled; she took part in history.

These days, Fiona Ma, needs to find new courage every day. As California Majority Whip, she takes on the tough issues and is a force in making things better. For every important issue, there are vested interests on all sides whether it is better health care, better transportation, stopping global warming, or keeping California’s $1.7 trillion economy moving forward. Among her many responsibilities, Assemblywoman Ma chairs the Legislative High Speed Rail Caucus.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) believe they just may have the answer — an 800 mile statewide high-speed rail system that would serve more than 32 million passengers per year by 2020. Because the rail will be powered by electricity, and because of the efficiency of moving up to 1,200 people per train, CO2 emissions may be reduced by 12 billion pounds per year by 2020, and 18 billion pounds by 2030.

If you have ever been stuck in gridlock trying to get to work between Orange County and LA, or between San Jose and San Francisco, you will appreciate that the high-speed rail would add the equivalent of a 12-lane superhighway. Express high-speed trains will take one hour and fifteen minutes between San Diego and Los Angeles, and a little over two and one-half hours from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

CHSRA is upgrading their 2020 forecast to 68 million, from 32 million, and 94 to 117 million passengers by 2030. As Hall of Fame baseball great Yogi Berra observed, "It is difficult to forecast, especially about the future." 2020 annual passengers will depend on California voters approving the November bond, matching funding, and regulatory approval. CHSRA forecasts are achievable. By comparison, Europe already provides 250 million annual rides, and Japan over 300 million.

High-speed rail systems, using the new grade-separated high speed lines planned for California have not had one fatality in 41 years. Neither automobiles nor airplanes can match the safety of high speed rail.

California high-speed rail addresses a number of goals. Our current highways cannot support the planned growth to 50 million people. Only the USA and China use more oil than California. If there are more price hikes, or if supply is disrupted by war or terrorism, where will California get its needed billions of gallons of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel? Draughts, likely caused by climate change, are already hurting California agriculture and industry. California is unlikely to meet its targeted reduction of greenhouse gases without high-speed rail. Especially damaging are the greenhouse gas emissions from short-haul air travel. The per passenger greenhouse gas emissions of flying from LA to SF are equivalent of each person driving solo in a large SUV. Carbon Calculator

Although California faces rush-hour gridlock without high-speed rail, a project with a starting price north of $33 billion is certain to face some opposition.

With HSR, it’s about money. Proposed is that Californians approve a bond of $10 billion for one-third of the cost. One-third would be matched by federal funds and one-third by private investment. Although some anticipate cost overruns, more are worried that the price of not acting will be much higher. Because California is implementing AB32, the high-speed rail may be able to sell carbon credits to help finance the project and operations.

Since high-speed rail will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 18 billion pounds per year, you would think that all environment groups would support the measure. While there has been some support, the Sierra Club opposed disrupting environmentally sensitive areas and areas of wildlife migration, specifically in the Los Banos area. Beyond some local opposition, however, the national Sierra Club strongly supports high-speed rail.

Southwest Airlines successfully sued and stopped high-speed rail in Texas in the 1990s. Texas is now staring at a $183 billion price for the Trans Texas Corridor as a 4,000-mile-long stretch of 10 auto lanes and six railroad tracks for high-speed freight and commuter trains. This is over twenty times higher than if they had not been stopped from implementing high-speed rail years ago. Opponents of high-speed rail carefully follow Mark Twain’s advice, “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.”

Airlines may not oppose high-speed rail. Today, Southwest cannot get the expanded gates and routes in California due to lack of airport expansion everywhere from San Diego to Los Angeles to San Francisco. Some airlines may support high-speed rail as it will more easily bring people to SFO and be part of bringing passengers to other airports more quickly.

Most are optimistic that voters will approve a bond issue for high-speed rail. Voters are faced with record gasoline prices and concern about California’s economic future. More people are commuting longer distances as they are unable to sell their homes in today’s difficult real estate market.

The major concerns are addressed in new legislation proposed by Assemblywomen Cathleen Galgiani and Fiona Ma - AB 3034 “Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century.” The governor wanted more private funding of the rail. The new bill allows for private rail funding provided by law. The Sierra Club does not want a Los Banos station. The new bill provides: “Preserving wildlife corridors and mitigating impacts to wildlife movement, where feasible as determined by the authority…” Also the bill, “Prohibits a high-speed train station between Gilroy and Merced.”

On April 14, the legislative committee approved the bill with 10 voting yes and no one opposing. It is expected to get the approval of the full Assembly and Senate and the Governor. Read the Bill and Post your Comment

Even if voters approve the bond, high-speed rail will not move forward unless there are matching federal funds. Congressman Jim Costa believes that will happen. As he states in his op-ed: “Congress has begun to take action to help make the idea of high-speed rail in California a reality. Two bills I introduced, HR 4122 the American Investment in Safe, Reliable High Speed Rail Act and HR 4123, the High-Speed Rail Authority Development and Formation Act, will help bring federal dollars to California to invest in the proposed high-speed rail system. The Senate also passed S. 294, which will help high-speed rail development in America…. Overall, for every dollar invested in this system, we will see two dollars in return.” Capitol Weekly Article

Will Californians park their cars and ride the rails? Last year, LAMTA carried 64 million riders. In the Bay Area, BART carried 47 million riders. With gasoline prices rocketing, Amtrak ridership on the Capitol Corridor is up 16% this March over a year ago; on the San Joaquins it has jumped 27%. Although Californians will not exclusively ride rails and rapid transit, but they will ride more and drive less. In fact, high speed rail will integrate with public transportation. All 25 HSR stations will be multi-modal. For example, to get to Sacramento I currently take BART to Richmond, then get on Amtrak in the same station.

As a manager covering several states, I used to travel weekly on airplanes. Point-to-point always required at least four hours to get to the airport, get thru security, taxi in the runway, fly, taxi in the runway, then rent a car. In contrast, when taking a train from Washington D.C. to New York, I found that train travel was faster than airlines and better integrated with public transportation. With high-speed rail, airline travel to cover a few hundred miles would never be a personal option.

Travel between Washington D.C. and Boston is now even faster with speeds of up to 150 miles per hour on Amtrak’s Acela, the only high-speed rail in the United States. Now you can get from the nation’s capital to downtown Manhattan in less than three hours; an impossibility with airline travel and the fastest taxi driver in New York history. Over ten million passengers road this Northeast Corridor in 2007, making it the most popular train route in the U.S. Acela is now profitable.

In 12 years, 32 to 68 million passengers may be riding on an even faster system in California. The high-speed rail will keep California’s economy moving forward, with more jobs, more energy security and far less emissions.