Commentary by Paul Dyson
You may have read detailed critiques of the California High Speed Rail project in various publications from so called rail advocacy groups and environmentalists.
It’s the wrong route, the wrong technology, the wrong decision makers, or words to that effect. In the north the apparent cause celebre is the Pacheco Pass versus Altamont as the route between the Bay Area and the Central Valley. Also in the north are the NIMBYs who chose to live close to railroad rights of way but want them to be fossilized rather than developed for the needs of the 21sr Century. Their brethren will no doubt materialize in the south in due course.
There are egos at work as well. It is apparent reading some publications that their authors are miffed that they are not on any decision making board, so they proceed to excoriate those that are. Another group seems to hate any large scale project on the basis that corporations will make money and that there will be some corruption and graft. And of course there are those that hate the whole concept but use carefully crafted arguments to give the impression that they are really in favor but not the way it is being executed.
Now when I voted for 1A there were aspects of the project that gave me heartburn, not the least of which was the issuance of bonds and the expansion of state debt. I can see both sides of the Pacheco versus Altamont argument. I can see both sides to a direct route from Los Angeles to Bakersfield as opposed to the chosen route via Palmdale. Clearly there is politics at work here, and it’s a naïve fool that thinks that in excess of $40 billions will be spent without politics playing a major part in the spending. Will there be mistakes? Yes. Will there be some corruption? Unfortunately, yes. Can that be avoided in any major project, rail or otherwise? Almost certainly not. These are activities carried out by your average Joe, some of whom are more honest than others. If we think we can overcome all these issues before we begin any large scale project then we may as well decide that the world today is the same as it will be tomorrow, except a little more worn, shabby, resource depleted and less competitive with the rest of the planet.
So where do we go from here? The High Speed Rail project, for all its faults, real and perceived, represents our once in a lifetime opportunity to break out from our 40 mph trains and bus connections and give the major communities of California Mobility, with a capital “M”. Now is not the time to cozy up to the NIMBYs and naysayers because we don’t like the color the trains will be painted or because our views and preferences were not those chosen. Now is the time to continue to campaign for the project, to continue to educate the public and their elected representatives that this is our future, and to get on with building it before we fall further behind the rest of the world.
(Note: Mr. Dyson is President of the Rail Passenger Association of California and lives in Burbank, CA)